Bill Yerby joined the Bushnell Eyewear Division in 2002 as Director of Sales and Marketing for North America. He boasts not only 15 years in the optical industry but also 25 years in the outdoor accessory world. Bushnell was recently acquired by Vista Outdoor, a group of 18+ brands that provide performance-driven, high-quality, innovative products. Here, Bill talks about Bushnell’s plans for growth, the new marketing approach for the Serengeti line, and its exciting new Bollé kids’ collection.
Ed De Gennaro: What are the most immediate challenges facing Bushnell and its most exciting opportunities?
Bill Yerby: We’ve always had to stay in front of shifting product trends. Now, we must keep pace with dramatic changes in marketing techniques and the channels in which our products are sold. Our brands have always been at the leading edge of eyewear innovation. New materials and manufacturing techniques have given us the opportunity to offer products that possess real and easy-to-comprehend advantages that clearly differentiate us from the competition.
Ed: What are some of these new materials and manufacturing techniques?
Bill: Within the Serengeti line, we use an array of primary frame materials including premium injected nylon, titanium, and Trivex‘ material. The frame of one of our newest models, Sirolo, features an unprecedented mix of acetate, monel, and beta titanium.
Ed: With the industry increasingly focused on sunwear sales, what are your plans for growing Bushnell’s products?
Bill: Over the past few years, we have developed a comprehensive Rx program with innovative products, backed by a unique and easy-to-use website. Bollé has a strong reputation for high-performance eyewear for sporting applications. Serengeti is recognized as an innovator with an uncompromised approach to materials and construction techniques. These brand strengths are every bit as valid to our Rx customers as they are to our sunwear customers. With people more attuned to the benefits of outdoor activities, the upside potential for sunwear is huge-we are making it a priority to appealing to the category’s newest consumers.
Ed: In the ’70s, Serengeti was the driving lens. Is there still luster to the Serengeti brand?
Bill: Serengeti has one of the most loyal consumer bases in the business. When the brand was founded and before it became part of the Bushnell family, ownership changed hands several times but the quality of its products never slipped. Our job now is to help more people understand what our long-time wearers of Serengeti already know: Serengeti makes the highest-quality, best-performing eyewear in the business. We’ve recently added some key personnel to the Serengeti marketing team and we’ll be taking a more aggressive, modern approach to brand communications.
Ed: Why did you launch a Bollé kids’ line?
Bill: First, we recognized that the children’s sunwear market was underserved. Next, we realized that we had the capacity to enter the market with great products that performed well at parent-friendly price points. We leveraged our manufacturing expertise from the sport, industrial safety, and tactical markets to develop a safe and feature-rich product. We also incorporated a sporty fashionable design offering a wider field of view. The program is a success in terms of our ability to be a one-stop shop for all of our retail partners’ sunwear needs.
Ed: What did you do right and what did you learn after launching the line?
Bill: We did a good job figuring the right balance of technical performance, safety, and fashion. We also added a state-of-the-art, proprietary anti-fog treatment. Earlier this year, we launched a collection of protective eyewear for young athletes. This more technical line of sport protective eyewear has been embraced by many of the ECPs already familiar with our existing lifestyle products for kids and has also helped us open some new accounts.
Ed: Please describe your Rx sun program.
Bill: The Serengeti program is called “VARIO Drive Thin Design.” Built with Serengeti lens technology and lightweight Trivex material, Serengeti VARIO Drive lenses combine a polarized filter and photochromic technology. VARIO Drive optics can be fitted to nearly all of Serengeti’s 61 unique frame designs including wraps. The Bollé program, B-Thin Active Design, uses essentially the same technologies as VARIO Drive. For the hard-core athletes, we can incorporate prescription inserts into the oversized shields of two of our Competitor Series models.
Ed: There are a lot of premium sunwear companies in the market. Why should ECPs carry Bushnell products?
Bill: We offer ECPs innovation, value, and infrastructure. While we never have any intention of being the lowest-price supplier, feature for feature, dollar for dollar, our products are great values. Our sales and customer service teams have the right experience and tools to get the job done. Bollé offers sport-specific performance technologies for golf, marine, tennis, cycling, and running. Serengeti brings a combination of fashion and industry-leading optics featuring photochromic technology. We believe that the addition of our kids’ eyewear in the sport protective category strengthens our position with existing and new ECP partners.