LOGAN That iPod you're going to get as a Christmas gift has been in a box under the tree for days, if not weeks. And once you open it, a Logan company hopes you quickly put a different type of wrapper on it.
A start-up subsidiary of Reminderband Inc. called ifrogz offers a variety of protective cases for iPods. While they have plastic and aluminum cases, their hallmark three-component product is made of silicone. The various mixes of colors for each component add up to 300,000 variations to personalize that iPod, and a new tool allows people to put custom images on a decal for the device's click-wheel.
"We've scratched our heads about that, because Apple puts out two colors of iPods," said Clay Broadbent, senior vice president. "So we thought, 'Hey, nobody's playlist is the same, so why should your player look the same?"'
A basic ifrogz set, costing $29, consists of a transparent plastic cover for the iPod face and a decal for the click-wheel (those are called "screenz"). The silicone case, called "wrapz," stretches to cover the majority of the iPod, with openings for the click-wheel and screen. A silicone strip called "bandz" is placed along the top, bottom and sides, with only a hole for the earphones, although it can be pulled back to plug stuff into the iPod ports.
"A lot of soldiers in Iraq like it because it keeps out the sand," Broadbent said. "If you're going to drop $300 or $350 on something like that, you want to protect it as much as you can. That was part of the whole idea."
Ifrogz offers about 40 colors of wrapz and bandz and more than 200 stock designs for the click-wheel decal.
"Nanos now come in a few colors, and there are a few other case companies that have different colors, but none even come close to 40," Broadbent said.
The whole ifrogz concept spun from the highly successful Reminderband product line. Broadbent and Scott Huskinson, president and CEO, got into the customized silicone wristband field in late 2004. While several other companies were doing the same thing Lance Armstrong's "Livestrong" bands helped the market take off Reminderband found a niche by offering small production runs and small start-up fees for customers. With customers able to order as few as 20 bands sporting custom phrases, the response "exploded" after the company's Web site went active in November 2004, Broadbent said.
In 2005, the company sold about 9 million of the wristbands.
"But the thought, right from Day One, was that we knew that silicone wristbands weren't going to be a hot product forever. We didn't know if it would be three weeks, three months, three years we didn't know but we knew it wouldn't be the end-all. So the structure we put together as an online company was a framework so we could put other products into that pipeline," Broadbent said.
The company used its expertise in the silicone business and worked to capitalize on the hot-selling iPod trend.
"We saw some cases that were silicone cases but not with a lot of pizazz," he said. "Usually there's black, there's clear and there's white. We thought, let's infuse some fun into it. And then that developed into, well, let's let customers design their own.
"We knew we came in late to the case game. IPods came out in 2001, and we thought, here we are, just getting into the game. But we got very positive feedback on the initial prototypes and the concept, so we thought we'd give it a try. The iPod accessory market is huge, so we looked at it and said that if we can capture a small percentage of that market, we could probably do OK."
Sales of ifrogz products are "not as crazy" as sales were for Reminderband when it began, but ifrogz is selling "hundreds of cases per day" through its Web site that started in March of this year, he said.
"We're not huge, but we are profitable," Broadbent said. "We're a relative unknown. ... We know that we're a small fish in a big pond, and we're working to get the word out about us."
Ifrogz has tried to set itself apart from the competition by offering high-quality cases. One attribute is an anti-dust treatment "baked" into the silicone, Broadbent said.
And ifrogz offers more than silicone, such as faux leather and ballistic nylon cases; leather cases; a line tooled to look like giraffe, zebra and crocodile skin; a waterproof bag for keeping items dry at the beach or on boats; a wristband to hold the iPod Shuffle; Clamz plastic iPod cases; and an aluminum version called Canz.
One product is called the Tadpole. With carrying handles on each side, it's a colorful video iPod case designed for young children, providing parents with a dose of protection for their expensive devices.
"It's amazing the little kids 4-year-olds and 5-year-olds that will get ahold of this and sit still and watch, even with everything going on around them," Broadbent said.
As for personalization, the company recently began offering an online Screenz Creator, allowing customers to put any design or photo on their click-wheel for $14.99. Copyrighted, obscene or offensive images are not allowed, but customers can, say, put a picture of their pet on their iPod. Businesses can put corporate logos there, or schools can create mascot images.
Both reviewers and customers have been smitten with ifrogz' offerings. Yahoo! Tech named ifrogz iPod cases the No. 3 holiday gift for "tech-lovin' teens," ranked behind only the expensive black 80-gigabyte video iPod and the T-Mobile Sidekick 3 and two spots ahead of the flashy Nintendo Wii gaming system.
A reviewer at ABC News said the case is "the most rugged and creative of all the cases we have reviewed. ... This case is a 10 out of 10."
"The unique overall design and color choices make my iPod stand out and everybody asks what it is and I am thrilled to tell them 'ifrogz,"' a Wisconsin man wrote the company.
Ifrogz, like Reminderband, is currently an online operation, and the two have a combined team of about 24 in Logan. Manufacturing is done in China, and a Hong Kong office ships them out. The company's products are offered at a few e-tailers' sites, plus a few kiosks and carts in shopping malls across the country, such as Cache Valley Mall in Logan, Fashion Place in Murray and Provo Towne Centre.
Ifrogz might expand in the retail space. It's putting together a "multipack" that retailers can offer. It would include one case, a screen protector, three colors of bands and likely 10 of the click-wheel art designs, all for about $30.
"With that, I can make my case look 30 different ways with just this one product, right out of the box," Broadbent said. "We hope we'll knock some people's socks off."
The company is developing a line of headphones, including some for the Tadpole, a case for the Microsoft Zune, a double-thick-silicone case for heavy-duty use and other products.
"We really think the Reminderband business will be around in some form. We still sell between 8,000 and 20,000 bands a day, still. ... I think bands will still be around because 'Bobbi Sue at the middle school' can buy bands for her small group if she wants. That product is unique and customizable and that will be a product that will be around. Will we sell 9 million, 10 million a year? I don't think so. But it's got legs," Broadbent said.
"I say the same thing about ifrogz. I really think it will be around. It's a unique product, and it's a very hard product for our competitors to get into. ... We're small enough that we can adapt, and we've had that mind-set from the beginning, to be adaptable to the different trends, and we have a lot of stuff on the drawing board."
Five years from now, he expects Reminderband and ifrogz to provide a few more offerings for customers and even more fun for those at the company.
"It's a fun product," he said of ifrogz. "That's one of the fun things, when you get up to work in the morning, you're like, what can we think of today? We know we've put a fun product out there."It's been great. It's been a great ride and it continues to be a great ride, and we continue to evolve as a company. We started with two guys, two cell phones and a storage shed. Here we are today, and we'll see where it takes us."
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