Shop Talk

Backstory: Kustom Koozies stems from a need for personalized coolers in small quantities

Bob Liddle, co-owner of Kustom Koozies, specializes in filling orders that range from one item to thousands.
Bob Liddle, co-owner of Kustom Koozies, specializes in filling orders that range from one item to thousands. TERI SAYLOR

When trying to purchase a dozen personalized can coolers for their boat, Bob and Julie Liddle struggled. The minimum they could find to order was 200.

Figuring they couldn’t be the only ones facing this problem, they created a company for those seeking customized items in small quantities.

In 1998, the couple opened Kustom Koozies in a spare bedroom of their home. Using a small screen printer, they hand-printed can coolers, also known as huggers or koozies. At first, they geared the business toward the boating community, decorating the containers with nautical images, like anchors and ships’ wheels.

“We discovered people were looking for more than 12, but less than 300,” Bob Liddle said. “So we determined 100 is the magic number for small orders.”

After outgrowing their guest bedroom, the Liddles teamed up with a business colleague near Myrtle Beach to set up a production and fulfillment center there while the couple stayed in Raleigh marketing the company.

Two years ago, the Liddles closed the coastal production and distribution center, consolidating the operation in a 6,000-square-foot leased warehouse facility on Gresham Lake Road in North Raleigh. At this shop, the couple also maintain a showroom where customers can place orders in person.

The minimum product order is one, but Kustom Koozies can print thousands and focuses on a quick turnaround.

“It’s all in creating efficiencies,” Liddle said. “So we continue to keep improving, working better, faster and quicker.”

Liddle, an East Carolina University graduate and entrepreneur, started Dockside Marketing in 1987. He then became co-owner of Custom Mail Solutions, but in 2004 sold his share to start Message on a Blanket, a personalized baby blanket company he created when his oldest child was born.

“We received many baby gifts and could not even tell who they were from as they were mail order (and didn’t come with) a note,” he said. “So we set up Message on a Blanket.”

Kustom Koozies, which now also sells T-shirts and stadium cups, averages about nine employees during the winter months. From April through September, when sales increase, they hire up to 15.

The team prints the products at the Gresham Lake facility, packs them in boxes and ships them to customers. Liddle reckons he has printed more than 12 million can coolers and wraps. He estimates 35 percent of his orders come from repeat customers.

Liddle appreciates the idea of making memories from can coolers – whether it’s by the dozen or the thousand.

Teri Saylor can be reached at Tweet her @terisaylor.

Advice from Bob Liddle

▪ Make it easy for people to give you money. Make your website easy to buy from, make your store easy to shop from, take any type of payment a customer wants to give you.

▪ As a business owner you are a sales rep 24/7. Never miss an opportunity to tell people what you do. Carry business cards with you at all times.

▪ Always get feedback on your product or service from customers, friends, peers and competitors. It is easy to see your business from your perspective, but it’s the perspective of the buyer that counts.