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Dragon CEO on business trends

By Shelby Stanger
August 31, 2010 7:00 AM

I caught up with Dragon Alliance’s CEO Will Howard to talk about life after the brand split from Oakley, what the company is focusing on now and if he would ever consider aligning with a bigger brand again in this tough economy.

It's been a few years since you split from Oakley. How are you guys doing?

We are doing well and it has been a good and challenging experience being an independent company. We have been private since June 2008, two years now. Back when we were working out the details with Oakley in the separation, we had no idea of the challenges we all would be facing in the fall of that year. 2009 was a tough year for our retail partners, and subsequently for us. We lost 11% of our market share, but we feel we are a better company today because of it.

Which is a surprise since we thought we were a pretty good company before 2009. Funny how a real downturn in the economy gets you focused.

There is a trend for large companies in our industry to buy up smaller ones. Any chance you’d go back with a different partner?

Within last couple of weeks, people have asked me if we are looking to be bought or to raise money and the answer is no, not at all. In fact, I now know the time and energy to do that correctly is so consuming and is just too far away from what we are trying to do as a company right now. We are just focusing on going back to what we do and doing it right and we like being an independent company.

How are sales? Are you guys up or down from last year? By how much? What were your annual revenues last year?

Will HowardWe don’t normally disclose exact numbers since we are a private company. Most people in the industry tend to guess pretty accurately though. We are at the $20 million level now. Our revenue is up YTD in 2010 by +23%. Lead by eyewear (+33%), snow goggles (+17%), moto goggles (+19%) and followed by softgoods (+3%).

We are tracking to have our best year ever. We have most of our winter sales dialed in since snow goggles, which ship in August through October, are mostly sold on a pre-book basis. Pre-book on snow goggles is up over prior year by 27%.

(Above: Will Howard in Indonesia.)

What do you think of all the competition in the sunglasses market? There seems to be a lot of players in the action sports arena and I have heard of more just launching. How are you guys trying to stand out?

The eyewear market is competitive, for sure. It historically has appeared to have low barriers of entry; I think that is why every year there are couple of new comers to the category. Nowadays it is very difficult to build a brand that breaks the $5 million mark, partly due to the competitiveness of the top five brands in the category. Everyone is paying attention, and unlike the past, nobody gets a two or three year run with a competitive advantage. We have experienced this first hand.

No longer can you come out with a new gimmick or new technology and have it just be your brand’s exclusively for the next few years. You now have to be so much more innovative than ever before.

The key to Dragon standing out is to continue to stay focused on the young and fun part of our market, innovate and make stuff that looks, fits and works great, and tell the brand story with the edgy discoverable marketing that is Dragon.

See Page 2 for Dragon's goggle plans, more


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