TWMX All Access: Spy Optics

For the last ten years, Spy has been busily building their goggle and eyewear brand from a home base in Carlsbad, CA. While visiting with Bob Ketchum, Spy’s Motorsports Division Manager, he smiled and told us, “For the first five years I think they were trying to figure out how to stay in business, and the last five they’ve been perfecting doing business. It’s really come a long way in the last ten years from a full startup company.”

So what were the company’s origins? Bob explains, “Back in ’94 Mark and Brian Simo, Jeff Theodosakis, whose nickname is Beaver, and a couple other guys got together and basically started Spy. There was a market that they felt needed something different. Something cooler. More vibey. They saw a void and wanted to fill it, so they came up with Spy. Spy initially started out working pretty much out of a storage unit not too far from here. These guys are very North County San Diego oriented, and I don’t think the company will ever be anywhere else.”

“It started very small, as most startup companies do. From there it kind of snowballed. In ’95 or ’96 this startup company that really nobody knew anything about started signing athletes like Jeremy McGrath and Shaun Palmer, The marketing plan for Spy was to be in your face and garner as much exposure as they could without submarining the company. It really worked. Jeremy, as much as he was the guy for motorsports, he basically started Spy in everyone’s eyes, when Spy was a Scott goggle with a Spy strap. Today, ten years later, he’s on a part-time racing schedule, and it’s unbelievable how much that guy is still part of what we do here every day, and how much he affects what we do. Jeremy has one of the better-selling goggles, What was started ten years ago, and the ideas these guys had then, are still very ingrained in what we do today. Jeremy will be a part of this company, well¿for as long as he wants to be.”

Of course, Jeremy’s not the only ace on their athlete roster, with Windham, Hamblin, Voss, and Andrew Short, as well as the PPG/MotoworldRacing.com, Motosport Outlet, and Richmond Racing squads. A peek at their list of top line athletes from other disciplines show an equally impressive array of talent, including plenty of marquee names. Currently, moto makes up about 20% of Spy’s annual budget and sales, which is why Motorsports is broken out into a separate sales division. “I have the whole country and the most amount of reps. but moto is such a different business model than all the other sports, it really needs to be separate. 80% of my job is still overseeing my inside sales staff, as well as the outside sales staff, but I’m giving guidance to the marketing department over the advertising and that sort of stuff. Also, making sure we’re bringing the right products to market and in a timely fashion. Doing everything I can to make sure this company keeps growing.”

While on a walking tour through Spy’s headquarters, the question was posed to Bob about other factors that helped Spy make the jump to success after the first four or five formative years. “We went from other people making our products in their factories, to actually sourcing our own factories and having our own designs and actually making our own product. That’s kind of when Spy sort of took the turn and got on the path that it’s on now. We’re growing so much, and we’re very aggressive on the goals that we lay out for ourselves. Since we made that turn and stopped having other people make stuff for us, we’re kind of in control of our own destiny. When a company grows so fast, it’s almost hard to control it. You don’t want to slow it down, but you almost need to slow it down to try and get organized. That leads us to where we are today. From the storage unit to the 50,000 square foot building¿in ten years, that’s a big jump.”

Bob then explained howroduct flows through their warehouse to retailers. “We do all of our shipping domestically out of here. We also ship Canadian product from here in Carlsbad, and everything for the U.S. from here. Everything we do for Europe is actually handled over there. It works a little bit easier as far as tariffs. Some of our sunglasses are manufactured in Italy. Some are manufactured in Japan. Some of our goggles are made in Italy, and some are made in Asia, so shipping that stuff directly over there makes more sense than shipping it here and shipping it all back out.”

“As far as retail sales, we are dealer direct. We don’t sell to the public. We feel right now we’ve got our dealer base to the point where we’re trying to protect it and build it and make it better and stronger than it was three years ago. For us to start going direct to retail against those dealers might not be the best choice for us at this time. When we’re a much bigger company than now, maybe that’ll be an option. But for right now, we want to make our dealers as strong as they can be, and do everything we can to get product through their stores.” Of course, given the origins of the company (with several of the principals in No Fear being involved), it’s not surprising that Spy is also piggybacked into No Fear’s retail stores. Bob says, “I think we have displays in almost all the No Fear stores. There are franchise stores and some corporate stores. We are sold through those guys for sure. We’re two separate companies, but we are their preferred eyewear.”

Of course, quality control is a big concern. “All of our product that comes from overseas, whether it’s coming in from Japan for some of our metal sunglasses or our sunglasses that come in from Italy, everything is gone over before final packaging here at Spy. It’s quality controlled when it leaves the factory, and quality controlled again when it gets here, so when we’re sending product out, we’re as sure as we can be that the stuff’s in perfect shape. To ship something out without ever really checking it out would be a bad deal. We want to make sure we’re sending out the best quality product. It’s looked over by a couple sets of eyes, so we’re as sure as we can be that the stuff’s in perfect shape.”

The moldmakers in Italy are probably some of the best out there. Alpinestars and Gaerne and all those boots that are made in Italy, there are certain parts of Italy that are good at certain things. Like there are moldmakers in one part of the country, there’s bootmakers or footwear makers in another part of the country. Most ski boots are made in the same place where Alpinestars are made, too.”

Bob then introduced us to John Maynard, Spy’s Goggle Product Manager. “John takes product from two-dimensional designs on paper, to packaged, in the store with the price on it. He’s got his hands full, because I wear him out. We’re working on some new stuff, and John’s working with our MX team manager, John Kuzo, in testing some new product that we’ve got coming in August. It’s really coming along. John dedicates a lot of his time to making sure that this stuff works really well, and is every bit as perfect as we want it to be.”

“As far as our straps and the design of the product, Spy kind of prides itself on our upper end line of goggles, the painted frame Alloys. The strap is all your advertising. When someone is riding around, you can tell the difference between our frame and an Oakley frame and a Scott frame. But really, how you identify what somebody’s wearing for goggles is the strap. One thing we’ve committed ourselves to doing here at Spy is that we’re going to have different design straps. Each one of our goggle lines¿like our Phase goggle¿has one design. Our Alloy goggle has an asymmetrical strap, where we have the cross on one side, and the Spy logo is on the other. When you get into our high-end goggles, you may have a couple different things. You may have an asymmetrical strap, you may have something with a sewn-on patch. You may have something with some crazy embroidery in the strap. We’re trying to keep it fresh, and trying to keep it new and not have the same old thing all the time.”

“The stuff that we sell a bunch of, the stuff that’s most prominent in the marketplace, you’ll probably see the strongest Spy branding on. But the more edgy or fringe products, is going to be different. That keeps us evolving as a company. We try different things.”

While looking over the goggle line, Bob tossed us a few morsels about their new goggles, but it was still to early to unleash all the details. But suffice to say, they’re very unique. But we’ll let Bob do the description, so we don’t drop too many hints. “For right now, what we have on the horizon is a new goggle called the Magneto. To look at it, it doesn’t look like that different, but it’s definitely different lines, and more industrial-looking than our more organic-looking Alloy. It’s kind of a different path from where our goggle was. But we’re trying to incorporate some different features. We still have our patented scoop venting, that sort of stuff. We’re taking all the features that really work well from the Alloy and incorporating them into a new goggle that has exponentially more peripheral vision. The venting system, even though it’s the same technology, works much better. We’ve tested it on all our top riders, and everyone seems to really enjoy the new goggle. But what’s really cool are some advanced new features that will make the goggle much more adaptable to all sorts of faces. It’s also going to make it more adaptable to all sorts of helmet fits. It’s basically going to¿I hate to use the word revolutionize, but it’s going to revolutionize what’s going on in goggles right now. Everybody thinks they’ve done about as much as they can do, putting more technical features in a goggle, and I think we came up with another one.”

Touring through the upstairs, we moved through the area where print ads and catalogs are produced. Pretty much everything but actual product design is done in-house, and they use Jerome Mage from Mage Design for their industrial design on the glasses and goggles. Upstairs also houses a small showroom, and desks for each of the segment managers, though it was pretty quiet when we walked through. As Bob explained it, “A lot of the time they’re not in the office, because they’re at events, traveling with a team, out at photo shoots, doing everything they can to be part of what the athletes have going on, and making sure that Spy and the athletes have a great relationship. Snowboard, ski, wakeboard, surf, two MX team managers¿one for amateur, and one for pro, because there’s so much travel in the moto arena.”

Spy surprised a lot of people earlier this year when they hired John Kuzo from Scott to head up their MX team activities. Bob smiled when we told him that it was a surprise to see John at Anaheim 1, loaded down with Spy goggles, instead of his usual array of Scott product. “Yes, John Kuzo is our MX team manager. And yes, John is Bevo (Forte)’s step-son. As everybody knows, Bevo pretty much is the face and personality of Scott at the races, and pretty much in general. Bevo is one person that everyone relates to. I obviously, before coming here to Spy, had a relationship with Bevo and most of the Parts Unlimited vendors when I was working at Thor. You go to the races enough, and you get to know everybody, and talk to everybody. When it came time for Spy to make a change at the MX Team Manager position, I had to start thinking to myself, ‘Hey, how do we better that position? What do we need somebody to do?’ I’d thought at that point that it was almost out of the question, but you kind of have to go down that road and see if there’s a chance it could happen. It’s like that hot girl in high couple different things. You may have an asymmetrical strap, you may have something with a sewn-on patch. You may have something with some crazy embroidery in the strap. We’re trying to keep it fresh, and trying to keep it new and not have the same old thing all the time.”

“The stuff that we sell a bunch of, the stuff that’s most prominent in the marketplace, you’ll probably see the strongest Spy branding on. But the more edgy or fringe products, is going to be different. That keeps us evolving as a company. We try different things.”

While looking over the goggle line, Bob tossed us a few morsels about their new goggles, but it was still to early to unleash all the details. But suffice to say, they’re very unique. But we’ll let Bob do the description, so we don’t drop too many hints. “For right now, what we have on the horizon is a new goggle called the Magneto. To look at it, it doesn’t look like that different, but it’s definitely different lines, and more industrial-looking than our more organic-looking Alloy. It’s kind of a different path from where our goggle was. But we’re trying to incorporate some different features. We still have our patented scoop venting, that sort of stuff. We’re taking all the features that really work well from the Alloy and incorporating them into a new goggle that has exponentially more peripheral vision. The venting system, even though it’s the same technology, works much better. We’ve tested it on all our top riders, and everyone seems to really enjoy the new goggle. But what’s really cool are some advanced new features that will make the goggle much more adaptable to all sorts of faces. It’s also going to make it more adaptable to all sorts of helmet fits. It’s basically going to¿I hate to use the word revolutionize, but it’s going to revolutionize what’s going on in goggles right now. Everybody thinks they’ve done about as much as they can do, putting more technical features in a goggle, and I think we came up with another one.”

Touring through the upstairs, we moved through the area where print ads and catalogs are produced. Pretty much everything but actual product design is done in-house, and they use Jerome Mage from Mage Design for their industrial design on the glasses and goggles. Upstairs also houses a small showroom, and desks for each of the segment managers, though it was pretty quiet when we walked through. As Bob explained it, “A lot of the time they’re not in the office, because they’re at events, traveling with a team, out at photo shoots, doing everything they can to be part of what the athletes have going on, and making sure that Spy and the athletes have a great relationship. Snowboard, ski, wakeboard, surf, two MX team managers¿one for amateur, and one for pro, because there’s so much travel in the moto arena.”

Spy surprised a lot of people earlier this year when they hired John Kuzo from Scott to head up their MX team activities. Bob smiled when we told him that it was a surprise to see John at Anaheim 1, loaded down with Spy goggles, instead of his usual array of Scott product. “Yes, John Kuzo is our MX team manager. And yes, John is Bevo (Forte)’s step-son. As everybody knows, Bevo pretty much is the face and personality of Scott at the races, and pretty much in general. Bevo is one person that everyone relates to. I obviously, before coming here to Spy, had a relationship with Bevo and most of the Parts Unlimited vendors when I was working at Thor. You go to the races enough, and you get to know everybody, and talk to everybody. When it came time for Spy to make a change at the MX Team Manager position, I had to start thinking to myself, ‘Hey, how do we better that position? What do we need somebody to do?’ I’d thought at that point that it was almost out of the question, but you kind of have to go down that road and see if there’s a chance it could happen. It’s like that hot girl in high school. You never know if she’ll go out with you until you ask her. So I made a phone call to John. and he didn’t laugh at me. It went from him not laughing at me to us kind of having a conversation, and kind of telling him what we were looking for, and what we had on the table, and him comparing it to what he had on the table. His family is so embedded with Scott, that I had to keep telling myself that it might not happen.”

“Basically, it came down to us offering John the job, and I think part of what we offered John were some responsibilities in some segments of the job that other people were doing at Scott, and with him as a college graduate, he really wanted to do that stuff. He wanted to take the next step, and I don’t know that it was necessarily available to him at Scott. I know he had a conversation with them, and explored the option of staying before he left. Ultimately, he’s our MX Team Manager. It was a long process¿probably one of the longest interviews I’ve done. I don’t want to talk somebody into something they don’t want to do. I didn’t want any remorse. I wanted him to make the change on his terms, which he’s done, and we are 100 percent ecstatic that he’s on board with us. John’s a great kid, he’s got a great background, he learned from one of the best. He came from the company with the most market share and the most riders. We’re stoked to have him on board, and he’s been a great asset to us.”

“I think it shows that we’ve come from that fringe, outlaw company, more inline with a company that’s progressing and going places and having opportunities for the people that are on board with us.”

One thing that we did notice while wandering through the building was that it was getting pretty snug, which Bob confirmed. “The glasses part doesn’t take up that much room because the boxes are nice and small. But since we’re expanding so much¿we’re expanding into apparel¿it takes up a lot more room than just sunglasses. Also, you can see that goggles take up considerably more room than the glasses. But we’ve got shelves upon shelves of snow goggles, moto goggles¿all that stuff.”

There’s also quite a bit more apparel filling the shelves. “Three years ago Spy had the t-shirt and hat thing down to a science. Now it’s getting more elaborate. We’re going more into different sorts of bags, more styles of backpacks, different styles of hats. Beanies, brimmed beanies. We’re trying to keep up with the whole fashion thing. A lot more sweatshirts, zip fronts, pullovers, and different materials. In order to keep up with the demand and what people are looking for in the stores, you’ve got to be able to have all those bases covered. Three years ago what we had for casual wear or apparel, and what we have now, I’d say it’s almost ten times as much stuff.”

“We actually moved into this building about two years ago. The building we moved from was half this size, and we thought in moving to this building, we’d never max out the space we were gaining. Well, we’re about maxxed out. The business has grown so much.”

“We are definitely in this building for another year. I know there’s a lot of things in the mix, whether we try to do a different sort of warehousing in here, more automation, redesign the whole thing and really make sure that we’re using all the space to the best of our ability. But we’re really happy with the office. We really like where we’re at, and like being in Carlsbad. We’re kind of in the center of action sports. We’re happy where we’re at, and it’d be painful to move, but if the business dictates, we’ll definitely have to move.”

Contact:

Spy Optic
2070 Las Palmas Dr.
Carlsbad CA 92009
(760) 804-8420
www.spyoptic.com

high school. You never know if she’ll go out with you until you ask her. So I made a phone call to John. and he didn’t laugh at me. It went from him not laughing at me to us kind of having a conversation, and kind of telling him what we were looking for, and what we had on the table, and him comparing it to what he had on the table. His family is so embedded with Scott, that I had to keep telling myself that it might not haappen.”

“Basically, it came down to us offering John the job, and I think part of what we offered John were some responsibilities in some segments of the job that other people were doing at Scott, and with him as a college graduate, he really wanted to do that stuff. He wanted to take the next step, and I don’t know that it was necessarily available to him at Scott. I know he had a conversation with them, and explored the option of staying before he left. Ultimately, he’s our MX Team Manager. It was a long process¿probably one of the longest interviews I’ve done. I don’t want to talk somebody into something they don’t want to do. I didn’t want any remorse. I wanted him to make the change on his terms, which he’s done, and we are 100 percent ecstatic that he’s on board with us. John’s a great kid, he’s got a great background, he learned from one of the best. He came from the company with the most market share and the most riders. We’re stoked to have him on board, and he’s been a great asset to us.”

“I think it shows that we’ve come from that fringe, outlaw company, more inline with a company that’s progressing and going places and having opportunities for the people that are on board with us.”

One thing that we did notice while wandering through the building was that it was getting pretty snug, which Bob confirmed. “The glasses part doesn’t take up that much room because the boxes are nice and small. But since we’re expanding so much¿we’re expanding into apparel¿it takes up a lot more room than just sunglasses. Also, you can see that goggles take up considerably more room than the glasses. But we’ve got shelves upon shelves of snow goggles, moto goggles¿all that stuff.”

There’s also quite a bit more apparel filling the shelves. “Three years ago Spy had the t-shirt and hat thing down to a science. Now it’s getting more elaborate. We’re going more into different sorts of bags, more styles of backpacks, different styles of hats. Beanies, brimmed beanies. We’re trying to keep up with the whole fashion thing. A lot more sweatshirts, zip fronts, pullovers, and different materials. In order to keep up with the demand and what people are looking for in the stores, you’ve got to be able to have all those bases covered. Three years ago what we had for casual wear or apparel, and what we have now, I’d say it’s almost ten times as much stuff.”

“We actually moved into this building about two years ago. The building we moved from was half this size, and we thought in moving to this building, we’d never max out the space we were gaining. Well, we’re about maxxed out. The business has grown so much.”

“We are definitely in this building for another year. I know there’s a lot of things in the mix, whether we try to do a different sort of warehousing in here, more automation, redesign the whole thing and really make sure that we’re using all the space to the best of our ability. But we’re really happy with the office. We really like where we’re at, and like being in Carlsbad. We’re kind of in the center of action sports. We’re happy where we’re at, and it’d be painful to move, but if the business dictates, we’ll definitely have to move.”

Contact:

Spy Optic
2070 Las Palmas Dr.
Carlsbad CA 92009
(760) 804-8420
www.spyoptic.com