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O.C. Sunglasses Maker Being Sold

Acquisitions: Arnette Optic Illusions, known for high-performance eye wear for sports uses, will become part of Bausch & Lomb.

January 18, 1996|LESLIE EARNEST | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SAN CLEMENTE — Arnette Optic Illusions Inc., a maker of sports-oriented sunglasses and goggles launched four years ago when its president began selling from the trunk of a rental car, is being acquired by optical giant Bausch & Lomb Inc., the companies said Wednesday.

Closely held Arnette makes Dog, Raven, Threat, Catfish and other high-performance sunglasses brands that sell for $50 to $110.

A Bausch & Lomb spokeswoman said Arnette's sunglasses, which are popular among snowboarders, skateboarders, surfers and mountain bikers, will help the New York company expand further into sports-related markets.

While Bausch & Lomb controls more than 40% of the worldwide premium-sunglasses market, competitors such as Irvine-based Oakley Inc. are fast gaining a market share. Arnette's president, Greg Arnette, designed sunglasses for rival Oakley before departing to form his own company.

"This acquisition is part of our strategic plan, which calls for Bausch & Lomb to . . . attract the younger, more affluent consumer and to stay on the cutting edge of design and technology," spokeswoman Holly Echols said.

Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. Arnette Optic will be managed separately from Bausch & Lomb's existing sunglasses business and the San Clemente company's products will still be sold under their own brand names.

Greg Arnette, who will remain with the company, is credited with helping change the face of the sunglasses industry, making eye wear both trendy and functional, when he began designing for Oakley in about 1981. A sports enthusiast himself, Arnette honed in on the surf and snow markets.

He split from Oakley in 1991.

In designing sunglasses for his own company, Arnette, who is in his mid-40s, initially said he wanted to "get back to the basics." The first models he turned out, the Black Dog and the Raven, where available only in black.

In January 1992, Arnette began trekking across the country in a rented car to show his new models in surf shops, recruiting customers along the way.

Arnette Optics would release no information about the size of the business, the number of employees or annual revenue. However, Bausch & Lomb said Arnette owns 70% of the company, and sales were expected to exceed $25 million in 1995.

Last year, the company added warehouse space to accommodate the growing production. The glasses are designed, assembled and packaged at the San Clemente site.

With the sports-related sunglasses business growing 20% to 25% per year, analysts say both Oakley and Arnette Optics should be successful.

"I think the market's big enough for both companies to do well," said Kenneth S. Abramowitz, an analyst with the Wall Street brokerage firm Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. "Certainly, [Arnette] will have more resources with Bausch & Lomb behind it and more technology, so in two to four years it will be more competitive."

Bausch & Lomb distributes its products in more than 70 countries, has 14,000 employees worldwide and annual revenue of about $2 billion, Echols said. The company makes an array of eye wear, including Ray-Ban, Revo, Suncloud and Liz Claiborne. Sunglasses sales accounted for about 30% of the company's revenue in 1995.

Bausch & Lomb is consolidating its designer sunglasses business in an effort to improve productivity and increase earnings growth. The company said it plans by year's end to close a sunglasses plant in Maryland and eliminate more than 800 jobs.

Neither Greg Arnette nor Arnette Optics Vice President Craig Lark could be reached for comment Wednesday about their deal with Bausch & Lomb. Company employees said the executives were in France while Bausch & Lomb was heralding the purchase.

Arnette is "over in Europe right now and he's snowboarding," said an employee who asked not to be identified. "So that tells you a little bit about him."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Arnette Optic Illusions at a Glance

* Founded: 1991

* Headquarters: San Clemente

* President: Greg Arnette

* Vice president: Craig Lark

* Products: Black Dog, Raven, Catfish and other high-performance sunglasses

Source: Arnette Optic Illusions;

Researched by JANICE L. JONES / Los Angeles Times

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