CANDID CONVERSATIONS BETWEEN VCPN’S BETH SCHLAU AND LEADING OPTICAL EXECUTIVES ABOUT THEIR PRODUCT STRATEGIES.
Ray Khalil, President of Lafont Co., North America, began his optical career as an optician and laboratory technician in Vancouver, BC, where he mastered his technical skills by cutting glass lenses by hand and creating customized frames. He moved to New York City and became Director of Sales and Marketing at Lafont in 1995 and President in 2002. During his tenure, Ray has grown the North American operations tenfold and remains committed to bringing the business and its consumers the very best eyewear available. Here Ray talks about Lafont’s unique offerings to the eyewear marketplace.
BETH SCHLAU: The use of high-quality materials is clearly a brand strategy for Lafont. What else is important?
Ray Khalil: Fundamentally what we are as a brand is threefold: we are family, we’re Paris as far as feel and fashion goes, and we’re about color. We try to blend these three concepts together to make one final product for the consumer. We know that there are different personality types and different people involved in a family so we try to design not just for one member of the family but for all members, which is why the family concept is important to us. What that means is that each collection has a few different styles that would work for different people. And color is really at the core of our strategy or design concepts. We try to make everybody look good with our little French taste and color.
BS: How do you design a new collection?
RK: We start with a map and a plan, and the map is where the collection is going, who we are designing for, where is the room to do it? And then we work around the trends of the moment—which colors and shapes are important, how can we incorporate that. We then come up with a map on how to get there. We don’t even start sketching until we figure out who we’re sketching for. Because we’re opticians, a design house, and we have optical stores, we know that people have to feel good about the frame they’re wearing. It’s why we do what we do—we want everybody to feel like they look good in their glasses.
BS: What’s the major draw of Lafont frames for the U.S. consumer?
RK: Consumers who are confident and who don’t need to show a name brand that’s recognizable by somebody else are attracted to our designs. They’re self-assured and want a style that looks good on them. In the U.S., we embrace individuality so I think our frames really target the heart of our culture because they are a little different with color. They’re not too out there, so you don’t look silly wearing them, but you look fantastic and “you” with them on.
BS: You recently launched a men’s collection. What was the idea behind it?
RK: We were looking to find a way to appeal to the technical side of men while keeping the Lafont flavor. Our core is color, so we decided to get the high-tech angle in by offering a collection with a lot of carbon fiber. And because our design background is textile oriented, carbon fiber made sense because it is almost a “weave of fabric.”
BS: You have a unique way of positioning your sunglasses. Can you speak about that?
RK: We present sunglasses next to the ophthalmic frames with the same exact coloration and similar style concepts. We thought what could be more powerful than having somebody have an ophthalmic frame and a sunglass that match so that when patients go outside, whatever wardrobe they’re wearing that day, they can work it fully both indoors and outdoors.
BS: Do you look to sell only to high-end boutiques or also to stores who have a wider range of frames?
RK: We originally were positioned only with high-end boutiques, but as we’ve gone to more rural markets, we found people who need help in practice-building. They want to appeal to the higher-end consumer but they don’t know how or they don’t have the look yet. We help them by working with them on displays and on how to sell our product. We look to form partnerships with our customers. We try to strategically put our product so that everyone can buy it all over the country because people—either rural or urban—want to look good, too.
BS: Is there anything new on the horizon? Any directions you’ll be going in?
RK: We always have something new, but we’re going to continue doing our story. I think our story is still young and fresh, even though it’s an old story. It changes with the times and we look to keep providing the best possible eyewear and combining old world artisanship with new world function and look. We don’t change our core identity, but we change with the times. So if you look at our collection today, you can still recognize it’s Lafont, even after 25 years of doing business in the U.S.