ONE-TO-ONE: JAY BLACK

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VCPN visited Maui Jim headquarters the week the well-known sunglass manufacturer introduced ophthalmic frames. The company is now in the midst of a test launch, offering its new ophthalmic styles at about 50 existing Maui Jim sunglass accounts before a broader rollout. VCPN interviewed the marketing and production teams, which included Jay Black, vice president of global brand marketing, and Scott Perillo, director of global brand strategy, during a tour of the facility in October.

VCPN: What was the design influence?

MAUI JIM: The Kapa core is a nod to our Hawaiian roots. Kapa is an ancient tradition of creating patterns on the robes of Hawaiian royalty. They hand carved patterns into wood, rolled them in ink and stamped them on fabric. We brought that Hawaiian heritage into our frames. We worked with the Polynesian Historical Society to ensure accuracy.

Our own frame designers, including Walter Hester, carefully considered every detail that went into the overall construction and design. The color palette uses Hawaiian sea glass as inspiration, again tied back to our heritage in Hawaii. Sea glass results when glass falls into the ocean, breaks and is tumbled over time. It’s tossed and turned through the ocean currents and washes ashore with a frosted look. We have green, amber, yellow, turquoise; think of things that would be on a shipwreck. It’s a tradition in Hawaii that kids collect sea glass.

The early feedback is that it’s nice to have a story to talk about while someone is trying it on.

Obviously, the acetate is a different color palette, but that is just to capitalize on the trends in the marketplace. It’s all Italian and Japanese acetate. We don’t produce frames in China.

We have existing partnerships. All frames are by existing manufacturers on our sun side. We have a trusting relationship and a comfort level that there is no sacrificing quality. A lot are optical manufacturers more so than sun.

Our metal/nylon collection uses the grilamid front that we utilize from our sun line, combined with beta titanium temples to maximize lightweight comfort and fit. Memory metals are also part of this collection.

Next would be the metals, stainless steel. We have seven styles, up to almost 50 SKUs. Our designers took comfort, fit and color as key drivers for the overall design.

Our rimless collection has 10 shapes, 11 colors and three temple lengths, so 330 possible combinations. Most of them have the disc hinge temple, but we also have some with the rubber beta titanium temple for a sportier fit. They’re all compression mounts. Any consumer who wants to purchase these has to go through our lab for the precision required in the drilling, mounting and everything else.

Rimless is a very stylistic, sophisticated approach for us. We’re a little bit different because we use compression mounts, and you have to be extremely precise to be able to maintain the integrity of the frame. We’ve established ourselves on the sun side as being very good at rimless.

Feedback from our accounts is that a lot of labs struggle with how to drill rimless. Our accounts would love somebody to do rimless and make sure that they are structurally accurate. It’s a natural fit for us. The titanium gives it that lightweight feel, and coming from our lab you know the drill mounts are going to be accurate.

The nylons are next, super lightweight and comfortable. The color palette is a little more trendy, stylish. Keeping with the rest of the collection, they are super light and comfortable for the patient.

The last collection are clip-ons, which will have our polarized technology.

Working on clip-ons, our designers discovered fun things they could do with ophthalmic; that’s kind of where it all started. We’ve had the clip-ons for about a year and a half but wanted to save them for the ophthalmic launch. It’s the best of both worlds. You get a very stylish frame, but you can also get the Maui Jim sun technology experience with the clip-ons as well.

For the whole ophthalmic range, if you want clear, we’ll make up your clear, but if you want a Maui Jim sun put in an ophthalmic frame, we’ll do that as well. If you even want a Maui Jim plano sun lens put into an ophthalmic frame, we’ll do that; any sort of combination you want. It all goes back to our emphasis on customer service and quality.

VCPN: How long has it been from idea to launch?

MAUI JIM: Two years since we formally announced internally that we were moving into ophthalmics. Our design team has made modifications on the makup of the overall collection because accounts were saying, ‘There’s too much of this. The market is flooded with that. We need something unique.’ Where we’ve landed, there’s a nice space for it, and we’ll learn a lot from the accounts and customers during this test period.

We’ve flown several of our test accounts here to preview the collection and provide input. Early feedback has been extremely positive.

VCPN: You’re a unique company in optical, doing frames, lenses and lab services all in one.

MAUI JIM: ECPs can leave whatever style they choose on the frame board. They won’t have to forward it to a lab or call and have the lab order something.

Ophthalmic is a very different animal. The beta accounts already have Maui Jim brand recognition in the store and will have something exclusive for a while.

We’re offering these 50 beta accounts a few free fits for their staff with our productÂ-lenses, frames, the whole works as a part of the test phase.

VCPN: It sounds like your philosophy is to take the time to get it right rather than rush into it wrong.

MAUI JIM: We want to make a good first impression. Among our core pillars are customer service and dedication to our brick-and-mortar accounts. We have a very good reputation, a lot of equity built on how we treat customers and retailers, and we’re never going to sacrifice that. That’s why we took this approach.

VCPN: What about packaging?

MAUI JIM: If you’re going to pay a premium for ophthalmics, it should start with the presentation. That’s why we specifically designed the packaging from the case, which is foldable, to the thick cleaning cloth with its wedge scissor cut. It’s a very nice, thick cleaning cloth with premium branding.

VCPN: Was the overall branding deliberately subtle?

MAUI JIM: Our brand is not about screaming, ‘Maui Jim.’ Our brand has always been subtle, about self-confidence, investing in quality and about the product and experience. That’s the nature of our target consumer, the functional, elegant consumer who is self-confident. They don’t follow trends. They discover things themselves. We want to be sophisticated and stylish. That’s why we subtly put the branding on the temple tips.

But we also heard that some consumers are proud to wear Maui Jim and wanted the branding on the lens, so we provide that as an option.

VCPN: In terms of how ophthalmics will mesh with sun, initially your beta retailers will have both because you’re building on those who already have sun.

MAUI JIM: That’s a natural transition for us in the beginning because they’re existing customers, familiar with our lab, and they know the quality we put into our prescriptions

Down the road, there’s nothing to say we couldn’t open an ophthalmic account or a sun account. There’s a tremendous opportunity in the U.S. to expand on prescription sun. Ophthalmic may give us an opportunity to expand that conversation in accounts that may not be a prescription sun account.

VCPN: You already offer lifetime replacement of nosepads and temples on your suns. Will that also translate to ophthalmics?

MAUI JIM: While that’s unheard of in the industry, when a person makes this type of investment in an ophthalmic frame, they should expect quality and customer service. Whether it’s a manufacturer defect, a patient broke a pair of temples or a dog chews on them, we will replace temples or nosepads for as long as we stock the products. That has always been our sun policy, and we’ll carry that same level of customer service into our ophthalmics because that sets us apart.

VCPN: How else are you supporting the ophthalmic rollout?

MAUI JIM: We’re training accounts to talk about the features and benefits of the frames, lens materials, lens designs and coatings. They’re not selling a la carte. They’re selling all-in-one packaging. It simplifies the process for the optician because they don’t have to sell each coating and/or treatment.

VCPN: Can accounts use other laboratories for your ophthalmics?

MAUI JIM: That’s perfectly fine. We just want to offer our lab services, and that came from the accounts. They want us to do the lenses because of the relationship they have with our lab. We’ll have materials such as a Trivex, 1.60, polycarbonate and an HEV lens. From just a quality assurance standpoint, we’d rather do everything here.

VCPN: What are your objectives over the next few years?

MAUI JIM: We’re the number three sunglass brand in the world and the largest that is still independently owned, but we still have a tremendous opportunity to grow. We see prescription (sun and clear) as our biggest opportunity over the next three to five years, but we’re not going to take our eye off the ball on the sun side.

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