20 QUESTIONS WITH JAY BLACK

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Known worldwide for quality sunglasses, Maui Jim expanded into ophthalmic frames just over one year ago. VCPN’s John Sailer interviewed vice president, global brand marketing, Jay Black, about the company’s move into ophthalmics and its overall ‘Aloha’ attitude.

1. How long has it been since the launch of the Maui Jim ophthalmic line? We introduced our ophthalmic line in October of 2016. We chose to start with 50 diverse test accounts so we could be reactive with the feedback that they gave us.

2. How has the rollout gone? Historically, we know some sun brands struggled a bit with their ophthalmic lines, given the competitiveness in the marketplace, and we wanted to take our time and do the research and learn. What we’ve learned is that it’s a completely different business, but it’s one that we’re in a great position to shake up because we’re doing the lenses as well. We feel this is an innovative and competitive business model that offers streamlined service for the accounts with only one touch point for lenses and frames.
From our lens offering and the frames to the complete offer, we spent a lot of time pricing it right, making sure the quality was right, our experience was right and of course that the product was right.

3. How long did that last? The test period went on for about 15 months. We learned what we need to do, not only to be competitive in the marketplace but also to set a new industry standard through the way we deliver retailer and consumer experiences and how we price our products. The resulting feedback we’re hearing from patients and accounts is, “Wow! We want the same experience that we have with your sunglasses on the ophthalmic side.”

4. How many accounts are carrying ophthalmic now? We started with 50 accounts, expanded to about 150 accounts, and right now we’re at around 800 accounts in the U.S. and over 1,200 globally. But we have over 50,000 accounts worldwide, and we want to make sure we can service them appropriately.

5. When will you reach that goal? Before, we would have had to say, “Thank you for the interest, but we want to wait until we’re able to service you with the Maui Jim standards.” Now, we’re at the point where we’re ready to open up to everybody who wants to carry the product. Part of that is having a new lab in Germany to service the additional capacity that we know is going to come with the ophthalmic category. The one thing that we will not sacrifice is quality of customer service or product to the retailer or patient.

6. How’s the lab coming along in Germany? Currently, we’re running internal tests, and then we’ll start with targeted production jobs in May, followed by the official opening in June to service the entire European market.

7. Is that a new market for you? We’ve always fulfilled European prescription orders, but because of increasing demand and the addition of our ophthalmic line, we needed to increase our capacity. We deliver plano frames, prescription sunglasses and ophthalmic orders to our patients and accounts within three to five business days. If an account places an order on our business-to-business website, it is delivered within a maximum of five days, but our average is within hours. For this industry – especially for clear – this is groundbreaking, and it’s a tremendous competitive advantage for us.

8. Your primary lab in Peoria, IL, has a reputation for very high quality and cleanliness. What impact does that have on the company overall and its products? It’s definitely a source of pride for us. When people walk into our lab, they’re amazed at how clean and state-of-the-art it is. That feeling is reflected in everything we do, our people, our accounts and their patients, our vendors and suppliers, and ultimately our final product. Additionally, when equipment manufacturers have new technology to launch they give it to us first to test and provide feedback.

9. You mentioned that it was 15 months ago when you launched ophthalmic. I remember coming out to Peoria for a visit then, and the time has just flown since. Prior to that, from when you decided to get into ophthalmic to the time of the actual launch, how long did it take? Prior to the launch, we spent about two years in development. The initial line was designed by Walter [Hester, CEO/owner] and our designers, and the process culminated in a showcase to retailers for feedback.

10. What kind of reaction did you get? Ironically, at first we weren’t going to do the lenses, but we found that accounts were personally asking for them because of our customer service, technology and quality. Retailers wanted an alternative rather than working with two entities for frames and lenses. It was at that point when we decided to offer clear lenses.

It’s also important to know that we didn’t just adapt our sunglass frames. A lot of frame manufacturers just do the same sun frame with a clear lens. We developed an entirely new collection, 62 unique styles and designs for ophthalmic frames, while maintaining our Hawaiian heritage.

11. How is your sales team managing the new ophthalmic category? Some of them are opticians, but some haven’t had the experience in the ophthalmic category, so we put them through three days of comprehensive training to understand the ophthalmic category and highlight the fact that the category is completely different than sun. Our sun product is proprietary technology; it’s patented. But in some cases, on the ophthalmic side we use standard lens materials, so we have to highlight the Maui Jim advantages. For example, all of our lens materials are processed with our proprietary optical technologies, including superior hydrophobic/oleophobic treatment, premium front and back anti-reflective treatment, CLEARSHELL scratch-resistant coating and 100% UV protection. We also have two clear proprietary lens materials. Our HEV-managing lens gives you all of the protection from harmful blue light, but it is almost completely clear, so it doesn’t have the yellow or blue tint like other HEV offerings. We also have a high contrast lens that is completely unique to the market. It sharpens color contrast, makes it easier to read fine print, and it is also the perfect lens for night driving as it reduces glare from headlights and streetlights. It can be a more technical and medical conversation than it is on our sun lenses, and we want to ensure our team is well equipped to have those conversations.

12. Your CEO and owner Walter Hester is very well respected by everyone in the company. What is he like, and how does he influence the company? He has a very simple philosophy. It’s about having the best technology, providing the finest customer service, treating his employees with ‘Aloha’ and the importance of retail partnerships. What he’ll tell you is, ‘If I focus on those four things, everything else will take care of itself.’ Simple, right? That’s the great thing about being independently owned.

13. How is that? Being independently owned allows us to have the highest standards and invest in the best technology that remains proprietary to us. We don’t have to worry about quarterly shareholder meetings, just providing the highest quality of services and products to our accounts and patients.

14. Can you give some examples? We are heavily invested in maintaining a human experience in the retail process. Rather than focus solely on e-commerce, we aim to maintain our brick-and-mortar partnerships to ensure a more personal overall experience. You’ll notice we don’t actually sell our ophthalmic line or prescription sunglasses online. This is because we believe a patient’s best experience is going to be at retail, which is why we have implemented a very easy way to locate ophthalmic providers on our website.

15. How does that work? We have an easy-to-use dealer locator on our website that shows consumers where they can find the ophthalmic line based on their city or zip code.

16. Was Walter the founder, or was there a different founder? He had the Hawaiian distribution rights, but then he bought the company from the owner.

17. The company was founded in Maui but is now located in Peoria. How does the Hawaiian culture still influence the company? Maui Jim was founded on the beaches of Maui, but we found that in order to spread the Aloha spirit through our product at the speed our customers deserved, we needed a more central location. Because of Peoria’s location, we can ship everywhere – and that’s how we can deliver a prescription Maui Jim within five days.

Hawaii is always our spiritual home. The home office, product design and CEO are all still located there.

18. Do customers come to the Maui office? A lot of our brand fans want to come to experience Maui Jim in Maui. They come out on vacation and will bring a shoe box full of sunglasses to be repaired. They’ll have 15 pairs of Maui Jims and will bring them in just to have them repaired in Maui! It just shows the passion for the brand from our consumers.

19. How did the artist collaboration with Charlie Lyon start? Charlie Lyon is a friend of the brand. He’s an artist based in Lahaina. He lives about three blocks from the office. He’s a world-renowned artist who displays his art to international art enthusiasts who visit Maui. We developed together a specific painting for Maui Jim and used that painting on the inside of the glasses to give it that artistic curated feel of museum art in our new line.

20. One final question, since I’m speaking with Jay Black, how many times have people asked if you were the Jay Black from Jay Black and the Americans? I wish I could sing like him, and I wish I had a bank account like him.

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