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Vision chats with Martine Larroque, MD of Maui Jim Middle East and South Africa

Ed – After I had the opportunity to meet with some of the local Maui Jim team and also communicated with some of them by e mail over a period of time, I was struck by the their way of doing business. There is definitely a unique culture there. Maui Jim was founded in Hawaii by Walter Hester in 1980 and I was amazed to read that Maui Jim has become the third biggest sunglass brand in the world!

To find out more, Vision decided to have a chat with Managing Director, Martine Larroque.

martine Ed – What is the history behind the Maui Jim Brand?

ML: The Maui Jim brand has a rich history linked to the majestic Hawaiian Islands. In fact, the beautiful beaches of Maui served as the inspiration for the development and design of the original collection, which was launched and sold in 1986 right there on the beaches of Maui, Hawaii. We have held onto our Maui roots and to this day all Maui Jim sunglasses are still designed and tested in Hawaii. From our humble beginnings we have arisen as the third-largest sunglass company in the world, selling both men’s and women’s prescription and non-prescription sunglasses in over 120 styles, in over 100 countries. Maui Jim is renowned for being a world leader in sunglass technology due to our patented PolarizedPlus2® lens technology, as well as our unparalleled ‘Aloha Spirit’ and best in class customer service. The company’s standing in the global market has been built largely through word-of-mouth recommendation and through our customer’s passion for the brand, which has created enviable brand loyalty. The average Maui Jim consumer owns 3-5 pairs of Maui Jim sunglasses.

Ed – Becoming the third biggest sunglass brand in the world is an amazing achievement – how did that happen?

ML: The company’s standing in the global market has been built largely through word-of-mouth recommendation and through our customer passion for the brand, which has created enviable brand loyalty. The average Maui Jim consumer owns 3-5 pairs of Maui Jim sunglasses.

Ed – Tell me about the Maui Jim shareholding

ML: Maui Jim is still a privately-owned company which is unusual within in the optical industry. Especially for a prominent brand, but the decision has served us well. It has allowed us to be more agile and responsive to the ever changing and increasingly competitive market landscape.

Ed- I am intrigued by your Aloha culture – what does it mean?

ML: “Aloha” might be more popularly known as the Hawaiian greeting, but it is so much more. To the native Hawaiians, it is a lifestyle and also considered a gift to the people of Hawaii. It is a way of life, a philosophy, that encompasses the concepts of peace, gratitude and compassion. It’s about treating people with respect, kindness and humility. Maui Jim embraced this philosophy at inception and adopted it as a guiding compass which we affectionately term, our Aloha spirit. You will often hear the Maui Jim team talking about their level of Aloha spirit. It is very tangible, and we consider it to be an essential cornerstone of the business. It drives us to prioritise people across our value chain which extends to include not just our employees, but also our retailers and end consumers. We are in essence one big global ‘Ohana (Hawaiian word for family) and it is our mission to ensure that every member of our ‘Ohana remains satisfied and has a positive experience with the brand. This dedication is what has earned us the reputation of being best in class for customer service.

Ed- How long have you been the Managing Director and how did you come to join Maui Jim?

ML: I joined the Maui Jim Travel and Retail division back in 2006 after having worked for Procter and Gamble Middle East. When I left Procter and Gamble I decided to go back to my home country, France. It was at this point in my career that I wanted to change gears and work for a company that had a different corporate structure and way of doing business. It was time for a change and I wanted to find a brand that was more aligned with my own personal interest. From that point onwards, it was a happy coincidence of fate that culminated into the initial Maui Jim job offer and I never looked back. I am now entering my 12th year with Maui Jim and I couldn’t imagine working for any other company.

Ed – What would you attribute your own success to? 

ML: My key to success is to always look beyond the challenge and to envisage the solution. This approach has served me well throughout my career. When you love what you do, the successes come naturally.

Ed – I have never interviewed a mountaineer! I believe you are one? What have you done?

ML: Yes. I have taken on a few mountains in my day, amongst which are five of the seven summits including the infamous Everest in Nepal in 2002. My passion for nature and exploration was fostered by my parents who enrolled me into a mountaineer club at the age of 10. I started out with rock climbing and before I knew it I was taken on bigger and higher mountain peaks. Nature is medicinal. It has a way of rebooting you physically, mentally and spiritually. It is also out on the slopes, where you truly realise what you’re made of, what you’re capable of, once you manage to break through your own psychological barriers and learn how to wield your will power – It is character building.

Ed – Looking back, what would you say was one of your most life altering decisions?

ML: The single most impactful decision that to this day still has a ripple effect, was my decision to join the Maui Jim team. When you change companies, you expect a measure of change to hit your life, but I had no idea of the gravity of the decision at the time. Maui Jim is honestly one big global family, but what won my heart was the company’s spirit.

Ed – Where is Maui Jim positioned in the market?

ML: Maui Jim is a premium polarised sunglass brand that caters to both men and woman who wear non-prescription and prescription sunglasses. We are the industry leaders in lens technology and customer service. Our approach to market has always been to work directly with the retailers. We do not work with distributors at all. This distribution strategy allows us to retain control over the brand’s representation in the market, but also enables us to service our accounts in a personalised manner. We build meaningful partnerships with our accounts and we interact with them as if they are extensions of our own business. It all circles back to our Aloha spirit ethos. We are also amongst the few brands who do not discount our product in market. It’s a strong stance to take, but we hold firm to it globally, as we believe in our brand and do not feel the need to resort to discounting tactics to drive market penetration. The brand speaks for itself. We are not a company driven by volume. We would rather take our stock back from retailers than have them discounted in market and we do just that. We are driven by the pursuit of an ever-perfect view and dedicated to the eye health mission. The average Maui Jim consumer owns 3- 5 pairs. It’s an experience-based brand. Once you’ve experience the view through a pair of Maui Jim’s, there is no going back.

Ed- Who are the people on the Maui Jim South African team?

MLI am based in Dubai, but I oversee the business in South Africa. I have a strong team in place with a great track record and extensive experience within the South African optical industry. Our Operations Manager, Tshepo Tsotetsi, ensures our business keeps moving at a constant pace and hustles to resolve any complications that arise. He also manages and supports the in-office warehouse and customer service team.  Gloria Maedi, is our resident Rx specialist and goes above and beyond to assist our sales team and accounts alike. She works closely with, Pule S. Lekgoathi, our warehouse clerk, who ensures all our products are packed and distributed in record time. Out on the road we have our Sales Manager, Luciano Caolo, caretaking the Johannesburg and surrounding areas. Luciano’s spirit is a driving force within the sales team and his industry experience is invaluable and proved to be instrumental in the establishment of the South African business. He also manages Deon Ebel and Steven Jones, who are responsible for servicing the Cape Town, Port Elizabeth and KwaZulu-Natal. Both work hard to drive the brand forward and are true advocates of Maui Jim. I am constantly impressed by the accomplishments of the South African team. They are a testament to the Maui Jim ‘Ohana and Aloha spirit.

Ed – Where is the Maui Jim office based in SA?

ML: The Maui Jim South Africa office is based in Fourways, Johannesburg.

Ed- What makes the Maui Jim sunglasses stand apart

ML: Maui Jim has always prided itself on being committed to technological advancement with a special focus on promoting eye health. Our acclaimed, proprietary PolarizedPlus2® lens technology blocks 100% of harmful UVA and UVB sun rays, eliminates 99.9% of harsh glare and manages 95% of HEV (blue light) while enhancing colour, definition and depth perception. This technology is in every single pair of Maui Jim sunglasses and has earned us the Skin Cancer Foundation Seal of Recommendation as an effective UV filter for the eyes and surrounding skin. Whilst most sunglasses simply darken the wearer’s view, dimming and fading colours for a flat, low-contrast perspective, Maui Jim’s patented technology enhances natural light (red, green and blue light waves) instead of dimming it. This delivers increased clarity and detail, increased and balanced saturation of colours as well as filtering out the colours we can’t see. The end product is an exceptional view.  Our sunglasses are designed with the wearer in mind. We really want to ensure that there is a perfect pair of Maui Jim’s for everyone whether they are active or not so active. Its above performance, comfort and protection to suite a myriad of lifestyle.

Ed- Tell me about your product groups.

ML: All our frames are made exclusively in Japan or 100% made in Italy. Our range of frame styles is extensive, and each frame is complimented with the right combination of lens technology options to ensure an uncompromised experience. We offer the highest level of lens options as standard and all our sunglasses feature our famed PolarizedPlus2®  lens technology. Presently, we have four lens colour options which have been designed to enhance the wearer’s view in various sunlight conditions. We also offer five lens materials (four of which are proprietary) including SuperThin Glass and our latest lens material, MauiBrilliant, which offers optics nearly as clear as glass but with one-third of the weight. Not to mention our unique bi-gradient mirror finish which provides a protective mirror at the top and bottom of the lens mimicking a squint so that you don’t have to. This allows the eye to relax. Maui Jim is also available in MauiGradient and three fashion mirror finishes namely BlueHawaii,MauiSunrise and MAUIGreen.

Ed – Can I get a pair of Maui Jim sunglasses in my prescription?

ML: Our prescription sunglass offering, MauiPassport, provides incredible visual acuity across the entire lens. They are digitally processed at our state-of-the-art, 7,315 meter, one hundred per cent freeform lab in the U.S.A.  MauiPassport has an exclusive digital lens design and cutting-edge direct surfacing technology. This approach delivers the widest possible field of view, so the wearer can see clear, colourful detail across the entirety of each lens, providing perfect edge-to-edge clarity. This process also produces prescriptions that are 10 times more accurate than those of conventional labs and maintains the highest optical quality standards in the industry. This amazing technology is available in single and progressive lens options across over ninety percent of our sunglass range – It is a real feather in our hat.We have also recently launched our MyMaui program in South Africa, which allows consumers to tailor make their ideal pair of Maui Jim sunglasses. They are free to pick the frame style, lens colour and front lens finish combination they desire.  It’s a great addition to our expanding product offering.

Ed – Do you have any comment about the SA optometric market?

ML: It is very interesting working across the optical industry in the Middle East and Africa. The structure of the industries couldn’t be more different. In the Middle East, the business is driven by multiple key account groups whilst in South Africa, we find the opposite is true. It is a large network of independents. Both markets present their own unique strengths and challenges, but I can say that the South African optical industry has an enhanced service experience that is driven by the optometrist-owner dynamic. It is very reminiscent of the Maui Jim business philosophy.

Ed – My publisher always wants to know this – if you are allowed only one CD, which one would it be?

ML: Marvin Gay. He is one of my all-time favourites and in my opinion a true classic that never gets old. It is difficult to pick a single track, but if I had to pick one, it would have to be ‘What’s going on’.