By Eric Smith
After a two-year absence from making goggles, Native Eyewear returned to the market in 2016 by debuting the company’s line of products alongside every other brand at that year’s SIA Snow Show.
So for the past two seasons, the Colorado-based company, which also makes sunglasses, has worked hard to stand out amid a crowded marketplace. The company positioned itself as a specialist in backcountry goggles that could deliver the best fogging mechanisms, fit and foam for the skiers and splitboarders who eschewed the chairlift to find their own lines.
As Native Eyewear wraps up the season and looks to promote next year’s product, the company has been busy showcasing the newest offerings at recent events such as last month’s demo day at Eldora Ski Resort in Colorado. And the company is taking the lessons learned in the past few years to refine the position in the market and reach more buyers.
Native Eyewear aims to do that by developing and selling “premium technologies at an attainable price tag,” claimed General Manager John Sanchez, who spoke with SGB about Native Eyewear’s journey to date and future destinations.
Sanchez, who is based in Florida, where he also serves as vice president of product development for Native’s sister company, Costa Sunglasses, talked about Native Eyewear’s goggle relaunch and what’s in store for the company’s goggle and sunglasses aspirations in 2018.
What has the return to this market been like, and how has the goggle line performed for you? The goggle business was slow in year one, which was expected since market inventory was relatively high and we were re-entering the market as a newcomer again—and this time with much better production. Year two, we saw huge growth and interest primarily at the dealer level from our ability to service and price position. We offer a $99-$179 price point with the majority (75 percent) of our product living under $129. Overall, we couldn’t be more excited during this second season, as we are already pre-booking at two times last year’s order volume.
Native re-entered this market with plans on becoming a “backcountry goggle” brand. Is that still true, and what drove that approach, or how has your strategy shifted? We love the backcountry in summer and winter. We as a brand love being associated with an exploration of new elements and surroundings. The mountains, shoreline and all of the great outdoors are the inspiration. Our goggle line is really tailored for the backcountry enthusiast. The approach for us is that we want to place elements that someone who spends 30 days on mountain a year or more would want and expect. I like the versatility of what our line offers, and we hear from consumers that this is one of the key differentiators for us.
How else is Native Eyewear trying to differentiate and stand apart in a crowded goggle space? We bring a total package to this market that is unique in the market. We used a price position study from consumers to drive how we showed up at retail and didn’t just “cost plus.” We’ve found a sweet spot in the premium space: We have premium technologies at an attainable price tag. Almost every goggle we make includes superior fog diffusion, a triple layer foam to keep riders comfortable and balance temperature and—most importantly—a free low-light lens [and] fleece-lined soft pouch packed inside a solid Fort Goggle Case to keep your goggles protected off the trail. We are also sourcing as responsibly as we can: all of our goggle frames are built using the same bio-based resin found in our sunglasses. Outside of our standard offering, we also have unique backcountry features including our Snow-Tuned React lens, which adapts to the changing light conditions throughout the day; the Slidelock interchangeable lens system and Switch Outrigger strapping, which provides a reversible strap that is reflective.
Anything you wished you had done differently when you relaunched the goggle line? I wish we had built up our winter team a little faster. It took us some time to find the amazing athletes we have, and we wanted to do it right. I also wished we would have launched an interchangeable goggle in year one, but in year two we launched two of them so we made up for it. Certainly, the athletes were the largest miss and now that we have their support and help in all that we do, that has been instrumental. They are validating our products in the backcountry and spreading the word. We wouldn’t be seeing nearly the success we are now without the support and dedication we receive from our athletes and ambassadors.
What’s happening in your Native Eyewear sunglasses line? Anything new and exciting to share about product, branding, etc.? We have grown double digits the past three years in a row; a lot is happening inside to support the growth. Our Native Sun brand is doing fantastic. We really focused on getting the product roadmap in place and we have launched 12 styles in the past two years that now represent nearly half of our sales. We have repositioned ourselves to be $99-$149, which is comfortable for our customers, who still expect great quality and polarization efficiency. Our biggest success this year is with our Violet Reflex (mirror) lens. It was exclusive to REI last year, and this year is our most sold lens color at retail. It maximizes contrast and also offers a unique style that stands out from others. We’ve also seen tremendous success on our desert tan frame, which was inspired by a camouflage color swatch and is a favorite of field and stream customers.
What’s on tap for Native Eyewear for the rest of 2018 and beyond? We are looking to add some staff in key spots as the business has grown. Our marketing team is now in place to support the sales team’s growth in the past two years. We are growing double digits with key accounts and have some amazing partners who have asked to work on some special programs. We want to really partner with dealers and retailers. We have offered some great sales programs and realize the seasonality of business, so we want to be the brand that is easy to work with. The product roadmap looks good and the outlook is exciting as a fighter brand who is an underdog to many, but to us we feel right at home.
Photos courtesy Native Eyewear