Interview: Zeiss Looks Forward

With the introduction of its first FFP scope, Zeiss steps firmly into a tactical future. What’s the company doing in 2022?

Interview: Zeiss Looks Forward

Zeiss DTI

As the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats. With rifles flying off dealer shelves these days, the optics market is experiencing unprecedented demand right along with it. All the new gun owners we’ve added to our ranks in the past two years are starting to figure out that maybe the bargain scope they put on their new rifle isn’t cutting it, and they’re looking to upgrade. Top-shelf manufacturers are seeing the benefit of that, and Zeiss is no exception.

We sat down with Barton Dobbs, head of hunting and nature sales for Zeiss Consumer Products North America, to get his perspective on Zeiss’s future, industry trends as a whole, and what we can expect in 2022.


TR: What can we expect out of Zeiss in 2022? 

BD: One thing consumers can expect from Zeiss in 2022 is engagement in new markets. We are hard at work developing a range of products that will deliver ultra-high performance and target new markets like competitive shooting. Zeiss has always been known as “the company that makes great glass for the hunting and birding markets.” While we will continue to drive innovative products to meet the needs of hunters and nature observers, we are totally focused on expanding into new markets and growing our footprint quickly. The goal is for Zeiss to always be the first premium optics manufacturer people think of when they look for a new riflescope, binocular, spotter, rangefinder or thermal device.


TR: What specific product category or model have you seen the most growth in recently? 

BD: The initial response to our new LRP S5 first focal plane riflescopes has been overwhelmingly positive. Finally, Zeiss is in the FFP game, and the extra time our product developers took to create an industry-leading product is paying off. Dealers and consumers are flooding us with orders and questions about the product, which is exactly what we hoped would happen. It just confirms how much pent-up demand there was for a Zeiss-made FFP riflescope. We expect the LRP S5 to provide a strong foundation for our launch into the competitive shooting market, which remains the fastest-growing segment of optics in general.


TR: Is there developing technology in the optics world that might change the way shooters buy or use optics in the future? 

BD: I believe the biggest game-changer in optics involves the integration of digital technology into optical products. Adding technology like rangefinders, cameras and thermal into riflescope platforms can open up a lot of exciting capabilities for shooters, but they also uncover some key challenges. It brings up questions arise like how much weight will the shooter accept, how does an integrated camera or thermal device withstand heavy recoil, what type of power system or battery does the unit need, how might the added technology affect the optical or mechanical performance of the core optic, and more.

These are the types of questions our engineers at Zeiss ask every day. In the end, Zeiss is working hard to strike the right balance between adding usable technology to our products and maintaining industry-leading standards in optical performance, mechanical tolerances and hunting/shooting ethics.


TR: We all know there’s been an unprecedented level of firearm sales in the past year or two. Has that demand translated into increased sales or supply issues in the optics industry as well? 

BD: Zeiss has certainly benefitted from the massive amount of firearms sold in the past year or two, and I know other optics companies have benefitted, too. In the past year, it seems like every possible firearm type has flown off retailer’s shelves, and, along with many of them, riflescopes to mount on top. This demand has created quite a demand all across the Zeiss product portfolio.


TR: Do you have any predictions on what we can expect out of the firearm and optics industry in the next year? The next five years?

BD: It would be reasonable to think that the immense growth seen in our industry will begin to slow this year, but I am not ready to predict that. Our industry has a way of fighting through adversity and driving growth in even the most challenging situations. I have seen it happen multiple times during my 16 years in the industry, and it might happen again in 2022.

For 2023 and beyond, I foresee continued growth and expansion, with more specialization and customization likely being a growth driver. More customers are searching for ways to shoot all year long, and many are flocking to the competitive shooting pursuits like PRS, NRL and ELR. Zeiss will be there to provide them with a range of industry-leading optics like LRP S5 and others.


TR: Where does Zeiss see potential for growth? How about non-growth? Is there part of the industry that’s shrinking?

BD: We see the most growth potential for Zeiss in the long-range and competitive shooting segments. More people are exploring the shooting category all of the time, and these consumers are willing to spend more money on a top-quality product, which fits in perfectly with our premium offerings. While Zeiss is entering into a highly competitive “shooting optics” landscape, we absolutely believe we will capture our portion of the market and be successful. Additionally, the premium thermal market is an expansion area for Zeiss. Our new DTI 3/35 and 3/25 products are ‘hits’ with dealers and consumers, and we hope to launch additional thermal products in the coming years.

The part of the industry that faces the biggest growth challenge is the standard hunting market. While the ongoing COVID situation has likely increased the sale of licenses and new hunters taking to the field to try hunting, a lot of data points to a decline in the overall number of hunters in the U.S. This situation is also fueling the rise in competitive shooting, as shooting can be enjoyed year-round and opens up new possibilities for people wanting to compete and use their firearms more often. What we have to do as an industry is promote hunting to the younger generations and present hunting as an exciting, fun and responsible activity that anyone can enjoy.


TR: As the total number of shooters continues to grow across the country, how has that impacted your growth strategy? 

BD: We see growth in the shooting category as a key opportunity for Zeiss to storm in to the market, provide a range of shooting optics that are unique and class-leading, and capture a new piece of business that we have never had before. Our primary objective is to bring something new to the table — not a me-too product. There are plenty of options in the shooting optics category, so Zeiss must continually push the limits of performance if we want to be successful. Our new LRP S5 is a prime example of this and we hope to continue growing in this category for years to come.


TR: How does Zeiss support its dealers? 

BD: The Zeiss team knows that without our retailers, we would likely not be in business. They remain the lifeblood of our business, so we do our best to support them via competitive pricing and programs, compelling marketing and product content, and a focused approach to managing each dealer account. We have worked diligently in the past few years to ensure we only sell product to partners with whom we can grow our businesses together. By doing this, we have elevated our brand strength in the industry and solidified our reputation among optics dealers nationwide.


TR: Do you have any advice for retailers about selling tactical optics in general and Zeiss products specifically? 

BD: My advice for selling any optic is to make sure whoever is selling the optic spends time learning about the total functionality of the product. Modern optics, and especially tactical or long-range-shooting optics, can be extremely technical and detailed. Hire salespeople that are proactive with training efforts and want to learn about the products they sell and become experts in the field. Consumers are savvy these days, and there is a wealth of information available online.

For selling Zeiss products, I recommend digging in to the “why” behind our premium price points. There is a reason why Zeiss products sell for a premium over other manufacturers: We use only the best components, we integrate our world-class engineering into every product, we provide industry-leading features like fluoride glass, and we offer a class-leading warranty. So if someone is going to sell an optic, and especially a premium product like a Zeiss LRP S5, they need to spend the time learning about it so they can provide the customer with the best possible experience.


TR: What’s your personal favorite Zeiss product, and why? 

My favorite Zeiss product is probably my V6 3-18x50 ZMOA-2 riflescope. I primarily hunt big game in Colorado, and ever since I mounted that V6 to my Kimber Montana .300 WSM five years ago, I have enjoyed a lot of harvesting success on my hunts. The scope has amazing optics and a great magnification range of 3-18. I love the standard MOA-2 reticle, and the scope is likely never going to leave the top of that rifle!



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