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Student-designed Widget Wah! iPhone cases draw sales

By , Reporter  |  Sunday, November 18, 2012 10:10 PM

Purple and gray apparel, notebooks and bags that bear the St. Thomas name are all staples in the St. Thomas bookstore, but Widget Wah!, a brand of iPhone cases that two student entrepreneurs created, are the newest Tommie logo-bearing items for sale.

The idea was developed by seniors Collin Kearney and Mike Orth. Kearney said sales have been tremendous since the cases were put on shelves Nov. 9.

<p>Three Widget Wah! designs for the iPhone are available in the St. Thomas bookstores. St. Olaf and St. Thomas Academy signed with the company to release their own cases too. (Anastasia Straley/TommieMedia)</p>

Three Widget Wah! designs for the iPhone are available in the St. Thomas bookstores. St. Olaf and St. Thomas Academy signed with the company to release their own cases too. (Anastasia Straley/TommieMedia)

“We knew they would sell, but the rate that they’re selling at St. Thomas is way bigger than we thought originally,” Kearney said. “(The bookstore) is already putting in reorders, and it’s been less than a week.”

Tony Erickson, St. Thomas bookstores director, said he has worked with student entrepreneurs to put products in the shop before, but past experiences have not been nearly as successful.

“We ordered 50 for the first run, but we already had to put in another order. We’re also going to put them on the bookstore’s website and do some marketing,” Erickson said.

Senior Matt Schaak invested in a Widget Wah! cover and said he is extremely satisfied with the purchase, and that his previous phone case cost him $20.

“I love it. It’s very durable, it fits on my phone nicely and it doesn’t get it dirty and dusty like my last case did,” Schaak said. “They certainly have room to expand, but for what they have right now it’s a great product. I would love to see some new designs.”

Before putting the idea into action, Kearney and Orth researched markets in Division II and III schools across the U.S. and found that few universities had iPhone covers that reflected school pride.

“People have sweatshirts, they have keychains, they have decals all imprinted with a school logo, but why don’t they have iPhone cases?” Orth said.

Locally, school-pride cases are being sold at St. Olaf and St. Thomas Academy. Kearney said that manufacturing began two months ago, and that one of the most difficult aspects of creating the product was what type of ink to use on the case.

Orth and Kearney’s idea was submitted and selected as a semifinalist in the Fowler Business Concept Challenge.

“In our first presentation, we actually had Ron Fowler sit in. We got a lot of great feedback from the people judging us,” Orth said.

Looking ahead, Kearney and Orth hope to develop products for at least one other university in the Midwest by the end of this month. Widget Wah! also hopes to introduce covers for different models of phones as well.

“We’re looking to expand in different capacities,” Orth said. “We’ll keep doing research, and hopefully we’ll put some more products out there soon.”

Anastasia Straley can be reached at stra0669@stthomas.edu.

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