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An American Original: How Tervis Grew from State Secret to National Treasure

It was created in the same year as the bikini, Tupperware containers, and the microwave oven. Yes, we’re talking about Tervis tumblers.

Tervis Tumbler Quenches its Thirst for Success from Florida

Invented in Detroit in 1946 by Frank Cotter and G. Howlett Davis, Tervis tumblers are as American as the two- piece and leftovers. Ask the average person when these iconic insulated tumblers hit the market, however, and you’ll probably hear a year much closer to the one we’re in now. So, what happened?

Third-generation owner, Rogan Donelly, says it best: “Our products have not changed throughout the years. Our rise in popularity? Awareness.” In the last 20 years, Tervis tumblers have transitioned from local specialty item to large- scale phenomenon, mainly due to the variety of specialized decals displayed between the two tumbler walls. In addition to the tumbler’s no-sweat technology, customization remains the company’s largest differentiator. “Many companies require high minimums for custom products,” said Donelly. “We have the capacity to create as little as one.” The scale borders on microscopic, but it’s a business risk that has paid off, expanding the Tervis customer base to effectively include anyone. But choosing the right manufacturing location was crucial. Without the right mix of pro-business attitudes, cost- effective infrastructure and workforce talent, it would have defied the laws of profitability to offer the deep level of customization that sets Tervis apart from the competition. Luckily for Tervis, one state fit the bill: Florida.

The History of an Icon

Tervis tumblers may have been born in Detroit, but their formative years were in Florida. Donelly’s grandfather, John C. Winslow, purchased the product rights from Cotter and Davis in the 1960s. Shortly thereafter, manufacturing operations and Tervis corporate headquarters were whisked away to Osprey, Florida, joining the ranks of several other manufacturing businesses Winslow had already started. “All of his businesses shared the same attributes—high-quality, functional, American-made products,” Donelly reflected. For the next several decades, production and sales remained steady, until a major licensing deal propelled Tervis tumblers into a new echelon of consumer goods. “In 1995, we gained our first license with college athletics CLC,” said Donelly, which remains the company’s largest licensing deal to date. In 2008, a partnership with Bed Bath and Beyond added another level of exposure, which was quickly followed by a slew of other licensing deals. Leveraging Florida’s connection to the tourism industry and its high- concentration of sports teams, Tervis established partnerships with major institutions like Disney, the NFL, Marvel, Warner Brothers and more, catapulting the brand into the national spotlight.

As far as the workforce talent here in Florida, we have very loyal and dedicated employees, some who have been part of the company for as long as 25 years.

Rogan Donelly
Principal, Tervis Tumbler

A Workforce that Holds Water

As demand grew, so did Tervis. In 2005, the company repurposed its original manufacturing facility into a retail store and opened a new 55,000-square- foot manufacturing plant in nearby Venice, Florida. The state-of-the-art manufacturing facility is—of course—highly automated, using ultrasonic sound waves to trap a pillow of insulating Florida air between the two walls. But Tervis’ dedication to providing each customer with a unique experience requires a workforce that isn’t just manufacturing savvy, but highly detail-oriented and dedicated to the brand as well. Each emblem must be placed by hand between the tumbler’s two plastic walls. “My grandfather used to say, ‘We sell emblems, not cups,’ alluding to the fact that whether you’re a fisher or a botanist, we have a design that will fit your interest,” said Donelly.

When spikes in demand require an increase in workforce, Tervis has no shortage of available talent, tapping into Florida’s manufacturing workforce of 342,000 to fill critical positions. Lately, that’s been often. In 2011, Tervis doubled its production capacity and continues to see exponential year-over-year increases in both sales and workforce. In 2010, there were less than 300 on payroll year-round; as of 2015, Tervis has over 900 employees with plans to surpass 1,000 workers this year. “As far as the workforce talent here in Florida, we have very loyal and dedicated employees, some who have been a part of the company for as long as 25 years,” Donelly reflected. “Tervis is an attractive, fast-growing and innovative brand that gives our employees room for creativity and growth.”

Florida’s No-Sweat Infrastructure

With only one manufacturing facility and custom orders making up a substantial part of Tervis’ business, a well-connected infrastructure and the ensuing ability to keep shipping and material costs low is another critical benefit of the company’s Florida location. Although the Tervis brand is gaining national traction, its regional market is still its most robust. “Currently, our strongest consumer fan- base and retailers are in the south, so manufacturing and shipping out of Florida works well for us.” Florida’s extensive multimodal infrastructure, ranked second in the nation by the National Chamber Foundation, keeps Tervis well-connected to both its suppliers and its growing customer base. With 20 commercial airports, 15 deepwater seaports and thousands of miles of interconnected road and rail, Florida is a natural trade hub for both domestic and international enterprises.


With only one manufacturing facility and custom orders making up a substantial part of Tervis’ business, a well- connected infrastructure and the ensuing ability to keep shipping and material costs low is another critical benefit of the company’s Florida location.

A Refreshing Cost of Business

In addition, Florida’s pro-business economic environment helps Tervis sustain its ongoing growth. Recognized as the #2 best state for business by Chief Executive magazine, Florida’s low 5.5-percent corporate tax rate, no personal income tax and sales and use tax exemptions on manufacturing equipment give Tervis the breathing room to grow, reinvesting funds into new areas of business. “We want Florida to be the most competitive state in the nation for great companies like Tervis to succeed,” said Florida Governor Rick Scott. “By creating a low tax, business-friendly climate, Florida is well on the way to becoming first for job creation. We will continue to support Enterprise Florida so job creators like Tervis can continue to diversify Florida’s economy and create jobs for our families.”
For instance, Tervis recently opened the 24,000-square-foot Tervis Innovation Center, located adjacent to its Venice plant, in 2014. “With the large amount of growth we have seen over the years, we have also started a gradual shift from being a manufacturing company to a consumer goods company with a strong emphasis on our brand,” said Donelly. Housing the company’s web team, product development, marketing, creative and licensing departments, the new Innovation Center is solely focused on inspiring creativity and fostering collaboration to propel brand growth. With several successful social media campaigns under its belt and ongoing growth numbers that would make any business jealous, the Tervis business model is working—phenomenally.

Soaking the Competition

Having found all of the resources they need for success in Florida, from a skilled workforce that manufactures their products to a pro-business climate that makes it easy to operate, to an expansive infrastructure that allows them to move their industry-leading products around the world. It’s a classic American business story—one where technical ingenuity, savvy marketing and a dedication to quality come together to build one powerhouse brand.