BY ALAN MILLER Lansing State Journal
Traverse City Record-Eagle
---- — DELTA TOWNSHIP — A year ago, Max Fata, of Delta Township, was about to be a 15-year-old sophomore at Lansing Catholic Central High School with an idea for a customizable case for a smartphone.
The resulting product, the Erase Case, made from a special hard plastic, is used with permanent markers to allow the owner to create an individual design and a solvent that returns the case to its original white color when the owner tires of the design.
Using seed money he earned from an eight slot pop can vending machine, he found a manufacturer and developed a Website. Initially working from his parents’ garage, Fata packaged and sold the phone case, making his first sale in late August 2012.
“When I got my first big sale of 200 units, that’s when I realized this is really going to work,” he said.
Today, Fata is about to be a 16-year-old junior at Catholic Central with an office in Delta Township, two part-time employees, two lawyers to advise him, tax filings to worry about and gross sales adding up to thousands of dollars each week.
“We had one week we did $9,000,” he said. “It was a really good week.”
He has expanded his line, which originally only sold cases for the iPhone 4, to include cases for the iPhone 5, the Samsung Galaxy phone, the iPad, the iPad mini and the iPod Touch.
Fata is hoping to have his Erase Case on the shelves in Wal-Mart, and is entered in a competition to choose new products.
Fans of the Erase Case can vote for him at getontheshelf.walmart.com
The cases themselves are manufactured in China, and the packaging for the cases, markers and solvent is made in California.
“We bring it here, and have guys come in and assemble it,” he said. “Put them together, and then we ship them out.”
Sales are driven by his Website and social media. Fata reports more than 127,000 followers on Instagram.
When school starts in the fall, Fata is going to have to make some decisions about how to spend his time.
“I’m not really sure what we’re going to do yet. I’ve got another month or so, but I’m pretty nervous about it, because I spend a lot of time working in here,” he said.
“I might come in an hour or two before school, and then I might come in after school and try to do some of my homework while I’m here. I’m going to be really busy.”
The business consumes most of his time, leaving little for any social life. He said he still hangs out with friends “here and there,” but works more.
“It’s pretty funny, and it’s pretty cool,” he said. “People don’t really understand. I work a lot. I wake up early and I work. I go to bed late and I work.”
Fata is not expecting to have to take out loans or hit up his parents to pay for college, but that will entail more decisions.
“I’m getting to the point where I’ll probably pay for college myself,” he said.
“I’m thinking of maybe moving to Florida and going to Florida Gulf Coast University (in Fort Myers). But I’m not sure where the company’s going to be,” he said.
“For now, I really enjoy coming in here working, being the boss, doing what I want.”