Beyond the Alps in the scenic Steiermark region, an optician’s family has set out to write a unique chapter of eyewear history. The Lasnik family’s optical store is a hotbed of activity located in the town of Rosental. It is not only home to an impressive portfolio of exclusive independent labels, but also the headquarters of the family business; the place where Gerald Lasnik and sons Martin and Andreas design their own products and manage their marketing and sales efforts. For this issue’s home story, SPECTR visits the family business for an entire day to learn more about the region, the family and its projects – of which there are many. We learn that their approach is marked by a tremendous pragmatism, despite the differences in character between these three personalities. This is supplemented by the dynamics of a true family unit that works together and functions as a team; also because the three used to play on the same soccer team 20 years ago. Welcome to the Lasnik family story.
First of all, thanks for the hearty welcome and picking us up at Graz airport. The scenery on the drive over to Rosental does have some provincial charms.
Gerald: Well, it’s not exactly urban out here. With our 1,600 inhabitants we are no global metropolis – but we are on the fast track to get there. We love it provincial and personal, though.
What is unique about life south of the Alps?
Gerald: Most of all the climate, you can really feel the proximity to the Adriatic. From Rosental it’s only a two-and-a-half-hour drive South and you’re lying on the beach. And if we’re in the mood for skiing, that’s just two hours North in Schladming. Our geographic location is a real plus.
You are not only opticians but also deal with processes in marketing, design, and sales. Is that even possible in this location?
Martin: This is really a positive aspect of globalization. You can realize your ideas and visions from pretty much any location on the planet. The opportunities related to the internet are actually pretty cool. But everyone needs to also head out and experience the whole wide world to form an opinion. You need to know what is happening on the eyewear market and where the entire journey is headed.
Nevertheless, have you considered setting up shop somewhere else? Graz? Or Vienna?
Andreas: That’s a recurring topic of course. Funny enough, we had a request last year to open a store in Los Angeles. California would indeed be super cool, but we also primarily need our family and team as our lifeline. The right employees for this kind of endeavor are far and few between and there is only finite energy. So for now we are focused on EYESHAKER and SEEOO. The rest will happen as it may.
More about that later, but let’s talk about your beginnings first. What led you into the eyewear business?
Gerald: I started my training as an optician in 1972. Back then, our job was still 80 percent about craft, so I had the chance to learn “hand-made eyewear” from the ground up. This sparked my passion for the optical trade.
In 1996m your son Martin then opened his own retail store. What was the motivation?
Martin: Honestly, I did not really gel with school. And when my dad told me about plans for opening our own store, I was on fire about the idea. His football career brought him all over the region, so he had many friends who instantly supported us. The step towards making our own store was honestly not an easy one. But it has been the best decision my father could have ever made!
And you, Andreas, also came into the optical trade back then?
Andreas: Yes, age 16 was when I started working at our company for one year.
Why only for one year?
Andreas: Because I then fulfilled my childhood dream by signing my first contract as a pro football player.
Where did that career path take you?
Andreas: Up until January 2016, I played for clubs in Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, and Greece.
What happened then?
Andreas: Then I ended my career as a pro footballer after 14 years in order to fully focus on the family business.
That’s a rather unconventional entry into the eyewear business. Martin, how far did your ball playing skill take you in your prime?
Martin: Up until the Third League, but was the max. We were a total football family. There even was one particular championship game when all three of us played on the field together and my dad shot me a pass to set up a goal. These are moments you never forget.
Your store is set up on a main street between two towns. So, you hardly get any walk-in customers, right?
Gerald: No, we don’t get any walk-in customers. People who pass through our door definitely want something specific from us. We have excellent parking right outside, plus a bus stop. So that is a definite plus.
What characterizes your business?
Martin: We love what we do! Our customers can feel it from the first second. We have evolved in both areas – fashion and eyewear. Authenticity is really the key word here. Aligning with the pulse of our times in terms of craft and fashion is not always easy. It costs tremendous time and energy, but customers definitely appreciate it.
You are far more widely known than conventional opticians. That is also due to the fact that you have expanded your reach and designed your own product. What was the impulse?
Gerald: All three of us have a high affinity for design. Our SEEOO project was the starting point for sketching out and implementing our own ideas. We are really not much about theory, which is evident in our products. We work really closely with our customers in our store, recognize their needs and wishes. At the end of the day, glasses not only need to look great, but also perform!
Which factors enabled you develop your own products?
Andreas: We are enabling ourselves. It’s not like you need to ask anyone’s permission. After all, the responsibility and risks are all on you. We may not have studied design or the like, but we have such different skillsets that the sum of our abilities is rather unique. Good gut feeling, passion, drive, and a feel for shapes and trends – these are really hard-to-learn traits.
Does it help that your business spans two generations?
Martin: It’s not always easy to align two generations but it’s definitely worth it. Drawing on these different perspective and skills is definitely a cool opportunity!
Some people may insist on always separating business and private affairs. You’re running a counter model. Is that working for you?
Gerald: I believe that when you are pursuing something that’s your passion, and when the entire family is also on board, there is no “private” or “professional”. Then it’s just your life! But of course, we insist on a clear separation of tasks, otherwise total chaos would be inevitable.
How is that structured?
Gerald: It all boils down to self-realization, meaning to know your own strengths and weaknesses. We are incredibly fortunate to bring three entirely different strengths to the table.
Tell us more…
Martin: Papa is the technician. He designs and builds prototypes, develops new hinges or temple principles, works on manufacturing. For him everything is total CRAFT!
Andreas handles implementation. He brings everything into practice. Andreas comes from the realm of pro sports. Judgement of character, determination and goal-oriented thinking are a must in that field. Having access to his network is also a great plus.
Andreas: And Martin is the creative mind with a great feel for design. He can recognize trends and keep us up to date. His intuition and market knowledge are indispensable for our company.
Is it important for you that new products work rather quickly?
Gerald: We have the optical store as a background, which has always been our foundation. But the risks are getting increasingly higher, the stakes are getting bigger. Now we are talking about marketing, production, sales and so on. So you need to weigh your decisions, especially since we have no external investors as back-up.
You have already successfully built several product segments. What is your approach? Do you start with a market analysis?
Martin: When it comes to a passion and customer needs, we don’t need any market analyses. The initial idea, the thought, has to resonate with us first. I need to want to carry the idea, use the idea – that’s our main point of reference.
Andreas: Sometimes you really just need to get started. You can’t always overthink everything! Prototypes are developed, altered, adapted, and marketing plans are created and also adjusted. So it’s a continuously fluent process. But above all, the most important thing is that YOU are happy with the final result. At the end of the day, there’s also our own name on it.
What was your first excursion beyond your own optical store?
Gerald: Around 2009 I made an assessment of the reading glasses segment. And I noticed that there was nothing catering to “quick reading”. That marked the birth of SEEOO.
What is behind the concept?
Gerald: With SEEOO, everything is really focused on just one application. The pince-nez is an addition to people’s reading glasses, sunglasses, sports glasses or contact lenses. It excels by offering a small form factor and manageable design, and most of all by its quickness. Combined with the phone case, people always have a sharp focus on everything – and it’s all Made in Austria. We are really proud of that.
At this point you are also offering frames with temples. Has it become a full-fledged collection?
Martin: Absolutely. There’s something about being able to wear a full pair of glasses on your nose. For the pince-nez, we have created a really special form, which we now transferred to a large eyewear frame. It was an important goal for us to design a full-fledged collection around the pince-nez to strengthen the brand positioning. And it also allows us to live our passion for eyewear design.
But aren’t you risking becoming a competitor to the brands you are carrying in your store?
Andreas: No, just the opposite. SEEOO is part of our business and is displayed all the other brands. We even managed to launch collaborations with other brands.
Do you have an example?
Andreas: ic! berlin has been a staple brand at our store from the start. We have been working with them for two years now and have now even produced an entire collection with the Berlin-based manufacturing outfit. And because the SEEOO shape is unique, we also don’t risk interfering with each other on the market and only stand to profit from each other.
Is the particular shape an important visual differentiator for your brand?
Martin: Yes! In order not to get lost in the eyewear jungle, you have to build a profile as an independent brand somehow. We secured this brand recognition via the shape of our glasses. The SEEOO shape, meaning the rounded shape with the corner, is really an eye catcher and runs through the entire collection.
What are the specific challenges for building your own brand?
Gerald: Aside from constantly implementing new ideas to make reading easier for our customers, it has to be selling the product in the entire world.
In how far?
Gerald: The international business with all its challenges is not easy to navigate and it takes having the right partner on-site.
How have opticians responded to the offering?
Gerald: Generally speaking, opticians don’t like to sell ready-made products. We know this too well from our own business. We now have to communicate to opticians that they should not sell the pince-nez as the main pair of glasses, but as an addition to their existing glasses to enable quick reading on-the-go. But getting the advantages of upselling across to them is not always easy.
The reading glasses could also be considered competitors to best-sellers such as varifocals, right?
Martin: Absolutely not! The reading glasses or pince-nez should be sold as an add-on to varifocals. The pince-nez in particular has its very own use case and helps customers to read a menu or a text message in a simple and quick manner.
Do you sell your products across other channels?
Martin: We are very successful in selling via airlines on board of their planes. At this point, our products are listed with Austrian Airlines, Lufthansa and Swiss Airlines and we are looking to expand this side of the business in the future.
In 2017, you added another product to your portfolio with EYESHAKER. How did that idea come about?
Andreas: We noticed that there was great demand in the cleaning segment. Our approach was to launch a cool gadget that meets all user needs: the EYESHAKER.
Who are the users?
Andreas: The EYESHAKER is ideal for everyone who wears glasses, whether they are sunglasses or RX-models. Our vision is to put an EYESHAKER in every household and every office.
And? Is the vision becoming reality?
Martin: The demand is constantly increasing. The EYESHAKER has been getting a great response, since it’s an easy way to clean your entire frame in a quick and simple manner. And it also looks cool on top of that.
The product is also perfectly suited towards collaborations.
Andreas: Yes, in April we started a collaboration with Mini Austria. And we want to expand collaborations in the future, but only with brands that are the right fit for us.
You also have products beyond Seeoo and Eyeshaker under the LASNIK brand name. Among other things, you have designed a special jacket for opticians. What was the reason?
Martin: We consider glasses as an accessory that can be worn with pride. That’s why we have created a jacket that allows for wearing your glasses in a visible manner on your body at all times.
So it’s only for opticians?
Martin: Of course not. We are currently considering ways to make the jacket more famous, but we are taking it step by step. We still have a few other projects in the works.
Do you have any examples?
Andreas: In August, we launched our collaboration with David Alaba, which we are really excited about.
A pair of glasses?
Andreas: Of course.
What else can we expect from you in the future?
Gerald: We want to keep letting our fashion ideas roam free in the future. We already started by launching our first jacket collection.
But fashion is also an entirely different business that you need to know how to navigate.
Martin: Fashion will surely never become our main business, but we find it exciting and have a good network.
That sounds rather unusual.
Andreas: Yes, but as an active pro footballer I was invited to fashion shows by Dolce & Gabbana and have maintained that connection over the years. We have been invited to several shows this years and know each other well.
Sounds like you have a lot to look forward to. Best of luck.
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