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Stanley boss Terence Reilly

is a fan of understatement: “I’m grateful that things turned out this way”

Photo: Anna Pocaro / IndieWire / Getty Images

Within a few years, a steel thermo mug has become a sought-after lifestyle product, available in bright colors, and new collections are euphorically celebrated by the fan base on social media. The former handlers for the working class are now able to inspire their customers so much that they storm supermarkets until they are sold out or overrun online shops until the servers collapse. This is the history of the Stanley Cup, not to be confused with the trophy of the same name from the North American ice hockey league NHL. The mastermind behind the hype:

Terence Reilly

(56), President of the Stanley company since 2020.

“A good idea is worth implementing immediately.” This is the motto followed by Reilly, a square-jawed manager from New Jersey who likes to wear a baseball cap on his bald head. He has big plans for the traditional brand Stanley and is extremely self-confident - that's part of the business too: "We are convinced that we will become one of the leading lifestyle brands in the world in the next few years," Reilly recently explained in the podcast Harvard Business Review.

Stanley is a company that looks back on a long history, but has had a rather niche existence. 111 years ago,

William Stanley

founded the steel tableware forge in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. He made double-walled thermos bottles made of stainless steel. The robust vessels found their fans among workers on construction sites and in agriculture. Hot drinks for all those outdoors enthusiasts. During World War II, US fighter pilots carried the mostly green Stanley Bottles on board.

Giant cup with drinking straw

Reilly moved to the top of the company in 2020, having previously been chief marketing officer at the plastic sandal manufacturer Crocs. Reilly began his career in his home state of New Jersey and held leadership positions at Famous Footwear, Footaction and Prudential Financial. At Stanley, Reilly is responsible for the breathtaking rise in a very short period of time: sales increased tenfold from $70 million in 2019 to more than $750 million in 2023.

The euphoria today is mainly sparked by a giant mug with a capacity of 40 ounces, almost 1.2 liters. Made of stainless steel as usual at Stanley, narrow enough at the bottom to fit in a cup holder in the car, lockable at the top and used with a straw. A massive, steel handle on the side. In 2016, Stanley came onto the market with this model, the so-called Stanley Quencher Tumbler.

The mug seemed to be a flop at first, but it sold well. Until Stanley partnered with an affiliate marketing website based in Utah. The quencher was popular among Mormons, especially women. Today's star product under the Stanleys, whose stocks were no longer replenished and whose production was about to cease, was revived.

From green, masculine and hot to feminine, colorful and cold

For Reilly, this was already going in the right direction. He sensed potential customers who would appreciate that the cup is sustainable, unlike a disposable cup, that it holds a lot of water (because drinking a lot is healthy) and that a colorfully styled drinking vessel can be a fashionable companion. Reilly turned to a group of shoppers the brand had ignored for 107 years: women. When he boarded Stanley, he stated the goal: We will transform from green, masculine and hot to feminine, colorful and cold!

Rebranding: Crocs success repeated

Refreshing a well-known, proven product - this rebranding strategy is not new and Terence Reilly had already proven that he mastered it at Crocs. He succeeded in getting the plastic slippers onto catwalks around the world. The brand released

limited editions of the slippers with stars like

Justin Bieber


Bad Bunny

. Social media and celebrities served Reilly as a vehicle to reach new groups of buyers for a product.

At Stanley, Reilly rolled out the same tried-and-tested script. While rapper

Post Malone

posed with the plastic clogs at Crocs in 2018, country singer

Lainey Wilson

picked them up at the Stanley Cup. A pink and green Watermelon Moonshine Quencher, named after one of her songs, followed – and sold out within eleven minutes.

Metal and madness: A cup for 50 euros

The ubiquity on social media and new limited special editions, collaborations and influencers posing with the cups fueled sales of the Stanley Quencher Tumbler. From pink to bright yellow - the piece currently costs 45 US dollars, in the German shop it costs just under 50 euros. It's fitting that the New York Times also declared drinking water a trend of the year. The Stanley Cups gained enormous traction on social media with hashtags like #stayhydrated. Particularly sought-after models have become collector's items and are sometimes traded at absurdly high prices.

At the beginning of the year, people camped in front of US chain Target stores and stood in long lines before the store opened to get a copy of the limited edition in cooperation with Starbucks. In January, Stanley said it became one of the most searched brands on Amazon - ahead of AirPods, Taylor Swift and Barbie. At least in the USA, the chunky Stanleys have become indispensable in the hands of Gen Z.

An accident became a masterpiece

Reilly, the bald marketing veteran with the graying, stubbly goatee, trusts his intuition: If he has the feeling that a cooperation fits his brand, then he goes for it. An unusual story and Reilly's unusual reaction caused the hype around the Stanley Cup to go through the roof last fall.

A woman named Danielle uploaded a video to Tiktok that showed her car completely burned out after an accident. She pulled out a virtually intact Stanley Cup from the cup holder in the center console, shook it and noticed that there was even ice in it. The video has 9.1 million likes to date and has been shared more than 445,000 times.

A great template for every marketing professional: Reilly didn't hesitate to sink this template. Just two days later, he posted a video: “We’re glad you’re doing well, Danielle,” says Reilly in a sonorous voice and a serious look. He politely thanks Danielle for sharing this video. Of course, Danielle will be sent a new mug as a thank you. “But there is one more thing,” he continues, “we have never done anything like this before and probably never will again, but we would like to replace your car.”

The reaction: 7 million likes on Tiktok, and another push for the cups. It was “phenomenal” for Stanley, said Reilly recently in the “Earned” videocast on the influencer marketing platform CreatorIQ when asked about his marketing coup.

Reilly knows that at the height of hype, understatement is the best strategy. His video was “unscripted,” recorded in one take, Reilly asserts. “I was just the guy who responded to a customer.” If he had known what kind of response he would have expected, he might not have "had the courage to act like that," he claims.

The Stanley appears to be well on its way to becoming an iconic product, at least in the US. One that stands for cups like Kleenex stands for cloth. The story of the accident and his video response to it made Reilly the face of the brand.

“Working On The Highway”

It seems to be the role of a lifetime. Reilly even associates the mug with another great love: the manager is a die-hard fan of rock legend Bruce Springsteen; according to the New Yorker, he has seen “the boss” on stage more than 60 times. The normal megastar who repeatedly dedicates his song lyrics to the ordinary American worker. That's why it doesn't seem so far-fetched what Reilly describes in the "Earned" video cast as his dream collaboration: Stanley Cups for Springsteen's E Street Band at their sweaty show. His idol Bruce drinks the big sip of water that he always takes and spits into the air before his dusty classic “Working On The Highway” from a Stanley. That was his “selfish dream,” adds Reilly.

Reilly knows his target audience has other musical idols. “Our customers want Taylor Swift or Olivia Rodrigo.” But the idea that old rocker Springsteen could one day appear on stage with a Stanley Cup would delight him even more than his video success with Danielle.