Maui Jim claims to be number three in the US sunglass market, after Ray-Ban and Oakley, but it's still small in Europe. Started up one and a half years ago, the US company's European operation sold about 15,000 pieces to about 200 clients with a total of about 600 shops in 1999. The volume is expected to double in 2000, but this growth rate may not be sustainable in the longer term, as the company wants to progress step by step in this part of the world, concentrating on the higher end of the market.

The strategy consists in building up a special partnership with a select number of opticians and sunglass specialists who will adequately merchandise the company's patented range of polarized glasses with high color restitution, with in-depth technical training and POS material supplied by the company.

The lenses are manufactured mainly in Italy or in Japan, and finished in the USA. Maui Jim has started marketing a new line, called Flexon, that features titanium frames with shape retention memory, made by Marchon. Prescription lenses have been supplied in the USA since two years ago, and Maui Jim Europe has set up now a laboratory in Paris to do the same, starting with a few local opticians during the latest pre-Christmas sales period.

Maui Jim Europe is coordinated by a French industry veteran, Michel Joffre, who spent 6 years running the Vuarnet eyewear operation in the USA for Pouilloux after working for Corning Glass and Essilor International.

Maui Jim Europe has sales managers and agents for the moment in France, the UK, Italy, Switzerland and Portugal. Talks are under way with potential agents or sales executives in Germany and Spain. Some interest has been expressed by potential intermediaries in Greece and in the Middle East.