BondiBlu turns 29

Sports Trader :: 2013 October/November

This year BondiBlu turned 29. Now that the brand has reached adulthood, brand owner Ian Schoeman can reflect on how his brand became the leader in middle market fashion eyewear and successfully penetrated the sports market across all codes. Had he been able to see this far into the future, he might have slept better in that stressful period in 1992 when he launched the brand. While pacing up and down in front of his young son’s bedroom at night, he was asking himself: did he do the right thing by resigning a good job as Le Specs and Ray Ban sales manager at SDM Optics, in order to establish his own brand?

Twenty-one years later he has the answer: “The product sells,” he says. “People love the BondiBlu brand and the products. Consumers trust the brand and believe in it.” In 1992, at age 33, Schoeman had felt he knew something about the sunglass industry — before being asked to join SDM Optics, he was sales manager at Cool Ray for two years.

Knew the market

He was an experienced salesman: he started his career as a sales rep for Max Factor and became the youngest national sales manager at age 25. After Max Factor pulled out during the sanction years, he worked for Tina cosmetics. This experience of sales and marketing had given him a pretty good idea of what the customer wanted.

He therefore itched to do his own thing. “I was passionate about the industry. I felt a need for a sunglass that was young and exciting. There was a gap in this 16-24 year old market and I wanted to give these customers something that they could call their own, something young and fresh. I wanted to choose my own styles, I wanted to see people wearing my brand, and I wanted to be more involved with the actual design of styling and purchasing of product.”

He therefore risked the security of a job, house and car, sourced 17 styles in a brand he named BondiBlu to evoke the image of exotic beaches, and went knocking on retail doors. “It was very hard to get into retail. I needed to get a couple of retailers to take on the product,” he says. He told himself the most important thing was to get onto the beaches — to land and establish a base, like in World War ll. “Once we got into one or two retailers, it was just a matter of keeping the snowball moving.” He also exhibited at the SASGAM trade show, where he opened many retail accounts.

They eventually established a very strong independent support base. “Independents are the life blood of the company,” he says. “We’re very aggressive in independents,” he continues. We’ve always been quite aggressive in what we do, keeping our eye on the ball.” They have a clearly defined profile for the brand and do not attempt to compete with other expensive or high fashion eyewear brands on the market. “We operate very much in the middle market.”

The main reason for their success is because they give the consumers what they want, says Schoeman. “There is a real affection for the brand.” But, they also won retail customers by making excellent service levels a top priority. He also believes that you can only build a brand by advertising and creating awareness. Although they initially entered the sports and outdoor market through surf stores — and still sell to surf stores — Schoeman says BondiBlu never claimed to be a surf brand. They are indeed now in stores covering all sporting codes where people perform in the sun. Cycling and running are big markets for them, and they do very well in fishing stores. They are even in leading golf chains. Golfers spend 3 ½-4 hours on a golf course — 2-3% of that time is actually spent on hitting the ball, the rest of the time they are walking around the course (or driving) in the sun, he explains. “More and more people are becoming aware of the danger of the sun causing cancer and other damage,” Schoeman says. Polarised lenses have therefore become a big development over the past ten years. The BondiBlu Platinum Polarised range sells at a higher price than their ordinary eyewear, but it is a top quality product, he explains. “The TAC lens is actually three lenses — acetate, polarised and again acetate — which makes it scratch resistant. The biggest problem with polarisation on lenses is that it scratches.”

The acetate coating also protects against shattering. Apart from the growth in demand for polarisation, one of the main changes in the eyewear business he had seen in recent years was the return of the Ray Ban aviator and Wayfarer styles. “If you walk through Milan you’ll see the husband, wife, teenage daughter and younger son all wearing this style. It has stood the test of time.” After 29 years he still gets very excited when a new shipment arrives and can barely wait to see the finished products in a new range. Schoeman says he still cannot relax and enjoy the success — he believes in order to succeed you have to be in a constant state of paranoia in order to stay ahead of the competition. “Competition is a healthy thing, it makes you want to do things.” For example, eyewear sales in a major golfing chain jumped more than 130% after they started stocking BondiBlu because the interest caused by the new brand, stimulated sales of eyewear across the board and all brands, he recounts. The product sells. People love the BondiBlu brand and the products. Consumers trust the brand BondiBlu turns 29.

When Ian Schoeman took the gamble to resign from a secure job to create his own eyewear brand, he was questioning if he did the right thing. The past two decades provided the answer: BondiBlu has become a successful brand, loved by consumers.