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Making it Big in the Sunglass Business

Rico
Source: Fatheadz
Rico

It might not have been a huge problem for most people, but Rico Elmore had left his sunglasses at home. So, the 6-foot, 3-inch, 300 pound Elmore walked into a Las Vegas shop to buy a replacement pair.

After squeezing nearly 50 different pairs onto his head, he didn't walk into the desert with a new pair of sunglasses. But he did walk out with an idea for a business.

“I couldn’t be the only one in the world with a fat head,” he says.

That revelation prompted him to launch Fatheadz, an eyewear firm which caters to people with wide heads.

After 15 years in the auto sales business, Elmore turned in his car keys and tapped his savings. There were naysayers all the way, he says, but he never doubted his idea would be big.

“Imagine you were a size 6 foot and you had to wear a size 4 shoe all your life. It probably would hurt and look a little goofy. The same is true for sunglasses," he says. "If you need eyewear that's bigger, we've got it.”

Elmore hit it, er, big, even before Fatheadz struck a deal with Wal-Mart in 2010. Some of Fatheadz’ most notable customers include Darrell the Gambler of A&E’s "Storage Wars," bodyguard Big Black and "American Pickers’ " Frank Fritz, he says. And today the eyewear entrepreneur is selling to women, too.

“We make eyewear for all shapes and sizes,” he says. “In our eyewear, we have wide, wider and widest.” We spoke to Elmore to find out how he made it big in the world of eyewear.

Where did the idea come from?

Have you seen any pictures of me? My enormously large head? I could never find eyewear to fit. I was on my honeymoon in Vegas. I had a pair of glasses that somewhat fit and I had forgotten them in Indiana. I went into one of the stores at the Forum Shop. They had 200 to 300 pairs of glasses, and nothing fit. After I walked out, I said, ‘I can’t be the only one in the world with a fat head.” I decided then that I would create a company called Fatheadz, where we would make glasses for people with fat heads.

Where did the funding first come from?

My right pocket. It was all self-funded from the get-go. Somewhere around $150,000.

Who was your first customer?

"The Don" eyewear by Fatheadz
Source: Fatheadz
"The Don" eyewear by Fatheadz

We were getting ready to ship [our first online] order, in November 2007. I called [the person who placed the order] and said, 'I just wanted to thank you and ask how you heard about us.' He said he had stumbled upon us when he was trying to go to a site called fathead.com. We started talking, and I found out that our first online customer was Lincoln Kennedy, a pro football player [who played for the Oakland Raiders and the Atlanta Falcons]. We became friends and still are to this day.

When did you know the company would be a success?

I had never doubted that it would be a success. I'm a very positive person in general. But it took a long time to show that it would be a success. It wasn’t that we went in to Wal-Mart and they bought everything we had the first day. It took quite a while to build the brand. We tested the product prior to going all out. And today, we have new retailers that sign everyday with us. It makes it very rewarding.

What’s next?

One of our main goals is to bring a large portion of our manufacturing back into the United States. Everything is in China right now. If I need to keep a product in stock I need to carry such a large amount, whereas if I could produce it or manufacture it myself, we wouldn't have to carry so much stock. Shipping is not inexpensive by any stretch.

The bottom line is what we're wanting to do is hire Americans to build products. We are hoping to hire between 10 and 20 veterans in 2013.

Email us at SmallBiz@cnbc.com and follow us on Twitter @SmallBizCNBC.

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