The OtterBox Success Story – From a Fort Collins Garage to a Worldwide Giant
Northern Colorado is a beautiful place with a unique culture where so many of us love to raise a family and call home. It is also a great place to do business, and many local companies have expressed to us that their stores are some of the top performing franchises in the nation. That being said there are some very interesting success stories from homegrown businesses right in our backyard that are doing amazing work. Join us each month as we start a brand new series exploring the businesses of Northern Colorado and the impact that they have on our cities and beyond.
Our first exploration starts with an iconic and nationally know company located in the heart of downtown Fort Collins, smart phone case maker OtterBox. Founded by Colorado native Curt Richardson, the business was officially born in 1998, although he had been tinkering with waterproof cases in his garage since the early 1990's. Prior to this Richardson had an extensive background in manufacturing and tooling as well as a passion for water sports; therefore his initial design was a dry box that was crush-proof, water-proof and floated as well. Below on the left you see the first case series that OtterBox ever produced next to it's modern day counterpart.
Where Did the Otterbox Name Come From?
Credit for the name ‘OtterBox’ goes to my partner of 27 years, my wife, Nancy,” Richardson said. “Nancy has always been my sounding board and she has more intuition than anyone I know. I should have listened to her more through the years; it would have saved me a lot of pain and agony.” ~ OtterBox.com
The name came to Nancy as the couple was on a trip to Denver; both of them agreed that for marketing purposes the brand needed to involve some kind of animal. There were lots of failed names that just did not seem quite right, but when Nancy mentioned "otter" it stuck. They are fun, playful and energetic; exactly the qualities that the couple hoped to instill in the company and its employees as it evolved.
Fortunately we were able to see this philosophy first hand with a tour through their headquarters in downtown Fort Collins. From the first step you take inside the building, it is apparent that the culture is truly unique and special. The picture below shows the main floor lobby that serves as a coffee shop and lounge for employees to work in an atmosphere that is both hip and active.
In addition to the beautiful workspace downstairs, one other defining art feature cannot be missed. A 3,600 stainless steel slide, with nine bronze otters swimming along its side. The slide helps to define the environment that the Richardson's set out to create. Curt and Nancy have included the slide in their building designs for OtterBox offices all over the world, and they are specially built in Germany. It's a unifying element that also tells a story about the constant pursuit of innovation.
One other feature you won't see in many other places of business is the bike shop located on the basement floor. It represents both the company's respect for the environment and their neighbors. Parking in the area is at a premium with so many people working on the OtterBox campus.
After seeing what the company has accomplished in a very short period of time, you cannot help but wonder what lead to their rapid success. OtterBox has seen remarkable growth, ranking number 416 on INC Magazine's 5,000 list of the fastest growing privately held companies. According to INC Magazine, last year OtterBox's revenues reached 573.9 million dollars, marking growth of 1,081% since 2009. They now employ 600 people in Northern Colorado and over 1,000 worldwide, including their offices in Cork, Ireland and Hong Kong, China.
When asked if there was one event that really jump started the company, we were told that the launch of the iPhone along with always putting the customer at the center of everything were determining factors.
I think Apple was a huge game changer; at that time Blackberry was the big phone giant. Blackberry had a lot of the market because it was an enterprise business tool. Meanwhile consumers were still using feature phones. When Apple came out with the iPhone it was really the first consumer oriented smart phone. We had cases right off the bat for the first iPhone, and that really changed the mobile technology market. We were fortunate to be right alongside with that, so it was a case of the right place at the right time," explained Kristen Tatti.
OtterBox continues to listen very carefully to their customers and holds focus groups to determine where the market is headed and how they can improve. Staying in touch with the marketplace has allowed them to remain relevant and retain the honor of being the number one smart phone case provider in the United States.
In addition to providing 600 professional jobs in Northern Colorado, the OtterCares program helps to reinvest money in the children of our area. Their Pack2School program helped 1,707 students secure needed school supplies at the beginning of the 2013 school year. OtterBox also encourages employees to volunteer in the community, with each being given three paid days a year to do so; this lead to 2,575 hours of volunteer time in 2012. While many businesses today are streamlining operations and eliminating all expenses that they possibly can, it is great to see the spirit of giving back alive and well.
Given the great success that OtterBox has seen to this point and the continued growth of mobile technology, the future seems very bright. Curt Richardson stepped down as CEO about a year and a half ago, but the company continues to innovate and forge ahead. When asked what is next for the company, here is what we were told:
We have to be always innovating and developing and keeping an eye on what the trends are," said Kristen Tatti. "More integrated technology into cases is something that you'll see more of from OtterBox and other case companies as well. We are just expanding our line within the case market. We're looking mostly still within mobile technology and that's always going to be our core."
It seems that OtterBox has found a winning formula to constantly change and adapt to meet the demands of consumers. That being said the company always retains its core culture and values, never forgetting that the business was grown out of a Fort Collins garage. In fact many of the areas in the company headquarters are divided by a garage door like the conference room below, to serve as a constant reminder of the past.