“Our customers are like family.” If you’re like us, a statement like this kind of makes you want to throw up. Why? We’ve read it so many times in catalogs and on “About Us” pages that it’s become disingenuous and watered down. It kind of screams “PR.” The good news, however, is that when you do find a brand that truly treats its customers like family, it stands out. People notice that, and in most cases, sales follow.

Along comes Vortex Optics. Meteoric growth for the Wisconsin-based company has come because of the way they — you guessed it — treat their customers. But unlike the board-room-nascent, PR-driven customer focus mentioned previously, Vortex’s focus on customers was hard-earned in the world of small-town retail.

Meet Jimmy Hamilton Our deeper understanding of Vortex’s history and ideology comes as we converse with Jimmy Hamilton, Vortex’s director of social media. Jimmy is the youngest of four Hamilton sons at the company started by their parents in 2002. He’s kind enough to sit down and discuss Vortex’s brand vision. To him, it’s a subject that requires going back a way before the company known as Vortex existed.

Tell me about Vortex’s origins and where the company came from.

Jimmy Hamilton: OK, so to start, we need to go way, way back. My dad is a dentist, by trade, and my mom is a nurse. They both decided to get out of their professions and get into the outdoor, sporting goods retail world. This was even before I was born. They moved up from Indiana to Wisconsin and opened a Wild Birds Unlimited store. At some point, they decided they liked the optics portion of the business the most and wanted to concentrate on that. So, in 1986, they opened a store called Eagle Optics in Middleton, Wisconsin, where they sold optics from a lot of manufacturers.

How did you go from selling optics to wanting to develop your own?

Jimmy Hamilton: Well, in the process of operating the retail store, we decided to develop and sell a few Eagle-Optics-branded products and learned a lot about what worked and what didn’t. There’s something about being able to see a product through from beginning to end. I think in our blood, we have that entrepreneurial spirit, and just wanted to serve our customers the best that we possibly could. So in 2002, we started Vortex Optics.

How do you think running a retail store affected how you run the brand today?

Jimmy Hamilton: I think we had the chance to see customers come into our store that were dealing with a brand, and how they reacted to that. You know, it can be really frustrating when you’re watching people dig through a year’s worth of receipts to find the right one, or “Sorry, you never filled out the warranty card, so now our hands are tied and we can’t take care of you the way we’d like to.”

If you talk to any member of my family or people that worked for us in those days, we just respect the heck out of anyone that works in retail, because that is a difficult, difficult job. We knew that when we created our own brand, we wanted to make it the best experience possible, for the retailers and the end consumers.


Can you think of a recent example of a business decision influenced by this way of thinking?

Jimmy Hamilton: You know, at this point, it’s a lot less of a conscious decision. We all simply understand that our customers are at the center of every idea, interaction, or decision. We don’t really have to put a ton of signs or reminders up on the wall to influence how we talk to VIPs — sorry, VIPs is what we call customers.

How does this philosophy translate into product development?

Jimmy Hamilton: There’s this book that I really enjoy, and it’s called “Start with Why.” When it comes to developing a new product, we try to start with “why?”. What have we heard from our VIPs on social media? What have we gotten at the shows? What are they clamoring for? Then we have them “why” and can develop the feature set or optical system, or whatever it is, that addresses that. There’s a lot more time spent thinking about our VIPs, what they’re doing or what they need, than, say, what our competitors are doing. 

This is a crazy question, and it’s almost ludicrous that we’re asking it, but is there ever a point in this customer mindset that you’d say, “That’s too far”? Where’s the line?

Jimmy Hamilton: If there’s a line, I don’t think we’ve seen it. Or come close to it. Well, I mean if we just started handing out products for free left and right, we’d go out of business. So, I guess that’s the line. But we’ve seen that if we place our time and resources on our VIPs and retailers, that investment is going to pay off.

What do you think Vortex will look like in 10 years?

Jimmy Hamilton: As far as the company, we’re just going to keep doing what we’ve always been doing — which is “Treat people the way you want to be treated.” We’ll never stop innovating, whether that’s in product or customer service.

Closing Out
There you have it, straight from the source. Spend any amount of time with someone from the Vortex organization and you’ll see that this isn’t just a marketing campaign, but real threads of authentic service stitched into the company culture.


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