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Volume 20 No. 42
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Plugged In: Colin Baden, Oakley

Consumers who buy Oakley products these days might be buying more than sunglasses. There’s Oakley luggage, watches and MLB-licensed apparel, as well. And as the brand’s product offerings expand, so too does its retail presence: Oakley now has 242 of its own stores, including 162 in the United States. During the recent opening of Oakley’s newest emporium, a 6,800-square-foot location on New York’s Fifth Avenue, CEO Colin Baden talked about the company’s direction.

While Oakley is rooted in a heritage of sports and innovative technology, we’ve never leveraged our own culture. So now we’re talking a lot about industrial design and what we can do for you with our technology. That’s our new journey.

On expanding Oakley’s brick-and-mortar footprint: Optics is still our No. 1 category and that’s a purchase people need to touch and feel. Certainly as a brand, you also like owning and controlling retail space. There are things we can do in our stores that we can’t do elsewhere, and ours is a complex sell, so we invest a lot in training. That’s why our customer will spend $100 or more for Oakley glasses: They’re getting great product, service and value. Now we’re at the point where I’d like to go back and redo some of the stores we opened five years ago and completely redo them, because what’s cool now at retail is quite different.

Growth sectors: Broadly, overseas. Japan is a real opportunity, and we’re growing there. We’re doing great in Brazil but still growing like crazy and opening stores there. Oakley is still an undiscovered brand in Europe, so I don’t think we’re quite ready to open stores there. There’s lots of opportunity for us on the prescription side of the eyewear business and on the women’s side of the business. We keep trying to push the edges with new technology.

Marketing to millennials: Things change quickly there. When I joined the brand [in 1996], all I heard about was action sports. Now, that seems kind of over. So many of those brands … are struggling. We’re just recently marketing directly to consumers, so our social strategy and our email marketing — we’re all learning in that space, like most brands. … The one thing that was made clear to us lately was that when we did email campaigns featuring product, they work. When we send out emails about one of our athletes winning and “Here’s the video,” it does not work.

On brand extensions into categories like apparel and luggage: Obviously we’re relevant in eyewear and that’s still probably 80 percent of our sales. Increasingly, we’re in different kinds of apparel, but we’re not going off the reservation and doing something like underwear. We turn down stuff every day; I didn’t see much point in doing a Playboy license for Oakley eyewear. However, the Ferrari license we’ve done made sense, and we each brought strengths to that relationship..

— Terry Lefton