by Joe Henry | August 29, 2016

When you think of sunglasses in incentive merchandise, you're likely thinking of Maui Jim. That makes sense to an extent. About 15 years ago the brand pioneered onsite gifting booths offering a selection of styles, making the gift into an experience that can be shared as attendees help each other choose a style and have it fit to their face on the spot by trained staffers.

"They were the leaders and the early adopters and do a fantastic job at quality," said Mike May, president of Spear One.

But lest you think it's Maui Jim or bust, other sunglass brands are coming into play. Consider the ever-popular Ray-Ban, owned by Luxottica. While the sunglasses made famous by Tom Cruise's "Risky Business" have a large slice of consumer mindshare, the brand is considered higher end and has recently begun working more vigorously with incentive merchandisers, said Nichole Gunn, director of marketing and creative services at Incentive Solutions.

May agrees that Maui Jim is the top seller and Ray-Ban is number two -- but he thinks both can lay claim to the luxury market. "[Redeemers] may not go to Sunglass Hut and spend $200, but they want a new pair of high-end sunglasses and will splurge if they have enough points," he said.

That seems to be the mentality behind most sunglass redemptions: If people redeem for sunglasses, they want a luxury product. And the fastest growing brand is Costa Del Mar, said Patrick Corley, VP of marketing at Incentive Concepts.

Kara Hoover, program manager at Spear One, agrees. "Costa is up-and-coming with the younger age demographic living active lifestyles," she said. Popularized by boating, its big selling point is that it's water repellant, and wearers don't have to worry about fogging or sunspot glare on reflective surfaces (such as the water).

Of course, that leaves Oakley, which markets itself as activewear, and while some merchandisers say it remains modestly popular, Hoover thinks it's flagging in the race. (Like Ray-Ban, Oakley is owned by Luxottica.)

"I don't hear of Oakley as much especially with the onsite gifting experiences," she said. "I think Oakley has moved behind Maui Jim and Costa at this point."

While redeemers certainly want their style points, functionality is also key -- as seen by Costa's sudden popularity. Corley, for instance, noted growing interest in Serengeti and Bolle, both owned by the Bushnell Corporation.

"They have proprietary coating and capabilities no other sunglass company has," Corley claimed. "And coatings that make them anti-fog and glare."

As Corley points out, because Luxottica owns Sunglass Hut, it also owns a great deal of retail distribution. So incentive merchandisers get to work with brands that are just as good -- if not better -- than those they see on the retail racks.