Oakley’s Anthony Paggio is seriously struggling to suppress laughter. Across from him, Bubba is on the phone with his agent, Tony Gardea, explaining that Tony has to cancel a planned weekend trip to Las Vegas to attend a last-minute meeting with a potential new sponsor. Just minutes before, Anthony had been on the phone with Tony to set up part one of the ruse. After stringing T-Gar along for a few minutes, Bubba finally lets him off the hook and tells him that it’s all a joke and to have fun in Vegas. Then he bails out of Oakley’s Sports Marketing department to go shoot some hoop on Oakley’s indoor basketball court.
Of course, it’s not all fun and games in the Sports Marketing area. As Paggio explains it, “I handle everything to do with the athletes for two-wheel motorsports. Road racing, motocross, supercross, off-road. Anything with two wheels and a motor goes through me. Any time you see Ricky Carmichael or Bubba—or any of our athletes, somehow that has gone through me. From image to creative, to photo shoots, contracts, events, and product placement. Everything. It’s not just taking a goggle and a pair of glasses to a race and putting it on them. That’s the easiest thing. Everything is a process. Everybody at the races or who reads TransWorld thinks that it’s the coolest job in the world. But it’s not just giving them a cool glasses and hanging out. That’s a lot of it, but there’s a lot more to it.”
Of course, building and maintaining image in a company that’s as image-conscious as Oakley has to be a challenge. Visiting Oakley is an E-ticket visual experience. Their roots are firmly in motocross, with grips being their first product, but they’ve since blown up into a multi-sport publicly-owned powerhouse of eyewear, shoes, apparel and more.
From the time you roll up the driveway (past the helipad), by the skull and crossbones flag and come face-to-face with the entrance, it’s obvious that this isn’t exactly your standard concrete tilt-up building. The heavily industrial look is reinforced further after you walk through the double doors into the lobby. It’s nearly three-stories-tall, and has a dark, moody, industrial look. Military jet ejection seats provide seating in the waiting area. Off to the side of the lobby, there’s a walk-in warranty area, as well as individual retail shops for both apparel and glasses. At the far end of the lobby hangs a funny car body. Drag racing is a passion of Jim Jannard, who founded Oakley in 1975, and who still serves as its CEO and Chairman of the Board.
Walking through the facility with Paggio, it’s hard not to be impressed at the facility, and the devotion to quality. Sales, marketing, sports marketing, and corporate offices are housed on one side. There are also areas for production, warehousing, the aforementioned regulation-sized basketball court, a cafeteria, a theater (used for company meetings), and the very exclusive R&D labs. There’s even a museum that covers the span of Oakley’s history.
Walking through the manufacturing area, he points out Iridium coating pods, which go for somewhere around a million bucks apiece. “They take a standard machine, and then the engineering staff configure the machines to get them to do what we need them to do. The mirrored coatings you see are vaporized through the lens. Every lens starts off as a right and a left pair, and go all the way through production as a right and left. We don’t make a thousand lefts and a thousand rights and throw them together. Everything’s a pair all the way through.”
“Design is here, and we have the capabilities in this building to make whatever we come up with.” The domestic production helps fill gaps in orders…which can be a big issue when there are 60 container ships sitting off the coast of CA, waiting to get into the L.A. Harbor.
Of course, Oakley’s design and manufacturing expertise hasn’t gone unnoticed, and Fox and Oakley announced in September that they’ve worked oout a licensing agreement to produce goggles and glasses together. We ran into Robert Ramlose, who’s working on the project from Oakley’s site, and he said, “Fox wanted to get into the eyewear market, and rather than creating a competitor, we created an ally. It’s a pretty awesome deal. Tommy Rios, Oakley’s Vice-President, has a really awesome relationship with Fox and Pete Fox. It all came from Tony and Pete collaborating together. Basically, it’ll be Fox eyewear utilizing Oakley XYZ optics. We’re kind of sharing design ideas. It will be very different from anything Oakley’s done. The product looks really good. We’re looking to launch the sunglasses April 1st, and the goggles probably right around July 1st.”
Back in the Sports Marketing department, Anthony was quizzed about how he made it into Oakley. “I raced, and I forget which year it was, but I switched to being a mechanic. I worked for Team Extreme, then Chaparral with Jimmy Button. After that I went to Team Kawasaki with Damon Huffman and Larry Ward. When I was there I was good friends with Johnny O’Mara, and he needed an assistant here at Oakley, so I’ve been here for six years now.”
“Everyone in this area is either an ex-professional, or are heavily entrenched in their sports. A professional snowboarder does snowboarding, a professional cyclist does the cycling. It’s neat like that. We gel with our athletes a lot better. We’ve lived their life. We know their life, so we can relate to them. Everything else is pretty much taught to us by our bosses.”
“They’re great and help us out a lot and teach us a lot. They’re willing to work with us. It’d be hard to take somebody out of college that didn’t know anything about a sport and put them into a sport. It’s easier to take a guy that was in the sport and put them in this position.”
“It’s weird for me. I have a lot of guys, but most people talk about Bubba and Ricky. I grew up with them. I’ve known Bubba’s parents since before he was born. My dad and his dad used to race each other. Ricky, I used to pick up from elementary school and take him practicing. I grew up with them, and I’ve known them their whole lives.”
It’s weird that I’m in this position and those are my athletes. Ernie, I’ve known forever, too. Ernie came from Costa Rica, came to Florida and did the Winter-Am series. I remember when he was just a little kid in Kodak jerseys and with BSY Yamaha. I’ve been lucky. It’s a lot of luck to be where I’m at. Even to get the Factory Kawasaki job that I had. I wasn’t a mechanic. Right place, right time, and I kept my head out of the gutter.
Before packing up to go, Anthony gave us a rapid sneak peek at a new goggle that’s coming out soon. “Maybe it’s too early because we don’t even have a name for it yet, but right now we’re just calling it the ’05 goggle. It’s going to blow any goggle away. It’s been developed to take care of any problem that anyone’s ever had with nose pinching, with optics, with anything. If you want a goggle that’s as technical as the sport, and has the comfort and performance at that level, it’s a no-brainer. Walking through our company, you can see that we’re not going to make something that doesn’t work. You’ll probably see it in February. We’re still playing around with a couple ideas. Jim is gnarly. He doesn’t ever want to do anything like anyone else does. Some people look at a lot of stuff we make and think, ‘That’s pretty crazy, but that’s what Jim wants. He wants it to be different. He never wants to be a cookie cutter. If you don’t like it, it’s not for you.”