Forward Motion

By
By Marge Axelrad: Editorial Director

 
The REM Eyewear Executive team includes, from left: Alex Papadopoulos, VP of Sales; Steve Horowitz, President; Don Alecock, VP of Operations; James Lin, VP of Technology; Donna Nakawaki, SVP and CFO; Mike Hundert, CEO; Gilda Mehraban, director of brand management; and Gerry Hundert, chairman. Donna Gindy, COO, is not pictured.
SUN VALLEY, Calif.—It’s the outset of 2012 and the team at REM Eyewear is revved up.

Finishing perhaps the strongest year in its long history, reflected by a 24 percent increase in overall company sales in 2011, the Southern California-based eyewear company is kicking off the new year with a strong cache of new products, brands, technologies and services to translate the momentum to its accounts in the U.S. and internationally.

Including the launch this month of Tumi brand sunwear (to be followed later in March with a new optical line), major extensions of its Converse, Lucky Brand, Jones New York and John Varvatos collections, a continued push of new concept house brands like the successful Lipstick and Popcorn groups and a completely redesigned B2B site, loaded with new 24/7 resources and online ordering capabilities for its customers, there’s a lot in motion at REM.

 
Nicolas Roseillier, creative director of REM.
REM’s chief executive officer and chief creative officer, Mike Hundert, told VM, “There are many factors that have come together for our company in the last few years, from distribution to people to service to technologies. Our product is selling through and we’re servicing all of our accounts the way they deserve to be serviced. It’s like a symphony, there are a lot of different sections coming together to make some great music.”

Hundert cites REM’s senior executives and product, operations, technology and international teams and distribution partners as well as the company’s 60-member-strong sales force for pulling together the components that are propelling the company’s forward motion today.

“We’ve invested many resources in globalizing our company in the last few years,” he stated. “Companies who want to do that in our industry realize you need a global brand to make that work and to do that you need a global distribution structure that works.”

 
Below, two of the new Tumi styles, Stari and Kawazu plus (above) an image from Tumi’s spring consumer campaign.

Converse, a brand with which REM’s been involved for almost 23 years, has been a strong foundation in the company’s international growth. “We’ve been through much with the Converse brand and it is now much more than a ‘shoe.’ It’s a lifestyle brand, a true brand that people connect with on many levels. Its brand extensions and environment, along with our creative product team, have also enabled us to devise appropriate and productive paths into the sunglass world. ”

Sunwear, in addition to optical, has been a focus as REM has built its global distribution platform. The company now sells in 65 countries around the world, the result of an international effort that has been fleshed out for years, points out Steve Horowitz, REM’s president. In 2007, REM established a joint venture in Australia, in a partnership with GenOp. Soon after, the company opened its own wholly-owned subsidiaries in Hong Kong and Europe. And last year, REM started a joint venture with Mondottica in the U.K. to form Remdottica for Converse distribution in France, the U.K., Ireland and Spain, while it continues to manage its own distribution throughout the rest of Europe via REM EMEA. In Latin America, REM’s business has also been growing in double digits through a dedicated team covering Mexico, Argentina, Chile and other countries.

Today, REM’s international business comprises about 25 percent of the company’s total sales, a large proportion, compared to most American-based eyewear companies. Hundert said, “Our global expansion and investment has been in line with the expansion of our brand portfolio. And we believe, through the strength of our people, partners and products, that we can see international comprising a third of our business. We’re highly selective that what we do supports that mission.




Timeline: 58 Years of REM



“That’s where Tumi came in and they’ll play a big role in that goal, we think. They approached us and selected us to make product for them and their now 300+ retail stores. During the course of creating the original sunglass collection for them there and learning more about their business and the savvy, global Tumi customer, we both realized that this relationship could support an expansion for consumers seeking innovative, sophisticated, stylish quality product. That begins this quarter with sunwear, in addition to an innovative new reading glass. And we’ll follow this with an optical frame collection at Mido and Vision Expo East in March.”

 
Three generations of Hunderts at REM. From left: CEO Mike Hundert; VP Kevin Hundert; Chairman Gerry Hundert; and COO Donna Gindy. 
REM’s global experience has led it to be cognizant of the role of adapting its product to meet local geographic needs as well. “We’ve taken pains to be sure we have the appropriate product regionally, which ties in with being taken seriously as an international player—and these ideas benefit our customer populations at home as well. For example, our ‘alternative fit’ designs, targeting the Asian and Latin American markets originally, is something we translate into our lines in the U.S. as well. This has been a major investment but it helps us to widen our collections’ wearability and sell-through.”

To support its customers globally and its growing roster of U.S. based customers, REM has continued to examine technology. Just last month, the company completely redesigned its REMEyewear.com site.

Explained Kevin Hundert, REM’s VP of new business development, “There’s a whole new array of new features behind our log-in button now.” The site, built in collaboration with Hundert and the REM team along with Jobson Internet Solutions, features 24/7 ordering, custom catalog creation for a personalized shopping experience, and the ability for the account/user to see all of their REM eyewear favorites in just one click.

He noted, “Busy customers can save time by rapid reordering their sold-out REM styles instantly, through a simpler to use new drop-down menu and they can work on-the-go as REMEyewear.com is compatible with all mobile devices. In fact, being on REMEyewear.com is like being in the REM warehouse. Customers can view live inventory, save frames to their personalized list of favorites, and even create an on demand custom PDF catalog of REM frames.” Customers can review their order status, review billing statements and pay invoices online using REM’s secure and encrypted online payment tool powered by Authorize.net. Also behind the customer log-in, accounts can experience REM’s easy-to-navigate catalog consisting of all REM products in high-resolution images, with frame measurements and descriptions.

Technology as well as digital media, said Mike Hundert, “makes the whole business more dynamic. It’s something changing by the second. But we’re thrilled with the opportunity it brings and our embrace of it speaks to our goal of being a global company, so that people can have access to us, our brands and information 24/7.”

All sectors of REM’s business have experienced significant growth, Hundert reported. He cited Converse’s continued expansion, noted the solid platform of the Jones New York business which has added several sub-collections, pointed to the strong performance of Lucky Brand, which saw a 30 percent sales gain in 2011, as well as the strength of REM’s house brand mix, including Lipstick, and REM’sVisualites reading glass business which has surged; Hundert hinted at further expansion in late 2012 for this brand.

Base Curve, which was started back in 2006 as a separate, boutique-focused division for the company, has since been folded operationally back into the main operation. REM brought the administration of the two divisions together. “We still think of Varvatos as a special brand that deserves special attention,” said Hundert, “so we kept the Base Curve moniker for it.”

Hundert said, “You know, when you look back at our industry 25 years ago, and consider the companies who were the big companies, the leaders at the time—Martin Copeland, Universal Univis, Optyl, Renaissance, Metzler—they are gone. Zyloware remains and continues to have impact and there are very few others. But even with a Starline and Avante Garde, which evolved into the Safilo and Luxottica of today, there’s been so much change. Our company was bought by my parents in 1971, 40 years ago, from Dr. Mel Remba, whose father started it 58 years ago. They saw an ad for the company in the L.A. Times and purchased it for $16,000, including the typewriters, and got to work. And REM’s not only survived the melee of all those companies, but we’ve found a path to be among the industry leaders today. We’re very proud of that, of our values as a company to make a difference, which is part of our culture. We’ve embraced change. And , with that, we can help our customers succeed as well.”

maxelrad@jobson.com