Electric Zippers: Two new companies are ready to crash the eyewear party.

The eyewear business is saturated with dozens of brands, and within the surfwear market many think that styles havenà‚¹t changed much over the past few years. A handful of companies are introducing new designs, but the majority are tweaking current models or offering new colors in existing frames.

“The whole eyewear market is kind of stale right now,” says Bruce Beach, former Arnette COO and co-founder of Electric, one of several new eyewear companies ready to hit the action-sports market. “We feel we can create some excitement in the market.”

Within a month, frames from eyewear newcomers Electric Visual Evolution and Von Zipper will begin to appear in specialty shop cases nationwide from Ocean City, Maryland to Oceanside, California, providing an alternative for retailers and consumers.

Though the brands are new, the people behind them are eyewear veterans. Beach and designer Kip Arnette left Arnette to start Electric with partners Mike Carter and Don Dyer. Chris Burke and Greg Tomlinson also worked for Arnette before they decided they could do it their own way with Von Zipper.

A room with a view?
But is there really room for two new brands, let alone one on crowded surf shop shelves? Sure, says Tomlinson, Von Zipperà‚¹s director of creative sales. “The marketà‚¹s always going to be receptive to good products,” he says. “Theyà‚¹re always looking for new, fresh things.

“I think some of the new brands in other segments opened retailersà‚¹ minds to new things in the eyewear category,” he adds.

For Carter, two is better than one. “The two brands compliment each other. I have respect for what those guys Von Zipper are doing.”

Carter adds that the simultaneous launch of Electric and Von Zipper will generate even more excitement in the market: “Thereà‚¹s more of a buzz with two companies breaking at the same time, which is a good thing for everyoneà‚†¹including existing brands.”

Duke Edukas, co-owner of Surfside Sports in Newport Beach, California agrees. “Ità‚¹s a no-lose situation,” he says. “They are two new brands that donà‚¹t cancel each other out. Oneà‚¹s funky, and oneà‚¹s clean and cutting edge.”

The Goal
Both brands will plant their roots in the surf, skate, and snowboarding markets, and Von Zipper will eventually sell its sunglasses in boutiques. Neither brand plans to distribute its eyewear to major department stores.

Electricà‚¹s goal is to become a key player in the action-sports market, and ità‚¹ll do it through grassroots marketing, limited distribution, and by sponsoring key athletes. “Weà‚¹re going to keep it small, select, and elite,” says Carter. “Our fundamentals are toward youth culture. All eyewear companies have done a good job supporting the industry, but there are avenues that havenà‚¹t been addressed.”

For Electric, such uncharted waters includes the current grom movement: “Thereà‚¹s a little bit younger demographics than from where we come from Arnette,” says Beach. “The glasses will be more male-driven with female styles to follow.”

Electric will initially introduce three styles on May 1, and Beach says the line will eventually grow broader with more menà‚¹s and womenà‚¹s modelsà‚†¹as well as snowgoggles.

The folks behind Von Zipper go by a similar mantra as Electric, which may be a reflection of their similar backgrounds at Arnette: “Ità‚¹s going to be exclusive, tight, and special,” says Tomlinson.

Though their philosophies may be similar to Electric, Von Zipperà‚¹s approach is different. “We want to tell our own story,” says Chris “Von Biggzzy” Burke. “Our demographics arenà‚¹t just fourteen- to 22-year-olds. It could be the cool 45-year-old dad who wants a pair. Ità‚¹s more of a mindset than a demographic.”

Adds Tomlinson, Von Zipperà‚¹s self-proclaimed in-house philosopher, dentist, and lover: “We want to keep it simple and have some fun.” (Which maybe explains the companyà‚¹s 77-year-old fictitious mascot, Otto Von Zipper, who has been circumnavigating the glo in search of fashionable frames)

Distribution will be limited to specialty snow, surf, and skate shops, but Von Zipper will eventually dip into boutiques as well. “Von Zipper will focus on alternative everything,” says Burke. “Along with the à‚Å’alternativeà‚¹ sportsà‚†¹and by that I mean only surf, skate, and snowboarding, not luging and inlineà‚†¹weà‚¹ll also do what I guess youà‚¹d call à‚Å’alternative streetà‚¹à‚†¹like fashion, film, and movie.”

Von Zipper plans to infiltrate the market by going grassroots: “Weà‚¹re not buying our way into the sport,” says Burke. For Von Zipper, the kid behind the shop counter is just as important as a pro.

Nonetheless, Von Zip will still sponsor a crew of à‚¹core athletes. Tomlinson says the company will hook up with a marquee guy or girl from each sport, making sure each one is a strong believer in the brand. “Weà‚¹re not going for someone whoà‚¹s in it for a paycheck,” affirms Tomlinson. “They have to be a sunglass person. Weà‚¹re selling personality, and the people are going to make the brand. If our crewà‚¹s right, weà‚¹ll be unstoppable.”

The Von Zipper line will hit select specialty shops this month. The majority of glasses will retail for 65 to 70 dollars, and the super high-end models will sell for 150 dollars.

House Warming
So how do these two new companies plan to gain any elbow room in the market?

For Electric, there are few key elements for success, namely good, functional product, a strong team, and supporting the shop owners. “Weà‚¹ll offer styles with unique looks and fit,” says Beach. “The main focus is to keep it wearable. Ità‚¹s also important to support the retailers.”

Carter adds: “Weà‚¹re building a super-tight team of athletes. Weà‚¹re really going to work with our riders.” Electric has secured a formidable list of riders including surfers Mike Todd and Shawn Barron, skateboarders Colin McKay and Lincoln Ueda, and snowboarder Keir Dillon. Team riders will have more responsibilities than just donning frames and putting stickers on their boards. According to Carter, Electric riders will be an integral element on the design and marketing fronts.

A strong team is also important for Von Zipper, but ità‚¹s not everything. Tomlinson says the company will set itself apart from other eyewear brands through its personality: “Our people and service is whatà‚¹s going to differentiate us. Weà‚¹ll be having more fun than everyone else.

“The retailers are our bosses,” continues Tomlinson. “We want to keep them happy.”

In addition, Tomlinson also stressed the importance of quality. “Weà‚¹re going to bring premium-quality goods to the marketplace,” he says. The glasses will be produced in Italy using Dalloz lenses. Electric will also produce its pieces in Europe.

Retailer Reaction
Edukas of Surfside Sports supports the eyewear newcomers. “They Electric and Von Zipper have the capital, experience, and good sourcing. Ità‚¹s a slam dunk for those guys.”

Bianca Deacon, a buyer for Chaunceyà‚¹s Surf Shop in Ocean City, Maryland, is all for more brands in the marketplace. “The more the better,” she says. “Having a good amount of styles and colors to choose from keeps it fresh and different.”

Of course by bringing in these new brands, Deacon and Edukas will have to make room. Deacon says Chaunceyà‚¹s will continue to order big from top-sellers Arnette, Oakley, and DSO, but will cut back on other lines.

CCS, in San Luis Obispo, California, will also have to cut back on its slower-selling shades in order to make room for the new guys. “Weà‚¹ve had to go thin on some other lines to bring in the new brands.” Currently, the shop carries eleven different eyewear brands, and three noteworthy top-sellers, DSO, Arnette, and Anarchy.

“Theyà‚¹re retailers going to have to cut out the fat. Every line is going to be scrutinized,” says Tomlinson. This may help stimulate the market and force eyewear makers to deliver new creations and stray from wrap knock-offs.

“The Comanches and Apaches are coming to town,” quips Tomlinson. “Everyone else better start circling their wagons!”

“The Comanches and Apaches are coming to town,” quips Tomlinson. “Everyone else better start circling their wagons!”