Emerging strong

Author: Clodagh Norton

Interview of the Month
July 30, 2020

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and resulting lockdowns has been far-reaching and continues to affect people’s daily lives and alter how businesses operate. Joining a company appointment on Zoom, 2020europe asked Maui Jim’s international management team about the changes and protocols in place as they returned to daily international business and plan for the future amidst new and unchartered economic scenarios and times of change.
The interview took place at the end of May 2020.

Jay Black - Chief Sales & Marketing Officer / Julie Barton - Senior Director, Americas Marketing / Diego de Castro - Senior Director of Brand Marketing and Management / Martijn van Eerde - Senior Director, Marketing EMEA & APAC

Q: What is Maui Jim’s experience so far in this pandemic, and where does your focus lie in the short-term?

A: Jay Black: I think we can all agree that the global landscape has changed dramatically over the previous few months. We have had to find creative ways to alter our marketing approach to reach consumers in a meaningful way. When you eliminate the human touch point that we value so much – through the optical channel – it makes it very challenging. We have had to evaluate everything we do to ensure we have a relevant message in the current environment, without being tone deaf to the situation and how the crisis is affecting consumers. How do you ask someone to think about buying premium eyewear when they might have just lost their job or they have a family or friend directly affected by the health crisis? The approach we embraced and championed was to be a beacon of positivity and optimism. We believe that unified we will come through this together stronger as a society. This is what ‘Aloha’ signifies.

When we evaluate the business challenges that are in front of us, we realize our future success will depend on the restoration of retail. Maui Jim has always believed and prioritized the optical channel because of the human touchpoint, service, and professionalism that ECP’s provide. We have put so much emphasis on the importance of eye health in our brand communication which increases the visibility and of the significance of ECP brick and mortar locations. E-commerce and digital opportunities will continue to evolve, but that will never replace the optical channel and the value it represents for the proper eye care needs of patients. The marketing initiatives Maui Jim implements in the future will be sensitive to the current business environment and the challenges the ECPs are going to face while focusing on how we can drive patient traffic in a responsible and safe manner to maximize the premium eyewear segment. Maui Jim will continue to have flexible commercial terms during these times to assist in the restoration our retailers’ businesses.

Q: How has the prescription business been affected?

A: Jay Black: The prescription business has been affected dramatically in the short term. I have confidence it will return quickly because people still need corrective eyewear to function. It’s a necessity for those who require it.  Our industry will take the proper precautions to protect their patients and ensure they feel safe. We are seeing positive signs that customers’ confidence is still high as retail starts to open back up.  Maui Jim’s commitment to customer service and superior product quality positions our company for a rapid recovery. 

Q: What has this required in terms of safety measures and new working methods?

A: Julie Barton: As a priority, we wanted to make sure our people were safe. Our human resources department have worked hard to source and equip our internal employees as well as our Account Executives with masks, hand sanitizers, and protocols of how to clean their samples. The VPs of sales of each country have sent out letters to our accounts to lend hope and offer support. The individual Account Executive sent emails out to each of their accounts asking about planned opening dates, new operating hours and offering in person meetings or virtual meetings. We want to make sure that we are communicating with the accounts however they prefer and following their new procedures. We understand their many difficulties in reopening their practices, bringing staff back into the workplace and keeping their patients and themselves safe. It’s all about preserving our personal connection with the accounts and lending a helping hand. Our Account Executives have even offered to come in and help clean samples and the practices before they reopen. We have also provided PPE for our Account Executives to be able to go in and be safe when they walk in and reassuring the accounts that we are taking safety precautions seriously. 

Q: What do you believe with be the impact for Europe’s optical retailers? Will MAUI aim to participate in any events in the next six months?

A: Martijn van Eerde: We know the impact is - and will be - severe. Even though in most countries the opticians were allowed to stay open throughout the Pandemic, only now are things are coming back to life…. little by little. But we we see light at the end of the tunnel. The big question is how long it will take to get back to the new normal that everyone talks about, but when it comes to sunglasses I am fairly optimistic. Many of the Maui Jim consumers will have preserved income, their buying power is intact. Or maybe even better as they will have reduced their spending through the lockdown period. Of course we can imagine people putting off buying a new car or a new kitchen but instead treating themselves to a smaller perk. So what is better than a pair of sunglasses when emerging from dark lockdown into the bright summer freedom? To reward yourself and celebrate life a little. We want to work with retailers in Europe and across the world to stimulate such consumer mindset, behaviour. 
Regarding the events, we hardly exhibit anymore at B2B events tso were not impacted by the cancellation of these optical events. But of course we sincerely hope that Silmo can be a massive celebration in October 2020, I would love to go there to meet all our friends and partners of the industry.
For the consumer events we will follow closely the developments affecting our partners in tennis, golf, football and others.  Premier League football will hopefully resume in June – be it behind closed doors. Our animations on the digiboards and LED boards around the pitch will be seen worldwide through live coverage, we expect record TV ratings for these matches coming up. And of course we cannot wait for golf and tennis to get back as soon possible.

Q: Comment on your agreement with Manchester United to date and how you see this progressing in the next year?

A: Jay Black: We continue to be committed to this partnership and the crisis doesn’t change that. I believe we are all looking forward to the return of sports for what it signifies, which is a return to normality and being able to be engaged and root for something.  
Sports unifies us and I think it will unify us in a truly impactful way as we get to enjoy being with friends and family and coming together to watch a competition. Manchester United fans are extremely passionate and I’m sure they can’t wait for competition to resume, and Maui Jim will be there with them.
We are rooting for all sports across the world…cricket, American football, baseball, tennis, golf…we  are all looking forward to that opportunity to cheer again, to take part in something we may have been missing for a while now - to be unified and enjoy being outside with friends, family, and of course, their Maui Jim sunglasses.

Q: Finally can Maui Jim come out stronger than before in this extraordinary time and what do you hope for 2021?

A: Jay Black: The answer is a resounding yes. Whenever you go through a situation or a crisis, we believe with a positive and optimistic approach you come through it stronger and unified. Our organisation is rare as we are one of the last major independent brands in the premium eyewear category, which presents unique challenges every day for our company. Our approach has never wavered. We call it  “Ohana” – we are one big family working together to provide the best sunglasses and eyewear to the world. Our family includes our employees, consumers, and retailer partners.  We continuously go out of our way to support each other in both prosperous and challenging times. These experiences bring us closer and builds a foundational bond that does not concede during difficult periods. This is an overarching theme for Maui Jim, to reinforce the positive things and acts of kindness that go on each and every day, which is demonstrated through the Nominate a Hero program. We see what is going on in the media and the tragedy that this crisis has brought onto so many people, but we also see the kindness in the world and the many positive things that take place without any desire to be recognized.  Maui Jim has always been associated with the spirit of Aloha, and I can’t think of a better time to spread as much Aloha as we can to bring people together.

Nominate a Hero program

In May Maui Jim honored individuals who were bringing positivity to local communities in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The brand encouraged people across the globe to nominate someone in their life – from healthcare workers on the front lines, to essential workers, to neighbours helping neighbours – to receive recognition for their contributions to society during this time. One person per day through May 2020 received a pair of PolarizedPlus2® sunglasses.
The nominations included people from all walks of life, including community workers and medical staff, suggested by friends and family who described their extraordinary work, such as the three touching stories below.

“My father works is a funeral director, who is having to deal not only with COVID patients that have died, but also helping the families left behind during this pandemic.  He goes in early, stays late, makes phone calls from home and does what he can to help these families going through the worst time of their lives….”
“Lauren continues to work tirelessly during this Pandemic for the communities in SW Florida. Mobilizing resources to feed hundreds of Collier County’s homeless population, coordinating donations of pet supplies, and supporting the underserved and economically marginalized farming communities are just some of her accomplishments...”
“I want to nominate my husband, he is a nurse who works in a hospital that was converted for the care of patients with COVID, we have been married for more than 10 years and it is the first time that we are separated and it is because of the crisis. I know that many around the world are not having a good time, and in our case we live them in the flesh where, after being a family that lived daily, we can only see each other by video call or through the door. My husband had to move to another address to avoid the risk of infecting my children or me. Now he sleeps on an inflatable mattress, bathes in cold water and eats what he can – he has more exhausting working days due to the protective equipment he has to use…” 

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