Saturday, January 28, 2012

Post Vegas...scoping out the Amazon and Other Tales of Discovery

You can read my CES/Las Vegas Blog here. It's where I do my best to provide a day-by-day oversight of my travels through CES - the International Consumer Electronics Show and through Las Vegas.

Nutshell Update #1
Nutshell has a new manufacturer. Well, what I really mean it that our manufacturer has a new owner.

The old one had some major problems with his house and family and the stress finally got to him; he bailed just before Christmas. The new owner is a get-go gung-ho chap with a degree in business and marketing who is hot-to-trot when it comes to growing his business; and that includes the Nutshell.

We make up a very sizable portion of his annual revenue and obviously we are comfortable with the existing arrangement, the folk who make Nutshell every day are still engaged (although their terms of employment may have changed).

But as an immediate result some of our order processes have been thrown into a bit of a muddle; not only the annual down-under Christmas holiday shutdown and go-slow, but also new processes and new ideas running over old and established procedures do not always make for comfortable bed fellows - as we all know too well.

The result is that some orders are getting delivered later than we would wish. We are communicating these delays to our affected customers, and most all are comfortable enough to give us wiggle room to move and let the new system settle down. If you haven't been contacted and you feel we are dragging the chain, please send us a note and let us know.

Nutshell Update #2
We are having to design a new range of product to meet the newer, taller design of smartphones coming from most all the major manufacturers. 

Samsung, Motorola, HTC and even Casio have all recently released new product that is as wide as our existing mainstream range of #208 belt cases, but taller. The #208 works best with devices up to about 125 mm in length, and these new devices extend out to 130 mm and more in length (to cater for wider more panoramic screens), which  means that while the #208 cases will still contain these new 'phones, it also means the #208 cases do not provide as total coverage as we would like.

One problem has always been getting our hands on the latest designs to enable us to make absolutely sure our cases will fit. One result of visiting CES was that contacts made within the Chinese manufacturing community have led us to several outlets for dummy phones. Viola! No more hassles and worries about making the correct connections. Or that is what we though initially.

However, the best laid plans etc...
Currently it is the Chinese New Year/Spring annual event that basically shuts China down from Mid January through until early February. As a result we are still waiting on a lineup of several dummy phones that will give us a leg-up on our design process. Once we get those we will be back in the race with a vengeance, but until then we are in a holding pattern not of our own making.

These are the sort of errors and omissions that always pop up when you least expect them. Waiting, waiting, waiting is not a game we play well, but it is one we are used to.

Nutshell Update #3
We have commenced shipping a range of product into Amazon's supply chain. Currently we are limiting these to our popular #258, #260 and #208 belt case range with the magnetic tab or flap and either the steel belt clip or the multiway belt loop - as well as the smartphone wallet. According to the sales reports all the products are gradually gaining some momentum.

If you need a case for a phone that fits into one of the above case sizes, and you don't want to wait for it to be delivered from down under, then you should go to Amazon's wireless accessory category and hunt for Nutshell. I know there is product there, because we keep shipping it. In small quantities. For now. They will grow.

And you can help us make them grow.

While you are on Amazon hunting for Nutshells, you may care to put in a good word about Nutshell in the places where you can add product reviews. Not that I would ever be exhorting you to do anything that you may not naturally do, but every little bit helps. Right?

Till next time.
Take care.
And thanks for being a valued Nutshell customer.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Let Us All Take the High Road

Recently I went to CES in Las Vegas to both look at developments in the world of mobile, and to learn how to be a good Amazon Vendor.

Abandon Hope All Ye Who enter Here?
Anything but...
Nutshell has started shipping products into several of Amazon's US fulfillment centers and is still working out exactly what being an Amazon partner really meant.

There are some who say I should count my fingers every night before I go to sleep; others say my achievement is something very special and to be applauded.

Me? I say it really is a learning game. It is like nothing I have ever been involved with before and, like a gaping maw, Amazon is there to be filled with product; over 157 million online members and counting.

Vegas itself, and CES, was an amazing experience. I may have problems equating it to its unofficial title of Sin City, but as a Disneyland for Adults, there is little doubts it would be difficult to find an comparison.

In the light of day the Strip is a place of wonderment, and at light it comes alive with a riotous display of neon and animation that surely beggars belief.

Vegas is a Fairytale world where dreams may come true.
To follow my tour to Vegas, and get a glimpse inside CES and Amazon, read this blog

As I expected there was a plethora of leather cases for mobiles. In abundance. Every colour, and style you could think of.

Well, not quite. Nothing in the lineup that I saw could hold a candle to the Nutshell. Where our products are made from generous cuts of natural hide leather, most every case I saw at CES was constructed from leather than has been finely split (almost to ciggies paper thin) and then lacquered over to present a brightly colored face to the world.

Sure...they did look good hanging on the racks, but as sure as eggs is eggs, they would last but a short time in the real world before starting to look tarnished and worn and frayed an unloved. Unlike the Nutshell, which just keeps getting better with age.

There really is something about being the creator of a product that continues to win accolades from its users. Those who give us feed back don't just like their Nutshell. They LOVE their Nutshell.

How many other manufacturers can honestly hold that claim up to the light?

Monday, January 2, 2012

Now is the Time for All Good Folk...

The Nutshell story is possibly quite typical of many innovative businesses; starting small, pursuing the dream and somehow making it through the myriad pitfalls and landmines of being a developmental caterpillar to eventually emerge from its chrysalis as a fully formed butterfly. Hopefully not as short lived as many of that species, and certainly not in the same 'insect' category, but with every intention of spreading its wings and soaring, onwards and upwards toward the light.

Over the past twelve years we have experienced just about every sort of catastrophe that can befall any modern business; website and shopping cart hassles, the untimely death of a business partner - is there ever such a thing as a 'timely' death? - cash flow problems, business BS, product failures and recalls and customer interactivity. In all a plethora of situations that have tested the group and led to the winnowing-out of those unable to cope with the continual stress and uncertainty.

But it has not all been gloom and doom; our customers are the most fantastic folk we could ever wish for. Caring and understanding to a fault; the expressions of sympathy and concern following the personal calamities were heartwarming and provided the impetus for those of us who remain to continue. After all, with over twenty thousand loyal customers, how could we just roll over, wave our legs in the air and give up without a fight?


But the most heartening development was a totally unexpected invitation from Seattle. Out of the blue the online retail giant Amazon invited us to become a vendor in its fledgling wireless accessory space. More interestingly, from a business development point of view, the invitation is the only one ever offered, according to Amazon, to any organisation from within the Australasian area. Surely an honor to be welcomed, and warmly accepted with approbation.

This invite would take another two years to mature and Nutshell is now shipping small amounts of select product across the Pacific into two of Amazon's fulfillment centers. In the initial product list we've included the smartphone wallet and a small, carefully selected range of regular belt cases, all in black leather with either mag-tab or mag-flap and the choice of clip or loop, or just as a plain no frills pouch. Initially we are offering Amazonian smartphone users these product options in three sizes, #258, #260 and #208, to accommodate today's most popular smartphones and the growing range of accessory covers.

As we accept our second restock, at ten pieces per item, we are facing a whole new set of challenges associated with the management of the ordering, logistic and payment cycles.

So far the exercise has caused us to appreciate the process of creating industry standard product listings and definitions, along with their attendant identifications. A set of code for each and every variation - internal SKU begets GTIN barcodes, which in turn beget Amazon ASIN product codes - enable us to offer a growing range to consumers through one of the world's major sales portals.


We recognize the extreme need for accuracy, in both product specification and descriptions. Even so, it is still very much a case of "not knowing what you don't know you need to know," until you've screwed it up at least once. And that learning takes time. And patience. And money.

One thing we do now know for certain; the need for professionalism and deep pockets to meet the start-up costs of product and people-power has never been more important. As we stand poised on the brink of the very real prospect of having to satisfy a customer with an insatiable appetite it's global business learnt the hard way. No how-to manuals here. No shortcuts.

To learn how to be an Amazon Vendor also means I'll be climbing on a jet plane and heading, like Mohamed, to the mountain that is Las Vegas and the annual International CES (Consumer Electronics Show) next Monday, January 9. While Amazon Services is conducting a series of midweek induction seminars that will be an invaluable experience, as a fully paid up International affiliate member of the Consumer Electronics Association, I'm thinking there will be lots of potential allies and business partners to assist Nutshell be the best it can in a very competitive global marketplace.

Export Potential

We know that, even as a proven 'cottage industry' exporter with a very real potential for rapid growth, we cannot achieve this on our own.

If Nutshell is to 'cross the chasm' to become a successful Australasian exporter into one of the world's largest retailers with a huge and disparate customer base, the company needs, more than ever, strategic manufacturing and financial partnerships and, above all, support.

At a time when business needs more co-operation and less antagonism to overcome the significant global hurdles that face us all, it would surely be a crying shame to stumble and fall.


Touch Base
PS:: If you are planning to be in Vegas and want to say hi, enter the friend code: 699-829 in the CES app and drop me a note. I'd love to meet up..

A Mobile Game of Swings and Roundabouts

Welcome to 2012.

There is nothing as scary as an industry caught in the grip of innovative improvements.

That, in a Nutshell, is the mobile phone industry; an industry that is relentlessly devoted to continual improvement, innovation and the adoption of the latest in form factors and presentation techniques.

In the past twelve years we have watched as technologies have merged and blurred the lines between mobile phones and hand held computers.

The iPhone has a lot to answer for; Steve Jobs and his visions guided (some would say led by the nose) the industry through yet another set of birthing pangs and entranced users with advanced technologies that swiftly became 'old hat' as their replacements and upgrades roll out on a regular basis. A schedule that will never cease to amaze, astound and, sometimes even bewilder the user.

And as the technologies embodied in today's latest mobile devices get smarter, faster and lighter, thinner and 'bigger' (in storage terms) the physical attributes of phones continues to alter. Where once handheld devices were almost 'brick' sized, today's latest devices are fast becoming wafer thin, yet embody developments that many would have considered impossible only a few short years ago.

Moore's Law dictates that processing power doubles every 18 months, and the mobile phone industry is an embodiment of this; there are no signs of slow-down, and none of any zenith or pinnacle being reached any time soon.

And just as the horsepower inside continues to relentlessly increase processing power, network inter-connectivity and storage, external formats continue to change and morph; where once device designers were intent on making their creations as small as possible, it would appear that the pendulum has once again swung in favour of larger displays, resulting in larger overall dimensions. Although thinner than their predecessors, new phones have grown to emulate their ancestors' overall larger physical properties.

Of course this would throw a lesser manufacturer of cases into a tizz of indecision. But not Nutshell; as a company that has developed along with the industry we serve, we have already crafted larger format cases for earlier generations of handhelds and mobile phones. These cases, which we once thought would never again see the light of day, are being dusted off and re-presented to accommodate the next generations of smartphones.

It really is a game of swings and roundabouts.