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How this small-town eyewear startup is becoming a global player

Tech, innovation and smart business sense equals success for Loch glasses.

This past fall, brothers Dan and Tim Waggoner took their visionary Canadian eyewear across the pond to London Fashion Week.

Their company, Loch, was invited by the Canadian government to showcase its designs — eyeglasses crafted out of ‘500-year-old timber’ dredged from Georgian Bay — at Canada House in Trafalgar Square. Their spot on the trendiest of trade missions could help the four-year-old startup build an international client base.

Back home in Canada, Tim spoke to us from his Loch headquarters, where the view outside his window is absolutely nothing like Trafalgar Square. The fledgling global eyewear empire is based in Indian River, Ontario — a small community part of Otonabee-Monaghan Township (population 6,670, according to the 2016 census).

“It’s about 10 minutes east of Peterborough,” Tim clarified, putting things in perspective. “Sheep. We can see sheep,” he laughed. Sharing his business’ story that includes trawling for long lost logs, Tim explained how the company began turning those submerged natural relics into eyewear, surviving sibling rivalry, building a global business from a tiny town — and how technology makes it all possible.

Making a spectacle with Loch glasses

Loch glasses - Georgian Bay

Dan and Tim spent childhood summers with their grandparents in Honey Harbour on Georgian Bay. Today, divers plunge into the same waters to recover 500-year-old timbers swept to the bottom during the logging boom of the 1800s. (The ‘loch’ in their brand name is Scots Gaelic for ‘lake.’)

“You have to scuba down and then you hook the logs to balloons to bring them up onto a boat, clean them and kiln-dry them. We use roughly nine layers of (wooden) micro veneers that we press into a strong, lightweight, flexible product,” Tim explains.

The end product is a line of fashionable, eco-friendly frames available in various styles for both prescription lenses and sunglasses. Although they’re wood, the frames are heat adjustable (cue those micro veneer layers) and fitted with FDA approved, polycarbonate, anti-glare lenses from Japan.

Brothers in business

“We’re completely opposite personalities,” Tim confessed. As the managing partner, Tim (34) is all business, with a Bachelor of Commerce degree and two other startups under his belt. Chief designer Dan (30) comes from a visual arts background that includes video and graphic design.

“You pretty much want to kill each other half the time,” joked Tim. “It’s not like we’re having screaming fits all the time, but you really have to learn to communicate in a different way.”

In the end, family ties prevail. “For Dan and me, the biggest benefit of working together is trust and love. You just don’t have that with anyone else. We disagree. But we’re always going to choose our relationship over anything else.”

Those delicate family dynamics seem to be working for Loch. The company completed a successful Kickstarter campaign, was honoured to be named the 2017 Bears’ Lair Entrepreneurial grand prize winner at Peterborough and Kawarthas’ The Innovation Cluster, and won Most Disruptive Startup at Canada Post’s 2018 E-Commerce Innovation Awards.

Remote control

Loch glasses

As Loch grows, why keep the company in Indian River? “Probably because we’re hopeless romantics!” explained Tim. “Plus, it’s really not hard for a small business to take up doing business anywhere. You’ve got the Internet and you can pretty much ship (products) anywhere.”

The Waggoners are completely sold on Ottawa-based ecommerce platform Shopify. “With the number of apps available for it and the number of developers on it, you can augment Shopify and update it as your business grows,” Tim said. “We can just change it a little bit instead of hiring someone to do custom coding.”

Loch also uses Shopify’s smartphone plug-in dongle to accept credit card payments at trade shows and pop-up shop events. For website analytics, the brothers tap into tools like Hotjar. For virtual communication, the duo relies on various apps.

“WhatsApp is great to have a sort of running thread, and you can keep that and use it for reviewing notes. We’ve used Google Hangouts when we’re doing work with investors or partners because having face-to-face communication is still important. We’ve used Skype as well, of course.”

With digital tech allowing them to grow their company from Indian River, Tim reckons Loch will stay there for the foreseeable future. “I don’t know how long it’ll be good for us logistically and financially,” he said.  “But be where you like to be, and where you’re happy. We really like where we are.”

 

Up Next: What happens when a small business goes digital?

Christine Wong

Christine Wong is a journalist based in Toronto who has covered a wide range of startups and technology issues. A former staff writer with ITBusiness.ca, she has also worked as a reporter for the Canadian Economic Press and in broadcast roles at SliceTV and the CBC.

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