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Oakley Sunglasses Founder Used Barter To Get Started

In 1979, when he was 30, Californian James Jannard designed his first protective eyewear. It was a high-impact part goggles, part sunglasses product for skiers and bicyclists.

Demand for the hybrid goggles/sunglasses got a huge boost in the summers of 1985 and 1986, when Greg LeMond wore a pair on his way to becoming the first American ever to win the Tour de France bicycle race.

But what lifted Oakley sunglasses from being a specialty product to becoming a mass-market smash was Jannard’s use of barter. He and his salesmen provided many pairs to top athletes during the late ‘80s and early ‘90s.

At a golf tournament Oakley glasses were put in the hands of a young basketball player—Michael Jordan. The Chicago Bulls star later struck a deal before Oakley went public, wherein Jordan would receive stock for his endorsement.

Businessman/celebrity Philip Knight of Nike was rarely photographed without his Oakley sunglasses. Tennis star Andre Agassi charged his friend nothing for wearing Oakleys. And baseball star Cal Ripken, Jr., garnered Oakley reams of notoriety by being seen in its distinctive-looking shades.

As he understood barter and promotion, so did Jannard grasp the principles of smart marketing. He sold mainly through specialty shops and deliberately limited the number of outlets that could sell his gear.

When he took Oakley public in 1995, Jannard and his chief lieutenant Michael Parnell took out $154 million in cash...and they still held 72% of the company’s stock.