Partner Spotlight: Tervis Tumbler
The University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee campus often collaborates with businesses on internships, training programs and employee-certification classes. One unique partnership has students playing a new and valuable role as product evaluators.
Tervis Tumbler, the Sarasota-based manufacturer of popular insulated drink containers, recently partnered with students from the Sarasota-Manatee campus to seek feedback on several products it was launching.
The collaboration spanned two semesters and was deemed a success by company and school officials. Based on student feedback from one of the sessions, designers made a small but important product change, adding a soft silicone base to a stainless steel water bottle to muffle the sound of the bottle when placed on a hard surface like a desk.
“They’ve been tremendous to work with,” company president and USF alumnus Rogan Donelly said of the students. “It’s important that anytime you have a resource like USF in your own backyard, that you take advantage of it.”
Donelly, a spring 2018 MBA graduate, said he’s hoping to expand the company’s ties to USF through additional focus groups and possibly a new internship program. The Sarasota-Manatee campus is near Tervis’ headquarters in Venice, making it an obvious choice for collaboration, but Donelly also wants to involve students from other campuses.
Tervis was established 74 years ago and is a true success story and Southwest Florida mainstay whose workforce has grown to 700 employees. It introduced the world’s first double-walled insulated tumbler that eliminates condensation and has built a reputation for user-friendly, customizable designs.
The name Tervis comes from the last three letters of the cofounders’ last names, Detroit engineers Frank Cotter and G. Howlett Davis. In the 1950s, entrepreneur John C. Winslow, Donelly’s grandfather, purchased the company and moved manufacturing to Osprey, a neighborhood in south Sarasota County.
The company has remained in the family ever since. Winslow turned over control to Donelly’s father, Norbert, in the 1980s. As a young man, Rogan Donelly worked for the company in every department, from sales and marketing to the production line.
In 2008, he joined the Board of Directors, and in 2009, after a stint at Bank of America in Boston, he returned to Sarasota and became a principal partner. He was named president in 2016. His father serves as chairman of the board.
In addition to Donelly, several other USF graduates work at Tervis, including Marketing Manager and spring 2013 Sarasota-Manatee campus alumnus Brian Thoennissen.
Thoennissen started as an intern in the marketing department during his senior year and transitioned to a full-time employee after graduation. Like many proud USF Bulls before and after him, he chose to remain in the area after college.
“I’m another one of those who grew up here, went to school here and decided to stay after graduation to raise my family here,” he said. “It’s one reason we like to hire USF graduates, because they’re loyal to the area.”
That loyalty is likely to continue as Tervis seeks to deepen its relationship with USF in coming years. Executives value the feedback they received at the recent focus groups and enjoy collaborating with USF.
The company approached the campus about engaging with student focus groups a little over a year ago. Two groups were created, one that involved a marketing class led by marketing professor James Curran and the other a general studies class. Curran was instrumental in organizing the groups. The students met with the Tervis executives for about two hours each.
“Tervis has given our students an opportunity to apply their classroom knowledge to a real-world scenario with a national leader in the drinkware industry,” said Director of Business Outreach and Engagement Jay Riley, who also worked with the groups. “The students have been able to provide valuable business solutions to Tervis while at the same time working with and learning from leading professionals and fellow USF alumni here in Southwest Florida.”
The aim of the focus groups was to generate feedback about overall design, styling and color choices from college-age millennials, one of Tervis’ target audiences. The company sees millennial consumers as a natural fit for Tervis and frequently promotes its products to the group as environmentally responsible alternatives to disposable, single-use bottles and cups. It recently expanded its product line to include coffee mugs, wine glasses and stainless steel water bottles.
“Here at Tervis, we are all about environmental responsibility and sustainability, and these same issues also resonate with this current generation of consumer,” Donelly said. “This isn’t a single-use plastic, so it never ends up in a landfill or in the oceans. We were sustainable before it was trendy.”
Adding to the company’s appeal among millennials is customization. Buyers in this group like customizable options to fit their personality, and Tervis produces a wide range of color and design options.
“Self-expression is very important to this consumer group. Millennials have a very strong voice, and they like to express their voice through their product choices and by what they say on social media,” Donelly said. “Working with the students at USF gave us insights into this important consumer market.
“We liked working with USF students,” he said. “The caliber and quality of these students is impressive, both from a focus group perspective and from an employee perspective. They come to us well-informed and motivated.”