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Innovation, Quality, Growth - Watchwords in 2001: Part 1



A STATE OF THE INDUSTRY REPORT: THE OPTICS MARKET

Innovation, Quality, Growth - Watchwords in 2001

May 2001

Photo Trade News has always done an annual State of the Industry issue that looked at the imaging industry as a whole, but we thought it might be interesting to take a look at specific markets through the eyes of the manufacturers. This month, we take a closer look at the binocular/optics market place.


STEINER/PIONEER-RESEARCH— COMBINING INNOVATION & SERVICE

Steiner, along with the rest of the optics industry witnessed growth in business units for the year 2000 and expect that growth to continue in 2001. According to analysis, the low-end price range has grown the most, with the high-end binoculars seeing the second highest growth. The mid-level witnessed a decrease, with those consumers becoming high-end buyers. Steiner sees great opportunity in performance and quality binoculars over the next 10 or so years. This can be attributed to the fact that many people who now have the money to purchase high-end binoculars are spending the money on quality product. People are seeing binoculars as an item to buy to keep on hand for whenever they want to use them. For the past two years, first-time purchasers are upgrading on their first pair of binoculars. Due to branding and marketing these, customers are paying for performance at the onset, and consumers, regardless of income level are spending the extra money for quality.

The Internet has also effected binocular sales as consumers are spending large amounts of time surfing the Internet and researching their purchases. When the customer walks into a retail store, he already has in mind the brand of optics that he will purchase.

Steiner is concentrating on offering high-performance binoculars to consumer specialty niches, no longer offering scopes. The hunting, marine and birding/nature customers comprise their main customer base. Marine sales break down even further to sailing, cruising, powerboating and sportfishing niches. Adding the populations of all these niche markets together, Steiner estimates these user groups to be in excess of 25 million people.

Steiner has made strides in technologies for the advancement of coatings for better vision and performance in low light situations, as well as waterproofing, no leak, no fog, durable binoculars. Steiner has also worked to create better shock absorbing materials and surfaces that allow the user to get a real good grip on their binoculars. Recently people requested attachments for eyecups to keep out side light. Steiner decided to improve upon that request and now offer standard wraparound eyecups on all new models of binoculars.

All of the binoculars are eyeglass compatible as well. Steiner feels it is important that all binoculars be user friendly and simple to use.

Steiner feels strongly that personal service and a desire to work with dealers on creating and supporting the category benefit the entire industry. If you [the retailer] promote the business, you'll get customers. Retailers who have creative ideas for advertising and promotions are doing well. Steiner's Associates Program provides an employee discount for their dealers because when the retailers: owners, managers, salespeople) are comfortable in the use of a product and know what they are talking about, they are more confident in their sales pitches.

Sven Harms
Vice President Sales and Marketing
Pioneer-Research


PENTAX CORPORATION — CUTTING EDGE CATEGORY

The exciting thing about the optics business is that the very near future will provide consumers with a much wider range of choices for distance vision enhancement. There will be both improvements in conventional optics to make binoculars more useful and easier to use, and there will be non-conventional options that may better fit certain needs and applications. Look, also, for new ways in which conventional optical technology and leading edge electronic technology will be married together to create whole new product categories.

Conventional optics is a mature technology. Arguably, higher quality optics currently available on the market "see" as well or better than the human eye. So in the field of optical design gradual refinements instead of radical breakthroughs are going to be the rule. At Pentax we have a lot of new refinements in the hopper that will make binoculars much more user friendly. And more specialized designs will enhance the enjoyment of using binoculars for specific user groups. There are also non-conventional "outside the box" developments on the horizon that will give the consumer alternative choices that may be completely different from what we now think of as "binoculars."

Pentax will continue to focus on positioning our binocular product line in the middle price point range — from what we call the "low middle" to the "high middle." We have made great strides recently in the upper end of that range, offering high quality optics that rival anything made anywhere in the world at prices any serious binocular user can afford. Our line is all about value, and offering the greatest possible value at all of our price points is our first priority. We will also continue our role as innovator and market leader. We are always working on ways to make binoculars brighter, sharper, smaller, lighter, easier to use, and more affordable.

It's a good time to be in the binocular business. Not only is there a lot going on to keep the category exciting and fresh, but there are whole groups of users whose business is still up for grabs. There is plenty of opportunity for creative retailers to find ways to reach those consumers and build their binocular profit.

Dave Brown
Sport Optics Sales Manager
Pentax Corporation


BLOUNT — EXPANDING BINOCULAR DEFINITION

The binoculars category was up in 2000 over the previous year. Both regional chains and mass merchants like Wal-Mart reported strong double digit growth, however U.S. imports were down 16% from previous years. At Blount we feel strongly that category growth will be driven by innovation.

Why is Blount excited about the future of binoculars? First and foremost the binocular category appeals to one of the widest demographics/lifestyles in the sporting goods industry. Also, participation in nature viewing activities is on the rise. Add to this the fact that in this age of technology, consumers will seek out more technologically advanced products. Binoculars will no longer just magnify objects. The definition of binoculars will expand, as will the product's capabilities.

How is Blount positioned? What technologies do we bring to the table? Well, our most innovative product is the Weaver Grand Slam. The 45mm objective provides 15% more light gathering power and resolution than the standard 42mm binoculars. The Grand Slams are dry nitrogen gas purged to prevent internal fogging in the worst conditions. In addition to superior optical quality the Grand Slams also offer a rubber armor making them extremely water resistant and a ribbed exterior ensures a tight grip no matter where you use them.

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