f
Real Estate & Construction  July 30, 2010

Otter not boxed in by rapid growth

FORT COLLINS – Northern Colorado’s fastest growing company will soon transform a swath of downtown Fort Collins into a corporate campus.

For the last few months, OtterBox founder Curt Richardson and his wife, Nancy, have scouted out and scooped up five properties west of Old Town as part of a plan for the near future. Richardson envisions a setting spanning several city blocks that will allow the company to expand to around 500 employees.

Like the adage, when it rains real estate, it pours. After deals for seven potential properties fell through over the course of several years, OtterBox finally found its new headquarters in the former Stantec Consulting Inc. building. Cement is now being poured at 209 S. Meldrum St., which by next spring will be Otter-central.

“At the rate of growth we’re at right now, when that building is done it will be full,” Richardson said.

To avoid that situation, Richardson bought the 15,000-square-foot building at 318 Canyon Ave. in March, for a bargain price of $1.98 million. According to Larimer County records, it was last purchased in 2000 for $2.18 million. Richardson had at first considered leasing the facility rather than fill it with Otters right away.

“I’m glad we didn’t rent it, because we need it,” he said.

Richardson has learned the value in planning for growth. OtterBox is already adding 50,000 square feet to its 32,000-square-foot warehouse facility. The building was purchased in late December for $3.2 million with room for expansion on nearly three acres in the Interstate Business Park near the interchange at Mulberry Street and Interstate 25.

“We didn’t think we’d have to do it that fast, but we’re out of space,” he said. He hopes to have the warehouse space available in September.

Products drive need for space

OtterBox’s product pipeline is driving its seemingly continual need for more space. The company has 56 products preparing to launch within the next six to eight weeks. It recently sold 10,782 units of the Defender Series case for the iPhone 4 on the first day it was available. If keeping up with the fast-paced phone market wasn’t enough, OtterBox also designed an iPad case and plans to dive into the broader e-reader market.

“There’s no doubt we’re in one of the hottest markets there is,” Richardson said.

He might consider the downtown Fort Collins real estate market a close second. While all of the recent purchases are geared toward facilitating OtterBox’s growth, they also hold their own value.

In April, Richardson purchased the Edwards House Bed and Breakfast at 402 W. Mountain Ave. and its next-door lodge.

“The Edwards House, I feel, is a good investment,” Richardson said.

He knew the property was available, considers it a “gem” for the Fort Collins community and was worried that it might “go private.” OtterBox has been using the facilities for meetings and training.

Richardson’s plan is to continue operating the Edwards House as a B&B and event facility under the existing management, improve the parking situation and make it friendlier to outdoor events.

Previous owner Greg Belcher knew the Richardsons from the early days of OtterBox. In two hours at a coffee shop, the two discussed the possible sale of the Edwards House and had the deal hammered out.

“I knew they would be good stewards,” Belcher said, and he felt he and Richardson shared a lot similar business philosophies. “He sees the future before other people do. (Building a campus downtown) is a very bold move.”

To assist with that goal, Belcher sold another of his downtown holdings – a mixed use building across the street from the Edwards House – to facilitate the growth of OtterBox. That facility will house research and development, business intelligence, patent attorneys, as well as some non-Otter tenants.

Otter-friendly interiors

With all of these new properties in the mix, a lot has to be done to get office spaces ready for habitation. But there’s a good support system in place to handle it.

“Nancy (Richardson) is really running all these building programs,” Curt Richardson said.

Nancy Richardson has been working with Dawn Oglesby of Oglesby Sherman Design Inc. on designing and laying out the interior spaces for about two years. In the course of planning the interior spaces, she and Oglesby met with nearly every OtterBox employee to understand his or her needs. The result is a very creative office, decked out in organic and nature-inspired materials.

“OtterBox is such an innovative company, and all the spaces we’re working on reflect that,” Nancy Richardson said. “There’s not a lot of formal space.”

Most of the buildings will include a game room. Wall-mounted monitors will provide employees with the latest Otter news. A giant otter-festooned slide will offer an alternative to the stairs in the main office.

“It’s a very unique space,” Oglesby said. “It’s great to have a client like this that thrives on creativity.”

The designing duo kept one thing in mind as they planned: No plans are concrete.

 “That is the one constant thing – change,” Nancy Richardson said, and it is likely to be so for the foreseeable future.

The company now has 185 employees and around 45 openings to fill. But there’s a large pool of potential new hires. In the last eight weeks, OtterBox has received 2,500 applications.

“We weren’t ready for that,” Curt Richardson said, adding that he wants to apologize to anyone frustrated by the process. “We certainly don’t want it to be a bad experience.”

To keep up, the company started a new Otter Relations department to focus on hiring and training three months ago. Today, Otter Relations is a staff of five and will inhabit yet another real estate acquisition at 401 W. Oak St.

Inundated with Otters

With room to grow to 500 employees, and perhaps beyond, Otters could soon be flooding downtown Fort Collins.

“I think OtterBox represents the perfect example of what we’re trying to encourage downtown,´ said Josh Birks, economic adviser for the city of Fort Collins. “In a lot of ways, it’s a great success story not only for OtterBox but also for Fort Collins.”

Downtown is already home to many Larimer County and city workers. That employment mix is reflected throughout the area, with related service providers such as lawyers clustered there, too. Birks hopes that a large private employer will have the same impact.

“OtterBox represents that next layer we can add,” he said.

At its current size, OtterBox already dominates almost all of the permit spots in the Mountain Avenue parking garage, and there is no garage on Meldrum Street. Birks said the challenges of having large employers in the downtown area – especially parking – will eventually present themselves anyway. He points to the Mason Corridor project, which will feature a bus rapid transit line, as a good amenity for a large downtown employer.

Richardson isn’t too worried about the parking situation, since a number of employees already bike in or live nearby. In the grand scheme of growing pains, parking doesn’t top the list of concerns. OtterBox’s rapid ascent into the world of big business doesn’t have its founder daunted.

“What I’m seeing in the future is much bigger than what it is today,” Richardson said. “We’re just preparing.”

FORT COLLINS – Northern Colorado’s fastest growing company will soon transform a swath of downtown Fort Collins into a corporate campus.

For the last few months, OtterBox founder Curt Richardson and his wife, Nancy, have scouted out and scooped up five properties west of Old Town as part of a plan for the near future. Richardson envisions a setting spanning several city blocks that will allow the company to expand to around 500 employees.

Like the adage, when it rains real estate, it pours. After deals for seven potential properties fell through over the course of several years, OtterBox…

Related Content