Scott Weiner is a self-described "Android nut" who has always upgraded to the latest and greatest smartphone. When he traded in his previous phone for the new Samsung Galaxy Nexus in late 2011, he loved everything about it. Except for one aspect.
"The thing is as slippery as if it's got grease on it," says the web entrepreneur and former employment lawyer from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "I think I dropped it three times in the first week. So I ordered a bunch of cases to see if one would solve the problem, and I was pretty dissatisfied. I thought, Why don't I start selling cases?"
In April, Weiner did just that, launching DBA Cases, a company that sells and now designs premium Android smartphone cases constructed from high-quality materials such as an impact-resistant polycarbonate, a polymer that is also used in bullet-resistant glass and fighter jets. (Weiner says he plans to manufacture cases for the iPhone 5 this year.)
His first shipment of 750 units nearly sold out within a month, grossing $2,450. That may sound like a small number, but it was definitely something. More important, he was learning the business; he quickly built a sterling reputation among customers, secured a $20,000 investment and then launched phase two: manufacturing and distributing 8,250 cases for the hot-selling Samsung Galaxy S III. (10 million units of the phone were sold within two months of its release.)
Turns out, mobile phone cases are big business. According to a report from industry research firm NPD Group, case sales grew 28 percent to 23.4 million units between 2010 and 2011, with revenue up 57 percent to $661 million. That said, it's not a business for the faint of heart. Because pre-release information and rumors about upcoming phone models can be incorrect, it's a costly possibility that case-makers could have to scrap entire manufacturing runs.
Knowing the danger of bad information, Weiner didn't rush his homework. Over the winter, he methodically scoured reviews of every Android case on sites like Amazon, eBay and Alibaba. Then he went deeper to find out what the bestselling handsets on eBay were (Amazon doesn't publish such numbers). Weiner ordered and hand-tested many of the cases he researched.
He also searched eBay to determine how quickly phone cases dropped in value. He discovered that prices start in the $12 to $15 range, then drop six to 12 months after release. However, they usually bottom out at $8. This told Weiner that, at a minimum, he had to figure out a way to make a profit on an $8 case.