By Dylan Beach
This year in Sydney at the SBIA Surf Industry Awards, Occy and his son Jay announced the Otis Youngblood as the winner of the 2017 Sunglass of the Year. We shot through a few questions to General Manager Tom Sullivan to get his thoughts winning the award back to back, and what it takes to continue to build a brand and Otis products.
Congratulations on winning sunglass of the year for the second time running. With such strong brands and product in the category how much does that mean to the Otis team?
It really means a lot. We are so stoked! We are a small and passionate team at OTIS and we work super hard to deliver great product. We are very proud of the work we do, particularly the unique stance we take on quality. The SBIA award in particular means a lot because independent retailers vote it. It takes marketing spend and hype out of the equation. It levels the playing field. Retailers reward product quality and sales performance, which is exactly what we are all about. We don’t have the marketing resources or the financial backing of massive corporations like many competitors in our space, so it’s nice to be the independent Aussie brand that gets one over the big dogs!
What is the design process like coming up with a style like the ‘Youngblood’?
We’ve been in the eyewear game a while now, over 16 years, so we have good design and development process that help us hone our collections. We don’t really do seasonal collections or fast fashion or promote nonsense tech that no one needs. Our focus is always on quality and evolving design to create lasting styles. We work hard to get fit perfect and build super-wearable eyewear. We like to keep things simple, evolve good design over time, use great materials and always build our product around by far the best lens material in the industry – mineral glass. Young Blood is a great example of all of that coming together.
I remember working in a small surf shop that stocked Otis and being able to talk to people about the lenses. Being one of the only premium eyewear brands in the surf and boardsport industry using glass for the lens, has it been a difficult journey portraying the point of difference to the retailers, staff and then onto the broader consumer?
The journey hasn’t been difficult, but we’ve had to be patient. Some of the big sports eyewear brands did a great job in the 90’s and 2000’s training everyone to pay a lot more than they should for polycarbonate lenses. We held our ground and always believed quality and durability came first. The quality of our mineral glass lenses is higher than anything in the market. We genuinely believe that if you keep producing and promoting quality, and you keep delivering on that promise and keep pricing honest, consumers will reward you. Our mindset hasn’t changed since we started in 2000. In fact we feel more strongly about it than ever. We know that when people get tired of paying over the odds and when they want to come to quality, they’ll come to OTIS. It definitely helps build confidence in sales staff when they have a quality story to tell. I’m stoked you flew the flag for us mate, thank you!!
We’ve seen the expansion of Otis over in the US, over the recent years. The brand was were also finalists for the Breakout Brand in this year’s SIMA Awards, and with Scott Lewis coming on board as the Global Brand Manager what could we expect from Otis over the next few years?
The thing Scott has brought us is a stronger belief in what we are already doing. He has incredible industry insight, but he keeps things super simple. He has reminded us that success is measured in decades, not in seasons, and that belief in what we are doing (building eyewear using mineral glass lenses exclusively), focusing on product quality, evolution of product design, good fit and good customer service should always remain number-one. Whether OTIS has caught up to the market, or the market has caught up to OTIS I’m not sure, but certainly we feel consumers are now looking for quality over hype. Retailers want great service. They want great deliveries. They want to know a supplier will back their product and is not going to be a hassle if a customer needs help. Most importantly they want customers in their stores and they want sales to turnover, which means product has to be on-point. We’ve built some fantastic new product in the last few years, but then again, we always did! Maybe it’s a case of taking 17 years be an overnight success. We have some exciting things coming down the pipe, some exciting new product, new stories to tell through brand marketing, but we will always stay tightly focused on the fact that great product come first.
The reception to OTIS in the USA has been amazing! We have a great team in place there, and stores just understood the brand position right out of the gate. They understand the superior clarity and durability of mineral glass. They love that we have our roots in surfing, but they also see the broader consumer reach OTIS has. They see the new customers in their stores. We think we got our timing right there. We’re looking forward to working hard and building the OTIS business in the states. Internationally also. We feel we are ready. It’s our time.
To see the winners list of the 2017 SBIA Surf Industry Awards click here