Countdown at American Paper Optics starts now for 2024 eclipse

By Jane Roberts, Daily Memphian Updated: April 08, 2023 9:16 PM CT | Published: April 08, 2023 3:03 PM CT

A year from today — April 8, 2024 — one of the biggest solar eclipses that many adults will experience in their lifetimes will cross the North American skies.

Getting ready for it is nothing short of an Olympic feat for John Jerit, president of American Paper Optics in Bartlett. The company is the largest manufacturer of 3D glasses in the world.

“I hope to sell 75 million glasses. We’ve already got orders shipped or sold (for) 26 million,” he says, against a sea of 3D glasses staring a vacant gaze across his showroom.

There are glasses with a cutout of the moon moving into the sun; another pair is framed with a die-cut cowboy hat tilted at a rakish angle. And then there are the colors and the branding for planetariums, zoos, businesses, foundations, even St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

All of them are for this day next year, a shining tribute to the magic and power of the sun and the stunning, eerie sobriety when it goes dark.

After next April, the next total eclipse in the U.S. won’t come until 2045.

The last time this part of the world was activated for an eclipse was in 2017, the Great American Eclipse. Jerit remembers it like it was the last full moon.

He sold 45 million pairs of 3D glasses for an estimated 12 million close enough to the totality to need eye protection.

The eclipse on his mind now will start in Mexico and run in a northeasterly line through Canada. It will take in tens of millions of people and hit some large U.S. cities, including Dallas; Columbus, Ohio; Cleveland, Ohio; and Buffalo, New York, before it heads into the low-population territory of northern Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

“It will cross through 13 different states. This time (as compared to 2017), the event is going to be longer (some 4.5 minutes in some locations), and the path is going to be bigger,” said Jason Lewin, chief marketing officer for American Paper Optics.

“This time, everyone knows what’s going on. So with the three countries, you have a potential 500 million being able to see it.”

That’s a lot of potential customers. And headaches too.

In 2017, millions of American Paper Optics glasses sold by Amazon vendors were counterfeit copies made by Chinese pirates.

There was no way to know if the film “lenses” that protect the eyes from the dangerous glare were safe. Amazon canceled vendors and more popped up, Jerit said.

In the end, Amazon had no choice but to cancel all the unknown vendors selling glasses, which created huge last-minute orders, thousands in a day, for American Paper Optics.

To preempt as much anxiety as it can, American Paper Optics has manufactured all its Christmas glasses (about 2 million pairs) and other promotions, saving its equipment for the large press of work this fall.

“We’re marketing and selling out there,” Jerit said. “And we do a lot of direct mail,” including 10,000 fliers that went out this week to Fortune 500 companies, agencies and drugstore chains.

The plot for American Optics is complicated for the next 12 months because there will be a lesser eclipse in the western U.S. on Oct. 14, 2023. In the path of annularity, about 118 -137 miles wide, viewers will see the sun’s ring of fire around the moon.

That will pale next to the total eclipse next April 8.

Memphis, just east of the path of totality, will see it at about 97%.

Jerit, who’s come to appreciate this eclipsing science rather wryly, has taken to calling the October eclipse the Johnny Cash (for Ring of Fire) and the second, the Bonnie Tyler (Total Eclipse of the Heart).

There’s a reason for the wry. Two eclipses may encourage people to save their glasses for the second event, which is one thing.

But it may also mean there will be two big ordering seasons, the second happening at the last minute when they can’t find the saved pair or remember they never ordered.

Jerit doesn’t have much gray hair, but the thought of that makes what he does have grow a little thinner.

He’s been in this business for 33 years, and he knows something about human behavior when it comes to 3D glasses. And there is some history.

Starting in 2017, lots of people weren’t paying attention, he says, and didn’t order on time, creating a heartache of a rush a week out or less.

“Right now, we’re getting 50 orders a day. But in 2017, in the month leading up to it, we started getting 10,000, 11,000, 13,000 orders a day in that last couple of weeks,” Lewin said.

Jerit thinks people learned their lessons, including a few retailers who missed the chance at sales completely in 2017.

“They’re all on board now,” Jerit says.

The issue is getting them to feel the urgency he does. The glasses are sold in kiosks and in end-cap spaces designed by the customer.

If they don’t get their designs in, American Optics can’t process and ship the order.

“Why don’t you guys buy these glasses for half the price and stick them in one of our little flowerpot tubes and put them on your counter and quit worrying about everything else,” Jerit half mumbles to himself. “Because that is how they are going to sell. We’ve already proven that.”

The other challenge is convincing retailers to put up their displays right after Labor Day to catch the October event and leave them up through the busy Christmas season and after for April 8 event.

“Please trust us,” he says. “We know what we’re talking about. They won’t.”

If the displays are taken down, they will have to be remade for the second buying spree, Jerit says, shaking his head.

Part of the sales talk is telling people how to make the most of the April 8 event, including getting themselves to the place where it will last the longest. Jerit does not advise driving to the path of totality on the day of the eclipse, predicting the roads and freeways will be clogged with people.

“Fly to wherever you’re going a couple of days before and just turn into a vacation. And it’s a Monday, then come back on Tuesday.”

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