Rogan Donelly | Crain's Denver

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Rogan Donelly


Headquartered in North Venice, Fla., Tervis is a third-generation family-owned company known for their quality, customizable drinkware. Tervis products, which are virtually unbreakable and come with a lifetime guarantee, are sold in retail stores nationwide, including 45 Tervis stores from Florida to California. The company recently unveiled its new line of stainless steel tumblers.

The Mistake:

We changed how we handled our lifetime guarantee exchange program.

Tervis is a 71-year-old company and a large part of our value proposition – along with personalization and rapid delivery – is also quality. We’ve always had a made-for-life guarantee, and that has never changed.

But maybe two or so years ago, we changed how you’re able to exchange the product at our heritage stores, what we call our local Florida stores. Previously they could take it to our heritage stores and right then and there you could exchange the products. You’d walk in and you’d have a cracked tumbler and you could exchange it. The cashier would say, “Thank you very much – here you go.”

And essentially the change involved having the consumer ship their product directly to us [as with our other retailers]. And the reason for doing that was we did some research. We thought we could make it more efficient – from logistics, shipping and receiving. We thought maybe we could streamline some things. But we [noted] these efficiencies on the company side – and not necessarily on the consumers’ side.

We knew it was a mistake because we heard [about it] in the marketplace. Our consumer has a strong affinity for Tervis. Especially locally, they really feel like they are a large part of our success, which is true. It’s very much true.

So we heard very loudly and angrily that this was not a very good decision. Customers felt slighted. Our consumer took it personally, which is something we appreciate. At the end of the day, the reason why we’ve been successful is because we’re more than just a cup. We’re an extension of someone’s personality. The level of customization that we do, all the different thousands of SKUs that we have [makes our products] an extension of themselves.

The reason why we’ve been successful is because we’re more than just a cup.

The Lesson:

When I took the role of president, that was the first thing that we did – reverse the [new] exchange policy. We reversed and expanded, actually. So now you can take a product back to the heritage stores, which is the way that it used to be. And you can also take it to any one of our 45 stores. Or you can submit [the return] to the web and receive a mailing coupon.

We made the decision to be much more consumer-facing, for the ease of the consumer. The lesson was two-fold. One was listening to the consumer, to their demands and preferences. First and foremost, you have to listen to the consumer.

[In addition], it’s our job as business leaders – now that we’ve got consumer preferences – to make things as efficient and productive as possible. The stores in Florida are connected to what we call our “superfans.” They’re really connected to the coastal lifestyle and are responsible for a lot of our success. And [as a result] we started using them as more of a sounding board.

The main lesson was – listen to the consumer first. And we’ve expanded that onto other business initiatives.

Follow Tervis on Twitter at @TervisTumbler.

Photo courtesy of Rogan Donelly

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