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Nixon founder still 'stoked'

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Just over a decade after launching a brand of watches, Andy Laats continues to be fueled by the company’s continuous development.

“The growth is what I still get stoked on,” Laats said of Nixon Inc. during the “In the Executive’s Chair” course at California State University, San Marcos Wednesday.

The Nixon co-founder and president told about 83 students the progress he alludes to is “not in terms of the product, but in terms of the amount of ideas and the amount of energy we have.“

The vigor of the Encinitas-based company hides behind the appearance of a casual atmosphere. Although Laats sat in the executive’s seat in a hooded sweatshirt and sneakers, he said they are in a “work hard, play hard” type of culture.

And it has paid off.

Laats said three years into the business, Nixon branched out to T-shirts and sweatshirts. Soon after, the company became a full-on accessories brand including wallets, backpacks and hats.

Yet about 75 percent to 80 percent of the merchandise remains filled with the original product: watches. With more than 400 brands on the market, Nixon stands apart by gearing the timepieces toward athletes in the surf, snowboard and skateboard industries.

The idea behind the watches: “Tell time, not break and look cool.”

It’s enough to keep them on today’s market as the youth culture ditches the accessory for their cell phones to keep track of time.

“We sell watches more for the secondary meaning than the primary meaning,” Laats said of the sentimental values of the product rather than its practical purpose.

He recalled a letter received by a woman's request to fix her son’s Nixon watch after he died in a car crash.

“I doubt the guy's cell phone got the same treatment,” Laats said.

Another dynamic change involved catching the eye of the surfwear company Billabong International Limited in December 2005. The company then acquired Nixon for $72 million and took the brand international.

Although the acquisition meant having a person to answer to, Laats said Billabong has little do with Nixon’s product direction.

“It may be the same record label but a completely different band,” he said.

As for Nixon’s success, Laats attributes it to timing, all aspects of the business and life "lining up," and conviction.

When asked if he will always remain a part of the company, Laats replied, “If Nixon is the same in six months as it is now, I’m out of here.”


Online Videos

* Andy Laat's class discussion

* Interview with Andy Laat

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