Peter Drucker is often quoted saying that "the purpose of business is to get customers." That thinking has evolved slightly. Today, the purpose of business it to get customers that get you even more customers. Loyalty is still important, but loyalty by itself does not grow your business. What does grow your business is a group of raving fans who can't help but brag about how great your business is and incredible your products are.

Enter ROKA. You're forgiven if you've never heard of this brand. Unless you are a passionate triathlete, the significant breakthroughs they've made in wetsuits, goggles, and technical apparel in the last few years probably are not on your radar. But ask your more athletically inclined colleagues and you may find that they can't stop talking about all of the performance enhancements ROKA has made to their gear.

And that's exactly how iconic multi-billion dollar brands begin. Nike got its start with a better running shoe "waffle sole" tread for a track team in Oregon. Under Armour began with a better wicking baselayer for football practice. Even Oakley, often credited for building the multi-billion dollar performance sports sunglasses market, didn't even start out in optics; they actually began as a small company making better grips for BMX bikes.

There Is Always a Market For Better

If you've spent any time with ROKA, you'll understand they too are building something special. I had the opportunity to speak with ROKA CEO and Co-founder, Rob Canales, and he shared some of his insights about what's working for ROKA.

Canales explained, "ROKA began as a hobby project in my garage in Austin, Texas after my co-founder and I signed up for a Half Ironman triathlon on a dare in 2010. As former competitive swimmers, we had high expectations when we paid several hundred dollars for fancy wetsuits for the race, but were frustrated by what we felt were design compromises that slowed us down and made us uncomfortable. After the race, we set out to make a better suit for ourselves, and a few years later that hobby project ultimately became ROKA. At launch, many cautioned us that the wetsuit market was crowded and some asked how we could possibly compete with established brands. Our response was pretty simple: we believe there is always a market for better, and that the competition for customer attention and loyalty resets every day."

Fast forward five years from launch, ROKA has established itself as the most innovative brand in its space, secured over a dozen patents internationally and won numerous industry and design awards. Now it's taking on the multi-billion market of eyewear. Canales added, "with products like performance sunglasses, we now operate in much more competitive markets, but the principles hold true. There is always a market for better, and when you can pair that with amazing customer service, which we aspire to do daily, then you've got a winning formula. So this is what we focus on."

Performance is Personal

For ROKA, engaging with their customers goes hand in hand with making great products. One can't happen without the other. In a recent Forbes interview, Canales explained that, "We started ROKA as a direct to consumer brand, by athletes for athletes, and have been rewarded for our attention to customer experience with fanatical, loyal, repeat customers." And it makes sense, because whether you are someone training for an Ironman or someone who just wants to improve your fitness, your gear plays a significant role in your how you perform. "Performance is personal," says Canales. "That's why we place a tremendous amount of value on the immediate feedback we get from our customers. We learned early on, for example, that we needed more wet suit sizes because everyone's body is slightly different and slight differences can have a profound impact on performance. This was magnified with a product like a wetsuit, that is a rubber suit from neck to wrist to ankle. As a result, expanded our line from the usual 5-7 sizes to 9 sizes for men and 11 sizes for women. This has had a huge impact for our customers and has an ancillary benefit for our business with lower return rates."

Greatness is in the Details

"We believe that greatness is in the details," stresses Canales. "Year over year, that's where we continue to find opportunities to innovate. We put a lot of care and attention into the details of everything we do at ROKA, big and small." Spend any time with ROKA's customer Facebook posts or website posts and you'll quickly discover their reviews read like kids raving about their toys on Christmas Day. Even the packaging is something worthy of an Apple product. "We don't sell a commoditized product, so we want everything we do to reinforce our commitment to performance," Canales said.

Going Big

It's challenging to break out from a niche brand to one that is more mainstream. ROKA believes that it has found the answer in performance eyewear.

"Our growth was no accident," explains Canales. "In the case of eyewear, for example, we identified a market opportunity a few years ago with our first athlete, Ironman champion Jesse Thomas, who favors classic aviators for running over the more modern sci-fi inspired optics on the market. Jesse helped us understand that even pro athletes value style and aesthetics in performance eyewear. With that insight, we set off on a multi-year endeavor to bring performance to all categories of eyewear."

Over the past two years, ROKA has hired a team of world-class eyewear design engineers and recently opened an advanced R&D lab in Irvine, California. Canales said, "Sure our sunglasses are ultralight and look great, but the real magic happens when you wear them on a run." He went on to explain that every detail was thought through from how the sunglasses stay on your face while being active to the comfort of wearing them for a full length of a marathon. "If you're going to wear sunglasses for 3 to 4 hours while running, they better be the most comfortable and best pair of sunglasses you own," he said.

The result? Outside magazine recently awarded its 2017 Gear of the Year award to ROKA's PHANTOM and recognized this product as "the best pair of sunglasses on the planet."

And that is why ROKA is likely to become the next billion-dollar performance brand: its obsession with performance combined with fanatical customer service. Every little detail matters and even if your customers don't know why they are in love with your brand, they just can't say enough positive things about how awesome you are. This is the formula for massive success and one that ROKA has been experiencing since its inception.

Published on: Jul 18, 2017
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