Dragon acquired – interview with CEO Will Howard

Dragon's APX goggles at SIA this year. Shop-eat-surf file photo.

Dragon Alliance said today that Marchon Eyewear, one of the largest eyewear companies in the world, has acquired it.


Marchon owns and licenses dozens of eyewear brands including Calvin Klein, Karl Lagerfeld, Fendi, Valentino, and Salvatore Ferragamo. Vision Service Plan (VSP), the largest vision insurance provider in the United States, owns Marchon.


Dragon will be Marchon’s first foray into the action sports space.


I spoke with Dragon Founder and CEO Will Howard Monday night about the sale and what it means for Dragon.


Will HowardDragon CEO and Founder Will Howard

Will said he always thought the next step for Dragon would be to align with a company in the surf or snow space. After talking with Marchon, he realized they bring even more to the table for Dragon with expertise in the eyewear market, an expansive global distribution network, manufacturing capabilities and research and development resources.


“They can help us fulfill our destiny,” Will said.


(See our recent in-depth interview with Will about Dragon’s future plans and strategies.)


In addition to its traditional goggle and sunglass markets, Dragon might also grow into the optical channel as well.


Terms of the sale were not disclosed. However, Will described the price as “very fair to generous – it was nowhere near unfair.”


Will has signed a multi-year agreement to remain as CEO. Will was also happy that Marchon wanted to keep the Dragon management team together, and seven key top managers are signed on to stay.


In addition, Dragon’s Australian subsidiary will remain intact.


This is not the first time Dragon has been owned by a larger eyewear company. Will started Dragon nearly 20 years ago in his garage, and Oakley eventually bought a controlling interest in the brand. When Luxottica bought Oakley, Dragon, with the help of private equity investors, spun off on its own.


I asked Will what is different from being owned by Oakley and Luxottica, which also have lots of eyewear expertise, vs. being owned by Marchon.


Luxottica bought Oakley for Oakley rather than for Dragon, Will said.


“Luxottica were buying one of the crown jewels of sports eyewear and we were either going to be a drag-along benefit or a nuisance,” he said. “They needed to focus on integrating these two large companies. I was so passionate about Dragon, that we all agreed it would be best during that moment in time for me and my team to break off and make a run on our own.”


This time, Marchon is specifically buying Dragon because of its position in action sports, and Marchon has a track record of buying small brands and growing them, Will said.


Gigi Ruff signature gogglesGigi Ruf’s signature APXs goggle

Dragon does not disclose annual revenues, but Will previously told me revenues are in the mid-$20 million range. In 2011, Dragon revenues grew 23% globally.


I asked Will what he was most excited about with the acquisition.


“Now we have the ability to be an ongoing concern well beyond my expectations,” he said. “This assures the brand will be around a long time.”


“That’s a big deal – as an independent operator, it’s hard. I don’t think people realize how hard it is. It’s not just product, marketing and stories, there’s a whole financial perspective, and it’s hard to back that up. Then look what happened in the last four years. You realize something can happen beyond your control that can change everything. There’s a real security to the brand now.”


See Page 2 for more of our interview with Dragon CEO Will Howard





Will is also excited that Dragon’s learning curve will be accelerated.


“Marchon can teach us in the next two or three years what it could have taken us seven to 10 years to learn on our own,” he said. “They can also help us take the things we do well and leverage them to get more out of them.”


Currently, Dragon is making a new technology push with its goggles and was awarded two patents for its Infinity Technology in its APX, frameless goggle styles. Will told me at SIA the brand’s goal is to be No. 3 player in goggles overall and the No. 3 player in action sports sunglasses.


Owen Wright JamOwen Wright’s signature Jam sunglasses

I told Will that usually when I do acquisition interviews, the people involved tell me that nothing is going to change, but something usually does.


Will responded, “I hope everything changes! It’s hard to be the small guy. We want to be dynamic, we want to be secure. I don’t know if I can say I hope nothing changes.”


Will said he had an instant report with Marchon executives, whom he first met in person a year ago after Marchon sent Dragon a letter saying they were interested in the brand and in the action sports space.


In the first conversation, Marchon said they had been studying the market for a year and asked very good questions and had good insights, he said.


“They are good people,” Will said. “I wouldn’t be doing this if it was just about the money and they were not good people.”


“I feel so blessed and amazed at my good fortune,” he said.


See Page 3 for the official press release announcing the deal





Press Release:


Dragon Alliance Announces Sale to Marchon Eyewear


Carlsbad, CA (May 1, 2012) – Dragon Alliance announced today that it has been acquired by Marchon Eyewear, Inc., one of the world’s largest manufacturers and distributors of eyewear, carrying many of the top fashion and lifestyle brands. This acquisition will increase the global reach of Dragon and reinforce the growing objectives of the brand.


Dragon is a leading goggle and eyewear brand in the action sports market and is distributed in over 40 countries worldwide. Dragon’s premium eyewear products appeal to the youth market and push outside the boundaries of the status quo. Will Howard, founder and CEO of Dragon, started the brand in 1993 from his garage in Capo Beach and has seen it grow into an internationally recognized brand. “We are very excited about becoming part of the Marchon family,” said Howard. “With their support and shared vision for Dragon, we will become an even stronger company, while remaining true to our heritage.”


Dragon sunglassesDragon sunglasses

Claudio Gottardi, Marchon President and CEO said that Marchon plans to extend Dragon’s reach and further develop their designs and leadership in the eyewear market. He asserts, “This new partnership with a young, dynamic team at Dragon will significantly increase Marchon’s presence in the action sports market. Dragon is a first-class company in this category. Dragon’s emphasis on quality products and innovative design completely aligns with Marchon’s.”


Dragon’s recent growth has been fueled by innovative products in all eyewear categories. There is an emphasis on creating high-quality, uniquely designed products that appeal to the youth market. This includes the recent ground breaking launch of the frameless Advanced Projects snow goggle line which debuted this winter.


The Dragon team will continue to be based in Carlsbad, California, with Will Howard remaining as CEO, leading Dragon’s growth and the team into the future.


Find out more about Dragon at www.dragonalliance.com


About Dragon Alliance


Established in Southern California in 1993, Dragon is a premium eyewear manufacturer with a deep heritage in the action sports market. The brand is internationally recognized as a youth, lifestyle brand and is distributed in over 40 countries. Dragon has a world class team of athletes which help inspire the design and technology of a range of products including sunglasses, snow goggles, motorsport goggles, and select softgoods.


About Marchon Eyewear, Inc

Marchon Eyewear, Inc. is one of the world’s largest manufacturers and distributors of quality eyewear and sunwear. The company markets its products under prestigious brand names including: Calvin Klein Collection, ck Calvin Klein, Diane von Furstenberg, Emilio Pucci, Fendi, Flexon®, Jil Sander, Karl Lagerfeld, Lacoste, Michael Kors, Nautica, Nike, Nine West, Salvatore Ferragamo, Sean John, and Valentino. Headquartered in New York, with regional offices in Amsterdam, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Venice, Marchon distributes its products through numerous local sales offices serving over 80,000 accounts in more than 100 countries.






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