The rumors surrounding intensely private snow-gear and eyewear company Smith Optics turned out to be true. The Ketchum-based company is relocating its design headquarters to Portland, Ore., over the first half of 2015.
The news came in an announcement from Smith’s parent company on Monday afternoon.
Smaller groups of Smith employees will have the option of relocating to Clearfield, Utah, or Parsippany, N.J., over the next three years. Operations locally “should wind down by the end of 2018,” according to Smith’s Chief Financial Officer Ron Hayes, but there is no official exit date confirmed.
Some 35 employees will be relocated to a new design center in Portland, and another 40 will be split between manufacturing and distribution in Clearfield during the end of 2015 and beginning of 2016 and “back office” functions in Parsippany. Informational technology, human resources and finance positions will move during 2017-2018. There are approximately 85 Smith employees currently working in Ketchum—the 10 positions unaccounted for are salespeople, who will be distributed potentially throughout the three new locations.
Smith’s parent company, Italian eyewear corporation Safilo Group, made internal changes to its global presence when Swiss-born Luisa Delgado took over as CEO last year. She was in Ketchum on Monday to discuss the transition with employees and members of the community.
Safilo is the oldest eyewear company in Europe, and probably the world, Delgado said. It carries 30 brands, 25 licensed brands and five proprietary brands, of which Smith is one, she said.
Delgado said when Safilo acquired Smith in 1996, plans to expand the company did not materialize.
“The thought at the time was that Smith would become a global sports and outdoor brand and would somehow be managed as part of the total Safilo company,” she said. ‘This never quite happened.”
Getting organized to go global, Delgado said, meant integrating Smith with its mother company. She put together a task force to study the potential of Smith, including top management employees here in Ketchum, in the dialogue.
“We truly believe that Smith could be delighting consumers and tribes across the world, yet it’s barely available [globally],” she said. “Therefore, we have put together a 2020 plan to really go global with Smith.”
By 2020, Delgado says, Safilo Group predicts Smith could more than double in size, provided it expands into international markets from its currently narrow sportswear distribution channels.
For the national design headquarters, a month-and-a-half-long location study done by Mercer Group presented data from seven Western U.S. cities—the west part of the country embodies the trend-setting, outdoorsy vibe that Smith will continue to manifest, Delgado said. Cities studied included Ketchum, San Jose, Seattle and San Francisco, Hayes said.
Safilo went with Portland because of the proximity to the outdoors and a major airport, talent and labor force available and access to marketing and key consulting firms, the company indicated. The official headquarters of Smith will cease to exist, Delgado said, and Smith will be managed as a brand out of Safilo’s Italian office. Delgado said Safilo wants to utilize Portland for other brands under its umbrella.
“That’s where the synergy comes from,” she said. “Being one company with multiple brands rather than a one-brand company.”
Delgado said Safilo’s company principles dictate equitable treatment of employees during the transition. Safilo has a strong North American presence, she said, and the company will make every effort to move employees without transferable positions into an opening somewhere in the country.
“Only if the person doesn’t want to move or we cannot find an alternative position, we will be forced to make people redundant and pay them a severance package,” she said. “Treating our employees with respect and care in this transition is very important to us.”
Hayes and Delgado recognized Ketchum’s important role as the birthplace of Dr. Bob Smith’s ski goggle some five decades earlier. Delgado said Safilo is working with Wood River Valley municipalities to find a way of paying homage to Smith’s local ties.
“We are excited about new opportunities, [but there’s] always a little bit of sadness when you have to let something go,” Hayes said.
Amy Busek: email@example.com