Photography by Jennifer Soos
ZipKord Solutions’ office on Clark Road has a vibe that’s more Silicon Valley than Sarasota. Charlie and Clio, two friendly Australian labradoodles, greet visitors at the door, wagging their curly tails. Not too long after, CEO and President Hal Perdew arrives in khaki shorts and a polo shirt with a friendly smile and firm handshake.
While not a tech company, ZipKord is part of a growing industry that makes accessories such as Bluetooth adapters and headsets, screen guards, car and wall chargers, battery cases and mounts for smartphones and other electronic devices. Consumers can buy the products from the ZipKord.com website. The company’s custom brands also include Guardz, Rockz, ColorZ and EverGreen.
But ZipKord has made its mark providing proprietary product lines for a network of retailers. For example, Verizon sells a line of ZipKord products in 2,000 of its wireless stores worldwide. Those headphones you get at the Marriott? Chances are they are made by ZipKord. The company also has partnered with car rental companies to be an exclusive provider of mobile accessories for about 75 percent of the worldwide market. Avis’s car rental charger, for example, is a ZipKord product.
“If you go to any car rental counter you’re going to see a little display on the counter with products for cell phone accessories, and they’re ours and we’re worldwide,” Perdew says. “We’re in about 20 countries right now with car rental.”
Perdew, 46, grew up in Sarasota and attended Pine View. After high school, he attended and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. He became a Navy pilot before landing in the business world at a digital marketing company in California.
Now married and the father of a young son, Perdew returned to Sarasota in 2006 to run a self-storage business. He bumped into former Pine View classmate Jeff Rudd, a software project manager and entrepreneur, at a birthday party for Rudd’s twin girls. That chance meeting was a turning point in ZipKord’s development, pairing a visionary founder with a seasoned business owner.
Rudd, 45, a graduate of the University of Florida, founded ZipKord in 2002, starting with a focus on retractable products. Rudd was attending a wireless convention for a former employer when he stopped by a Korean company’s kiosk. Cell phones were just becoming popular and users were already frustrated with the devices’ tangle of charging cords. He worked with the company to develop retractable USB and charging cables. He then persuaded Philips, the Dutch electronics giant, to adopt and distribute his products under its brand name.
Rudd asked Perdew to consult for his company on “people and process” for about six years. He then persuaded Perdew to join the company full time in 2012. The company is now an international player in the mobile accessories market with more than 100 products in 20 countries. Employees have grown from three people in Sarasota to 18 total in the United States. The company works with manufacturers in China and operates warehouses around the world.
“Every aspect of our company outside of product manufacturing and warehousing is performed in Sarasota,” Rudd says.
ZipKord revenues more than doubled in 2016 from three years ago. The company is on track to again double revenues this year (Perdew declined to provide exact numbers) and add more employees. With 95 percent of Americans owning a cell phone and about 77 percent owning a smartphone, the U.S. market appetite is high. Global demand for mobile phones also is expected to grow as incomes rise and phone prices continue to drop. The market for aftermarket mobile accessories is predicted to top $110 billion in 2021, according to a recent ABI Research report.
“Given users’ attachments to their smartphones and their wants and needs to personalize and protect them, the aftermarket mobile accessories market is showing no signs of slowing down,” ABI research senior analyst Marina Lu says in the report.
Charging devices and cables are ZipKord’s top sellers. An emphasis on quality that includes offering a limited lifetime warranty sets the company’s products apart from thousands of competitors worldwide, Rudd says. ZipKord relies on its established manufacturing and distribution channels as well as partnerships with corporate clients to fuel its growth.
Staying plugged into tech trends is essential, Perdew says. When the iPhone 7 came out with wireless headphones, ZipKord was ready with Bluetooth accessories. Now that Alexa and other home-based computers are becoming popular, company leaders are looking for new ways to tie into the growing market for voice-controlled home assistants.
Cell phone mounts for car dashboards and windshields are a relatively new product added by ZipKord to meet a worldwide demand. The company plans a rapid rollout of car mounts and other accessories this year.
“Jeff set a pretty impressive task for his team. They’re bringing 12 new products every quarter to market. That’s almost a new product a week,” Perdew says. “He’s got a great team in place and he’s really killing it for us.”
Rudd says empowering ZipKord’s team members is a hallmark of the company’s management style.
“I call it an upside-down pyramid,” Rudd says. “We are not, by any measure, people sitting at the top telling people what to do. We’re at the bottom supporting the team and we want them all to grow.”
ZipKord sent eight people in January to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, which attracts 200,000 customers and vendors. Perdew and Rudd scoured the midways for ideas. “We’re looking for needles in the haystack from the product side. We’re looking for companies that have a good idea but need some distribution,” Rudd says.
One emerging trend is the “internet of things,” interconnected devices for homes, autos and mobile phones. Self-driving and connected cars are a part of the trend, along with intelligent home products like Amazon’s Echo. In the future, web-connected eyewear may make computer and TV screens obsolete.
“Conversational computing is what it is,” Perdew says.
The home automation market has drawn the interest of accessory companies such as ZipKord.
“We’re looking at it and saying, ‘OK, how can we be ahead of the curve and be involved with these companies? Do they need Bluetooth? What are the things that they need?’” Rudd says.
While the company is a key player in the industry, ZipKord has flown under the radar in Sarasota. Perdew gets texts from friends and family who send him photos of ZipKord products in stores throughout the world.
Eventually, Rudd hopes the Sarasota connection becomes better known.
“Most people don’t know we’re here unless they’re friends of ours,” Perdew says. “We’re a young company in our current iteration. We’ve got a great team in place and we’re always looking for great people. So if there are people who like to help small companies grow and are looking for something to do where they can jump in with both feet, we’d love to talk to them.”
Rudd says the partners like the region and want to see Sarasota on the map. “Maybe one day people will say, ‘Hey, ZipKord is from Sarasota’ and they’ll tie the two together,” he says.