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Home » The Journey of Shady Rays: From Innovation to Philanthropy with Chris Ratterman! Ep92

The Journey of Shady Rays: From Innovation to Philanthropy with Chris Ratterman! Ep92

#092 – Get ready to be inspired as we have a fireside chat with the dynamic Chris Ratterman, founder and CEO of Shady Rays. We take a deep dive into Chris’s entrepreneurial journey, exploring the highs, lows, and everything in-between. We talk about the parallel between business and fitness with starting on a new journey and tips on finding success without getting discouraged or burned out.

Chris’s candid revelations about stepping into a competitive market without prior experience are nothing short of enlightening. We learn about his innovative strategies to take on new challenges and how a positive mindset played a crucial role in his success. Get ready for a power-packed episode filled with insights, anecdotes, and a whole lot of inspiration – all from the CEO of your favorite sunglasses brand!

Topics Covered:

  • Starting on a journey and navigating a new business or fitness goal
  • Why runners should consider investing in quality sunglasses
  • Importance of UV protection for runners and what to look for
  • How Shady Rays is giving back to the community

Today’s Guest

Chris Ratterman

Chris Ratterman is the Founder and CEO of Shady Rays. Shady Rays has become the fastest growing eyewear brand in the U.S. according to the 2020 INC. 5,000 list. He holds a BSBA in Marketing and Finance from Xavier University and an MBA from Indiana University Southeast. Chris was just named 2023 winner Ernst Young Entrepreneur of the Year.

Follow Shady Rays:


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Listen to Inspire to Run Podcast:

Richard Conner: [00:00:00] Hey, my friend, how do you tackle something that’s new for the first time, without any experience without getting discouraged and without burning out? Well today I had the pleasure of sitting down with Chris Ratterman founder and CEO, shady rays, and Chris shares his entrepreneurial journey and advice that we can apply in not only our professional lives, but also in our health and fitness journey.

As the CEO of a sunglasses company, we also spend some time talking about why sunglasses are important. What runners should look for in sunglasses and how shady race has given back to the community.

Hope you enjoy.

​ Richard Conner: [00:01:00] Hi, everyone. Welcome to inspire to run podcast. Today. We have a very special guest. Chris Ratterman. Chris is the founder and CEO of shady rays. Shady rays has become the fastest growing eyewear brand in the US according to the 2020 Inc 5, 000 list. He holds a BSBA in marketing and finance from Xavier university and an MBA from Indiana university Southeast.

Also, Chris was just named 2023 winner of the Ernst young entrepreneur of the year. Welcome to the show, Chris.

Chris Ratterman: Excited to be here. Look forward to talking with you further.

Richard Conner: Yeah, of course. Well, you have an incredible background. I’m really excited to share a lot about why you started Shady Rays. Like what was your journey? Like, you know, we’re talking about mindset to help our listeners, whether they’re thinking about running and fitness or even entrepreneurship in business.

I think you have a lot to offer here. And, you know, also talk about your company, what it offers in how you, you know, support the running community. And I also noticed that you’re [00:02:00] doing a lot of good things for the broader community and you’re giving back. So there’s a lot of great things that I’m excited to talk about here.

Chris Ratterman: Sounds exciting. Ready to jump in.

Richard Conner: All right, so let’s do it. So let’s just start with your journey as just roll back the clock a little bit and tell us, you know, where were you in your journey when you decided to start? Shady Rays.

Chris Ratterman: So Shady Rays was founded really in a side bedroom in 2012. At the time I was in brand management, corporate marketing, but at a pretty important inflection point in terms of consumer media. That was the point in which Facebook was starting to really take hold. Twitter was becoming more mainstream.

Instagram influencers were starting to become a thing. I was learning the ropes of marketing. And marketing strategy, but I really wanted to get into the weeds and grow and build. And, and I was always attracted to sunglasses as a really cool product that I was excited to wear and buy as a style accessory.

[00:03:00] Um, but one that I always felt like was overpriced. And of course, it’s nothing against other brands, but I couldn’t afford them myself, you know, the Oakleys and the Ray Bans of the world. And so it always stuck with me that you do these amazing things outside and But you’re wearing a $300 piece of plastic on your face.

So I decided to build a lifestyle brand around outdoor adventure, outdoor activities, outdoor sports, like running and cycling and other sports. And all the things that people love to do outside specifically around a sunglasses brands that serves those communities. Uh, and that’s what I did starting from really humble beginnings.

Uh, in the early days, my father shipped all of the orders out of his formal living room. Product was on a card table sitting next product sitting next to the fireplace on a card table, and he put him in garbage bags and drove them to the post office every day. Every day that there were orders, not every day even had orders. But I don’t come from experience in eyewear, so it was really learning and talking to customers along the [00:04:00] way and just iterating as we go. And, uh, and that’s been the story, the story of Shady Rays. And now, 10 years later, more than a decade, it’s pretty crazy to think we’ve, we’ve built up an amazing team that’s located throughout the country, um, representing a lot of different lifestyles.

And we have our fulfillment center where we ship every order around the world right here in, uh, right outside of Louisville, Kentucky is where I am.

Richard Conner: I love it. I love it. Thank you for sharing that, Chris. And, you know, a lot of what you said was around mindset. And I want to dig into that a little bit more. Just, you know, hearing your story about where you started, right? Starting small, your dad was helping you, which I’ve read about you online. I love that story about how your family came together, you know, to, to form this company.

And, you know, I think when we think about either, whether it’s fitness running business, we have to be perfect on day one. Well, I can’t be a runner necessarily because I’m not a runner today. And, you know, same thing in business. So I can’t be an entrepreneur because maybe I don’t have the experience [00:05:00] of an entrepreneurship or in business.

So I love what you said about kind of starting small and then building from there. And 10 years later, look where you are

Chris Ratterman: It’s been exciting ride. And mindset, you’re right. Mindset is a huge part of it. And so I’m always thinking about the ways that I can set myself up to do the most productive work, energizing work, and have the right sprints against projects and balancing that out with. The right type of fitness, the right type of meditation and whatever’s going to keep from burning out and, uh, and keep the ideas flowing.

And that’s a, I would say for me, at least a constant battle, but something I’m very cognizant of.

Richard Conner: for sure. And, you know, I’m really curious about, you know, Shady rays and how you came up with this idea. So you mentioned that you like sunglasses and you saw a need, or you saw a problem that you wanted to solve. Did you go through some sort of ideation process to say, well, here are all of the things that I’m interested in and how, and then you just narrowed [00:06:00] down on this, or this was just an idea one day you’re like, you know, I’m looking to make a change in my life and I’m just going to, you know, Go full speed ahead.

Chris Ratterman: So I was always very entrepreneurial, and so I was the person that was always sharing a new idea with friends and family that could be anything under the sun, right? Uh, and a lot of bad ideas, maybe some good ideas, some ideas that ended up happening that I wasn’t part of. And so when I came up with Shady Rays, I did have that context in my head of here are some other options.

But I didn’t really start to execute something until Shady Rays and Shady Rays was the first thing that I was like, said, okay, I have a brand, we get the trademark, we get the website, let’s set up the social media accounts and let’s go and let’s figure it out. Um, but I definitely was thinking about ideas and lots of different areas, which gives you context to say, like, how big could this thing get?

How much opportunity does this have? How much competition is this area? It’s kind of like when you’re looking for a house and you see the, if you see the one right [00:07:00] away, you don’t know if it’s really the one, but as you see a lot of, a lot of options that are not, then you start to start to recognize when you have a winner.

Although, um, I never assumed it was going to be big. I never assumed anything. It was just, this is a great platform to start and learn and build from. And that was my mindset.

Richard Conner: Love it. Love it. And did you have to overcome any kind of barriers to get started? Or like you said, you had an entrepreneurial mindset. You’re ready to go. Or like, did you think, am I going to be successful at this? Or am I, am I going to fail at this or any fears or worries that prevented you from getting started that you had to overcome?

Chris Ratterman: Yeah. I think there’s, there were a lot, there were a lot of fears or insecurities in terms of, did I have what it takes to put something in a market that was relevant in eyewear that I didn’t have experience in, um, I think. The way I got [00:08:00] through that was just taking steps forward and putting things in market and then just trying to rapidly learn as much as possible.

I certainly had a lot of roadblocks. I had not had experience with supply chain, working with overseas manufacturers. And, uh, I’ll tell you a story. We brought in one of the very early shipments of products right to my parents house, a couple of containers. And what is the biggest problem you can have with, with sunglasses and a product that are supposed to let you see great and shade and, and protect your eyes, warped lenses.

So all of these products look great. We had warped lenses. You couldn’t even see. And meanwhile, we drained the bank account to buy that product. And so there’s a lot of landmines in the early days, but, uh, but those are things that you just kind of are able to develop the processes against. Fortunately, in that case.

The manufacturer was able to reproduce that product, um, thankfully, because I really didn’t have a lot of recourse and we got [00:09:00] back on track. We’re able to sell enough to just keep, just keep moving and have the cash flow to keep going. But there certainly is a long road when you do a little bit of Google research and you go out there and you find manufacturers, you import, you learn about importing.

And how to do that effectively and pass customs and have labeling requirements. And so. I look at it as. Number one, you can’t think about an end goal or a timetable or a dollar revenue goal you’re going to get to. Like I never thought about a revenue goal. All I thought about was just tackle the next thing and just put it out and market it, the curiosity of wanting to put more things in market and see what happened, like that was what kept me going.

And I don’t think I would have kept going if there was some sort of financial target that was in the near term, because. As I’ve said before, I, I didn’t pay myself for five years. I mean, it was a lot of, um, just investing and, and back. Um, but what I learned along the way were the things that people were [00:10:00] looking for and what they wanted and the colors that they wanted and the shapes they wanted, and they want these features.

They wanted sport wrap and, um, and what did they use that do it for? Running is very big for us. Phishing is very big for us, right? All these things you learn in this, in this hyper real time social media environment. And, uh, And that we use that, we use that just to kind of build the plane as it’s in air.

Richard Conner: For sure. And you know, that’s really interesting. First off, there’s a lot of crossover again between business and fitness and, you know, a lot of what you’re saying and, you know, I’m just wondering, so being in corporate for many years myself, it’s interesting that you said you didn’t really have a revenue goal, because that’s like the exact opposite of how it would be in corporate, right?

You always have a revenue goal. You always have financial targets. And, you know, so it’s. It’s kind of interesting that you’re able to overcome some of those early challenges where if you did have those targets set and you didn’t meet them, then you would have been discouraged and, you know, decided, Hey, this is not for me, or this isn’t [00:11:00] working.

So that’s really interesting how you kind of approached that and it led to your success.

Chris Ratterman: Well, we took a different approach than some brands, especially the brands that are most often the news. So what we did not do is go raise venture funding, have a lot of money in the bank, drive to scale, have additional series of funding, fundraising, and maybe not be profitable initially, but be able to build out the team early.

And again, that’s a great approach for a lot of brands. It’s just not the direction I went. So it was for us, it was bootstrapping, figuring out along the way. There, we weren’t accountable and still, still we have no outside investors to, um, do any external metric or, you know, a 30 day P and L and these kinds of things, and right now we’re sophisticated and we, we have those targets and we, we, we plan accordingly and we have a finance team and a CFO, right.

Back into it. But in the early days. You don’t have enough. I don’t think you really have enough of a base to set those things [00:12:00] up with any sort of reliability. And so they say like the, you know, the, the scene of the accident from business plan is when you put an execution, because it’s hard to determine in a boardroom, what’s going to happen in the real world.

So that’s why we always think about go to market plans, new innovation as. Minimum viable products and things we can put out into the market and the market will tell us, uh, what works and if we can react quickly and know how to execute, then we’ll, we’ll go from there.

Richard Conner: right. All right. So, you know, you talked about the communities that you serve or the customers that you serve and you talked about running, so it’s a running podcast. So let’s talk about that a little bit. So I was mentioning to you before this conversation that. You know, so just a little bit about me. So I’ve been a runner for many years.

I ran in high school, but took a number of years off, got back into it just a few years ago. Um, mostly through obstacle course racing, but also through road races. And a good friend of mine calls it my midlife crisis, but you know, through COVID, I started to run outdoors a lot [00:13:00] more, gyms were closed and when they opened, I didn’t feel comfortable going.

So I’m running outdoors in the summer, in the winter. It just didn’t matter. I was out there and I was just saying to you, I’ve been wearing sunglasses in a long time. I’m like, wait a minute. I should be wearing sunglasses just in general, but especially for running. So, you know, just tell us a little bit about that.

Like you talked about, you know, serving the running community. What’s I, you know, maybe not unique, but what’s kind of specific, I would say for the community in terms of, you know, your offering and how we should think about this.

Chris Ratterman: Yeah, I’m excited to talk about this. We have a lot of runners in our brand community. And so there are a few things that we found are very important and that goes for our team as well. Um, number one, it’s important to have the variety of frame shapes that people look for. So you have a lot of runners that look for a lightweight, tight grip, more aerodynamic wrap frame.

So for us, we have one called a Velocity and it’s a smaller to medium fit. It’s [00:14:00] really great for, it’s more of a functional lens for runners. And it gives you peripheral vision because it’s very, very tight on your eyes. Um, so that’s great. More of what we would call a crossover frame for us is a little bit more lifestyle in, in terms of its look, but has the functionality that you would need to running.

So for us, it’s called our cascade frame. It’s a great unisex frame, but it has a lifestyle look with a lot of non slip features. So you have the rubber nose grips. And, um, and the build that’s just met for a lot of different terrain and running into running in different areas and different speeds are different.

Really, uh, no, that’s how we kind of build wide variety for runners, but our differences, especially when you think about under 100 space is in lens quality and lens performance. So we are all about building high quality lenses, polarization, color [00:15:00] enhancement. To give people a really hyper effective view from optical clarity, color enhancement and blocking glare as, as a running.

So that’s really our difference. And so for us, we were, we’re just about to launch. Actually, we’re, we’re a couple of weeks away from launching our color rush version of our lenses. And we’ll have that in our cascade and that is our best quality color enhancement. And if in very specifically, it pops, especially reds and oranges and orange colors.

And yellows and pinks. So if you’re running, you’re going to see, um, any kind of signage. You’re going to see, you know, brake lights or lights on bikes. You’re going to see it. Um, you know, different signs of the road that are more red in nature. In a hyper fluorescent type of type of way, we also just think that our lenses allow people to see the world in a beautiful way.

So just enjoying the view and the performance of the optical clarity. That is truly probably [00:16:00] the number 1 reason people come to us for running is because we’re giving people the optical clarity of a high performance product that’s much more expensive in a variety of frames, sport wrap to, you know, to lifestyle that people are looking for.

Richard Conner: I love that. I love that. And you know, that’s probably been a deterrent for me because there’s certain types of, um, products that I’ve seen on the market, not yours that, you know, don’t really appeal to me. So I like the fact that you have that variety, um, that for someone like me that may not, you know, want something like that, you know, I have some other options to choose from with also the benefit of having, you know, really good visibility and good clarity through the sunglasses.

Chris Ratterman: Yeah, I mean, there’s a, you know, listen, there’s a lot of different things that, and that, that people need when they’re running in different, in different conditions. You know, it’s hot, you have lenses that can fog. So that’s a consideration in our design. , like I said, the lightweight, the tight grip and the strong performance, uh, of the [00:17:00] lenses.

I mean, there’s a lot that gets wrapped up into it, , but it’s something that, that, that, that we do and focus on because, you know, the other thing for us is we do lost or broken. So people lose it, they drop it, they break them, we replace them. And that’s kind of our reason for being. And so for us pack the quality in, but if you lose them or break them, we, we hook it up.

And, uh, and of course we got a lot of fun stories of people that have I’ve been out running and including trail running and, and had some funny stories there.

Richard Conner: Well, I can only imagine. I have some funny stories that don’t even involve sunglasses. So I can’t even imagine what that’s like. And, you know, funny story, just not even running related, just a long time ago, probably the last time I wear sunglasses outdoors, I was out golfing and I had my glasses and, you know, I, for whatever reason I decided I needed to take them off and leave them on the.

The seat of the golf cart, where you can only imagine what happened next. So that’s probably part of the reason why I haven’t worn glasses since then, but it’s something that I definitely [00:18:00] have to check, you know, check back into. And this is great information for our community because we’re here to not only help inspire and motivate.

Um, folks to run, but also give them the tools to be successful, right? And help them along that journey. So we have a variety of topics on the show and it’s just so cool. We haven’t had this topic on, but just to kind of raise a level of awareness. Number one, you, you need to wear sunglasses when you’re out, uh, doing your runs and then here’s a really great solution for our community.

Chris Ratterman: Yeah. And, and, and really, um, you know, I just enjoy talking about our product and connecting with you and your community. So I’m not here to sell product, but it, it, I think people do underestimate generally, the need for UV protection when they’re out in direct sun , and running, especially for long distances.

So from a coverage perspective, and of course, the UV protection perspective, really important. So whether you are Shady Rays or something else, , important to consider and I’m and I always tell people I got sometimes you gotta be really careful on the lower price. that you [00:19:00] might get it, you know, the not more non branded commodity stuff.

Not everything has the UV protection you’re looking for. So when you’re thinking about your running gear, um, a reputable brand that has UV protection is important, but, uh, but always like to emphasize that point too,

Richard Conner: That’s a really great point. So are there different levels of. UV protection, just like your sunscreen, like different SPF, or is it just, you have it or you don’t have it?

Chris Ratterman: it’s generally it’s, you have it or you don’t have it. So you’re looking for UVA UVB protection, a hundred percent UV protection. Sometimes it’s called UV 400. And, um, and any sunglasses that say UV protection is usually going to be UV 400 slash 100% UV protection, but very important to get that because you can put the tint on on glasses and it would look as though it’s blocking the rays, but not every pair.

Does, but, you know, the most reputable brands do it’s kind of the lower price commodity stuff that you can kind of run into a problem with. But I think that’s, that’s important. Obviously, there’s a large price range and gap and kind of different [00:20:00] options out there. And there’s other great brands too. But, like I said, I think what we’re trying to do is just give people packing as much quality in the lenses as particular and frame from durability.

But But, but the whole package and we’ve got to keep it under a hundred bucks. Cause that that’s our MO is like a great pair of sunglasses should be under a hundred bucks. That’s what we believe. And, uh, so that’s been our focus.

Richard Conner: Love it. Love it. Chris, this is awesome. I love, you know, the information that you’re sharing with us. This is very informational and you know, I know that you and your company gives back to the community. So, you know, let’s talk a little bit about that. You know, the work that you’re doing, why you’re doing it and yeah,

Chris Ratterman: So, , being a brand that, that works for purpose and do good in the world has been very important to us from the onset. , a couple of big milestones we’ve reached. We’ve donated 25 million meals through Feeding America. That’s Fight Hunger in the US. We’ve picked up more than 4 million bottles throughout the oceans worldwide through a partnership.

Um, that we have charitable organizations [00:21:00] there, but our most recent endeavor is our series impact program. So we have a selection of charities that we work very closely with directly. And it really is about helping people through their life’s most challenging moments. And, uh, 1 of those organizations is called the rock solid foundation, incredible organization.

They are, um, serving children that have been diagnosed with pediatric cancer and our pediatric oncology patients. They are going play sets for children. Uh, we’ve done 1 as a team, they’re giving, um, ready bags to families. Once, um, when a child is diagnosed in the hospital. We have a partnership with an organization out of Colorado called First Descents, where they do outdoor adventure trips for people that have cancer or MS or other illnesses similar to that.

And our team is going on those trips, spending time volunteering. Um, but it’s about giving people incredible moments [00:22:00] where they can, um, not think about, not think about their diagnosis for a moment. And that’s what the founder of rock solid says when they give a play set to a child, at least for that moment, what are they not thinking about?

They’re not thinking about cancer. That’s this direct quote. So it’s, it’s, it’s very inspirational. Um, but for us, it’s just about being able to, being able to do good through our work. And then as we scale, then we can scale the good that we can do. And. And so that’s been pretty powerful. We work with the foundation.

We have a program of them coming up, uh, uh, as well as various other organizations, um, autism, best day foundation, San Diego with autism. And so there’s, there’s a variety of things that we try to do, but at the end of the day, we’re just trying to be an authentic brand that cares about doing good and, and we want that to be integrated into all the, all of our, all everything that we do.

Richard Conner: love it. Well, thank you for everything that you do. And, you know, again, congratulations on all the success that you have. And your business and how you’re serving not only the running [00:23:00] community, but the broader community with by giving back. So Chris, what’s next for you? And what’s next for shady race?

Chris Ratterman: Oh, man. Well, we’re right here getting through summer. That’s our big peak time. So all of these conversations about what’s next, that’s what we’re getting into here soon, talking about next year. But we’re just trying to continue to innovate, push our quality forward, come out with exciting new products.

Really set the pace where we can with, with new innovation, uh, all the programs and team goes along with it. We’re continuing to build our team across the country, um, which has been really exciting to bring people into our mission and how we’re looking to grow and it’s just been exciting, right? So we’re just, we’re continuing on that path, but, uh, we want to be, we want to be the most loved sunglasses brand, the price sunglasses brand in the U S we’d want to be one of the leading brands, if not the leading brand.

Uh, but the only way we do that is if we can serve customers and serve a community and stay super tight [00:24:00] in conversations with these different communities and people that we serve. And so that’s what we’re trying to do every day. So we’re just showing up every day, trying to put something better out in the world than we did yesterday and.

If we do that, we’ll have some wins and we’ll have some losses. And, uh, but hopefully on the whole, we’ll, we’ll be moving forward and doing some amazing things.

Richard Conner: Awesome. Awesome. So Chris, as we wind down here, what is the one thing you would say to our community to inspire them to run? With sunglasses.

Chris Ratterman: I love that question. , I think the number one thing I would say to inspire the community to run with sunglasses is, is it really just give it, give it a try and see how you feel at the end of the day, it’s going to be unique to each individual person, um, whether they want to wear them, whether it feels natural, whether it’s going to work.

Uh, I know everybody has their unique rituals , and running is such a, such an important sacred moment and activity for, for so many people. And, , but [00:25:00] I would encourage them to try a, a polarized color enhanced lens like our color rush or, or any others that they’re, they’re excited to buy in the market and just see how it feels.

Because I think, you know, there’s a lot of great options out there to give you the protection that you need. And I would argue I’m a little bit biased, but you’re going to see the world and you’re going to have your view of your, your rhyme. It’s going to look a little better. It’s going to be easier on your eyes and you’re going to look good doing it.

So, uh, it’s worth a shot. And if you take a shot at ours, if you don’t like them, well, we’ll pay to ship them back. So it’s really no, no risk. If you’re someone that does, doesn’t wear them normally. But, um, of course we, we think it’s a piece of the puzzle. Like you have your shoes, like you have your running gear.

We think the sunglasses, another important piece there. Yeah.

Richard Conner: Absolutely. Thank you so much, Chris. I really appreciate you being so generous with your time, speaking with me about the work that you do and how you supporting our community. So how can our listeners find you and follow you online?

Chris Ratterman: So our full [00:26:00] collection is on shady rays. com. Everybody can check that out. We are on all the major social media channels, Instagram, Instagram at shady rays, Twitter at shady rays. And, uh, you know, first new customers get 20% off. It’s a great place to follow everything we have going on, you know, our email list, we send out, send out new launches all the time and different information.

So we’d be excited to have your community check us out.

Richard Conner: All right. Well, I’ll put this information in the show notes to make it easy for our listeners to find you and follow you. So with that, thanks again, Chris, for coming on the show and have a great day.

Chris Ratterman: Thanks for having me. ​