By Madoline Markham
Photos by Kathryn Bell
Tech Candy might make phone chargers and other electronic accessories, but you won’t find their products at Best Buy. That’s because its niche is all about the design factor needed to succeed in local gift stores and national retailers like Hallmark, Nordstrom, Dillard’s, Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million—all aimed at a primarily female audience. “We take something that is inherently technological and somewhat confusing and make it simpler with beautiful design that pops. We create solutions that are as sellable and giftable as possible ” says April Mraz, half of the female duo behind OCG Products, the company that created and owns the Tech Candy brand.
“I often say we are missionaries from the technology world to the accessories world,” adds her business partner Cherie Stine. For example, the team sourced a grey putty used in keyboard and cup holders to pick up crumbs, sold in plain grey packs. “We noticed it was a cool product, but it was boring and uninspired,” Cherie explains. “April designed a similar product in ombre colors, contained in a fun container with fantastic copy. It removes all of the debris from computer keyboards and car vents. We call it Tech Taffy. It’s beautiful when you see it stacked in pyramids at the cash register at gift stores.” In fact, it landed in The Container Store’s Stocking Stuffer Guide for 2020.
The company got its start back in 2009 when most cell phone cases were basic black, and most notably, not attractive. So April and Cherie, who had both worked in advertising, developed cases with interchangeable designs and colors that were both functional and beautiful. And the Tech Candy brand took off from there, migrating into what the team calls “techcessories” with a feminine aesthetic.
The products all have clever names too. The Bad Guy Blocker, for example, is a “web curtain” that opens and shuts your camera so you can have it closed when you don’t want to be seen—and is far more elegant than a post-it note. Also popular in their product line in the Power House, a round charging station that looks nice next to your couch, and a smaller Power Trip that charges multiple devices at once—all in colors such as Bright Pink, Light Mint and Light Slate. Clean Up Your Act, a cute pack of antimicrobial wipes to clean phones, sold out of all 12,000 units they had in stock when the COVID-19 pandemic began. (Thank goodness, they’ve restocked since.)
In the early days of Tech Candy, Cherie’s daughter, Sienna (now 16), and April’s son, Martin (now 13), would play in the Tech Candy warehouse and made forts out of boxes. Today the company has outsourced their fulfillment to a warehouse in Indianapolis, but their office remains in Mt Laurel, the neighborhood where they were both living when they first met and decided to team up. (Cherie has since moved, but April is on her fourth house in the neighborhood.)
The duo’s unofficial morning meeting room is at Jimbo’s Soda Fountain right in the middle of town. “If someone sits at our table everyone else will look at them like, ‘You better not sit there,’” Cherie says. Each morning it’s scrambled eggs with cheese and tomatoes and whole grain toast for April and either a waffle or biscuit for Cherie (April notes that she “waffles” between the two). It’s there that they touch base on what’s happened overnight with their factories in China and update each other on the previous day’s progress.
April, the company’s “Design Darling,” handles the visual side of things, designing products and packaging and managing branding, websites and advertising. Once the product is created, then Cherie and her team of sales reps determine where and how to sell it, while Cherie, the OCG Products “Sales Stalker,” oversees the warehouse. The duo say they complement each other well, and because they are the only two decision makers, they can move quickly. “We generally agree 80 percent of the time, and when we don’t, we negotiate fast,” April says. “We can have a 10-minute meeting on how to name a product,” Cherie adds.
Even a decade into the business, they never know which products will take off. “It surprises us,” Cherie says. “We go to market with new products every six months, and we make internal bets on what will perform.” “We will think we will have a winner, and then it’s crickets,” April says. And other times it’s just the opposite.
In 2018, Tech Candy got a big break when several of their products were featured nationally on ABC’s Good Morning America. In the past two years, they have been on the show 10 times, with additional placement on ABC’s The View, where they were featured as a COVID-19 Small Business. During one of those placements alone, they sold 43,000 units of product. Tech Candy is scheduled to next appear in December on Good Morning America too.
Some of their favorite success stories are more personal. Once, Cherie was having dinner at a restaurant at the MGM Hotel in Las Vegas when she noticed a woman at the table next to them had a Tech Candy case, and then she noticed another woman at another table had one too. A few years ago, when April and Cherie attended the Grammys in LA, the duo spotted a Tech Candy case on an attendee’s phone at the official after party. “We almost lost it,” April recalls.
They have also seen their phone cases on the TV show Nashville and their To Have & To Hold phone-back wallet on the Hallmark movie Christmas Matchmakers. Sometimes they’ll find an uptick of sales and only afterward discover it’s because a TikTok or Instagram influencer talked up one of their products and went viral.
Time will tell where their two new product lines end up appearing. This spring they debuted Distill Brand Sanitizing Elixir, a high-end, giftable hand sanitizer sold in luxury glass bottles. The elixir features essential oil blends like Rosemary Mint and Lavender Cream and is made and bottled virtually down the road from Tech Candy HQ at Iron City Distillery in Leeds. And as if one brand wasn’t enough to launch in 2020, they have also created another fitting for this year where year-over-year purchase of puzzles are reported up 370 percent: a line of luxury wooden heirloom puzzles under the brand Trove. Yes, they are actually made of wood. Plus, six are sold in a glass apothecary jar meant for display before and after puzzling, and three are available in a Pass-It-Pouch where each puzzler signs his or her name and that encourages passing it on.
As their new lines show, for April and Cherie there’s no such thing as boredom, even during a quarantine. “We are serial entrepreneurs,” Cherie says. “Every week we are pitching each other new ideas. We are in the head space where everywhere we look, we imagine a product that can solve a problem.” And they will certainly solve it in a beautiful way too.
April & Cherie’s Top Products
We asked the Tech Candy founders about their favorite products in their everyday lives.
This battery pack charges your phone, and you can press a button to see, on the digital display, how much power remains. It charges with induction, so there’s no need to plug your phone in if you have a newer Qi-enabled phone. Often Cherie uses it to charge her phone while carrying it in her purse.
To Have and To Hold
This wallet attachment rides on the back of your phone or case and holds credit cards and an ID. Plus, it boasts a colorful strap that allows you to hold your phone and is available in four fun colors. Gone are the times April drops her phone on the pavement (or on her own face in bed). April finds it extra handy for online shopping while at her desk or on the couch and rarely finds the need to carry a purse any more.