When Luxottica SpA, Italy’s largest eyeglass company, agreed to buy Bausch and Lomb Inc.’s eyewear brands (which included Arnette) for 640-million dollars in cash back in June of 1999, a lot of people wondered how the deal would change one of the most important sunglass brands to the surf market.
Last Friday, we found out.
Late last week the coconut wireless was lighting up with tales that Luxottica had decided to close Arnette’s San Clemente headquarters and had laid off the fourteen people employed there. For most, the final day of work will be July 27.
The plan, the rumors continued, was to move the brand to Port Washington, New York, where it would share office space with the Luxottica Group’s other eyewear brands such as Emporio Armani, Ferragamo, Persol, Briko, Ray Ban, and Revo.
On Monday, the rumors were confirmed as a very disappointed Gary Siskar, Arnette’s director of marketing, got the word out on what was happening.
“From Luxottica’s standpoint, they just want everything under one roof,” says Siskar.
But the San Clemente crew was hardly running amok, he says. “Arnette was basically deconstructed and transformed into a very efficient operation in San Clemente — to the point where it was really operating with the least amount of staff that it could. Lean and mean. So in looking at this move to New York it’s hard. Both sides are both going ‘Hmmm. We just took away a very efficient operation that did the management of all the marketing — from the media budgets to the team management– so how are we going to continue on with that?'”
In a time when some rival eyewear brands, such as Smith, are devoting more time and money to building their Southern California operations, Luxottica is pulling back. Part of the problem, say onlookers, is an internal culture clash between Luxottica’s top executives and Arnette employees about the value of an office in California — the hub of the action-sports industry. Siskar declined to comment specifically about this widespread rumor, but admits that Arnette was unique within the Luxottica stable of brands because it was run out of a satellite office.
Although Siskar had an idea that Luxottica was considering making such a move, it still came as a shock: “You’re in shock because why would they close it down? When you look at all their other brands, the reason they’re in New York and Milan is to be close to their markets — the fashion capitals of the world. If you look at the surf, skate, and snow markets, the capital is right here in Southern California. Even Vermont-based snowboard brand Burton opened up a marketing showroom here in Capo Beach California.”
So how will this change how an average surf shop deals with Arnette? At the moment, Siskar says that’s where the gray area lies. It’s possible that some of the staff will continue on with the brand in San Clemente.
“In the last year, things have been directed toward New York for the retailer on 90 percent of the job, unless there was a problem,” he says. “In those cases, the in-house management would take care of any issues of credit or shipping or opening new distribution.”
Most of the account base was already ordering through New York and was being shipped product from New York. “So in that way,” says Siskar, “it’s really not going to affect the average retailer that much, expect that they won’t have that personal contact with Arnette here in San Clemente — which is actually a very huge part of the business.”
So does Siskar anticipate that he’ll stay with the brand? “No comment!” he says. “I don’t know. I really don’t know.” However, Siskar says there have been a few conversations about his status going forward.
Siskar lets out a long, loud sigh. “It’s so frustrating, because it’s such a great brand and it’s great to work for a brand that has a very good image. I attribute that to all our athletes and the guys who worked with me in sales and marketing — including all the people who wworked on it in the past, whether it’s the Bruce Beaches or the Greg Tomlinsons. The brand has been built to have such a great image and has enjoyed great support from the industry. It’s like, hell, I wish I could work for this brand forever.”
We’ll see soon if Siskar — or anybody else in the San Clemente office for that matter — has that opportunity.