Candid Conversations Between VCPN’s Beth Schlau and Leading Optical Executives About their Product Strategies.
Robert (Bob) and Henry Shyer, Chairman and Vice Chairman, respectively, of Zyloware Eyewear, have held a series of active roles since the ‘50s in the company that their father, Joseph, founded in 1923. Bob started as production manager and lead creator of new product, and then became president in 1968. Henry was initially a sales rep and subsequently was responsible for sales and customer relationships before moving into the position of vice president in 1968. Here they discuss how the company remains focused on innovations and building relationships with its customers after 90 years.
BETH SCHLAU: Zyloware has had a series of firsts in the eyewear business, starting with the Invincible. What was it and how did it come about?
BOB SHYER: Before the Invincible was created, I made contact with Bollé, a French company that made nylon safety eyewear. Together we invented a way that a nylon frame could be adjusted. It was available in multiple sizes with a very flexible temple and became one of the best-selling optical frames in industry history; at one point, we were selling 20,000 frames a week.
HENRY SHYER: The Invincible’s biggest selling point was that it wouldn’t rust, bust, or turn green. You could throw it up against a wall and nothing would happen to it. Nothing has been produced like it since then. It was Zyloware’s first successful import and changed the company’s focus from manufacturing to design and branding.
BETH: The company was at the fore- front of launching eyewear brands named after celebrities. What has been the benefit of this?
BOB: Gloria Vanderbilt was the first American eyewear brand we launched and it was a huge success. At that time, the only company that had a designer brand was in Europe and hardly present in the U.S. It gave Zyloware much higher visibility since most companies didn’t have any brands recognizable by consumers.
HENRY: Sophia Loren also really exploded and was the first celebrity to have her own eyewear brand. Here we are, some 30-odd years later and we are selling as many Sophia Loren frames now as we did then.
BETH: Stetson was the first men’s brand. How did/do you market it?
BOB: In those days, the Macho Man was the Marlboro man and with Stetson we played off of that using the men’s Western hat. Today the brand is synonymous with the product’s masculine good looks and with over 30 years of delivering quality for men aged 40 and up.
HENRY: We took the cowboy image and made an ophthalmic men’s line of well-made, rugged frames.
BETH: How much of your business is direct? Are you moving to more direct retail?
BOB: Our current efforts have expanded by working with multiple regional mini-chains and customers who can order directly through our web site.
HENRY: We’re building that right now in different areas where our wholesalers are not strong. We are doing it slowly, and we’re showing the people who we are and that our service is phenomenal. And we’re happy with it. We’re building a small sales force and expanding it.
BETH: Any new brands on the horizon?
BOB: Our newest collections are Project Runway and MaxStudio.com. The Project Runway line is fashionable eyewear featuring trendy shapes and bold colors. And we are very excited about the launch of MaxStudio.com, where the collection features fashionable twists and subtle detailing geared toward the fashion-forward consumer.
HENRY: Chris (my nephew) and Jamie (my son) are leading the company now and are always looking and searching for new brands.
BETH: This year is Zyloware’s 90th anniversary. What plans are there for the future?
BOB: The marketing team at Zyloware has put together a video that talks a lot about this (watch it here). One of the things my father instilled in me and I hope I instilled in my son and nephew is the search for innovation in filling market needs. I’m sure they have something up their sleeves.
HENRY: We’re very good at seeing where consumer trends are moving and where can we fill a need.
BETH: What’s it like working with your brother, and now your son and nephew?
BOB: I wish I made better choices when I was a child! It is always better to have a family business where you know you can count on the people you work with. All kidding aside, we have a sense of pride about our family longevity in the industry.
HENRY: The boys are running the business, but my brother and I are still there, and we still stick our nose in because we’ve got the history. But it’s their call. We yell and scream and holler at each other. It’s a typical family business, but we love each other, so it’s not a problem. We keep reinventing ourselves. We believe in the customers’ needs and whatever they need, we’re going to be there for them.