As Alain Mikli of Paris did a few weeks ago with Dominique Pohu (see EWI of May 27), Larry Leight, the extravagant Los Angeles founder and creative director of Oliver Peoples, hired as its president an experienced manager, William Barton, at the beginning of 2002 to put some order into his well-known designer eyewear, which was losing money in spite of its growing popularity. The company is now profitable and sales are growing at double-digit rates, partly driven by the new broad-based fascination for retro-inspired vintage styles.
Barton has hired new professional staff, improving systems and customer service, and new exclusive sales agents in the USA to raise the number of accounts and to encourage reorders. When Leight started his wholesale business along with his brother Dennis and a friend in 1986, no sales reps were needed because the company was flooded with orders by trend-setting opticians who kept ordering because the Oliver Peoples collection outsold many other more international brands in their stores.
The number of accounts has been raised by 10 percent worldwide, including more than 550 in North America where it includes important department stores like Neiman Markus or Saks Fifth Avenue. Stronger reorders were responsible for half of the growth in the company's US sales last year. The US market represents about 65 percent of Oliver Peoples' consolidated turnover, which grew by 19.7 percent to about $20 million, and most of the growth took place in the USA.
Europe grew by only 8 percent, but it's now expected to follow a similar pattern following the recent recruitment of new agents in Switzerland, Holland, Spain, the UK and other countries. In Germany, where the company has a sales office that has been generating annual sales of about $2 million, the number of agents has been increased from 1 to 4. It has gone from 2 to 3 agents in Japan. Another big market for the brand is Italy where it's sold in about 120 stores.
Oliver Peoples, which has followed the retro trend ever since it began as a single store on Sunset Boulevard in Beverly Hills, attributes its popularity to the artists and to the movie and song celebrities that it has been catering to from the start. They seem to prefer its edgy and glamorous designs to the less exclusive fashion models of Chanel, Gucci and other brands that everybody is now wearing. Oliver Peoples continues to get free publicity from the fact that Hollywood stars like Jack Nicholson continue to wear its glasses in movies like ?About Schmidt,? while many others like Britney Spears, Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise are featured in various fashion and cult magazines.
Two years ago, Leight expanded the collection, particularly in the area of sunglasses, adding more and more new functions including its branded OPX sun lenses. The range includes polarized and photochromic mineral glasses, tinted in special colors. Its graded mirrored polycarbonate lenses are still very popular with customers.
At next month's Vision Expo fair in Las Vegas, Oliver Peoples will be showing in a suite of the Venetian Hotel. It will subsequently exhibit in the designer section of SILMO in Paris.