You wouldn’t think the “Made in the U.S.A.” seal would be a big deal for a sunglass company. But with competition heating up in the eyewear category in surf shops across America, one company has decided to talk about where its eyewear is built — and it’s not where you might think.
Employing 55 people in its world headquarters and manufacturing plant in Carlsbad, California, Dragon Optical builds all its sunglasses and goggles domestically. And that’s surprising because almost the entire sunglass industry has its products made in Italy or Asia — with one other exception: Oakley.
One mold can cost up to a half-million dollars, so it’s not the chapest way to run a business. However, Marketing Director Scott Sorensen says it provides the Dragon line with unique styles and avoids the “me, too” approach. While other sunglass companies only have to staff sales, marketing, and limited design departments who work with OEM manufacturers, Dragon runs a complete manufacturing and assembly facility.
This is hardly a new approach for Dragon, however. When the company was founded almost ten years ago, the first sunglasses were assembled in Owner Will Howard’s garage. But if that’s what it takes to be different, the Dragon management team says it’s worth it.
Domestic manufacturing certainly adds some extra cost to production, but in the long run Dragon says the advantages outweight the hurdles. “We have our own designs, our own tooling, and our own molding,” says Scott Sorensen, Dragon’s marketing director. “We can ensure the quality of our products and come up with all-custom frames. We have complete control of our production schedule, and can get orders into production much more quickly than our competitors who do things overseas. It also allows us to be able to react to hot styles much faster as well.”
So how much faster is domestic manufacturing? “We can react to popular style in twenty days or so, whereas someone dealing with overseas manufacturing might have to wait up to 90 days,” says Sorensen. As Dragon heads into its tenth season, the management team has set a far more aggressive growth target than it ever has. In fact, the brand is looking to double its sales in the next eighteen months.
How does the company plan on getting to the next level? “We’re ramping up internationally, adding new personnel domestically, and making the time and money investment,” says Sorensen. “We’ll focus on our strengths. We know retailers need help, so we’re also ramping up to help retailers with their sales, and we’re always working on improving our rep force.”It’s more expensive for us,” he continues, “but we see it as investing in our brand. It will ultimately benefit our retailers and consumers. We’re in this for the long-term.”He says the company recently hired a new designer, Dennis Tan, from the Pasadena Art Center. The company is currently working with one of its plastics suppliers to create a new material for one of its sunglass styles. It also has the facilities in-house to test the products under extremely hot and cold conditions.
Part of the growth will also come from the launch of three new sunglass models and two new goggles this year — quite the change for a company that averaged only one new style per year. Some of the growth will also come from “new categories,” but for now Sorensen is keeping tight-lipped about what that step beyond the eyewear market could be.