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Gunnar Optiks Looks Beyond Gamers

Gunnar Optiks, a pioneer in computer and gaming eyewear, envisions broadening its appeal.

“We’ve seen a big rise in awareness of, and interest in, the brand,” co-founder and Chief Executive Joe Croft told the Business Journal.

Croft, a San Clemente resident, said the company is averaging 750,000 unique monthly visitors to its website, which features specially designed glasses to reduce and avoid digital eyestrain.

“We also expanded the brand appeal with new imaging, messaging and product that is not strictly gamer-related,” Croft said.

That expansion includes revamping the marketing department and a stronger PR effort. The company is based in Carlsbad.

Croft points to the recently sold-out Fallout and anime-inspired tokidoki x Gunnar models as signs of success.

“Lots more work to do, but so far this year we have hit months with a 400% increase year-over-year in web traffic,” Croft told the Business Journal on April 26.

He said Gunnar, founded in 2006, has “staying power” and the early efforts “have paid off, but slowly.”

“Our new collaborations with Blizzard, tokidoki and Fallout continue to drive growth, and we plan to introduce more high-profile partnerships soon,” Croft said.
Virginia to Pacific

Croft went to high school in Langley, Va.—“right next to the CIA,” he says—before coming west to Stanford University for a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering-product design.
While at Stanford, he was captain of the rugby team and belonged to the Sigma Chi fraternity.

He’s been a volunteer with the Boy Scouts of America for more than 20 years.

Gunnar Optiks said it invented and patented computer and gaming eyewear almost two decades ago.

“We rebranded in late 2023 to broaden the appeal and pull back on the in-your-face gamer marketing,” Croft said.

“Many non-gamers got turned off by it, and, as a gamer myself, I felt it wasn’t appealing to the breath and sophistication of the gamer market.

“If you have to say you’re cool, you’re not cool.”

Market, Influencers

“The number of influencers we work with has skyrocketed. Organic, online sales are booming, and we keep broadening the reach,” Croft said.

The recent introduction of the Clear Pro lens tint, targeted specifically at graphic designers, digital photographers and visual artists, represents the latest expansion to additional areas of digital eyestrain protection, according to Croft.

The privately held company’s 2023 revenue was between $5 million and $10 million, he said.

The company has no brick-and-mortar stores that are Gunnar branded.

“However, we have successfully helped Best Buy roll out Gunnar centers within their stores, where customers can try on glasses and experience the Gunnar difference,” he said.

Gunnar is available in over 550 stores in the U.S. and Canada, with displays throughout the store.

All the glasses are designed at its Carlsbad headquarters, with the work then sub-contracted to various suppliers.

25 Employees

Gunnar has 25 employees dispersed between Orange County and San Diego County.

The primary owners are Croft, along with Matt Michelsen and Jenny Michelsen. The trio joined together more than 20 years ago to develop eyeglasses that help reduce the “growing epidemic” of eyestrain.

The prices of their eyeglasses range from $50 to $150.

The company said the technology and coatings it puts on its baseline lenses make them far more special than other blue-light blocking computer glasses. Prescription lenses are available on most glasses for an extra cost.

“All of them incorporate patented Gunnar technology that reduces eyestrain by providing focusing power to relax eyes, wrap to keep eyes from drying out and light filtering to reduce high-energy visible light. The price difference comes primarily from the performance of the frames and lenses,” he said.

For example, the Signature line boasts ultra-durable precision engineered polymer frames and features the base lens configuration.

The Epic line upgrades to hybrid (metal plus polymer) frames with customizable fit along with an upgraded lens.

“We also just released our new Arbor line of glasses made up of carbon fiber-reinforced sustainably harvested wood,” Croft said.

“Gunnar patented high-wrap lenses trap in humidity and block out drying air currents. The technology keeps eyes comfortably protected with an ideal ocular microclimate,” the company says on its website.

What are Croft’s tips on finding success as a small business in Orange County?

“Keep costs low, avoid unnecessary leverage and hire smart,” he said.

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