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Tervis Tumbler Explores New Territory

Tervis Tumbler Laura SpencerTervis Tumbler CEO/President Laura Spencer inside Tervis Tumbler’s 55,000-sq.-ft. plant.
An economic downturn didn't stop Tervis Tumbler from having fantastic sales figures in 2009.

Sales increased by more than 40% over 2008, and the company added 75 jobs at its factory and headquarters in North Venice, Fla. Not coincidentally, CEO Laura Spencer added "president" to her title in February.

"First, [the promotion] was honoring the performance we had last year," said Norbert Donelly, chairman of the board. "She's also been running the company as the CEO on a day-to-day basis for four or five years. She's performed for us at whatever level we've placed her. She's done a great job and deserves that title."

Spencer joined Tervis in 1997 as controller. She was promoted to chief financial officer and chief operating officer before taking the reins as chief executive officer in November 2006. What makes her performance in 2009 particularly impressive is how she grew the company in a depressed economy, selling a line of high-end plastic drinkware. A 16-oz. tumbler retails for $16.

"In tough times, people focus on getting good value," Spencer said. "They're still willing to pay a little more for something they think is a good investment. People are also always giving gifts, even in a down economy. They feel good about giving Tervis because they can pick a design that's personal to the recipient."

Spencer said sales were also helped along by relatively new products that have made its drinkware more portable. A collection of travel lids introduced within the last few years performed well in 2009 because they fit on the tumblers and turn them into travel mugs.

In November, Tervis unveiled tote sets in two sizes. The large tote has six outer pockets that holds tumblers, wine bottles or magazines. The smaller tote comes with two matching tumblers with travel lids. Both bags have zipper closures to secure belongings.

Even though having Bed, Bath & Beyond as a customer has helped increase Tervis' reach to more than 6,000 retail stores nationwide, Spencer said the company isn't close to saturating the market. For now, its stronghold is in the Southeast and Texas. She said the Northeast hasn't yet discovered Tervis, and the company has very little distribution on the West Coast.

This isn't the case of a start-up trying to make inroads into the market. Detroit engineers Frank Cotter and G. Howlett Davis launched the company in 1946, when they created the insulated tumbler. Their permanently sealed, double-wall design, which uses air as an insulator, remains virtually unchanged to this day. They combined the last three letters of their last names to come up with the name "Tervis."

Tervis Mickey MouseNext generation discovers Tervis through its Disney license.
In the 1950s, the Winslow family purchased the product rights and incorporated The Tervis Tumbler Company in 1967. The family still owns it and employs more than 210 people in its 55,000-sq.-ft. manufacturing facility.

Thus far, the company has grown primarily by word of mouth, which has worked to a point. A market perception still exists beyond the Southeast that the Tervis line, which now includes three tumbler sizes, a mug, an ice bucket and tumbler lids and straws, is a coastal product designed to hold cold drinks by the pool or at the beach. The drinkware works just as well with hot beverages, however.

"Sometimes people don't ‘get it' unless they try it," Spencer said.

The word-of-mouth buzz has spread online via blogs and social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

"I think what's great is we do have people who are real fans, who are Tervis evangelists who love their tumblers," she said. "People are already blogging about us and posting things on Facebook. We are working on ways to leverage that."

Spencer and her executive team are also working on a new branding strategy designed to make Tervis more of a household name.

Tervis Major League BaseballMajor League Baseball license has been a hit for Tervis Tumbler.
"The key thing is making sure people understand that the product they have is Tervis," Spencer said. "If you think about plastic drinkware, people have a hard time reeling off a brand vs. cars or tennis shoes."

Licensing is helping. Spencer said the company has too many licenses to remember, and it keeps adding to the list. In June 2009, it signed with Major League Baseball, a property Spencer said helped expose the Tervis brand to a larger male demographic. Other deals are in the works. Spencer said the company is currently working with Fiesta Dinnerware, for instance, to create a line of drinkware adorned with matching patterns.

Another growth channel for Tervis is its customization business. "We're looking at working with events like major golf tournaments and doing business with corporate accounts, as well," she said. "That part of the business was a little tougher last year, but I think it will bounce back. We think companies realize that, as opposed to other types of corporate gifts, a Tervis tumbler is something people will actually keep."

Spencer admits that a big challenge will be staying focused with so many growth opportunities out there. Donelly isn't worried. Not only is Spencer very organized, he said, she is also good at surrounding herself with talented people. She'll have plenty of help.

"She does a terrific job of taking her ego out of the equation," Donelly said. "She's not afraid to hire someone who has more knowledge in a certain area than she has. She's been extremely successful hiring these people and melding them together on the executive committee and building a strong team."

Spencer will need everyone on that team to pull together in 2010 to accomplish everything on her to-do list. In addition to building brand awareness, acquiring new licenses and figuring out how to maximize social networking on the Internet, she wants to work on the company's infrastructure to become more efficient at controlling costs. She said she also wants to push for new product development. Then, there's geographic expansion.

"Our main goal is to break strong into the California market," she said. "And if we can get stronger in the Northeast, that will be a big success for us."
If Spencer's track record is any indication, she should accomplish all of it.


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