By Chris Meehan | Mar 08, 2015
Eyewear retainers, smartphone accessories
Employees: more than 60
An eyewear accessories company since day one, Chums is moving beyond eyewear retainers and into sunscreen and smartphone cases.
"Our motto is 'Chums, Helping you Hang On Since 1983," says Tom Ferries, co-owner of Chums and head of marketing for the company.
While the company is well-known for its iconic eyewear retainers, it's applying the motto as it moves into new product categories like cases for tablets, phones and other devices. "We help you hang on to your things," says Ferries. "By coming out with accessory cases, it helps us get in and talk to the buyers we have relationships with who we sell other accessories to."
Ferries and his family purchased the company from founder Mike Taggett in 2002. Taggett, a ski bum and river rat, invented the iconic eyewear retainer, the Cotton Chum, and it remains the top seller today. "Chums are our core product," Ferries says. "We've had our factory in Hurricane, Utah, for 32 years and we continue to produce 15,000 to 20,000 units out of that factory every single day."
The company manufactures the original Chums and other retainers in Utah. "We saw no reason to ship anything over to China," Ferries says. "It just gives us a lot more control and innovation. We have proprietary manufacturing machines and many of our people have been with us for over 20 years."
Acquired in 2007, Chums' sister company, Beyond Coastal Sun Care, also manufactures in domestically, in California. "We really saw a need in the outdoor market for a good, healthy sunscreen," Ferries says. "Beyond Coastal's motto is 'Born in the Surf, Raised in the Mountains.'"
Ferries says the plan with Beyond Coastal is to leverage Chums' 2,500-location retail network. "Sunscreen in the outdoor market is under-represented because, I believe, stores aren't merchandising correctly," he adds. "It needs to be something at the cashier stand and in impulse areas to hit people over the head and say, 'You need sunscreen.' It's really something people forget."
Eyewear retainers and sunscreen aren't the first thing people think about when they go to an outdoor store -- Chums' target market. Similarly, buyers at stores aren't necessarily thinking first and foremost about ordering Chums' products. That's despite the 55 to 60 percent retail margin. Because of this, says Ferries, "It's up to Chums to follow up and make sure displays are full."
"What really has helped us increase sales is our merchandising," he adds. "In 2008, during the economic downturn, we saw our sales increase because the buyers at the stores really saw the value of selling accessories and by placing a Chums tower display in strategic locations throughout the store."
It's led to strong year-over-year growth. "That's all the work we put in during the recession and the relationships we've built and the customer service we provided," Ferries says.
[Read about other Utah manufacturers here in the CompanyWeek Utah archive.]
Th Chums strategy is built around making sure its reps have multiple things to offer to stores. That's part of the reason it bought Beyond Coastal and why it started moving into accessory bags in 2014.
"What we're trying to do is grow a global brand," says Ferries. One way we're doing that is through product development. That's how you grow -- you get more customers and get more product to your current customers. We need to always continue with our product development."
Challenges: "The challenges are day-in, day-out: getting product out the door, making sure things are done on time, getting more customers, trying to manage our rep groups, marketing on a shoestring budget, and just getting out there and plugging away," Ferries says.
Opportunities: Sunscreen and other new product categories. "Beyond Coastal is a major opportunity," Ferries says. Brand extension involves "growing the business into more of a lifestyle company with other products."
Needs: Space. "Some of our future needs are going to be larger facilities," Ferries explains. "That's always a tricky endeavor. It would be nice to work the state of Utah to see if there are any opportunities from them for our growing needs."