The industry is "incredibly competitive," says Bryan Hynecek, vice president of design at Speck, a protective case maker for smartphones and other gadgets. Speck products became extremely popular because of their form and function -- and wide range of colors available. The cases are sold in both big-box retailers and carrier stores, as well as directly. "When we started out we didn't even think about marketing, we just focused on making a really
good product and hoped that people would like it. And it worked out for us and it sort of built up around that. We have a pretty good following that really connect to our product," Hynecek says. While Speck has been around since 2004, Hynecek says it was spread too thin across a number of accessories. About five or six years ago (which correlates with the launch of the first iPhone), the company honed its product line to only making cases. 2. Find a distribution partner. If you really want to go big with your design, finding a distribution partner is key, but that will also be the biggest challenge. While many small retailers can have some success selling on Web sites like Etsy or in a boutique store, the reality is securing distribution partnerships that will ensure your product beats the competition, Morgan says. Distribution partnerships is what "keeps a lot of big players in place these days ... not unique or special cases," he says. "They're big businesses and they can work like a big business. Sometimes 40% of the margin could go to shelving and logistics." Speck's Hynecek says the key to getting on retailers' shelves is "a lot of relationship work." "We started with a few products with each of those stores and the better you do, the more time the buyers show you ... and the more products you can bring" into stores, he says. "It's really a relationship-building experience." Sam Odunsi, owner of PHD Bookbinding, (which sits on the campus of University of Texas but is not formally affiliated with it), launched his cases for tablets, Casemodo, earlier this month. PHD Bookbinding is a leading online bindery for library-quality hardcover binding and personal academic publishing. The idea to use the company's skills to produce covers for tablets came about after Odunsi saw other competitors entering the market - and doing it wrong. "We thought this was something unique that we could add to turn it into a full-fledged fashion accessory," Odunsi says. "Other players don't do custom binding and when they do it's very cheap stuff. Ours is good enough to complement any class of handbag or wallet or any business accessory. It's not cheaply made. This is a very durable product and it's a high-quality product."