Odds are good that you’ve seen M-Edge Accessories in the media. The company’s innovative and fashionable e-reader and tablet accessories have been widely featured on CNET and TODAY and in publications like Forbes and O, The Oprah Magazine. Though the business revolves around technology—enhancing e-readers and tablets via accessories—their success hinges largely on people and partnerships.
When Pat Mish, Jim Ward and Adam Ashley founded the company in 2006, the e-reader market was in its infancy. Then in late 2007, Amazon launched the Kindle 1 and the team created their first jacket design, placing a modest order from the manufacturer. “I think we had two or three boxes each of about three different colors. They sold out in a matter of weeks, so we figured there’s something worthwhile going on,” recalls CFO Jim Ward. “Those first few boxes became 10 boxes of each color, and then we added more colors and then more styles and then different materials.”
As the e-reader market expanded, so did M-Edge Accessories. “We started working on Sony e-reader stuff, and then the Barnes & Noble Nook, and most recently tablets,” Ward explains. “We started in our garages back in 2008, and now we’ve got a roughly 50,000-square-foot facility, about 50 employees, and we’re serving all the major retailers.”
Power of the people
With such incredible growth in just a few short years, what’s the one asset the co-founders couldn’t do without? “It has to be the people,” Ward emphasizes. “There’s no way that we could do even one-tenth of the things that go on around here by ourselves. We need good, quality people. They’re definitely the most key resource we have.”
Investing in their team ensures the maintenance of their most-valued resource. “We do our best to try and train them, and then provide opportunities for learning,” says Ward. “Even if we mess up, we try to turn it into a growth experience, so that if they come across the same scenario again, they’re better prepared to deal with it. We reward them for a job well done.”
Even their product needs a partner
Being in today’s electronics accessories market creates some unique challenges. “By definition, we’re very much linked and tethered to an underlying device,” Ward points out. “And one of the challenges that a business like ours faces is that devices these days have a pretty finite life—about 15 months being the good, solid average.”
“We’ve got to be very cognizant of where we are in a device lifecycle relative to the products that we’re going to roll out,” he explains. “It would be foolish of us to roll out a brand-new product with some cool innovation during the 12th or 13th month of a device’s life, because we know that we’re only going to get a few months of traction out of it. And we could end up having a lot of items left on hand that really don’t fit anything relevant.”
The fast-paced competitive market also can pose ethical dilemmas…for some. “We get approached all the time by manufacturers saying, ‘I’ve got the specs for a new device that’s coming out in several months,’” Ward pensively relates. “And we just turn a blind eye toward that stuff. First, because it’s not the ethical thing to do; second—and just as important—they’re typically not right.”
“We have an idea of what we think the size and shape of a device is going to be, but then when it launches we do the final tweaking, and get it out to market as quickly as we can,” he continues. “Looking at our competitors, by and large, we’re one of the quickest at getting product to market. Because we’re smaller, we’re a bit more nimble.”
Good partners make for good business
Getting their product into market as quickly as possible following a device launch is critical to sales. And their supply-chain partners must understand that urgency. “Most of our manufacturers are extremely accommodating and open to making changes on the fly,” Ward says appreciatively. “They realize, as we do, that being as close to first-to-market as you can is extremely important because you get that first-mover advantage. Especially in retail."
And efficiently getting their product to their online customers is just as crucial. “These days, customers expect a sweetheart of a deal on shipping—free shipping or something like that,” he says. “We do have some free shipping options, and then we’ve got everything all the way up to next-day. We use FedEx almost exclusively when it comes to shipping from our website; they’ve been great—a really wonderful partner.”
Don’t be shy or afraid
Ward’s parting words of advice: “Don’t be shy about thinking big, and don’t be afraid to fail.”
“You can learn a lot when you do something wrong or have a failure,” he explains. “Typically with success, it’s not examined very closely. But with failure, you should never miss the opportunity to examine what happened. What were the circumstances? Were they in your control or not?”
As for dreaming big, he says, “There’s a quote I heard once, ‘Aim for the stars. Even if you only get halfway, you’ll still have flown pretty far.”
Kate Fisher is a Minneapolis-based writer and editor.
Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of FedEx.
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