The Joys and Pains of Partnering With Apple
Other than Apple fanatics, perhaps no one awaits the arrival of new Apple products more anxiously than Ramsey Oten. Oten is the CEO of Sena Cases, the company he co-founded in 2002 with his brother Fevzi to make leather cases for smartphones and computers. Sena, based in Irvine, California, has taken off thanks to the popularity of its cases for the iPad and iPhone. Last year, sales topped $17 million, propelling Sena to No. 1,117 on the 2012 Inc. 5000. Speaking prior to the release of the next-generation iPhone, Oten explains to Darren Dahl how the company prepares for the mad rush surrounding the unveiling of Apple's latest product.
Even though we are one of Apple's best partners, we don't get any advance notice about the products they are going to release. Even some of their employees don't know what they're coming out with. BlackBerry, by contrast, gives us the ability to obtain the specs for their new devices two to three months ahead of time.
So, right now, before the next-generation iPhone comes out, we are working frantically to mock up new designs with whatever knowledge Apple has released into the public space. That said, we want to remain a good partner, which means we would never, for example, try to get a product early from a factory. We are very strict about that.
After the product is officially announced, then we can get access to the technical drawings and specifications of the new product. We create our own designs in our offices in California and then make the cases in five factories overseas. We can have a sample made in about a day or two and then begin manufacturing in about a week. Then, depending on the quantity of our orders, we can begin shipping our cases in about a month. In general, the time between Apple's announcement and the product release is about a month, so it usually comes right down to the wire.
We have certain products that are easier to manufacture, like pouches. For these, we don't have to take buttons into consideration in the design. We can make those right away when a product comes out.
It's a good thing for us that Apple comes out with products all the time. There wasn't a lot of change from the iPhone 4 to the iPhone 4S, so accessory sales weren't as good. We love it when they change the form factors like they're talking about with the next iPhone, because that means customers will need new cases.
Our biggest surprise was the success of the iPad. We never thought it would sell as much as it has. But when it was launched, Apple selected five cases it would sell along with it, three of which were ours. We had to greatly increase our manufacturing capabilities to gear up for that. It has been a pleasant surprise, because it opened up a huge new revenue channel for us.
My biggest regret is that we haven't done enough in obtaining intellectual property and trademark protection for our products. We have been pioneering products for a long time, but our competitors have adopted them all. Fortunately, we have created a powerful brand that keeps us ahead. I'm actually not afraid of our competition. I'm only worried that we will stop innovating.
Darren Dahl is a contributing editor at Inc. magazine, which he has written for since 2004. He also works as a collaborative writer and editor and has partnered with several high-profile authors. Dahl lives in Asheville, North Carolina.