CANDID CONVERSATIONS BETWEEN VCPN’S ED DE GENNARO AND LEADING OPTICAL EXECUTIVES ABOUT THEIR PRODUCT STRATEGIES.
Alec Taylor has been CEO of FGX International, Inc. since 2005. From 1998 to 2005, he was president and COO of Chattem, Inc., a manufacturer and marketer of health and beauty products, toiletries, and dietary supplements. Prior to that, he was an attorney with Miller & Martin in Chattanooga, TN. Here, Alec talks about FGX’s increasing outreach to the optical industry.
Ed De Gennaro: How is FGX’s relationship with Essilor proceeding?
Alec Taylor: Essilor International acquired FGX about 15 months ago, and has been great to work with—we’ve had very few changes. In fact, Essilor wants us to take our business model in North America and apply it on a worldwide basis. At the time of the merger, our international revenues were about 10% of the total, principally through offices in Canada, the U.K., and Mexico. We recently purchased Polinelli in Milan, Italy, which is the leader of mass brand sunglasses and reading glasses there. We also bought an upscale reader line called Sight Station in the U.K. Essilor is supporting all of this and encouraging more acquisitions.
EDG: Why did FGX get into the Rx frame business?
AT: Before I joined FGX, the company did a market survey that said consumers expected the Foster Grant brand to be not only ready-to-wear readers and sunglasses, but also ophthalmic frames, so they created Foster Grant ophthalmic frames. The experiment didn’t work but we learned license brands have consumer appeal. Based on this, we entered into a series of licenses for ophthalmic frames with Levi Strauss Signature, Field & Stream, Jeff Banks, and Body Glove, which we also license for sunglasses. In addition, we sell ophthalmic frames under our Gargoyles brand.
FGX also created a product line for eyecare professionals (ECPs) called Private Eyes, which is more upscale. Each reader comes with a case, and the collection is exclusive to the ophthalmic channel. We feel that Private Eyes is the perfect readymade solution for ECPs. It’s a great second pair for presbyopes who don’t want to spend a lot of money for a second pair of prescription readers. It’s also perfect for a presbyope who can wear plano but needs a little near help. With Private Eyes, patients can buy multiple pairs to keep around their home, office, car, etc., and not break the bank. We see Private Eyes as a first-class readymade reader constructed from quality materials and with quality lenses.
We like the ECP market and it’s something we’re spending more time on. It also creates a good synergy between our team that’s selling the Private Eye line and the Essilor team selling Rx products.
EDG: Now that you’ve acquired the Corinne McCormack brand, what changes do you plan to make to its positioning, marketing, etc.?
AT: We have done very little to change the brand’s positioning. Corinne has a terrific creative sense. What we bring to this brand for her is our infrastructure and support. Corinne had to do everything as a small business owner from design to seeing that orders were sent out. As a part of the FGX family, we supply the resources to market her brand, perform billing and collections, handle orders, and so on in our facility in Rhode Island. This makes her truly free to focus on designing and selling. We also bring much deeper pockets with resources. For example, we recently did some advertising spreads for her brand in Cosmopolitan and Elle magazines.
EDG: What role does Gargoyles play in your brand portfolio?
AT: The Gargoyles brand started as a sunglass shield that was worn by Dale Earnhardt, the racecar driver. It has a rich heritage and was worn by Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry and by Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Terminator. We have an ophthalmic collection that does well but the majority of its business is plano sunglasses. It’s a higher quality performance brand that is technically correct, but it’s also a classic due to its heritage. We’ve just signed the first baseman for the Boston Red Sox, Adrian Gonzalez, and we hope this plus updated styles will keep the brand fresh. We also carry Body Glove, which is an action sports brand that we offer as Rxable frames to ECPs and is positioned to the younger male demographic.
EDG: How is the Field & Stream brand doing?
AT: Field & Stream is designed to resonate with an older male demographic who likes to hunt and fish and this market clearly knows the brand name. It was originally conceived as a plano sun product principally for a large sporting goods retailer, but it’s done very well in the ophthalmic frame market. We also carry the Levi Strauss Signature brand, which has a nice business in the ophthalmic market with a wide demographic.