Thinking Outside The Box - One on One with OtterBox's APAC Head Josh Richardson
Think Big, Start Small, Scale Fast
During the past few months, we have published a number of posts about OtterBox which has been known as a respected manufacturer of accessories, particularly cases, for a wide variety of mobile devices. Months back, we were invited to one of its events, together with its local distributor Tenkie Box, where the company showcased the durability of OtterBox cases. Recently, we got a chance to interview Josh Richardson, OtterBox’s Business Development Manager for the APAC region, who talked about the company’s history and its relationships within the industry.
Tell us something about OtterBox.
OtterBox is based in Fort Collins, Colorado. A homegrown family business, we started producing waterproof cases in 1998. Since then, we’ve been really trained about the business starting off with doing simple things like sending people samples and pamphlets. Our first products for two to three years were manufactured in Colorado. When the scale of the business outgrew our capabilities, we eventually outsourced in different areas over the past years. Besides the United States, we also have manufacturing facilities in Mexico to cater to the South American market. We have offices in Hong Kong, Ireland, and Dubai that specializes in the Southeast Asia, Europe, and Middle East market, respectively. We’re looking at diversifying our manufacturing throughout the world to be close to our audience and monitor the quality of our products. Starting from a small-based, three-person company, OtterBox now has over 600 people.
How did you arrive at manufacturing mobile phone cases?
We moved from waterproof cases, to cigar humidors, to military peripherals. Our military cases were released to the public, but at that time it was a really radical idea so it never went widespread throughout the market. We did have waterproof laptop cases. Eventually we focused more on our strength which is the mobile phone business. After that we moved to our Defender series. In 2001 when the first iPod came out, we say that it was a blessing in itself. Apple was one of our first global contracts.
Should we assume that a large portion of your revenue comes from accessories for Apple devices?
When the first Apple products came out, that was the case. Over the years, we’re able to diversify by selling cases for HTC, Motorola, Nokia, and BlackBerry. Today, we have a broad market and we’re not just servicing Apple users. Taking that into account, we have a business intelligence department. We are speaking with our distributors and carriers to gather a lot of information from various places. Communication with device manufacturers is very important. We have communication with different parts of the world. Today, we focus on high-end smartphones that are based on the Windows platform, Android, and, of course, iOS.
How is your relationship with mobile phone and smartphone manufacturers?
We do have global relationships and contracts with manufacturers like Research in Motion (RIM), Motorola, and Nokia. OEMs and ODMs are coming to us asking us to create cases for their best-selling handsets. Through these global contracts, we do receive devices before their official launch. Research and development (R&D) are done in-house, and we have a separate building for that. To ensure the security of these devices, we do not let anyone approach our R&D team. Sixty percent of OtterBox employees are not allowed to enter the building. There’s a very few people who can work with that department. Certain directors are not allowed to enter our R&D facility. This is a piece of pride in security that we can take to our relationships. We can say to our clients that they are 100% sure that their products will not be revealed prior to the launch date.
How is your relationship with mobile operators?
We have an extensive relationship with mobile operators as well. Count in China Telecom, FarEasTone in Taiwan, Globe Telecom, Optus, Vodafone, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, Bell-Telus, and so on. Operators are a massive part of the business. They have a wide network of retail locations and they are an effective channel of moving accessories. Different countries have found revenue in selling accessories. For some countries and areas like China and India they do not see revenue value in selling accessories. But in the United States and North America, they are starting to see its potential. In the Philippines, carriers are also seeing the revenue potential in selling accessories. It is moving in a positive direction.
How is your relationship with Tenkie Box?
OtterBox is not doing business direct we work with distributors, not only in the Philippines but also in other regions worldwide. Our experience with Tenkie Box has been wonderful. They have the initiative, they help in growing the brand, and they’re doing it the right way at the right pace. Customers get great marketing, quality advertising, and product awareness. Everyone in OtterBox is very happy with what’s happening in the Philippines and how Tenkie Box grew the brand in just a short period of time. To recall, Tenkie Box started OtterBox’s first kiosk in SM City North EDSA. Then suddenly, it became everywhere.
How do you handle counterfeiting of OtterBox products?
We have a legal team in different countries. We have a full legal sector that handles that. We’ll say that large global brands in some countries will always encounter counterfeiting. For every popular brand, there are always a percentage of counterfeits. In our case, we really don’t go after small shops but the actual manufacturers. That’s really been our focus. However, as soon as you close one down, one down the street is going to open up. For us, it’s just a matter of letting our customers, distributors, and the public in general, that we care about the brand, so we’re always pursuing and making the efforts. Counterfeits are not threat to our business, and we do not foresee it at any time.