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Get On The Shelf, Kool-Z

A group of Lehigh alums have a dream to keep your beverage cool, under any circumstances. They are now finalists to make that dream a reality, via Walmart’s Get On The Shelf competition.
 
Austin Benton (’02, Finance), Ryan Conlin (’02, Marketing & Supply Chain Management) & P.J. Vrabel (a Lehigh Valley resident) are the inventors and patent holders of Kool-Z, a higher-tech twist on the old fashioned cup cozy. They, and their product, are now one of 20 finalists among thousands. 
 
In Walmart’s competition, individuals and businesses submit a product they'd like Walmart to offer their customers. The multi-stage contest includes opportunities for the public to vote online and winners get the opportunity to sell their product through Walmart.com.
 
Kool-Z is a beverage cooler that hugs 12-oz cans like a wetsuit, keeping drinks cold longer. For those who hit the beach, or prefer their beverages straight out of a ten-year-old cooler, it’s got a swivel top so your lips never need touch the can. Plus, it has a clear outer wall that makes it fully customizable.  It comes in seven colors, or for large orders, can include a company’s logo or design.
 
The team has already talked to experts in design, production and manufacturing and is looking for start-up funding from the world’s largest retailer to blanket American shelves. 
 
Having worked on the product for four years and created several prototypes, the team came up with a final product—and a patent. The patent involves fully enclosing a 12-oz beverage can, particularly around the lid area. 
 
“We’re just three regular guys who came up with an idea and decided to run with it,” said Benton. “We’re the underdogs in this race, big time.  Most of the other products are part of established business and have sold huge amounts of product already.  To think that we’re just starting out, and are competing with these businesses already, is wild.”
After making the finals, the team was invited out to Walmart.com headquarters to pitch the Kool-Z to a panel of judges. The presentation was filmed for an upcoming Internet TV show as part of the competition.
 
“When we found out we were selected as finalists, we were shocked,” said Benton. “There are so many great products that we are competing against, so we need the Lehigh faithful to vote in big numbers!” 
The team is not just holed away in the family garage, enjoying cold beverages. Benton is a Finance Manager at a financial services company in Philadelphia.  Conlin is a Financial Advisor at Investment Advisors Management in Easton, PA.  PJ is an Employee Benefits Consultant for a commercial insurance broker in Bethlehem, PA. 
 
“Our families have been so supportive, we couldn’t have made it this far without them,” said Benton.
 
Get On The Shelf starts today and Kool-Z will be featured in a webisode online where America will have three days to vote for their favorite product. To support Kool-Z, visit here.

Story by Jordan Reese

Posted on Tuesday, October 01, 2013

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