How Shady Rays leaned on their community to help shape their mission and commit to a meaningful cause.
Losing or breaking a pair of nice sunglasses is one of those “I won’t make that mistake again” moments that probably makes you think twice about buying another expensive or high-quality pair.
When Chris Ratterman founded Shady Rays, he knew this feeling all too well. So he aimed to fix the “lifetime of regret after losing a nice pair of sunglasses” problem with a simple yet groundbreaking promise: if you lost or broke a pair of premium Shady Rays sunglasses, he’d replace them. This is encapsulated in the company’s bold and singular tagline: “Live hard. We got you.”
This is an incredibly rare business model on its own. But add in the fact that Shady Rays is also a purpose-driven company—partnering with Feeding America to donate 10 meals with every purchase made—and a unique ethos emerges.
Brooke Burdge, our SVP of Brand Marketing, and Ratterman get into what makes Shady Rays such an impressive brand: from the uncommon brand promise to the impactful, purpose-driven engine that lets the company give back with every sale made.
Keep reading to get the highlights, or listen to their full conversation here.
How Shady Rays’ customers shape the brand journey
Since day one, Ratterman has taken a nontraditional approach to gathering intel. When he first considered breaking into the sunglasses industry, he didn’t turn to market research, focus groups, or trend reports to figure out his approach. He logged onto Twitter.
As he tells it, “I was looking at the negative connotations of sunglasses, and what people were talking about. The number one thing I found was that people lose or break them all the time, and it's especially bad when they pay so much money for them.”
From that simple yet untapped finding, the Shady Rays brand promise was born. “Our goal is to make the same quality sunglasses as the high-end brands, but back them up, no matter what happens—even if you lose [a pair] on day one,” says Ratterman.
The second part of their mission is just as important: to give back by fighting hunger in America with every pair of sunglasses sold. For this purpose-driven aspect of the brand promise, Ratterman once again went directly to the target market for ideas.
“Initially, we didn’t have the idea to work with Feeding America,” he said. “When we started to sell to a small number of customers, we reached out to them on social media and said, ‘Here are some things we're thinking about. What types of causes are you passionate about?’” The crowd-sourced answer was clear: “Meals and fighting hunger was something that really resonated with people across the country.”
It’s refreshing to see such a simple yet impactful approach to customer research. As Ratterman explains, “We didn’t want to settle for being a company that just sells sunglasses. We wanted to make a difference with each purchase. Through research and talking directly to our fans, we found the cause that gives purpose to our work.” Even after 10 years, this approach remains unparalleled.
How evolution feeds the company’s ethos
While today, Ratterman describes Shady Rays as a “premium outdoor adventure lifestyle brand,” he’ll be the first to admit that the company looks very different from when they first launched, “from product to process to selection to branding.”
In the early days, as he explains, the company mainly sold lifestyle sunglasses. It was once again through soliciting and integrating customer feedback that the company gradually widened their product offering to include sports sunglasses for active and outdoorsy people.
“It’s that real-time pulse on what our customers want that has helped us evolve,” added Ratterman. “Everybody is so close to what the customer is saying about our products that it’s always top of mind.”
Over time, asking customers what they wanted—from style, to color—and adjusting their offerings to fit that need brought the company to where they are today, in a way that’s allowed them to stay true to their core purpose.
Tip: Gathering aggregate customer feedback is a great way to improve the shopping journey and grow your brand. Take that a step further by collecting preferences and behaviors from individual customers to create more personalized experiences.
For example, gather first-party data on your website (e.g. products a customer has browsed or purchased). Collect zero-party data through surveys, forms, quizzes, text messaging responses, and more. Then, use this information to tailor your marketing campaigns for each shopper.
The heart and soul of Shady Rays’ business
Ask any founder what “brand” means to them, and you’ll get a different answer every time. For Ratterman, “the brand is the heart and soul of a product and service. It’s what the product or service believes. And even more than that, it’s the team that surrounds the product and service, and what they believe.”
That includes all aspects of the company, from product offerings and team to their look, feel, and customer service policies. “It’s a living and breathing thing,” added Ratterman, “and that’s really what it comes down to.”
It’s clear from Shady Rays’ evolution over the years that they’ve only gotten better at delivering on their promise of providing a quality, risk-free product to customers, while also making an impactful social difference.
“Live hard. We got you.” means that Shady Rays’ customers can go out and do whatever they want without worrying—whether that’s rock climbing, wakeboarding, or even just being outdoors with family. That’s the heart of the business. The soul is their social impact: the promise to keep giving back to communities across the globe.
Want to learn more about building a brand consumers want to rally behind? Listen to Burdge’s interview with Dear Brightly Co-Founder and CEO Amy Chiu, and read her blog post on what it takes to build a purpose-driven brand—and why that effort is worth it.