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Bartlett company eyes South America’s solar eclipse

By Published: April 10, 2019 8:37 AM CT
<strong>Alan Harsson works on pressing a sheet of defraction glasses at American Paper Optics&rsquo; Bartlett headquarters on Tuesday, April 9. The company, which sold 45 million protective glasses for the Aug. 21, 2017, solar eclipse, has been preparing the past 18 months for the next big one that will cross South America, on July 2.</strong>&nbsp;(Patrick Lantrip/Daily Memphian)

Alan Harsson works on pressing a sheet of defraction glasses at American Paper Optics’ Bartlett headquarters on Tuesday, April 9. The company, which sold 45 million protective glasses for the Aug. 21, 2017, solar eclipse, has been preparing the past 18 months for the next big one that will cross South America, on July 2. (Patrick Lantrip/Daily Memphian)

Another total eclipse of the sun will roll across the United States exactly five years from Monday.

But the Bartlett-based company that sold 45 million protective glasses for the Aug. 21, 2017, total solar eclipse in the U.S. doesn’t have to wait for nature's spectacle on April 8, 2024.

American Paper Optics has been preparing the past 18 months for the next big one, on July 2, that will cross South America.

The company already has produced 2 million glasses, as well as a 32-page booklet, videos and other promotional materials, for the eclipse that will cross Chile and Argentina.

The eclipse will move west to east along the path of totality, a swath in which the moon will fully block the sun for more than two minutes. Cities in the path include La Serena, Coquimbo, La Higuera and Vicuna in Chile and San Juan, La Rioja, San Luis, Cordoba, Santa Fe and Buenos Aires in Argentina.

American Paper Optics president John Jerit hopes to sell about 5 million solar glasses for the event that is expected to draw 500,000 people to the narrow path where totality will occur.

“We found we’re doing much better in Chile than in Argentina,” Jerit said. “We’ve got three or four good distributors down there in Chile, which is known as the astronomy capital of the world.

<strong>American Paper Optics president John Jerit (left) and director of sales and marketing Jason Lewin (right) hope to sell about 5 million solar glasses for the July 2 solar eclipse that is expected to draw 500,000 people to the narrow path where totality will occur.</strong> (Patrick Lantrip/Daily Memphian)

American Paper Optics president John Jerit (left) and director of sales and marketing Jason Lewin (right) hope to sell about 5 million solar glasses for the July 2 solar eclipse that is expected to draw 500,000 people to the narrow path where totality will occur. (Patrick Lantrip/Daily Memphian)

“It has more clear nights and the largest telescopes in the world are either in, or being built in, Chile,” he said.

American Paper Optics is developing South American relationships in other ways. In addition to forming partnerships with the astronomy community, the firm has adopted a school in Chile’s Coquimbo region.

The company gave the school 500 pairs of glasses and 500 32-page booklets that teach about the upcoming eclipse.

In some ways, the South American eclipse will be more dramatic than the one that cut across the U.S. in 2017.

The South American eclipse will occur about an hour before sunset, meaning it will be low over the horizon. The blocked sun will be just over mountains, structures and trees, a framing that will be especially appealing to photographers.

But onlookers must position themselves carefully so that Chile and western Argentina’s mountains don’t block the eclipse.

American Paper Optics has created five designs for the July 2 eclipse: Two with a Chile theme, two for Argentina and one for South America.

The main challenge to selling more eclipse glasses in South America is not competition from other countries, but educating the public about the event and the need for the protective glasses, Jerit said.

<strong>In addition to protective glasses for solar eclipses, American Paper Optics also makes 3D glasses,</strong>&nbsp;<strong>decoders that reveal hidden messages, glasses with whimsical custom frames, and glasses that create special effects when the wearer sees fireworks or Christmas lights.</strong> (Patrick Lantrip/Daily Memphian)

In addition to protective glasses for solar eclipses, American Paper Optics also makes 3D glasses, decoders that reveal hidden messages, glasses with whimsical custom frames, and glasses that create special effects when the wearer sees fireworks or Christmas lights. (Patrick Lantrip/Daily Memphian)

The 29-year-old American Paper Optics usually employs just over 30 people, but ramps up closer to 100 in the months before a big eclipse. 

The company makes other kinds of specialty glasses, including 3-D glasses, decoders that reveal hidden messages for product promotions, glasses with whimsical, custom frames, and glasses that create special effects when the wearer sees fireworks or Christmas lights.

The company’s sales of solar eclipse glasses account for about 10% of revenue, Jerit said. Half of revenue comes from sales to companies that use specialty glasses for promotions, and 40% comes from retail sales of the specialty glasses.

But sales do spike during big events like the 2017 eclipse. Jerit credits the sales from that event for American Paper Optics returning in 2018 to the Inc. 5000 list. Inc. Magazine ranked the company as the 1,876th fastest-growing company in the nation based on revenue growth.

Topics

solar eclipse Business
Tom Bailey

Tom Bailey

Tom Bailey covers business news for The Daily Memphian. A Tupelo, Mississippi, native, he graduated from Mississippi State University. He's worked in journalism for 40 years and has lived in Midtown for 36 years.


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