DODOcase is a San Francisco, CA-based designer, manufacturer and retailer of premium handcrafted tablet and phone accessories. The company manufactures all its products, including iPad, iPhone and Nexus cases and sleeves, at its 10,000-square foot San Francisco production operation with 25 employees.
The company, founded by Craig Dalton and Patrick Buckley, began in 2009. At the time, Amazon’s Kindle was new on the market and the team saw a niche for tablet owners who wanted an elegant, low-tech protective wrap for their machines.
“When Apple was launching the original iPad back in 2010, my business partner and I had seen that people were embracing these new devices and new technologies, tablets and e-readers, but at some level they were lamenting the loss and the pleasure of reading a hardback book,” say Dalton. “So we said, ‘when the iPad comes to market, why don’t we create a product that uses traditional book binding techniques for the exterior cover and combine that with bamboo, and create something that makes these essentially foreign objects comfortable and pleasurable to hold.’ That was the original idea behind the DODOcase. That idea resonated with customers right off the bat.”
“I think it is largely the emotional experience of feeling something familiar in your hands,” says Buckley. “We all grew up holding books in our hands. We all have a nostalgic connection to that experience and it just feels right even now with newer technology.”
Buckley developed the DODOcase, a wood back with a bookcover front, and entered it into the 2010 Build a Business Competition at Shopify, an ecommerce website that lets users sell products through an online store. The company won the competition, giving it an influx of capital it could invest in equipment. The team did not have any background in manufacturing and had never built a factory. Buckley spent a short time training to run a CNC machine at TechShop, a chain of public access workshops in San Francisco, then hired a bookbinder to glue on covers and started producing the cases. When DODOcase brought in a reported $1 million in sales in 90 days, Buckley and his partners kicked up the manufacturing process.
“We partnered with a book binding company initially, and ultimately we built out our own modern book bindery,” says Dalton.
Using Shopify proved wise for DODOcase, pushing the company to get an e-commerce website up and running. To drive its first customers to DODOcase.com, the company used old school marketing, handing out flyers at Apple stores the day the iPad launched. Soon they were selling thousands of cases, tweaking the design as they went along.
“Because we launched our iPad case on such a short time frame we had a lot of improvements along the way,” says Buckley. “Over the first 18 months we probably redesigned the bamboo tray 10 times for an improvement in the strength of the design by over 230% and a reduction of 80% in material costs.”
DODOcase’s primary market is in North America, but its products have been used in over 95 countries around the world, with 30% of its business being export. The company’s top foreign markets, outside of Canada, include the United Kingdom, Germany, and Australia.
CNC is Critical
After surveying all the available equipment, DODOcase chose an Italian-made CNC router from Scm, which the company considered the best on the market for its needs. The continued availability of the Scm service team was also important. Using the Scm CNC router has proved advantageous for the company.
“We operate the router from Scm Group on a daily basis, and it is critical to the creation of every DODOcase,” says Dalton. “We count on its performance. During the holidays we will run multiple shifts, and we have always relied on the Scm machine to be maintenance-free. We’ve never really had any downtime on that machine.
“The Scm routing product that we use has really enabled this business to scale,” Dalton continues. “We had very limited production capacity in our woodworking team prior to getting the Scm router online. The beauty of the router is for our product we can set the table up into two distinct areas so we can basically have the machine running non-stop. While one section of the table is being loaded, the other section of the table can be worked on by the router. It really enables us to keep that machine running and keep the output of the woodshop department going quite vigorously. ”
The company uses traditional book binding materials and bamboo for its tablet cases, with the sleeves being made from waxed canvas and genuine leather hide. DODOcase has looked at other species but has found nothing that matched bamboo’s strength-to-weight ratio.
“We use our routers to finely mill bamboo trays, which give our product a highly refined look and feel,” says Dalton.
“Bamboo is tricky to work with for a couple reasons,” says Buckley. “It dulls tools incredibly quickly, even if you are using carbide. Bamboo also splinters easily and so you have to machine it carefully or you can scrap a lot of pieces. We choose to work with bamboo despite these challenges because of its eco-sustainability properties, as well as because of the strength it offers and its lightness.”
The company manufactures the cases in-house, including binding. This gives DODOcase the opportunity to make changes and improvements to its product quickly and when necessary. With new tablets and phones being introduced to the market consistently, in-house production allows the company to usually be in production of a case within one to two days from the time it actually has the new tablet or phone.
“DODOcase operates a just in time inventory model,” Dalton says. “We manufacture approximately two weeks of inventory in advance. We offer our customers the ability to co-create our cases via a simple to use web interface. Our book binding team will manufacture customer cases within seven days of ordering.”
In addition to its woodshop, DODOcase has a full book bindery, silk screening studio for its cases and a sewing shop for its line of sleeves and wallets. Dalton says that DODOcase is also unique in the way it blends modern manufacturing techniques and equipment with hand craftsmanship. He does not see the company replacing this work by automation.
“The manual work in every DODOcase is a critical to the overall finish and performance of our product,” Dalton says. “We blend technology and hand craftsmanship in a way that we don’t see changing over time.”
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