• August 8, 2020

Odessan tackles cooler business - Odessa American: Local News

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Odessan tackles cooler business

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  • Cool Deal

    Odessa native A.J. Gonzales has started his company Infinite Coolers, which offers two sizes of coolers with retractable wheels among its product line.

Posted: Sunday, July 26, 2020 4:00 am

A.J. Gonzales took what on the surface seems like a simple idea, expanded on it and now is in position to enjoy a big payoff.

Gonzales, an Odessa native, began his company, Infinite Coolers, almost before finishing his business management degree at Texas Tech in 2018. While the concept of wheels on coolers is nothing new, Gonzales went for a more robust version that would better withstand the rigors of outdoors activities.

“I was in college and I saw this great product, but I also saw one major problem with this product,” he said. “The coolers are incredibly heavy when they’re full of ice and beverages and other contents. I thought to myself there’s got to be an easier way to transport these coolers without having to almost pull your back out every time you pick them up.

“So pretty much from there put a pen to paper, drew out some sketches and started my research online. I hired a freelance engineer because I’m not the best artist when it comes to drawing. We communicated back and forth and began the design process of the cooler. After many prototypes, many failures, we finally came up with a solid design that worked.”

In effect, Gonzales built a little red wagon into the cooler, but took it a step further. The wheel assembly is fully retractable, allowing the coolers to be loaded into vehicles without threat of rolling around. The result is an ice chest that can be pulled along over all kinds of terrain.

“(The wheels) are 7-inch, all-terrain rubber wheels,” Gonzales said. “That’s what’s big with this. All the other coolers like the traditional Coleman and Igloo have small, plastic wheels that won’t even roll over a patch of grass.

“These are actually real tires. They’re rubber, they’re pneumatic so they have a tube in them and they air up. They have a nice, all-terrain stretch so whether you’re at the beach, at the lake, no matter the terrain, you can pull that cooler along with ease.”

While he knew he had a workable idea, Gonzales said it took seven prototypes before hitting on a model that performed as expected.

“You’d be surprised how difficult it is to get something to roll straight when you’re pulling it,” he said. “When you’re working with something that’s never been made before, it gets pretty interesting trying to get it to work how you want it.

“We started off with a base model. After 3D printing and lots of hours and trial and error, after seven different versions we finally came up with the one that works and gets the job done.”

In addition to handling the task of keeping cold thing cold, Gonzales said he also wanted a product with plenty of capacity. Infinite Coolers come in 55-quart and 82-quart sizes. The products may be ordered through Infinite Cooler’s website, www.Infinite-Coolers.com.

“The cooler is built where when the wheels are deployed, it’s rated up to 140 pounds, no problem,” he said. “The biggest issue, the only thing I tell people, is do not let people sit on it. One is liability reasons. They could hurt themselves. And two is you can’t hold a grown man on top of it and have 140 pounds of content in that cooler.

“When you get into the wheel mechanism, we also took into account the total weight of the cooler. We can’t put these big, heavy, stainless steel axles on there because then you’re adding anywhere from 10 to 15 pounds on each side of the cooler. That defeats the purpose, really. You rarely have to lift it up, but when you do you want to be able to lift it up.”

Gonzales got serious about the project during his senior year at Texas Tech, becoming involved in the university’s Innovation Hub and Collegiate Entrepreneurship Organization. He returned to Odessa after graduation and took part in the 2018 Odessa Business Challenge, winning a $125,000 prize that enabled him to launch his business.

“That $125,000 from the Odessa Business Challenge catapulted me into production,” he said. “I’m so grateful for them. Without that, I would be so far behind I still wouldn’t have a product out.”

But first, Gonzales had to endure an episode when the wheel literally came off.

“I came to the Odessa Business Challenge with a prototype,” he said. “I’ve never told this story. The judges don’t even know it. I presented my prototype in the Bank of America Building in downtown Odessa. I was scrambling an hour before trying to get this thing put together because certain things weren’t working on it.

“I got to the competition. I presented and everything went great. As soon as I got outside, the mechanism on the wheels failed and it just fell to the ground. It made it for the presentation and as soon as I left that building, rolling it back to my car, it completely fell to pieces.”

A 2014 Permian graduate, Gonzales has spent almost his whole life in Odessa, attending St. John’s Episcopal School and Bonham Junior High before high school. His family has deep roots in the area with his father, David, being a longtime employee at the Texas Department of Transportation, while his mother, Laura, is the chief deputy of the federal courts of the Western District of Texas. He has an older brother, Evan, who is also in the process of starting a local business.

While the coronavirus pandemic has cut into leisure activities, Gonzales has been able to find a market for his product line after opening for business in May.

“I’m not complaining, taking in all the factors,” he said. “People weren’t able to go anywhere. All the lakes and beaches were shut down.

“With all that in mind, I’ve been doing extremely well. I’m blessed. I can’t complain at all.”

One market Gonzales is hoping to break into is sports teams and said the coolers can be easily personalized with school, team and company logos.

“I would love to get them out there,” he said. “That’d be great on the sidelines. I’m working on getting in contact with the AD at Texas Tech. It’s definitely on my list to see those on the sidelines.

“I’ve had so much feedback from coaches about this would be a lifesaver. Dragging coolers from the field to the locker room is such a pain.”

Gonzales has already started to expand his product line. In addition to the coolers, he has a soft cooler backpack available for preorder and is in development on an energy beverage.

“It’s called Infinite Energy,” he said. “It’s all natural, no preservatives, no artificial colors or flavors, zero sugars. It’s designed and formulated for anyone from the businessperson who needs a pick-me-up in the middle of the day to an avid fitness person that needs it pre-workout to even the outdoorsman that needs a little boost of energy to get that hike going.”

Gonzales has a business location in Odessa, but the manufacturing is done overseas while shipping and receiving is based in the Dallas area.

“Being the little man, getting produced in the U.S. right now is just way too high,” he said. “The cost to the consumer would be way too much. My ultimate goal is to bring all my manufacturing to Texas.”

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