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Sonoma becomes ThinOptics’ new headquarters

ThinOptics, a maker of highly portable reading glasses, has established its company headquarters in Sonoma, where it has had a production presence for four years.

The readers, which start at $19.95, are so flexible that one lens can fold over the other for storage. The eyewear is free of ear pieces and looks like a modern version of the pince-nez glasses worn by former President Theodore Roosevelt.

At first glance, many people ask, “How could that possibly work?” acknowledged Darren Lancaster, a co-founder and vice president of marketing and ecommerce. But ThinOptics has sold 2 million pairs because consumers have found the glasses easy to fit and small enough to always have on hand.

“We want it to be extremely portable,” Lancaster said.

The privately held company was founded six years ago in Palo Alto. The readers were the brainchild of an inventor whose friend one day needed help reading a text message because he didn't have his glasses at hand.

The inventor, ThinOptics co-founder and board chairman Teddy Shalon, knew someone who had space available for research and production work on the southeast edge of Sonoma. The company began work there and recently took control of the 7,000-square-foot facility.

The company's executive team now will gather there about once a month for meetings, Lancaster said. Also, it is seeking to hire two marketing employees to work there.

Thirteen production workers are in Sonoma, placing the specially-made readers from Taiwan into cases from China. The workers also cut and prep half-inch pieces of wire made of nitonol, a nickel and titanium alloy. Those pieces get sent to Taiwan and built into the bridge of the readers, allowing them to bend and flex.

ThinOptics now ships 1,000 to 3,000 pairs of glasses a day from Sonoma to more than 130 countries. Its international distribution, which launched in December, now constitutes about half of its direct-to- consumer sales.

Its most popular carrying case is one that easily attaches to a cell phone case or rests on a dash board. But the company also makes a combination cell phone/readers case and a keychain case that measures about 3 by 1.5 inches.

The 13 production workers commute in from Sacramento because of the high cost of housing here, Lancaster said. Housing is an issue he hopes to address with other business and civic leaders.

“We're extremely thrilled to have ThinOptics headquartered on Eighth Street East,” said Patricia Shults, CEO of the Sonoma Valley Chamber of Commerce.

The company, like other manufacturers, adds economic diversity to the area, Shults said. Also, she and Lancaster have talked about ThinOptics leaders sharing key ecommerce strategies with local businesses.

Shults said she purchased a pair of ThinOptics readers before she knew about the company's Sonoma connection. Whenever she pulls them out at a restaurant or social gathering, people tell her, “I need a pair of those.”

You can reach Staff Writer Robert Digitale at 707-521-5285 or robert.digitale@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @rdigit.

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