published Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

Chattanooga distributor bets on Duck Dynasty sunglasses in trip to Vegas trade show

Platinum Eyewear President Ron Bryan poses for a portrait Monday at the company's offices in Ringgold. Platinum eyewear is a distributor for "Duck Dynasty" eyewear.
Platinum Eyewear President Ron Bryan poses for a portrait Monday at the company's offices in Ringgold. Platinum eyewear is a distributor for "Duck Dynasty" eyewear.
Photo by Doug Strickland.

COMPANY AT A GLANCE

• Name: Platinum Eyewear LLC

• Location: A 10,000-squre-foot warehouse off Roadway Drive in Ringgold, Ga.

• Started: March 2013

• Owners: Brandon Born, Matt Hamilton, Ron Bryan

• Product lines: Sunglasses and related merchandise sold under the Duck Dynasty, Duck Commander, Buck Commander, RealTree, and Platinum brands

A year after starting their sun glass distribution business, the three Chattanooga owners of Platinum Eyewear are headed to Las Vegas this weekend for what they hope will be the talk of the town — or at least the buzz at one of the world's biggest consumer-goods trade shows for wholesalers of most anything people wear.

Brandon Born, Matt Hamilton and Ron Bryan are headed to the bi-annual ASD (Associated Surplus Dealers) convention to promote a new line of sunglasses from the popular A&E television show, Duck Dynasty.

"It's the hottest brand in America right now so we're expecting great things," Born said Monday from the Ringgold, Ga., warehouse where Platinum Eyewear recently began shipping its Duck Dynasty sunglasses to buyers around the country.

The trio won the competition last fall from the licensors for A&E to be the exclusive wholesaler of sunglasses bearing the popular Duck Dynasty and related Duck Commander and Buck Commander brands. Platinum Eyewear, which takes its name from the mortgage finance company Platinum Financial that Born and Hamilton started in 2008, is already selling tens of thousands of the Duck Dynasty sunglasses. The eyewear is marketed to more than 1,500 retailers and through its Internet site, www.platinumeyewear.com.

But as they travel later this week to the gambling capital of the world, the Platinum Eyewear owners are betting on far more. Even before they arrive in Las Vegas, the trio acknowledged Monday they have already laid down their bets on the new eyeglass line.

Because the Platinum sun glasses are made in China as are most sun glasses sold in America, company president Ron Bryan said Platinum had to place orders from its Chinese producer last December to ensure the eye wear was produced and shipped to the U.S. in time for the busy summer season ahead.

"We geared up for what we think will be a lot of success," Bryan said.

The bayou-based Robertson clan have successfully turned their duck calls and camouflage brands into a nearly half billion-dollar sales empire. With their stars-and-stripes bandanas and long beards, the Robertson family attracted 11.8 million viewers to the season premiere of their reality-based show on the A&E network last August -- the highest-rated cable TV show ever. The popular show has propelled sales of camo merchandise bearing the Duck Dynasty colors and logos.

Duck Dynasty is only two years old, but it was able to rack in $400 million of merchandise sales in 2013, according to estimates from Forbes magazine.

For all the early success of Duck Dynasty, it's not necessarily been an easy hunt for the developers of the Duck Dynasty sun glass line, however.

Only a week after Platinum Eyewear signed a major production order for the Duck Dynasty sunglasses to be made in China, A&E decided to put the family patriarch of the show, Phil Robertson, on hiatus from Duck Dynasty because of critical comments he made about gay people.

Robertson said in an interview with GQ magazine that homosexuality is a "sin," compared it to bestiality and grouped homosexuals with terrorists.

Robertson never apologized for his comments, although he said later he loves all people and that "sexual sins are numerous and many -- I have a few myself."

Under pressure from its devoted fans, A&E ultimately backed down and allowed the senior Robertson back on the show this year.

"For a few days, I wasn't sure we were going to have much of a Christmas," Born quipped.

Even once the controversy settled down a bit, sun glass sales and shipments were hurt in January and February by the coldest winter in the Eastern half of the United States in nearly three decades.

But as summer approaches and Platinum prepares to show off is newest line next week in Vegas, Bryan seems supremely confident.

"We're spending five times more at this year's show than we did last year, but I really think we can generate a lot of buzz and get a lot of orders," he said.

Bryan worked as a sun glass wholesaler and retailer for nearly 15 years before convincing Born and Hamilton to join him in the distribution business last year.

The Duck Dynasty idea was brought to the Platinum owners last spring and the trio immediately seized on the opportunity. Nearly two thirds of the sunglasses being sold by Platinum now are Duck Dynasty and related brands and, if all proves as expected, that share should go up even more as the company prepares to sell millions of the Duck Dynasty brand glasses over its 2-year license term.

The company has already moved from a 4,000-square-foot warehouse to a 10,000-square-foot facility just off of Cloud Springs Road in Ringgold.

"We're ready to be even busier," Bryan said.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340.

about Dave Flessner...

Dave Flessner is the business editor for the Times Free Press. A journalist for 35 years, Dave has been business editor and projects editor for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, city editor for The Chattanooga Times, business and county reporter for the Chattanooga Times, correspondent for the Lansing State Journal and Ingham County News in Michigan, staff writer for the Hastings Daily Tribune in Nebraska, and news director for WCBN-FM in Michigan. Dave, a native ...

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