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For Four Eyes Only

Retro shades, 3-D lollipops
January 1, 1999
URL: http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/17052

Russell Campbell turned a lifelong passion for vintage eyewear into a business--literally overnight. In 1984, while searching for the right career, the then-20-year-old awakened as usual at 2 a.m. to write down his dreams. This time, he penned that an old man handed him a pair of sunglasses and said, "Here, you can have these old focals."

"I don't know what Freud would say about it," Campbell says, but after discussing the dream with his family the next day, he quickly moved forward with his entrepreneurial vision. After a thorough search of local thrift shops and garage sales, he turned up a couple dozen retro frames and fitted them with new lenses. With his sights on success, Campbell bravely peddled his reconditioned products at shops in the toniest parts of L.A. (including Santa Monica and Beverly Hills' Rodeo Drive).

Today, his Pasadena, California, company, Old Focals, has caught the eye of a sizzling niche market: Hollywood, whose prop departments frequently call on Campbell's research expertise when it's time to outfit actors with era-appropriate eyewear. "Movies found me," says Campbell, who relies solely on word-of-mouth advertising. His limited-edition styles appear in such films as "Tucker," "JFK," the "Batman" film series and "Mod Squad." Every pair of glasses he supplies for movies also comes with three backup pairs, in case of breakage.

With an ever-growing warehouse inventory of tens of thousands of styles, Campbell's successful business even provides frames for TV commercials and music videos, and hopes to expand sales through Old Focals' Web site. Campbell recently opened a retail location in trendy Old Town Pasadena, where 18- to 24-year olds flock for vintage and reproduction styles at prices ranging from $25 to $200.

In keeping with his passion for spectacles, Campbell regularly sponsors overseas visual aid trips, donating medical supplies, equipment and transportation. And when it comes to achievement in the business, he admits that sometimes his eyes are bigger than his stomach: "Every now and then I bite off more than I think I can chew [think 400 pairs of eyeglasses for `That Thing You Do']," Campbell says. "Being able to swallow it is success."

Pop Culture

It's a lollipop . . . it's a hologram . . . it's both. "I was studying the combination of art and science and had this strange idea to see what would happen if I combined holography with food processing," explains MIT alumnus Eric Begleiter, 30. Joined by friends Paul Graham, 28, and Michael Wodke, 38, who'd recently left their jobs at M&M Mars, he launched LightVision Confections. The company's holographic lollipops feature a variety of laser-etched images, including a line based on the TV show "Star Trek: The Next Generation."

Thanks to trade shows, the trio has garnered the attention of distributors by marketing their confections as corporate promotions. Customized candies with corporate logos now account for about half of LightVision's sales, and are particularly popular among companies that want to flaunt their own innovative images.

The candy got a big boost when TheNew York Times ordered a slew of lollipops to promote the paper's switch to color printing. Disney Co. and Marvel Comics signed up as clients soon after.

The product's draw? "Combining the illusion and fantasy of a hologram with the fun and playfulness of a piece of candy," says Begleiter. The novelty factor caught the attention of private investors and secured financial backing from the confections-industry veterans the trio sought out as advisors.

With 1998 sales for the Cincinnati company estimated at a sweet $600,000, the partners know they're on the right track. "We've been noticing so much millennium stuff," Begleiter notes, "but our Christmas [lollipops] have a Victorian, classic feel to them." That's because the seasonal suckers have old-fashioned images etched onto them via the company's high-tech holographic process. "While everyone else is going one way, we're looking to go off in another, unique direction."

Contact Sources

LightVision Confections LLC, (513) 469-0330, http://www.lightvision.com

Old Focals, (626) 793-7073, http://www.oldfocals.com