Q&A: John Sanchez, Zeal Optics president

On the heels of its acquisition by Maui Jim, Zeal Optics enters a new chapter of its business with a new president, John Sanchez. He tells SNEWS about the challenges and rewards of revamping the company.
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On the heels of its acquisition by Maui Jim, Zeal Optics enters a new chapter of its business with a new president, John Sanchez.

Sanchez, who comes from Maui Jim, looks to keep Zeal a step ahead of the competition, particularly in the field of technology with goggle GPS and HD video capture.

He tells us about the challenges and rewards of revamping the company.

You came to Zeal from Maui Jim, and helped transition the company to new ownership. Can you tell us what sets Zeal apart from its big brother and how you approached the shift?
Maui Jim has set the industry standard for service. We certainly wanted to hold onto the service assets gained from the acquisition. What makes Zeal different is that it’s an active lifestyle brand that markets to an interest. We get to offer world-class service, merchandising programs for accounts and supply sunglass and goggle products to the market that are affordable, crafted to be used in the elements and sustainably built with plant based resins. Maui Jim bought Zeal because it’s Boulder, Colo.-based, has a lot of hardworking people and targets the active demographic the right way. We are the only true goggle and sunglass company in the past decade that has been fortunate to call Colorado our home base for inspiration and development.

Since coming aboard, the logo and look of some of your products have changed. How have you managed to make those kinds of adjustments, while retaining the authenticity of the brand?
It’s important to us to develop a brand identity, and we’re doing that now. We want to open doors, sign athletes and develop social campaigns. The logo is our inspiration statement to the shift. With regard to managing the adjustments — we had to go deeper than designing new, hip goggles and sunglasses. It’s a competitive pool: If you put 20 goggles on a table, peel off the logos and ask people to guess what brand the goggles are, they’ll have a hard time. But if you heard product managers from those brands speak, I hope that afterward you’d want to learn more about Zeal.

Some of your products, particularly the goggles, incorporate a ton of technology. How does that complicate the product development and manufacturing processes for you?
We value quality and craftsmanship at every part of the design and development process, so adding technology isn’t so much a complication as a necessity. We have to differentiate ourselves, so we bring with us a wonderful engineering team that has access to the strongest GPS, camera and sustainable technologies in the world. We don’t want to be gimmicky and create gadgets — we want to be sure our technology advancements are enhancing an outdoor experience.

There’s some debate in the outdoor business about how much technology is the right amount — some of us get outside to escape it.
Tell me what dad doesn’t want to capture his kid’s first powder run. What brother doesn’t want to capture his sister’s first face plant? What buddy doesn’t want to post on Zealhd.com his first moto run down a killer Moab trail? Those are wonderful experiences. It has nothing to do with being tech-savvy — it has everything to do with never forgetting those moments when you’re back in the daily grind. We have technology products and we’re proud of them, but we’re not Apple. If we lead in technology that’s great, but for us the end result is that it is driven towards creating wonderful experiences.

What were you hoping to achieve at Winter Market this year?
Our goal in 2012 was to introduce ourselves. We need to keep doing that, because many people still don’t know who we are. We don’t have to be the largest group in the store or take up all the dollars and space. We respect competition and feel that we just warrant some space. Our Zeal team will be driven by merchandising and event activation. Anything we can do to help retailers be successful as small business owners is something we keep as an open discussion point. We intend to come to market very strongly this year. Our success transfers over to helping the less fortunate and our environment. Those initiatives drive us daily to help us build our brand.

Where are you aiming to take Zeal in 2013 and beyond?
I often refer to Zeal as a tree. Last year it was planted, and it’s grown beyond our expectations. While many can see the growth upwards, I look underneath and want to make sure our roots are growing. We call this being “grounded.” Zeal will continue to expand globally with launches in Australia and Europe. Zeal will have an internal initiative to get more active in our backyard — Colorado. We don’t want to be in the mass-market retail space. We are truly a dealer-oriented business. We prefer to be working with people who can take the time to tell our story and embody our spirit. We have passion, and we have a purpose to remain humble in how we bring this brand to market. We should be helping the less fortunate, helping our environment and enjoying our time outdoors. Those goals will never change for us.

--Megan Mulligan

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