ONE-TO-ONE: SEIKO’S MIKE RYBACKI

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Candid conversations between VCPN’s Editors and leading optical executives about their product strategies.

Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing Mike Rybacki has been with SEIKO Optical Products of America, Inc. for 32 years. Some may call his the Cinderella story of SEIKO. He started with the company in 1982 as a full-time warehouse employee, and later became supervisor, then manager-all while attending college on nights, weekends, and during summers. After graduating, Mike moved to the marketing department, holding various titles while moving up the ranks to his current post. Here Mike elaborates on SEIKO’s latest lens and frames product strategies.

ED DE GENNARO: SEIKO is a bit unique in the U.S. because it sells both lenses and frames. How does that strategy help or hurt your sales objectives?

MIKE RYBACKI: Having frames and lenses under our highly recognizable consumer brand name gives SEIKO a very unique position and I believe we’re the only company doing this in the U.S. Our main strength over the last 25 years has been premium lenses. We’ve always led with high-index products in the premium category, and we were the first to only specialize in titanium frames. There is no better eyewear combination than high-index lenses and titanium frames, and we believe this is the ultimate SEIKO consumer experience.

Our new global marketing campaign for lenses and frames promotes “eyewear that performs” with the message: “SEE PERFECT, LOOK GREAT, SEIKO EYEWEAR, THE TOTAL SOLUTION.” “Eyewear That Performs” is the driving force behind SEIKO. In fact, it’s part of our mission statement.

ED: For years SEIKO advertised itself as the leader in 1.67 lens material. How has that changed?

MIKE: SEIKO has not only always been the first to market new high-index products, but when we introduce a material, we dominate that category. In late ’80s and early ’90s, it was 1.60, and in the late ’90’s into the 2000s, it was 1.67. From 2010 to present, it’s 1.74. While 1.74 is a small percentage of the market, we see it as our role to grow it based on the expansion in the global markets of Europe and Asia.

ED: How will you respond to it?

MIKE: For free-form, I’m confident we are more than appropriately positioned over the next five years to take advantage of every opportunity in this area. As you know, SEIKO has been a pioneer and inventor in this category. We currently have a sizeable design portfolio and are constantly adding to it. We’re fortunate to be able to not only install free-form software and provide free-form Rx’s, but we can do it both ways for branded and private label designs. For 1.74, we’re well on our way to expanding that category, and we’re aiming to bring many specialty lens firsts to the market, like Polarthin technology, our polarized lens platform.

ED: How about your frame business?

MIKE: The frame business runs in cycles so it’s possible we may come full circle and bring back smaller metals and three-piece mountings. For SEIKO, I see us bringing technology and design elements from the watch business and expect there will be some unique breakthrough to differentiate us. I see other high-tech frame products combining lens technologies with LCDs for instant tint-to-clear lenses and other Google Glass-type frame and lens products. SEIKO may surprise everyone in this space.

ED: The SEIKO name is known by the American public primarily for its watches. How well is that brand name carrying over into your frame and lens products?

MIKE: The power of a brand depends on its reputation, and based on SEIKO’s reputation, the carryover is strong. I think for ECPs and consumers, it’s an easy transition. Regardless of the product, the SEIKO brand name is well established worldwide, and in the consumer’s mind, it’s synonymous with high quality, precision, and value based on cost vs. performance. It’s important to note that SEIKO does not sublicense its brand, and this means only SEIKO manages and decides which products carry its name along with controlling the manufacturing process to ensure quality to our own standards.

ED: How’s the strategic alliance with HOYA Vision Care, North America going and why was it done?

MIKE: While it’s early in this alliance process, it’s going well and it’s business as usual for SEIKO. HOYA has a 30% stake in SEIKO, but that will change to 50% in April. I can foresee a bright horizon filled with opportunities.

The two companies saw many operational and logistical efficiencies, such as manufacturing, production costs, R&D, supply chain, freight insurance, and more. From a business perspective, the alliance makes sense.

SEIKO U.S. is strong in the wholesale and chain business, while HOYA U.S. is strong in the direct ECP business, so we really don’t conflict because the bulk of our revenues are from different sales channels.

From a sales and marketing standpoint, we will continue to keep our separate identities and drive our own present and future products for the most part. Of course, there may be some crossover, but that will be minimal.

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