CANDID CONVERSATIONS BETWEEN VCPN’S ED DE GENNARO AND LEADING OPTICAL EXECUTIVES ABOUT THEIR PRODUCT STRATEGIES.
Dan Lieberman, OD, President of Ogi Eyewear, previously operated three highly successful optometric practices in the Chicago area for over 23 years. In addition, he was the driving force behind the founding of CES, LLC, the parent company of Ogi. Since joining Ogi Eyewear in 2004, Dan has assembled a team of managing partners that work with him directly on day-to-day operations, expansion plans, and growth strategies. Here, Dan talks about the success behind Ogi.
Ed De Gennaro: Why did Ogi choose the affordable luxury niche for its business strategy when it started in 1997?
Dan Lieberman: The idea of affordable luxury is all about providing style, quality, and value that’s comparable to current luxury brands. We create value through all channels of distribution so that everybody—from wholesaler to retailer to the final consumer—wins. Ogi has been committed to this strategy since its beginning.
In the classic luxury distribution model, companies force larger buy-ins with less sell through and more difficult exchange policies which can lead to eyecare professionals (ECPs) holding product they are not selling. Our mission is to create a much more accessible environment for the customer.
EDG: How has the positioning helped benefit the company during the recession?
DL: Affordable luxury has always been a viable concept but it wasn’t apparent to most other companies until the economic bubble burst three years ago. All of a sudden, people realized their homes weren’t worth what they thought and started questioning the need for that $5,000 brand-name designer suit. Our concept became a windfall for us.
We never saw a downturn in sales; in fact, we’ve had double-digit increases in sales every year since the economic decline began. The groundwork for this was set 13 years ago and it helped catapult us into the position we’re in right now.
EDG: You’re an OD and Ogi’s chief designer, David Spencer, is an optician. What impact has your formal optical education had on the company’s success?
DL: There are four principals of the company and three of us are second- and third-generation optical professionals—Dave, Rob Rich, and myself, so we grew up with optics in our blood. Joe Tallier, who joined the company three years ago, has been in the wholesale business for over 20 years and brings expertise in sales management, marketing, product positioning, and worldwide expansion. Under our team’s stewardship the company has doubled in size.
My background in optics made me a better doctor. And as a doctor, it has now made me a better businessman in the wholesale business because I understand our customer. Among the four of us, we have over 100 years of optical experience.
EDG: How does this optical expertise contribute to your product development?
DL: One question we always address when developing designs is, “How are ECPs going to feel this frame works in their practice?” Is it going to work in their patternless edger when they don’t have a skilled operator, how much hand edging is going to be involved, can they put glass lenses in it as well as plastic, will 6-base lenses work in it as well as 2-base?
We’ve worked in managed care and with high-end luxury so we understand the kind of frame one needs for those markets and what kind of margins retailers need in order to make money in them. All of these aspects come into play as we develop a product.
EDG: How does the Ogi design team get its ideas?
DL: We gather ideas throughout our world travels…Tokyo, Hong Kong, Paris, Milan, Munich, Los Angeles, New York, and so on. Part of the culture of Ogi is keeping our finger on the pulse of worldwide design and the fashion marketplace. As a team, we feed David Spencer our ideas and then he creates the product that represents Ogi.
EDG: Have your company’s business strategies changed since its inception?
DL: The affordable luxury concept hasn’t changed in any way, but the way we deliver the message has. Through our management team and their respective strengths, we’ve improved our marketing campaigns so our messages are clearer and more precise for opticians and doctors as well as our representatives. The foundation of our business hasn’t changed but its sophistication has grown.
EDG: You started with the Ogi line, have you added others?
DL: Yes, Scojo is an accessories company that specializes in readers, which we acquired about four years ago. Two years ago, we launched the Seraphin brand, a neoclassical, luxury brand that also provides value in the couture market. It was a homerun—it was the right product at the right time for ECPs, their customers, and us.