For OpticsPlanet, one of the country’s largest specialty online retailers, clear vision comes from a daring blend of technology and great people.
From Vortex Optics to Bushnell, Nikon, RayBan, and Flir, OpticsPlanet is home to the most respected brands in sport optics, shooting accessories, tactical gear, and eyewear, as well as microscopes, telescopes, photography equipment, outdoor apparel, and more.
Founded in 2000, OpticsPlanet entered online retailing at precisely the time when the concept was taking root and taking off.
“We initially started selling microscopes, telescopes, and other basic optical products, and as we partnered with more manufacturers, they gave us access to other product lines that they carry. For example, Zeiss, a major optical lens manufacturer, has a large microscope line and also sells sport optics like binoculars, spotting scopes, and rifle scopes. That's how we initially got into the space that we currently serve, which is the greater outdoors of sport shooting, hunting, military/law enforcement, and tactical,” explained Alex Royzen, Director of Supply Chain Management for OpticsPlanet’s parent company, Ecentria.
“We are purveyors of gear for customers that are passionate and enthusiastic, whether it's their hobby or their profession. At OpticsPlanet, we serve professionals and those we like to call heroes: police officers, firefighters, active military, veterans, and people who use our products for their profession whether they're active or retired,” he continued.
“Our customers are very passionate about their hobbies and lifestyles and their personal choices about how they spend their free time. For example, hunting is very much a lifestyle for people who have a passion for it. They don't look at hunting as just a fun thing to do on weekends; they consider it to be part of who they are. It’s something they identify as.”
Royzen pointed to the popularity of sports shooting as one of the country’s fastest growing hobbies. “These customers enjoy the thrill of precision shooting, long range shooting, and competition. … One of our goals of the company is to offer our customers choices within their lifestyle that make sense for them. It makes sense to be one central destination for all the things they need for their lifestyle.”
OpticsPlanet, along with CampSaver, Rockpoint Logistics, and USIQ is owned by Ecentria Group, a company whose mission is, “To be the Purveyor of Gear to those who play, work, and serve with passion.” Ecentria pushes this overall mission with each of its firms and drives it home in all aspects of its business. As you might expect, the companies in Ecentria’s portfolio are widely diverse, from retailers offering niche boutiques to industry-specific marketing solutions and business software platforms.
CampSaver, LLC, a sister company to OpticsPlanet, is one of the nation’s largest online retailers specializing in camping and outdoor recreation products. 3PL provider Rockpoint Logistics, based in Aurora, Ill., serves as a shared warehousing and logistics system and a distribution center for both CampSaver and OpticsPlanet in addition to other clients in their system.
The brands beneath the corporate umbrella share a business ecosystem that supports their continued growth. “We all work from the same platforms, including our order management systems, our websites, and content management, so we can benefit from the knowledge and expertise of the people in each company to help grow and expand all of our companies,” he said.
That approach strengthens the entire business. “When we acquired CampSaver, we were able to take the history of OpticsPlanet and everything we've learned in e-commerce, all of the advancements that we've made, and transfer those to CampSaver to improve their business,” he stressed. “Because we all run on the same systems we can ship from one warehouse to another, we can fill orders from any warehouse we need to.
“The biggest benefit of Ecentria is that you have qualified people who can help in different areas. I personally manage employees at both CampSaver and OpticsPlanet as Director of Supply Chain. I also act as a liaison to our USIQ team to help them maximize their presence on our websites, and we all work very closely with our distribution center in terms of receiving and shipping.”
This year, the firm launched USIQ, a marketing and sales support organization for specialty sporting goods sellers, which, according to the website, “offers a full service go-to-market solution backed by decades of industry data, experienced leadership, and logistical skill.”
Royzen describes the effort as “(A) master distributor in the US for quite a few brands that have never really gone to market into the retail space before, or international brands that want to increase their presence in the US market. It's a really interesting business model for the parent company.”
Serving Lovers of the Great Big Outdoors
OpticsPlanet is designed for shoppers seeking highly specific products, and as such, features 1.5 million SKUs over 500 product categories, with a staggering 300,000 unique SKUs in stock.
“In online retail, the biggest key to converting sales, outside of price, is having that product in stock and ready to go for the customer. Our business model for OpticsPlanet is extremely different from every other online retailer in that whenever we carry a category or a brand, or add a supplier, we add their full line of products to our website.”
Rather than just cherry-picking bestsellers, the company also finds significant value in offering rarities. “If our forecasting system predicts that a product is going to have a sale in the next 90 days, we will bring it into stock. If we know a product is regularly selling because of popularity, or price, or a promotion, we're always looking to keep at least 45 days of supply of that product on our shelves,” Royzen said. Historical data and predictive analytics determine cycle times and product availability. “We’re able to tell our customers that you can't get (the product you want) anywhere else, but we can get it for you, and the time it will take for the supplier to get you this very specific product. Communication is key to good customer experience.”
Royzen estimated that 70 percent of the brand’s business comes from repeat customers. “The only company that has a higher repeat customer percentage than we do is Amazon,” he said. “When we get a customer and they have an unbeatable experience, they shop with us, come back to us first, and buy from us again. It's an incredible point of leverage that we have.”
Of course, the company’s culture is a vital linchpin in the company’s stability. “The people in this company are genuinely nice and genuinely caring with each other,” Royzen admitted. “People don't leave their jobs, they leave managers and they leave companies because the culture doesn't suit them. We have a really talented group of managers here. Many of whom have been here for a long time, and are true subject matter experts in all aspects of the business; they are very good at guiding and mentoring younger employees and growing them into contributing individuals.”
The foresight to build a scalable, flexible set of in-house systems to manage everything from workflows to omnichannel distribution put Ecentria solidly on the path to online retail dominance.
“Because of our size, our search engine optimization, pay-per-click strategy, website — all those different things — we draw in a massive audience. We have 60 million unique visitors per year. In many cases that’s bigger than our competitors that have brick-and-mortar stores, and may have more well-known names or are more recognizable household names then we have,” he pointed out. “Almost everything we do is in-house, which is pretty incredible. Forecasting, email campaigns, graphic design, all of our marketing, everything is done in-house. We built this ecosystem internally and it has created a machine where we can pretty much put anything in and get results at the other end. That's pretty crazy,” he chuckled.
“Half of our company is software development,” he added. “There are drawbacks to doing that, but the amount of data we have access to is staggering and the visibility into that data is fantastic.”
Customer education is central for their success as well. An online series of blogs and tutorials provide guidance that is augmented and enriched by direct customer service, which is a necessity for retailers offering the kinds of complex, highly specific products that are an OpticsPlanet differentiator. Their U.S.-based call center representatives are subject matter specialists, able to offer insightful answers that require knowledge and the human touch. It’s part of the “unbeatable customer experience” promised by OpticsPlanet.
That experience extends to the relationships built in their supplier ecosystem, as well. Dedicated relationship managers keep personal connections cultivated, while data analysts provide the hard facts to keep purchasing decisions numbers-based and balanced.
“OpticsPlanet is more unique than a lot of other companies out there,” Royzen proclaimed. “It's a core mantra of this company to keep moving forward, keep improving. Everyone here is always looking to improve efficiency, the bottom line, and improve their day-to-day experience. We measure, analyze, and act. It's something we encourage more than I feel like a lot of other companies do.”
Founded in 2000, OpticsPlanet, Inc. is the leading online destination for technical and high-performance gear. The company caters to enthusiasts and professionals, to those who are passionate about their jobs, serious about their recreation, and devoted to their service to others. To them OpticsPlanet offers the broadest selection of quality products — over 1.5 million items from over 4,000 brands in 300 niche specialty categories — great prices, unrivaled customer service, and an incredibly knowledgeable team. They call it "value proposition" in business schools; OpticsPlanet just calls it "common sense."
The OpticsPlanet team is over 300 people strong located only miles from Chicago, IL. Its state-of-the-art campus houses everyone from rank and file employees to top brass, and even a group of well-outfitted display mannequins.
Inc. Magazine has consistently recognized OpticsPlanet as one of the fastest growing companies in the United States. Internet Retailer Magazine named it 182nd largest online retailer and No. 6 in the Sporting Goods category. The Better Business Bureau rates it as A+.