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Interview with Opticron's top Manager

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Old Monday 3rd September 2018, 08:37   #1
Troubador
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Interview with Opticron's top Manager

Anyone with an eye for binocular brands who visits nature reserves in the UK will be aware of the sheer number of Opticron binos there are out there. Their popularity in the UK is perhaps similar in scale to the popularity of Nikons in the USA although the people that buy them are probably very different.

Opticron Sales and Marketing Manager, Pete Gamby, joined Opticron after a successful career in marketing at Mitsubishi Electric, Nokia and Maxdata, as well as being Managing Editor and IT Manager at Meko Ltd. He very kindly agreed to give an interview during the Bird Fair at Rutland Water, providing he could be spared from the busy Opticron stand.

Fortunately, I was able to press him into a quiet corner on the last day of the fair, just long enough for him to give me the background to Opticron the company, as well as insights into Opticron’s markets and products. However the demands of the Fair meant that we could not proceed in a leisurely ‘question-answer-discussion’ format and Pete had to take a deep breath and provide a high-speed monologue, before being dragged away to man the stand. Below is a distillation of Pete’s excellent overview of Opticron and its activities. I am grateful for the time he dedicated to the interview.

Company History

“The company started life in the early 1970’s, although the exact date is lost in the mists of memory, but it means that by 2020 the company will be about 50 years old, which is quite an achievement. It began as a retail operation, literally selling across a dining table, in a house in St Albans. It was founded by Dezso Baksa with his wife Yvonne, and son Garin, as partners.

“About 10 years later, Dezso was being so successful selling Zeiss binoculars that he was offered a Zeiss distributorship, and so moved from direct retailing into the wholesale sector, adding Optolyth after a time, before establishing the now well-known brand, Opticron. Garin completed his college education, and joined Opticron as an ‘apprentice’, working as a salesman to learn the customers and the business. Then, when his father stepped back from daily involvement he took effective control of the business at a time when the business was growing strongly. Today nether Dezso or Yvonne are actively involved in the running of the company.

“About 10 years ago, Garin could see that the number of retail outlets carrying optical products was reducing dramatically (Opticron’s UK customer list had reduced significantly from approximately 600 customers at its peak, and this continued down to around 150 today) and quickly realised that if the company was to grow it needed to export. As a result I was recruited and joined the company in December 2008 with a remit to service not only our UK outlets, with the products and margins they need to thrive, but also to seek opportunities overseas.

Opticron's Market

“As far as product goes, Opticron’s perception of the market is that nobody ever asked for a heavier pair of binos for birding, and this direction of thinking led to our motto of ‘smaller, lighter, brighter, sharper’, which has been our guiding principal ever since. And this philosophy has had a dramatic effect on our market penetration in the UK because 30/32mm binoculars are by far our biggest sellers. And this means biggest by both volume and by value”.

Note from Troubador: all other brands I have talked to have said that 42mm models are their mainstays and 32mm models are well behind in second place.

Pete continued: “I am sure that age and gender play unique parts in our end-user base, compared with other brands, certainly within the UK where maybe 70% of my conversations concerning 32mm binoculars are with ladies, and overall, people of retirement age or approaching it, figure strongly in our customer mix. For example although our male customers want 42mm more often than the ladies, there is also the trend that as men get older some no longer want to carry the big and heavy models they have used for years and come to us for something half the weight.

“For sure you see folks of retirement age carrying alpha brand binos such as Swarovski and these people may well have progressed to this position via several of our models and a Zeiss. They may have been given the Swaro as a retirement gift or even blown part of their company pension on it. But come retirement and the freedom to travel overseas, some of them certainly do not want to risk their expensive Swaro binos or scope being lost or stolen, and come to us for something lighter, more compact, and less costly. It might be a travel scope or a 32mm binocular, something that can be carried in hand luggage on their safari or cruise and so less of a risk. There is also an element of some of the middle-aged baby-boomers having missed out on birding and their parents are keen to enthuse their grandkids in the same way that they were enthused in their youth. We just sold a package of 3 pairs of Savannah R binos to a grandparent who was gifting two to their grandkids and one to the kids’ mother so they all could go birding with the same binos with no squabbling over who has the best binos.

Product Development

“Driving the ‘smaller, lighter etc.’ paradigm into our product ranges has had some consequences. Our binoculars are made by our trusted sources but within their off-the-shelf standard models we are by no means sure to find what we need for our market. For example the manufacturer of the Countryman range (which has been around for ever, and started as porros) has a 32mm model but it is as big as our DBA 8x42 so it makes no sense to slot that into our Countryman range. This resulted in our developing the Traveller over a three year period into what is, in effect, our Countryman 32. This represents a substantial investment for us so we will be looking at getting back more value from the Traveller platform, perhaps by enhancing its performance with improved coatings, or even shifting to a lower price point by changing the specification, for example by deleting the ED glass.

The UK Market

“While export business is of increasing importance, the UK is still a highly significant market for us, but it has been changing dramatically over the years. For example the various independent photographic outlets that used to also stock optical equipment have almost disappeared. LCE group continues to buy up the odd branch here and there and Jessops has been turned around, but for these, optics is really a side-line. And while it is difficult to replicate the Bird Fair availability of brands and models in a dealership, nevertheless it is exactly those specialist dealers who have a well-planned and extensive stock of gear at complementary price points that are the most successful and are growing. For example if you go to Cley Spy for a scope they have just about all of them in stock although you should check with them before you travel. So our market in the UK has been consolidating into the specialist, well-stocked dealers, with the remainder of our customers existing on perhaps just 3 or 4 brands. Clearly we had to look overseas for opportunities and we have done this with some success.

The Market in Europe

“In Europe we are doing good business in Norway and have made a start in Sweden. There is an outlet there selling Kamakura’s own-brand binos and since some of our models have been developed in partnership with them, there is a certain degree of overlap. But actually Kamakura’s own-branded products tend to be models with specifications 2 or 3 years behind the current state of the art, so the overlap with our own models is actually minimal. In the Netherlands there is local competition but nevertheless we have a useful foothold there. We have a bit of business in Ireland but this is a market that is very margin-orientated. If you sell binos there for €50 the dealer will be looking to retail those at €150/200 because they may well sit on the shelf for 3-4-5 months. Germany is a very difficult market due to loyalty to the home brands including Steiner, but also Nikon, which is very hard for us to displace off dealers’ shelves because it is a well-established and trusted brand. Finally in Europe we also have a little business in Eastern Europe.

The USA Market

“The USA is on the face of it a huge opportunity, but from the very beginning we have strongly supported conservation and birding in the way we have marketed the brand and we decided to continue promoting our products in this way. This means we are effectively excluded from 95% of the market which goes through hunting-orientated outlets. But even if Cabelas, or rather the now-combined Cabelas/Bass Pro chain, came to us and said please supply, we would be challenged to just put one pair of binos into each of their retail outlets, without a significant lead-time. Opticron is a small optics wholesaler and doesn’t have the resources of a Zeiss or a Meopta or even a Kowa. But things are changing in the States and we have seen sub-contract manufacturers who have lost volume customers reach out for replacement business from local brands there such as Tract, rather than waiting for OEM customers to knock on their door. And for Opticron, we see 8x32s becoming more and more popular, for example Oregon and Discovery, because they offer something different at the right price points.

Potential Markets

Due to the use of English as a common language it would make sense to look at South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, but logistically these have their difficulties. Nevertheless we will probably be targeting these territories some time during the next 4-5 years.

Future Product Directions

“Where does Opticron go next? Well, ‘smaller, lighter, brighter, sharper’ will continue to be our guiding principals. We have launched the 7x Discovery and it is doing as expected and customers are re-ordering. It’s not flying off the shelves but are happy with it. Price-wise we certainly won’t go above £800 as this region is occupied by Zeiss with their Conquest HD and Leica with their Trinovid HD. If someone wants to spend £800 on a binocular their first thought isn’t going to be Opticron. I was surprised to see GPO pricing at £1,000 and that is just not the sort of price I would contemplate for Opticron because the brand isn’t strong enough. Looking at our DBA 8x42 at just under £600 we think that is exactly where it should be, but we need to constantly review the specifications to deliver what the market is asking for. DBA has a field of view of about 7 degrees but the market bench-mark is now 8 degrees, so we are going to have to look at this. We have got ED glass in binoculars priced around £200 and we probably need to consider putting it in models priced at less than this.

“Then there is the question of field flatteners and I am not convinced these are a desirable benefit for everybody, certainly not in our market. They add weight and if we are looking at increasing fields of view while maintaining eye relief we have to be alert to increasing the weights of the eyepieces. We don’t want to compromise build quality, for example by moving to polycarbonates to achieve our desired weights. For example, take the Nikon HG line which has got reduced rubber armour to reduce the weight. It’s a lovely feeling binocular, but because it doesn’t have full armour there will be people nervous of getting it scratched or bumped. All of these things are a question of balance, you are always trading off between weight and features, and of course, we need to make sure that the build quality lives up to the 30 year warranty.

On the spotting scopes front the market is at a kind of tipping point. Here at Bird Fair we have the full range of 50/60/66/80mm scopes and we haven’t sold a single 80mm and I don’t think the team have had to demo one. This confirms the impression we already have of a movement towards sub-80mm scopes for a significant part of our market. We see people that carry a telephoto lens with their camera and just don’t need the extra magnification of a big scope, a travel scope is good enough and they still carry their binos. Some people will still want an 85/95mm of course but we aren’t in that market. So, our MM3 non ED is now our entry point, above the Adventurer line, and MM4 is our mainstay. I don’t have a crystal ball but I can see it being possible that in 5-6 years we might only have 1 line of 80mm instead of several, or maybe we won’t have any by then, at this point it is hard to predict the market. And of course this makes investment decisions difficult when you consider that you need to sell several hundred scopes just to cover the R&D costs.

Image Stabilisation

“Electronic mage stabilisation is interesting for the future but for the moment the technology isn’t available to us at a price that makes sense for our market.

Eye Relief

“You asked me about eye relief and it would be great if everyone could agree a method of defining usable eye relief but there is no sign of that happening any time soon.

Finish

“And on that note it is getting very busy on the stand so I had better go and help out.”


Once more I would like to thank Pete for squeezing this interview in during a very busy Bird Fair.

Lee
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Last edited by Troubador : Monday 3rd September 2018 at 14:13.
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Old Monday 3rd September 2018, 14:16   #2
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Thanks also to Pete for unashamedly providing a pic of himself to accompany the interview.

Lee
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Old Monday 3rd September 2018, 21:05   #3
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Thanks for the interesting insight Lee, I`v had some contact with Pete through Birdforum and he`s been exceptionally helpful, and I find Opticron always delivers great value for money.

John.
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Old Friday 7th September 2018, 08:59   #4
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I couldn't have summed it up any better, myself.

Lee
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Old Sunday 9th September 2018, 00:35   #5
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Lee:

You provided a very nice review, and I have learned a lot about Opticron.

Pete seems to be a nice chap, and it is good to hear from him.

Jerry
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Old Sunday 9th September 2018, 07:35   #6
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Lee:

You provided a very nice review, and I have learned a lot about Opticron.

Pete seems to be a nice chap, and it is good to hear from him.

Jerry
Thanks Jerry. Much appreciated. Pete is a very straight-forward, no BS kind of guy, and it was a pleasure to listen to him. In one way it was a shame we didn't have the time to do a more leisurely interview with more questions from my side but on the other hand Pete covered all the list of topics I had sent him and in such an interesting way. I think it turned out just fine in the end.

Lee
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Old Wednesday 12th September 2018, 20:19   #7
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Lee, thank you for the very interesting interview with Peter Gamby and I do think Opticron's aims of ‘smaller, lighter, brighter, sharper’, are a very good way to go.

Re. "For example, take the Nikon HG line which has got reduced rubber armour to reduce the weight. It’s a lovely feeling binocular, but because it doesn’t have full armour there will be people nervous of getting it scratched or bumped."

I picked up on this because I have the later HGL 8x42 which was indeed said to be significantly lighter than the earlier HG 8x42, obviously a good marketing thing, while actually there was not so much difference in weight between the earlier and the later 8x32s. Moreover the difference has been said to be mainly due to different material for the frame rather than for the armour itself, although this is not entirely clear. I do not imagine that Nikon's marketing suggested any greater fragility, and it might even have been a little misleading with respect to the reduction in weight for HG 8x32.

Along those lines what a good idea it is clearly to declare to customers the design aims, but in retrospect the HG example may not have been especially well promoted. For my purposes the cheaper lighter Blue Sky II clones may be sharper but this is in the centre, so the HG might might be preferred for less distortion elsewhere, and such a lovely light focus action along with adequate sharpness.

In a slogan there is probably no room to express all of the important things, and in any case they could be the expensive bits! My best effort would be 'Smaller, lighter, brighter, sharper, smoother, and clearer'
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Old Thursday 13th September 2018, 12:05   #8
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Originally Posted by chris6 View Post
Lee, thank you for the very interesting interview with Peter Gamby and I do think Opticron's aims of ‘smaller, lighter, brighter, sharper’, are a very good way to go.

Re. "For example, take the Nikon HG line which has got reduced rubber armour to reduce the weight. It’s a lovely feeling binocular, but because it doesn’t have full armour there will be people nervous of getting it scratched or bumped."

I picked up on this because I have the later HGL 8x42 which was indeed said to be significantly lighter than the earlier HG 8x42, obviously a good marketing thing, while actually there was not so much difference in weight between the earlier and the later 8x32s. Moreover the difference has been said to be mainly due to different material for the frame rather than for the armour itself, although this is not entirely clear. I do not imagine that Nikon's marketing suggested any greater fragility, and it might even have been a little misleading with respect to the reduction in weight for HG 8x32.

Along those lines what a good idea it is clearly to declare to customers the design aims, but in retrospect the HG example may not have been especially well promoted. For my purposes the cheaper lighter Blue Sky II clones may be sharper but this is in the centre, so the HG might might be preferred for less distortion elsewhere, and such a lovely light focus action along with adequate sharpness.

In a slogan there is probably no room to express all of the important things, and in any case they could be the expensive bits! My best effort would be 'Smaller, lighter, brighter, sharper, smoother, and clearer'

Chris

I am sure Pete was refering to the relatively recent Monarch HG line of binos.

Lee
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Old Thursday 13th September 2018, 17:22   #9
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Aha Monarch HG...thanks Lee
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Old Friday 14th September 2018, 15:20   #10
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Pete is da bomb!

;-)

I have only met him once, quite a few years ago but he was very friendly and helpful. Hope to run into him again some day.

Troub,

Great job on the interview.
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Old Friday 14th September 2018, 16:01   #11
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Pete is da bomb!

;-)

I have only met him once, quite a few years ago but he was very friendly and helpful. Hope to run into him again some day.

Troub,

Great job on the interview.
Thanks Frank

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