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Case Study: The turnaround of Crocs and Stanley spearheaded by Terence Reilly

Last week, Stanley 1913 made headlines when the company reported over $750M in annual sales. The company’s meteoric growth did not hinge on any scientific or AI breakthrough. Instead, Stanley’s progress relied on something more elusive - and perhaps more difficult: capturing the hearts and minds of women across generations.

Stanley was founded in 1913 - over 110 years ago - by William Stanley Jr., a gifted physicist and inventor who had previously founded the Stanley Electric Manufacturing Company, which was purchased by General Electric after Stanley created the first high voltage alternating current transmission, which became the prototype and basis for modern electrical power distribution. (Interestingly, William’s son, Harold Stanley, would later become one of the founders of Morgan Stanley). Later, in his spare time, William invented the steel vacuum-sealed bottle. His new venture started mass-producing the Stanley bottle in 1915, only a year before William’s untimely and early passing at age 57. For most of the company's history, the Stanley brand was popular with workmen and rugged outdoors enthusiasts. As recently as 2012, Stanley mentioned that its products resonated with “a 30-year-career veteran policeman” and “a retired Army soldier.”

Today, Stanley resonates with a nearly opposite audience: female tweens, genz, and millennials who champion Stanley proudly on the internet and to their friends.

How did this sleepy brand go from $70M in 2019 sales, selling hammertone green water bottles designed for calloused hands and trucking cupholders, to the #1 most-wanted 2023 holiday item among women, to the tune of over $750M in 2023 sales?

A lot changed.

While I could wax poetically about the rising wellness trend and the impact of TikTok on singular product recommendations, I want to focus on the transformational leadership of Terence Reilly and the lessons to be learned from his visionary - and unique - stewardship.

Terence joined Stanley in April 2020, at the height of COVID-19 lockdowns. Terence previously served as the CMO of Crocs, where he similarly executed a “180” on the brand and audience. As Terence himself admitted, “at the time, Crocs was a meme. The meme was those holes are where your dignity leaks out.” He was right. Crocs went from laughing stock of fashion to treasured fashion item - an incredible revival. 

Crocs and Stanley are independently incredible case studies on how to revitalize and resurge a teetering brand, but they share a common thread: both were turned around by the same individual. There must be something to learn from Terence. As I started to dissect the many interviews and podcasts I had gathered, it was clear Terence applied similar principles at Crocs and Stanley to achieve success. I enjoyed learning from Terence so much that I put these lessons together, hoping others might enjoy and learn from him, too.

Lesson 1: Proactively and regularly soliciting feedback from employees creates an environment where great ideas can - and will - come from anywhere.

On Fridays - now dubbed Friday Flybys - Terence sets aside time to randomly and personally call upon Stanley employees of all levels and tenures. He asks the same question: “How is Stanley treating you?” An unnerving experience for new employees, yet it was this open door culture that led to the breakthrough moments at both Crocs and Stanley. 

At Crocs, the breakthrough moment was the collaboration with Post Malone.

The seedling for this collaboration came from Toria Roth, who was fresh off of her internship at Crocs. Knowing that Terence was open to unsolicited feedback and suggestions, Toria walked into Terence’s office, and asked, “Terence, do you have a minute?” And she showed Terence a photo of Post Malone wearing Crocs. 

Terence lives by the mantra, “Good ideas are worth doing right away". So, as soon as Toria left his office, Terence called Post Malone’s record label, Republic Records, to talk about working together. 

A few months later, the Post Malone x Crocs went live. The collab sold out in minutes, completely crashed the website, and opened the door to new collaborations and vastly new customers who wore Crocs proudly. A new dawn at Crocs was hatched. 

Lesson 2: Champion creators who authentically love your product and who have product authority. And do so quickly. 

At Stanley, a similar cultural breakthrough moment occurred. 

The first week that Terence joined Stanley, he interviewed his new colleagues, asking, “Hey, what’s going well? What isn’t? What’s stop, start and continue?” 

Lauren Solomon, a sales associates at Stanley, shared with Terence that  Ashlee LeSeur, the creator behind a popular newsletter calledThe Buy Guide, had been a longtime fan of the 40oz Quencher, which was slated to be discontinued. 

Again, Terence immediately reached out to Ashlee with an offer: if she made a wholesale order of 5,000 Quenchers and helped sell them to The Buy Guide’s audience, then Stanley would promise not to discontinue the cup.

Not only did this action save the Quencher, it also catapulted the Quencher to new heights. This move resulted in an ingenious crossing of customer chasms - from outdoorsman to women who viewed their water bottles as a daily necessity. Today, Terence gives credit where he believes it is due: “Buy Guide proved to be amazing partners and helped us create the Quencher phenomenon.”

Lesson 3: Great products with a seemingly narrow customer base can find pockets of customer love outside of the narrow base. When you find those new threads, pull them hard. 

Once Terence saw the resonance the Quencher had with Buy Guide’s millennial female audience, he pulled and pulled on that thread unit the brand shifted. In Terence’s words “We went from male, green and hot, to female, colorful and cool.”  Terence knew from his experience at Crocs that customers respond to color. He also knew that youth culture and - now more than ever - female youth culture drives culture more widely.

Terence started to execute on his playbook: try out new bold colors, work with influencers who organically love the product and drive culture, and listen to customers and deliver products and colors they want. Many variations of the same beloved product, balanced with subtle changes like colors and limited edition collaborations, is the antidote to staleness, creating an iconic style and a simpler supply chain. The playbook worked. 

In January, Stanley was searched more than AirPods, Taylor Swift, and Barbie on Amazon. Sales have gone from $94M in 2020 to $194M in 2021, $402M in 2022, and $750M in 2023. An incredible feat.

Stanley is a remarkable story, just as theCrocs turnaround is a remarkable story. It was fun getting to learn about the shared thread of visionary leadership behind these two great revitalized brands. 

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Natalie DillonNatalie Dillon

Investor at Maveron LLC // consumer centric VCInvestor at Maveron LLC // consumer centric VC

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Crocs and Stanley are independently incredible case studies on how to revitalize and resurge a teetering brand. They share a common thread: both were turned around by the same individual, Terence Reilly. I dug in to learn from Terence, sharing a few lessons from his playbook. 

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