Case Studies

Other World Computing (OWC)

Giving new life to old computers since 1988

In today’s throwaway culture, the urge to kick an old appliance or electronics device to the curb and replace it with the shiniest, newest version is stronger than ever.

From a young age, Other World Computing (OWC) founder Larry O’Connor saw the opportunity to help consumers get a longer life and better performance out of their electronics by offering upgrades and at a fraction of the cost of what manufacturers were charging. “As time goes on there has been more emphasis placed on replacing hardware rather than maintaining and extending it,” says O’Connor.

Today, O’Connor has built that simple idea into thriving business in the form of Other World Computing, a manufacturer and distributor of computer electronics known to many by the name OWC as well as by the ecommerce website, MacSales.com.

Other World Computing

OWC offers a range of products for both Mac and PC users, including solid-state drives (SSD), MaxRAM-brand memory upgrades and storage solutions, as well as used Macs, software, cables, batteries and other accessories. Through MacSales.com the company sells its OWC alongside other leading brands, OWC is known as a manufacturer for its external hard drives, ssds, upgrade kits, and other solutions most notably for Apple products, like the Data-Doubler kit, which allows users to add a second hard drive of SSD to their Mac-brand computer.

OWC distributes products worldwide from its headquarters in Woodstock, IL. The company also has locations in Austin, Texas, and Henderson, Nevada, giving it a nationwide footprint and allowing OWC to serve customers in a timely manner. In addition to the OWC-branded products, NewerTech.com is an additional company operating with the same premises, marketing accessories, upgrades and enhancements for Macs, iPods and iPads.

“This organization has always been focused on making existing technology go further and educating the world on the huge opportunity to do so. Whether it’s a brand new system or one 5 years old, or even older yet – we have the solutions that bring new performance, new capabilities, and substantially extend to the useful lifespan of the said technology. If it’s doing what you need and comes down to speed or storage capacity or even serviceability, our goal is to have you covered so you don’t have to start over where you’ve already got what you need and what you need can continue to go the distance.” he says. “Upgrading, in many cases, can actually give them better performance than a new product would.”

“While we support service centers, there are certain things you just don’t have to take to a service center. We help you pull back that curtain and realize ‘Hey, there’s nothing to be afraid of here.’”

– Larry O’Connor, founder

A history of tinkering

O’Connor first started tinkering with home computing systems and related accessories in 1988 when he was just 14, launching LRO Enterprises, a printer ribbon re-inking business, out of his family’s barn. LRO Enterprises soon became LRO Computer Sales as O’Connor switched his focus to providing memory chip upgrades.

“For me there was a clear and present need: I wanted more memory, but I just couldn’t afford what they wanted for the next upgrade. It motivated me to do some research and I soon understood it was something I could not only handle myself – but educate and help others with as well,” says O’Connor.

In 1992, the focus shifted once again and LRO Computer Sales became a hard drive provider before incorporating in the state of Illinois in 1993 under the name New Concepts Development Corporation (NCDC). O’Connor enjoyed robust growth as the personal computing market in the U.S. started to take off and OWC introduced its first in-house branded product in 1995. By 2001, the business that was born in the family barn had expanded to a 6,500-square-foot facility in Woodstock, Illinois.

“When we got into the processor upgrade business back in the 90s, people were just waiting to upgrade to the next generation,” says O’Connor. “When the new operating system OSX was released by Apple, we had systems that we’d upgraded with our hardware that worked faster than the new product being shipped.”

OWC’s growth has always been about not only keeping pace with the industry, but driving growth from within; when the iPod was introduced, OWC was right there offering cases; when FireWire became the next thing in data transfer and storage, OWC introduced a portable FireWire drive; when laptops sales skyrockets, OWC unveiled the extra high-capacity NuPower replacement battery. OWC was also the first thirdparty developer to provide memory upgrades for the new Intel-based Mac Pro as well as the first to external RAID hard drive that accommodated FireWire 800, Firewire, 400, USB 2.0 and eSATA. “

We take barriers away; that’s what we’ve done for 28 years,” says O’Connor. “While we support service centers, there are certain things you just don’t have to take to a service center. We help you pull back that curtain and realize ‘Hey, there’s nothing to be afraid of here,’” he says.

By staying on top of industry trends and established vital relationships, OWC enjoyed a period of record growth and was named one of INC. magazine’s 5000 Fastest-Growing Privately Owned Companies and Computer and Electronics Top 100 from 2007 through 2013. In 2008, OWC moved into its new 37,000-square-foot LEED Platinum certified Woodstock, IL, headquarters, that was the first of its kind for a technology manufacturer and distributor in the U.S. Furthering that, it is exceptionally unique today with over 100 percent of its power utilization covered by onsite Solar and Wind generation.

OWC’s sustainability efforts don’t end with its headquarters. By its very nature, the company’s computer electronics manufacturing efforts were helping to reduce waste across the industry by allowing consumers to upgrade their existing systems instead of buying new products. “By taking technology further we are helping to eliminate it from the waste stream,” says O’Connor. As for our own waste stream, our efforts in recycling and composting result in the need for an actual waste pickup of only once every 8-14 months.

A thunderous future

While 80 percent of OWC’s current business falls into the direct-to-consumer category, O’Connor says he would like to see that shift to a more distributor-based model in the near future. “We have a few thousand resellers around the world, so we’re looking to move to 40 percent direct and 60 percent distribution,” he says.

O’Connor has high expectations for OWC’s Thunderbolt and SAN products, lines of high-performance storage solutions suited not only for casual home users, but also major motion picture studios and television networks. “We’re excited particularly about Thunderbolt because it gives people the opportunity to expand and enhance their system’s performance as easy as plug and play,” he says.

As consumers become more comfortable performing their own upgrades, OWC is poised for growth, but the computer manufacturers themselves don’t always make it easy. While older system were more modular in terms of their configurations, companies like Apple have increasingly started soldering components in place, making simple, at-home repairs difficult if not impossible. “When you start soldering things it eliminates that upgrade path, so if you don’t buy a computer with what you need today, you’re locked in,” O’Connor says.

Retailers will often use any simple repair or upgrades as a means of getting consumers to swap out their devices for the next generation of products. “One complaint about i-devices (iPhones and recent model Samsung Galaxys) is that they don’t make the battery user-swappable, so if you walk into the store for a battery swap, the first thing they do is try to get you to buy a new phone,” he says.

OWC has some 200-plus employees working across its three locations, with parts being built and Texas and assembled in Illinois. While the company self-performs a majority of its own manufacturing, OWC does sub out metalwork to a trusted network of subcontractors. As OWC works to expand the Thunderbolt line into the 2.0 and 3.0 versions, the company continues to add to its in-house engineering capabilities. Storage solutions are currently driving revenues at OWC, and with the next generation of Thunderbolt products in the works, O’Connor does not see that changing anytime soon.

In a business environment currently besieged by startup model, O’Connor has always wanted to build something longer-lasting. “A lot of people in the industry are just trying to build a company to the point where they can sell it. That’s not how I ever want to operate,” he says.

The future is full of opportunities for an innovative company like OWC, and O’Connor is not short of goals. “There is so much that has yet to be accomplished, so we’re not done yet,” he says. “We have so much potential, great products lines and a fantastic team.”

As consumers look to increase the longevity of their computers and devices through in-home upgrades, Other World Computing will remain a leader in the manufacturing and distribution of computer electronics.

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