It was 11 years ago when Troy Scott introduced Shady Characters Sunglass Emporium to a barrier island off the Florida coast. With co-owners Tony Walker and Travis Scott, they’ve since added a second location down the beach and established an online presence with opticflare.com. Today, the trio’s entrepreneurial spirit still runs strong in what is essentially a family-run operation. Troy handles the buying, his brother Travis oversees training and merchandising (assisted by Tony’s brother, Rob), and Tony manages the back end of the business, including the Web site he designed.
Sunglasses: You’ve been in Cocoa Beach for 11 years and Indialantic for eight. How did you get started in the sunwear business?
Tony Walker: It all started about 13 years ago with Travis trekking the beaches with a backpack full of $5 to $10 sunglasses. His older brother, Troy, saw the demand and began thinking maybe a brick ‘n’ mortar operation was in order. At the time, surf shops were the only game in town for sunglasses, and selection was limited. We started with surf and skate because of our location and because we all did these things ourselves. It’s our lifestyle. We’re locals, good friends who grew up around 500 yards of white sand beaches.
SG: Who do you consider the competition? How does Shady Characters differ?
TW: Outdoor outfitters, surf shops, and boutiques are in the area, but we provide the most knowledgeable service. When customers come in, we give them a little clinic on sunglasses. We know our in-ventory inside out and focus on customer service details. Our loyal customer base includes entire families whose kids keep coming back after they get out of college. They know we have a mental filing system that goes back years. We have fun and our enthusiasm affects the customers.
SG: How are the stores set up? What kind of displays do you use?
TW: Indialantic is our headquarters for both online and retail operations. Cocoa Beach is smaller and retail only. Both stores are a fusion of metal, steel, and a little bit of wood—sort of industrial-looking boutiques. When you walk in, you know you’re in the performance area. Surf towers are provided by vendors. We have one corner devoted to designer brands, for which we custom-designed metal towers and counters. I gave myself a crash course on a CAD-like (computer-aided design) program to do the designs, and we worked with a friend who does steel fabrication.
SG: Who is your typical customer?
TW: At the Cocoa Beach store, we get tourists and day visitors from Orlando, but otherwise mostly locals. The Indialantic location is almost all locals. We carry three genres at both stores. Action sports is mostly surf and skate, with people aged 18 to mid-30s. Golfers and anglers lean toward performance, are more affluent, and range across the board from ages 20 to 60. Designer brands can run up to $800, which means a more affluent customer.
SG: You have a small sales staff. How do you train them on brands, frames, lens technology, etc?
TW: We each have clearly defined roles, but everyone dips into other responsibilities when necessary. First, Troy is an exceptional buyer. He can tell what’s coming months ahead of time on trends. Then we all look at the spring lineup and vote on which ones we think will be sellers. We personally train our staff, have some fun with role-playing. We’re serious about sales and train our staff to know every last detail of the product.