Transworld Business Exclusive: Dragon Goes Independent, Breaks Ties With Luxottica

Dragon CEO and Founder Will Howard celebrates with General Manager Aaron Behle.

Will Howard (far left) and Aaron Behle (far right) celebrate at Dragon’s Carlsbad, Calif. headquarters.

Still soaked from a champagne celebration and coming off a 72-hour period with no sleep, Will Howard, founder and CEO of Dragon, showed up Thursday afternoon at Transworld Business to announce that his brand had just become independent of parent company Luxottica.

The deal, which closed less than three hours earlier, was a time consuming project that he and Dragon’s General Manager Aaron Behle had been working on for the past six months. By branching out in a separate direction and becoming a privately-owned company, Dragon – which produces sunglasses, goggles and accessories – hopes to reconnect with the core retail specialty shops and renew the energy that originally drove them to create the brand. Read the full press release right HERE.

"One thing we wanted to do was define ourselves from the parent company in branding and product presentation," Howard said. "I think there has been a history there that our designs are just sort of copies of someone else's – there has been that perception. The Dragon product today – it represents who we are, what we are about, and matches up with our DNA, and I think it really matches up with expectations in the market place."

Since it’s inception, Dragon introduced in 2006 a new co-owner Behle, who was the former vice president of international sales at Reef, and has recently signed on new investors, according to Howard. At the onset, with help from Scott Sorenson and Chuy Reyna, Howard launched the brand with one pair of sunglasses and a stellar team of athletes, including Shane Dorian, Mick Fanning and Chris Roach.

In its early years, Dragon shared a private partnership with Oakley. In 2006, that partnership was disclosed and Dragon began to gain control over its design process, Howard said. While still under Oakley’s wing, Dragon was swooped up by Luxottica, the world’s largest maker of sunglasses, when the Italian company purchased Oakley in June 2007 for $2.1 billion. The merge ultimately helped Dragon become an internationally recognized iconic brand, which is now distributed to more than 35 countries world wide, according to Behle.

“One of the great things is you get an MBA education by working with a big engine and props to Luxottica – those guys are pros,” Behle said. “It’s like going to Harvard and getting the exposure to the big business and the big world and the opportunity to see the view point of tier one production and distribution, and see the big issues – legal issues, international marketing issues – all the great things, and then be able to take the best of that and simplify it down to small business.”

While Howard and Behle stressed that the deal strengthened Dragon, helping it to further develop and solidify business and marketing practices, the co-owners both agreed that falling under a larger umbrella has its disadvantages, as well.

“When you are small and you become part of a big company, you can lose sight of what you are are doing,” Howard said. “What we have now is the opportunity for those at the brand and those coming into the brand to take ownership. You want to be engaged in something you believe in, and now we have that kind of ‘rally around the flag’ type of situation with our employees.”

Now that the company is on its own, not much will change with the product manufacturing and distribution, but Dragon says it will make a conscious effort to get back out into the action sports community and get back in touch with its roots.

“Our 100 day plan is reconnecting and going back to the power of the brand and what makes retail really special,” Behle said. “It’s gotten to be so much about numbers and we need to get back into making relationships. It’s about balancing the brand equity bucket with the revenue bucket.”

Here’s a video clip of the celebration at Dragon Headquarters:

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