For the better part of the past 110 years, Stanley was doing just fine.
The drinkware manufacturer had made a place for itself in the knapsacks of outdoorsmen and lunchboxes of blue collar workers with its bottles and thermoses that kept food and drinks hot — or cold — for hours on end.
The Seattle-based brand was chugging along with a comfortable $70 million in annual sales from its famous hammertone green products, and looked poised for another century of modest, reliable success.
But starting in 2020, something changed. A fledgling product came into its own and turned Stanley into a juggernaut.
Over the past four years, the Stanley Quencher has become one of the most popular water bottles in the world. Sold in an ever-growing array of colors and finishes, the Quencher has supercharged Stanley’s sales by appealing to a demographic that Stanley didn’t spend too much time catering to in its first hundred years: women.
A favorite of nurses, teachers and celebrities alike, the Quencher has been such a popular product that Stanley’s annual sales are projected to top $750 million in 2023, according to data reviewed by CNBC Make It.
Here’s how Stanley leveraged the Quencher to turn a century-old company into one of the biggest names in hydration.
The Quencher arrived in 2016 to little fanfare. The 40-ounce insulated cup, which retails for between $45 and $55, sported a handle for ease of transportation, as well as a tapered design that allowed it to slide into a car’s cup holder.
But in its first few years, the Quencher didn’t make much of an impact. Year after year, the brand’s best-selling product remained the iconic green bottle. Indeed, sales were so middling that by 2019 Stanley had stopped restocking and marketing the product.
In 2020, Stanley brought on Terence Reilly as its new president. Reilly had spent the past seven years at Crocs, where he led the strategy that turned the rubber clogs into one of the hottest shoes on the market.
When Reilly came onboard, he did a listening tour around the company to hear from employees about what was working and what wasn’t. One employee mentioned a group of women in Utah who ran a commerce blog called The Buy Guide.
Buy Guide cofounder Ashlee LeSueur had purchased her first Quencher at a Bed, Bath and Beyond store in 2017. She fell in love with the product and quickly began gifting it to friends and recommending it to followers.
In 2019, she tried to make a case for Stanley to continue production of the Quencher, but the sales numbers weren’t there. Instead, Stanley gave her another option: make a wholesale order to sell Quenchers directly to her Buy Guide audience.
“I felt like I was signing a mortgage,” LeSueur tells CNBC Make It of her purchase order for 5,000 Quenchers. “It was a big risk for it. It took every penny that we had in the business account, plus some personal funds to make that happen.”
Those Quenchers, however, sold out within days. When Reilly took charge, he embraced The Buy Guide as partners, working with them to promote new, exciting colors like Desert Sage and Cream.
“My experience at Crocs told me that that kind of influencer opportunity was just the magic that Stanley might need,” he says. “And we were right. The Buy Guide proved to be amazing partners and helped us create the Quencher phenomenon.”
In fact, the Quencher sold so well that it replaced the iconic Stanley bottle as the brand’s top selling product in 2020. It hasn’t let go of the top spot since.
With every new color Stanley rolled out, sales continued to increase. Stanley’s revenue jumped from $73 million in 2019 to $94 million in 2020. It more than doubled to $194 million in 2021.
In 2022, Stanley released a redesigned Quencher model with a streamlined design and new array of colors and finishes. Revenue doubled again that year to $402 million.
The Instagram-friendly pastels helped the Quencher be seen as less of a utilitarian product and more as a fashion accessory. As the available color options grew — Stanley has released the Quencher in over 100 colors — some fans began building collections.
“We see all the time that [our customer] wants her quencher to match her fit, her nail polish, her car, her mood, her kitchen,” Reilly tells CNBC Make It. “We’re serving her where she wants the product.”
Content creator Chelsea Espejo first learned about the Quencher in 2022. She now has a collection of 47 cups. A gym enthusiast, she credits the cup’s large size for helping her stay hydrated throughout her workouts. The wide variety of color options certainly don’t hurt either.
“On the days that I do have extra time, I search for the specific [color] that matches my shirt,” she tells CNBC Make It. “I wouldn’t even say Stanleys are something I use. They’re actually part of my personality. If I don’t have it, if I don’t choose the right color, my day kind of doesn’t go how I planned it.”
Espejo isn’t the only one with a strong attachment to her Quencher. The cup is a social media darling, especially on TikTok. The #StanleyTumbler hashtag has been viewed more than 300 million times, and the product has been the star of many viral videos.
Helping drive the excitement is Stanley’s strategy of releasing new colors in limited-edition drops, advertising the latest additions to its roster on social media. Reilly also capitalized on the Quencher’s viral success by pushing for collabs with celebrities and brands.
“My experience at Crocs was fueled by collaboration culture and drop culture,” Reilly says. “And I knew that once we had our legs under us at Stanley, and once we could see the connection to consumers that we were creating, we were also ready for collaborations.”
Indeed, collabs have been key to driving the Stanley Quencher’s popularity. The Quencher is frequently released in limited edition colors that sell out in minutes. A recent collaboration with Starbucks resulted in a red Quencher that was being resold on eBay for hundreds of dollars the same day it dropped.
When Target introduced new Quencher colors recently, some stores had to place restrictions on how many a customer could buy, limiting them to two per person.
“The resale market is certainly flattering,” Reilly says. “The fact that there are signs at America’s best retailers limiting the number of Stanleys you can buy is an astounding thing to think about.”
Quencher collector Emily Fahrlander made her way to her local Starbucks at five in the morning the day the Starbucks collab was released, determined to get her hands on the limited-edition item.
“I’m not usually that crazy, I really am not,” she tells Make It. “But I didn’t get the last [drop], so I was like, ‘Let’s just wake up early.'”
And while Reilly and the Stanley team still “want a little bit of scarcity” to help keep excitement around the product, he says they are constantly working on manufacturing as much product as possible.
“We really continue to increase the number of units available each time we drop, because we see the trend and the waiting lists that are growing,” he says. “But there’s only so many seats in the stadium, and when the seats are sold out, they’re sold out.”
Stanley has now sold more than 10 million Quenchers, and demand for the cup doesn’t look to be waning any time soon.
The Quencher’s popularity on social media has been a boon to the rest of Stanley’s business as well. Ellyn Briggs, a brands analyst at Morning Consult, tells CNBC Make It that a rising tide raises all boats.
“It’s bringing the Stanley name to the forefront of consumers’ minds, making them aware of the brand, making them have more favorable perceptions,” Briggs tells Make It.
Indeed, Reilly says that the “entire Stanley brand has benefited from the Quencher trend.”
“We’re seeing our new products checking very well,” he says. “And certainly our heritage products have regained their velocity and their rightful place in culture and in serving the needs of consumers.”
For Espejo, whose introduction to the brand came through the Quencher, Stanley has become a mainstay in her cupboards with drinking glasses and mugs as well.
“Now when I go to any store, the first thing I look at is the Stanley collection, whether it’s the mugs or the Quencher,” she says. “My love for [the Quencher] has given me the opportunity to love all of Stanley.”
Close observers might notice that Stanley’s product line has taken a page out of the Quencher’s book, with aesthetic colors and eye-catching designs being adopted by Stanley offerings both new and old.
“[The Quencher redesign] gave us confidence that we can apply those same aesthetic principles across other categories,” Stanley design chief Graham Nearn says. “It gives us confidence that we could even start to refine and define our products that we were most famous for.”
And while the success of the Quencher was fueled in large part by an embrace of colors favored by its new, female audience, Stanley was clearly onto something in its first 110 years.
One of the Quencher’s most in-demand new colors? Hammertone green.
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