Skullcandy wants you to fix the headphones

Skullcandy wants you to fix the headphones

But there has been little innovation in designing products to last longer and resistance to efforts to make them easier to repair, says Alex Lobos, a professor of industrial design at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. “This could prevent them from cutting costs and consumers switching products frequently,” he says.

Last year, President Biden signed an order that would require cell phone and technology companies to make their proprietary software, repair manuals, tools and other components available so that the products can be repaired by anyone.

“It’s a good step, but there has to be a way to actually repair the devices,” says Lobos. For example, most electronics and cell phones are made of glue and parts that are soldered together for cost efficiency and are nearly impossible to take apart. More sustainable design, he says, can only happen with legislation.

Skullcandy has changed the design of its headphones for various reasons: sustainability and product differentiation. When Skullcandy founder Rick Alden started the company two decades ago on a cable car in Park City, his startup was an industry innovator—among the first to put two speakers in each headphone cup.

But today, Skullcandy finds itself in a saturated $85 billion market where headphones have become a commodity. Since its birth, the 300-employee company has worked to protect the earth and the climate by choosing everything from suppliers and plastic components to how materials are transported and how energy efficient its new Park City headquarters would be.

Fortiér acknowledges that Skullcandy is taking a risk in an industry designed around steady revenue that depends on sales from newer model launches. Skullcandy will essentially eat into its own revenue stream, the size of which Fortiér would not disclose. There is also a risk that the company ships devices with additional parts that may or may not be used.

But the “land and expand” strategy is smart, says Urvashi Bhatnagar, author of “The Sustainability Scorecard: How to Implement and Profit from Unexpected Solutions.” Instead of constantly “entertaining” customers with new products, Skullcandy engages consumers over a longer lifetime, allowing them to gain a larger share of the consumer’s wallet. “Skullcandy saves money in acquiring new customers,” she says.

On the other hand, Skullcandy will not incur the additional costs and time of designing, building, shipping and marketing new products. And sustainable products are in high demand: As many as two-thirds of consumers say they want a company to take a stand on issues close to their hearts, according to a 2020 Accenture survey. And another KPMG report suggests 90 percent of shoppers are willing to pay more for ethical retailers, 50 percent consider environmental and social practices in purchasing decisions, and nearly 75 percent say they would leave a brand if they felt it was putting profit over people. This is especially true for consumer electronicsin which consumer demand will continue to play a large role in forcing electronics firms to become more sustainable, says Bhatnagar.

Skullcandy’s internal research found that about half of its customers leave and buy new products because theirs didn’t work as well or didn’t have the longevity they used to. The other half bought new because they wanted more advanced sound. “A lot of times people put these devices in a drawer, forget about them and end up throwing them away,” says Fortiér, “but they’re perfectly good products and have a lot of life left in them.”

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