“We went through tens, if not hundreds, of names that involved the sun of the valley and valley of the sun combinations,” said Anthony Devito, “But for some reason, we always came back to the simple yet purposeful name, Valley Rays.”
And there is something very direct and honest about this brand. Built on a love of the great outdoors and a drive to create a premium sunglasses brand without the heavy price tag, Anthony and his cofounder, Shane Eberspacher, are determined to crash through the (sun)glass ceiling of this industry.
We sat down to talk to Anthony about all things Valley Rays. We discussed the impact of sustainability on small businesses, the difficulty of building a passion project on the side, and why Valley Rays has only just begun to scratch the surface of success.
At Valley Rays, we make premium sunglasses without the big brand price tag.
We’re an independent sunglasses company based out of sunny Phoenix, Arizona. Living in one of the sunniest cities in the US inspired us to create a brand that was unique to our area and could stand up against the harsh desert sun.
We started our design process back in 2022 when we developed our flagship sunglass model, The Phoenix. The Phoenix was designed to be a modern take on a classic design, but we wanted them to be more versatile, so our customers could wear them anywhere. And when we say anywhere, we mean it. Mountain biking, cruising on the boat, or just out on the town – we wanted our sunglasses to be able to handle it. Of course, this type of versatility requires a little extra work, with a higher-performance design and premium materials.
The Phoenix was officially launched in March 2023, and has since garnered rave reviews from our fans.
Despite this, we wanted to deliver a high-quality product without the big brand price tag. It’s no secret that almost all of the name brands in the industry are owned by the same company, and they notoriously overcharge for their sunglasses, sometimes even charging a 1000% markup. Learning this made us determined to match their quality, and do it at an affordable price point for our customers.
We started Valley Rays because we knew we could deliver the best value to the market, bringing honesty, quality, and affordability to our customers. Before Valley Rays, customers could choose between overpriced sunglasses or a cheap pair you’d find at a gas station. But we’ve combined best-in-class design, premium materials, and a lower price point to challenge that status quo.
Unsure how much you should charge for your products? Check out our article How to Price a Product for a breakdown of how to know the price is right.
Living in Arizona, there are 315 days of pure sunshine every year. You could say we’re the unofficial experts on living life in the sun, and we wanted to share that sunshine with the rest of the country.
Arizona is smack-dab in the middle of the desert. We’re literally called ‘the Valley of the Sun’. We thought our business was the perfect opportunity to give the world a taste of Arizona and give Arizona what it deserves: a local, premium sunglasses brand.
But it’s not just about the sun. We wanted to create a product that could tough the great outdoors. Both Shane and I are really into sports. We’re big fans of hiking and mountain biking, and if we get the opportunity, we love being out on the lake, too. If we’re stuck inside too long, we go a little stir-crazy!
This was a big factor when designing our sunglasses. We both have our preferred brands, and we used these as a base before making them better. In our opinion, of course!
The biggest changes were regarding the fit and comfort of wearing the sunglasses for a long period of time. We wanted them to be made out of materials that were light and it was important that the lenses were super clear so that our customers could wear them outdoors and barely notice they were even there.
We did a lot of prototyping. We had seven or eight prototypes in the end, but with the accessibility of 3D printing nowadays, this part of the process was really quick and easy. It was the design phase that was the trickiest. We started to nitpick at every little detail. That’s how we ended up with such a great product from the get-go, though! Because we spent so much time perfecting the basic design, we were really able to dial in the fit and make sure it was perfect.
Shane and I both have degrees in civil engineering and we’ve worked in the construction industry for the past 12 years. We’ve learned a lot about running new projects and presenting quality products. The one thing that has been drilled into our brains from day one is that quality can make or break a product. That, combined with our engineering background, has really had a strong influence on our business decisions.
Sustainability is very important to us, too. People are always losing their sunglasses, and sometimes it’s when they’re out on a trail or on the lake. For some peace of mind, we chose to use a bio-resin for our frame material. This offers the same strength and durability as TR-90, but instead of being petroleum-based, it’s actually made out of castor bean oil. This makes our frames 50% biodegradable, without sacrificing quality – something that was a huge win for the Valley Rays team.
We also put a lot of thought into our packaging, too. No one wants their sunglasses delivered in a box in a box in a box. We wanted to create something that could be reused, rather than recycled, so we chose to use a cylinder that people could then repurpose as a sunglasses holder. The cylinder fits in most car cup holders, too, so you can store them safely while driving.
Sustainability is so crucial when creating a business, especially when you see how much waste the industry creates. I think a lot of smaller brands really embrace this mentality. Not only is extra waste bad for the planet, but it’s not cost-effective, either!
If you’re interested in making your business more sustainable or want to start an eco-friendly side hustle, check out these articles:
Creating a brand isn’t an easy task and there have been many challenges. Shane and I both currently work 9 to 5 in the construction world and although there’s some pretty good flexibility, it can get a little hectic. Plus, we’re both new to the parenting game, so we try to keep ourselves as streamlined as possible. Family is the root of both our priorities. After all, none of this would be possible without the support from home.
But if you’re thinking about starting a sunglasses business, make sure you’re ready for the challenge of a lifetime. We thought it would be relatively cheap to get started, but the costs start to add up quickly.
Shane and I both had millions of ideas. Trying to boil them all down to one succinct brand was really tough.
You have to really understand what sets your product apart and make sure your marketing is solid. The biggest thing that Shane and I realized is that we couldn’t cut corners when it came to branding and marketing. In the end, we reached out to a design company to help us out and they really smashed it out of the park. From there, putting the website together just fell into place.
We’ve actually outsourced a lot of stuff, mostly due to time but also creative blocks. Time is your best asset as an entrepreneur and it’s better to outsource things you’re not good at or have spent a lot of time trying to figure out.
Even with the extra help, it’s hard work. Whenever we have a free second in the day, we try to smash out as much work as possible. This can be anything from SEO optimization to working on Facebook, Instagram, or Google Ads. When we get out of the office, we create as much content as we can to fill social media and spread the word. It’s all about getting our product in front of as many people as possible. That’s just how it is for a startup!
So why do we do it? The love of entrepreneurship. The challenge. The thrills of success. And the thought that someday we could own something great. There was nothing better than finally receiving our finished product. It had taken us about eight months of hard design work and a constant back and forth with the manufacturer but to actually feel our creation in our hands was a pretty surreal feeling.
Ecommerce is the easiest way to start a business when you’re still working a day job. Once everything’s in place, it only requires small tweaks and it’s not as time-intensive as other businesses. The simplicity of setting up our Shopify store was a bonus, though.
We also really like that Shopify supports the integration of additional apps to help boost your website. Right now, we’re using Bold Upsell, which is great to increase the average order value. We also use Omnisend for our email marketing and LOOX for customer reviews. These apps are super important for our business at the minute, and we’d recommend them to anyone starting out with a website on Shopify.
We absolutely feel that Shopify is the right platform to help us grow. We’re just scratching the surface right now. Soon, we’ll be able to offer more sunglass models and we feel that we offer something unique in the industry. The sky’s the limit!
If you’re thinking about starting your own website, my advice would be to just do it. Just start it. You can even start with a free plan or trial. Starting is always the hardest step, but once you have something, you can tweak and test it to see if the market’s interested. Then, once you know people like what you have to offer, you can focus on growing.
Working with Shane has been so rewarding. We both have our strengths, and it’s nice because each person can focus on what they’re good at. It’s kind of like a divide-and-conquer thing. It’s just important to find someone like-minded that also shares the same motivation and willingness to get the job done.
One of the best parts of this journey so far has been seeing the reviews come in and talking with our customers. We spent so much time finding the right manufacturer, obsessing over the design, and struggling to get our name out there, that when we started seeing the stellar reviews come in, it all finally came into perspective that this is why we do it. We offer a great product that enhances people’s experiences and that has been very rewarding.
We have so many goals and aspirations to list, but right now, we’re focused on getting out next model launched and growing our fan base with our current model, The Phoenix. It’s important to have a good foundation, made up of great customer service and a quality product, so these are our short-term goals, too.
Entrepreneurship is a daily grind and you have to just keep at it. There are no overnight successes.