Russell: Stanley is experiencing the double edged sword of success

Feb 21, 2024, 5:16 PM | Updated: Mar 27, 2024, 1:54 pm

Image: Stanley tumblers are displayed on a shelf at a Dick's Sporting Goods store on Feb. 2, 2024 i...

Stanley tumblers are displayed on a shelf at a Dick's Sporting Goods store on Feb. 2, 2024 in Daly City, California. The wildly popular Stanley mugs are going viral again, this time many of the users are claiming that the products contain lead. (Photo: Justin Sullivan, Getty Images)

(Photo: Justin Sullivan, Getty Images)

American businessman (and investing icon) Warren Buffett summed up what many of us know to be true: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” And I’ll add, if social media is involved — even faster.

Right now, The brand, Stanley, has a reputation to protect. It is on the defensive as more people have filed lawsuits accusing them of failing to disclose the presence of lead in their products.

Their recent journey as a business is one that, quite frankly, has given me some mental whiplash. It was just late last year I saw everyone with these stylish water bottles. They were skinny on the bottom – which solved the annoying problem of a water bottle fitting into your car’s cup holder. That made it practical and cute. And I would later find out these bottles had quite the story behind them.

You see Stanley — owned by a company based in Seattle — is a 110 year old food-and-beverage container brand. Generations had used and trusted their products — known for being durable.

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Then last year, the brand reached new audiences as their new Quencher Tumbler went viral. It was a phenomenon. Folks camped out in front of stores to get their hands on special releases. In one viral video a woman shared how her car caught fire and the Stanley tumbler was not only still intact. But it still had ice inside.

And the popularity paid off.

In 2019 Stanley had $70 million in revenue.

By the end of 2023, revenues had climbed $750 million.

And then as 2024 was just getting going: a plot twist. News surfaced that the bottles contain lead. Specifically, in the sealing materials. Stanley pointed out that it’s all covered in stainless steel and only becomes exposed if the cover on the bottom of the tumbler comes off. But when you’re the darling of social media and the hottest and most high profile water bottle on the market, you won’t get let off the hook easily. “Saturday Night Live” even spoofed the situation (as part of an entire sketch about the cup).

“Big Dumb Cup. You can really taste the bacteria. I’m getting lead.”

And there’s more! Stanley’s competitors are taking shots. Hydro flask, based in Bend, Oregon, posted on Tik Tok that it hadn’t used lead in more than a decade because it quote “aimed for a higher standard.” Ouch!

Stanley is reportedly working on future designs using alternative materials.

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Reputation repair is tough. But a brand like Stanley has a rich legacy worth fighting for. Their journey – a reminder that being trendy may be fun and lucrative, but only customer trust will ensure it’s not fleeting.

Listen to Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien weekday mornings from 5-9 a.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Russell: Stanley is experiencing the double edged sword of success