With licensed brands such as John Varvatos, Tumi, Converse, and Jonathan Adler as well as its strong house brand presence with relative newcomer Spine, 30-year-old REM Eyewear prides itself on being a global yet family-oriented company that builds and maintains quality relationships. Mike Hundert, CEO and COO, recalls that his mother made it a priority to speak to every customer. Hundert, who has a degree in broadcast journalism and was the “voice” of World Pro Skiing, joined the business in 1981. He spoke to VCPN Managing Editor Michele Silver about the unique Spine product, criteria for choosing licensors, and what makes REM Eyewear tick.
MICHELE SILVER: What is REM’s history of creating house brands?
MIKE Hundert: Innovations in our house brands are what really put REM on the international map. In the mid ’80s, when REM Eyewear was just a small company, we were the first to bring frames made of carbon graphite to market. That entirely changed our company and allowed us to create a distribution network both across the U.S. and into several foreign markets.
MICHELE: What is unique about the Spine collection?
MIKE: The patented hinge serves to hug your head, and that provides a solution to frames constantly slipping down your bridge. This is something that no other product in the marketplace can claim. It’s particularly important for people who wear progressive lenses because the multifocal lens is fit and built for your frame being in its proper place.
MICHELE: What type of support do you provide ECPs for Spine?
MIKE: The real emphasis is training at point of sale because this is a product that requires explanation. In order to understand the attributes of Spine and to be able to demonstrate it to the consumer, it’s really important that we educate the opticians who are dispensing the frames. We’re constantly doing training videos to communicate the assets of this product.
MICHELE: What is new for the spring collection?
MIKE: We’re adding more styles and expanding the collection in sunglasses as well as optical. You’re more active when you’re wearing sunglasses, and for this frame to stay exactly where it’s put on your face is a tremendous asset. I’m a mountain biker and I wear Spine exclusively because it actually works!
Right now, we see Spine being stronger for the male consumer because they’re usually more into innovation, but we are developing more female-oriented product including a new version of the hinge. We plan to launch it at Silmo and Vision Expo West.
MICHELE : What are the qualities that you look for in a licensed brand?
MIKE: We have a list of criteria because everybody is looking to license their brand. We filter it through a variety of things. If a brand is that well known and it doesn’t need explanation, it has a higher value to us. Does it have global reach and a global strategy? Does it have a range of products under its brand? Do the people share our perspectives and our values? We look at license as a marriage, evidenced by the fact that we’ve been married to the Converse eyewear brand for 27 years. It’s a very serious investment of resources, and we want to make sure that we’re going to get along very well with these folks.
MICHELE: What are some of the goals for the company for 2016?
MIKE: This year is going to be focused on customer service as opposed to expanding or adding new brands. We want to make sure that we’re doing the best job we can for the customers.
MICHELE: What are the three top qualities that you would want ECPs to know about REM eyewear?
MIKE: Our values are founded on the fact that we’ve been a family business for more than 60 years. Today I took one hour out of my day and called five customers to thank them for their support. I do this at least once a month. The kind of reaction I get from people is absolutely off the charts amazing. People are stunned! You would think that that’s the normal thing to do, but apparently not.
Another thing that differentiates REM is my personal commitment and knowledge of the supply chain. I spend at least a month a year understanding who’s making what and the capabilities of different factories around the world.
The third factor is people. The wisdom and experience of the people in this organization are superior. Our average number of years of a customer service rep is 11 1/2 years. Our whole team meets every single morning for half an hour. By virtue of that bit of communication, we figure out ways to integrate what we’re working on. At the end of the day, the customer benefits from that kind of teamwork.