Friday, August 15, 2014

Seeing eye-to-eye with Smith Optics

Ketchum-based eyewear giant and overseas parent company contemplate changes

Express Staff Writer

Customer Chris Rybak tries on a pair of Smith sunglasses at Sturtevants Mountain Outfitters in Ketchum on Wednesday. Photo by Roland Lane

Ketchum-based sunglasses and sports equipment pioneer Smith Optics is in the midst of a top-down transition. Smith’s parent company, Safilo Group, announced in an Aug. 7, news release that Smith would be expanded globally through “strengthening the uniqueness of the brand.”
    Safilo is an eyewear company based in Padua, Italy, that designs, manufactures and distributes glasses for luxury brands as well as those they own. It is the second largest manufacturer of eyewear products globally and is considered a leader in the premium eyewear sector.
    Safilo recently underwent administrative personnel changes and with it came a change within company management and integration, what Eric Carlson, Smith’s vice president of product and design, calls a modernization. Companies underneath the Safilo umbrella will be reconfigured as individual “retail channels.” Smith’s role as the company’s sport and outdoor lifestyle specialist will make it the global center for related eyewear distribution.
    “Smith has been primarily a snow business in North America and we’re trying to turn into more of a global eyewear brand,” Carlson said.
    Changes within Smith that could be of interest to the Wood River Valley are twofold: Longtime president Ned Post will be retiring effective Dec. 31, according to Carlson. The Safilo news release states that it is conducting an ongoing location study, which will evaluate whether Ketchum is the best place for Smith’s global headquarters. Any changes stemming from the study will be completed by 2018, it states.
    That’s right—Smith operations locally could have an expiration date.
    “We believe in the Smith brand and want to grow it sustainably and profitably across the globe,” said Safilo CEO Luisa Delgado. “It’s uniquely authentic brand purpose is [especially] relevant for today’s inclusive societal values. We also believe that the Smith company has leading capabilities that can benefit our whole group. We will therefore organize ourselves to leverage both of these opportunities.”
    Smith has been a Ketchum mainstay for nearly 50 years. The company’s founder, Bob Smith, invented the double-lens ski goggle. The company now manufactures broad lines of eyeglasses, sunglasses and equipment for outdoor sports. Its manufacturing headquarters were relocated to Clearfield, Utah, a few decades ago, where some 200-plus workers are employed.
    Post became president of Smith Optics in the early 1990s. The changes within Safilo have cut out the need for a presidential position at Smith, Carlson said. Instead, Smith will rely on a handful of senior managers to lead the company locally. Carlson called Post’s leadership for the past decades “tremendous.”
    Regardless of any changes, the company’s legacy in the Wood River Valley remains a cornerstone of its successes to date, Carlson said, and the employees will continue to be proud of their local roots.

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