Eyewear veterans Alan Ek and Tony Davis founded Madson of America in early 2014, after working together for more than 10 years at another sunglass brand as well as at their brand-consulting agency, Chief Brand Company. Driven by design and inspired by California youth culture, Madson is managing to see growth during a challenging time for the eyewear category overall.
Shop-Eat-Surf spoke with Madson’s Alan Ek, Co-Founder, and Tony Davis, President and Co-Founder, to learn more about Madson, including their brand philosophy, what sets their eyewear apart in the marketplace, and what is in store for brand.
What is the brand philosophy?
Alan Ek: The Madson brand philosophy is founded on no-nonsense American determination and attitude. Our roots are in simple, classic design, carefully built by and for craftsmen, adventurers and doers.
Madson of America is built on the ideals of the American Dream our grandfathers fought for – freedom, hard work, premium crafted products and bold innovation that will stand the test of time.
Part of our no-nonsense philosophy is to get down to business. To have a positive financial business, both the brand and the retailers need to be honest with each other.
This approach has helped key accounts like Hansen’s and Pancho’s. Hansen’s in Encinitas has achieved annual retail sales of $12,000 per square foot. At the same time, Pancho’s in Pismo Beach is up 153% by trying new merchandising strategies.
What is Madson’s point of difference in the marketplace?
Tony Davis: First, we are telling a different story. When we started Madson, Alan and I had to ask ourselves, ‘How can we compete with the great product that is already out there?’
We are fans of the brands in our space, and respect what they have done. For example, GT at Von Zipper, Eric at Electric, Rob at D’Blanc and Eric at Smith. They all know what they are doing. So, we had to honestly answer the questions: What we are about? What are our true passions?
This introspective approach began a yearlong, uphill process of setting up the manufacturing of sunglasses in the Unites States. Making products in America is another example of Madson’s blue-collar, do-it-yourself brand attitude.
Alan Ek: From the beginning, our brand story has resonated with the youth culture that spans surfing, skateboarding, snowboarding, music and art.
Secondly, it might sound obvious but there is always something alluring about a new brand. The industry was built off the energy of new, raw, youth-driven brands. Consumers continue to seek out the new and emerging brands sold at specialty retailers. This is what makes the industry special.
Retailers will remain relevant by embracing this tradition. We feel they need to set themselves apart by offering a larger selection of inventory of new brands to cater to the consumers’ needs. They should be embracing the new brands that breathe life into the industry.
Third, and most important – it’s all about the product. The process starts with the product you’ve designed with your hands, and ends with the product in the consumer’s hands. With a lot of distractions that come with starting and running a new brand, the product has been our focus. At the end of the day, a relevant brand, with premium product and great quality, for the best value will always connect with the consumers.
Who are your key accounts?
Alan Ek: Currently, Madson is sold in more than 400 stores. When we started, we were fortunate to have an experienced team of industry veterans and brand ambassadors. Those relationships quickly translated to getting placement in key accounts like HSS, Hansen’s, Surf Ride, Hanger 94, Wavelengths, Katin, Mitch’s, and many more.
That early success fueled us to keep investing in the specialty retail channel. Having Kasey Curtis on board doing sales and marketing from the beginning has been crucial to our success.
Specifically from a distribution standpoint, we’ve been selective on who we’ve partnered with. We then doubled down with those partners. It’s better to have 500 great retail partners versus 1,500 retailers that are a nightmare.
How much has Madson grown this year, and how is the business financed?
Alan Ek: Fortunately, this past year we have been able to grow revenue almost 50% in the same stores. A recent ActionWatch report shows the Madson brand is up 48% for the past 12 months rolling. In that same period the category has seen a 9% decline.
The financial strategy has been to first focus on a strong foundation, and then to grow organically.
The importance of having enough money to get off the ground can’t be overstated. But more important than the dollar amount is where the money comes from. We’ve been fortunate to have a foundation of financial partners who have started businesses themselves and grew them to be successful. One sold his company to Apple, Inc. and remains a large shareholder.
Tony Davis: Running a profitable business gives us a strong foundation – and has given our brand more options. The strategy of having inflated sales and carrying a ton of bad receivables will lead to operating at a loss and having a huge amount of debt. This is the death of any company.
Where does the brand want to be in five years?
Tony Davis: We have a long-term outlook, and plan to grow organically. This will enable us to build a strong brand that lasts. Our business model is not to grow the brand as quick as possible in hopes of selling it off, and running the risk of diluting our ownership and losing control. Why would we want to lose something we’ve worked so hard to build?
To grow a business organically takes tremendous amount of discipline and sacrifice. With this growth strategy, in the end the market will decide where the brand is in five years. Of course, we have ridiculously high expectations of our brand and ourselves, but we will be stoked when we are still selling our brand in Hansen’s in five years.
To see the Madson Sunglass Collection click here.