From Millions to Billions – How Otterbox Found Its Groove
Water Sports and Cigars
Otterbox, the maker of protective cases for cell phones and other electronic devices, started out like many businesses do—in a garage. Curt Richardson launched his business with a water resistant box he developed for the water sports industry, thus the name Otterbox. Along with its namesake waterproof cases, the company also sold travel cases for cigar humidors. That was 1995.
Fast forward to 2014 where Otterbox is primarily known for its protective cell phone cases and has ended the year with $1.4 billion in sales. What an amazing journey! How did Otterbox successfully make the leap from water sports and cigars to convergent technology?
Finding Their Stride
Like any business, Otterbox has had its ups and downs. In 2006, when the business was barely eking out a profit on $6 million in sales, Curt Richardson knew he had to do something different. Studying Michael Gerber’s work in the E Myth, he realized that innovators don’t necessarily make good managers, and systems must be in place with the right people running them.
It was about this time that Curt’s brother, Pete, suggested he meet Tom Paterson. Tom’s StratOp Process had helped scores of businesses improve performance, and Pete was convinced Tom could help Curt turn the tide—and turn the tide he did.
Through deployment of the Paterson Strategic Planning Process (StratOp), Otterbox identified convergent technology as a major market/product focus, which in and of itself set the company on an upward trajectory that has propelled them to record growth over the past nine years. In addition, the process helped Otterbox identify and develop the processes needed to successfully implement their vision and new direction.
According to Richardson, it all starts with a very pure vision.
“You have to be aware of what you want in a business and where you’re going with it. To back up that vision, you have to have a strategic way to move the company forward, as well as the infrastructure to implement it. Most processes are somewhat shallow. They talk about the trophy at the end of the race, but nobody talks about training for the race.”
The Paterson Process recognizes that to be successful strategically, you need to look at the organization as it is and then look to the future. Perspective helps you gain clarity around your company’s current situation. Without clarity it is hard to move forward in a meaningful and productive manner. Planning, action, structure, management and renewal (or looking at what must change) are also key components.
Over the course of the past nine years Otterbox has integrated the Paterson StratOp Process into its daily operations. Every division in the company has a StratOp Plan-on-a-Page that contains their initiatives. Every 6-8 weeks the plans are re-evaluated and adjustments are made based upon progress and market changes.
Managing for Growth
In an interview in 2011, Curt Richardson was asked what the keys to continued growth would be for Otterbox over the next 5-10 years. His response was focused on product innovation, system/business process innovation, and product development/marketing. He further added, these key growth drivers will be facilitated by the way Otterbox develops and executes its strategic plan.
The common denominator for Otterbox is the plan. It’s how they manage growth. Considering they ended 2014 with $1.4 billion in sales, I would say they are doing a pretty good job of developing and executing on their strategic plan.
Taking the necessary steps and time required to develop an effective strategic operating plan is critical if a company wants a plan that not only shows them the trophy at the end of the race, but prepares them for the race they will be running into the future.