Diving into Tomorrow with Dusan Runjajic International Sales and Marketing Director Mares

PUBLISHED February 05, 2024 | updated March 07, 2024 03:12

In this issue of the Islandchief, we have Mr. Dusan Runjajic, the International Sales and Marketing Director of MARES. The discussion delves into his career spanning over two-decades and the evolution of Mares. From his unexpected entry into diving as a student instructor to navigating Mares through industry changes, the interview explores his personal connection with the brand and pivotal moments shaping both his career and diving technology. We also the brand's commitment to innovation and sustainability, unveiling the challenges in aligning corporate ideals with market demands.

1. Your journey into the diving industry began in 1988, so the question is; how did your role as an instructor, while still a student, shape your perspective on diving and influence your later career choices?

To be honest, when I stepped into the realm of diving as an instructor, I never anticipated it would become a lifelong vocation. It started as a means to support my studies, and the idea of a lasting career in the dive industry wasn't on my radar. It unfolded more as a twist of fate than a deliberate plan, a few years down the road.

2. Apart from your own history, Mares has a longstanding history as well – dating back to 1949. In your view, how has the brand’s commitment to innovation evolved over the years, particularly in the context of environmental responsibility?

Beyond my personal journey, Mares, with its roots tracing back to 1949, has a rich history. In the context of today's heightened focus on environmental subjects and sustainability, the brand's commitment to innovation is paramount. The world is increasingly aware of these issues, thanks to the efforts of numerous companies. As part of a corporate group alongside tennis and ski sports, Mares developed a sustainability mindset long before it became a mainstream topic.

Preceding widespread discussions on sustainability, Mares was already exploring the use of reusable and recycled materials, optimizing production processes to minimize waste. The company proactively aligned with evolving global regulations, aiming for continuous improvement. Despite persistent efforts, reaching a perfect sustainability level remains elusive due to the necessity of new raw materials in certain product groups, such as Neoprene and fins.

Packaging, a crucial aspect, involves using recycled materials for carton boxes. However, the challenge arises in plastic packaging, even if made from recycled materials. An illustrative example is a biodegradable box designed to house masks. While environmentally friendly and capable of dissolving in water within days, market preferences for transparent packaging hinder its acceptance.

Despite a sincere commitment to sustainable practices, the company faces the reality that the world has not fully embraced these efforts. This underscores the ongoing struggle between companies striving for sustainability and market demands. The tale of the biodegradable mask box serves as a poignant example of the complexities involved, revealing that even with proactive measures, not every initiative aligns with market expectations.

3. Your first contact with Mares was in 1991, a pivotal time in the diving industry. What factors attracted you to Mares, and how did the industry landscape influence your decision to join the brand?

In the early '80s, when I started diving in '82, I used various brands, but Mares stood out for me. Hailing from Croatia, a small country near Italy, Mares had a significant influence in that region due to its founder, Ludovico Mares, being born there. Although he established Mares in Italy in '49, his Croatian roots fostered a strong connection between the brand and the region. Growing up using Mares' products like fins and masks, I developed a sentimental attachment to the brand, especially since I come from a small island and spent my early years by the sea. This connection resonates with the sea-centric lifestyle here in the Maldives.

Mares played a pivotal role in the diving industry by introducing groundbreaking products in the late '70s and early '80s. Notably, they pioneered the use of different materials in swimming fins, combining synthetic Kauchuk with Polymere fin blades, setting a benchmark in the industry. Similarly, Mares was the first to introduce silicon in masks, a technological leap from the traditional use of natural Kauchuk. As a young person witnessing these innovations, I was impressed, and it was an easy decision for me to align with Mares.

4. As the International Sales and Marketing Director, you play a crucial role in Mares’ global strategy. How do you balance the diverse needs of scuba divers, snorkelers and free divers in the development and marketing of Mares products?

My role is certainly driven by personal interest in these categories, but it's essential to emphasize that I'm just one part of a dynamic team. While I hold a title, the strength of our work lies in the collective efforts of talented colleagues. In any endeavor, you're only as good as your team, and I acknowledge the significant contributions of others in various roles.

Our decision-making process is collaborative and involves product line managers who specialize in dedicated product categories. Working closely with R&D and sales teams, decisions are never dictated by a single person; rather, they evolve through extensive brainstorming sessions aimed at understanding and optimizing our products. Fortunately, the wealth of experience within the team makes my role relatively straightforward.

Every decision is a collective effort, and we strive to optimize our knowledge until we reach the final, correct result. This meticulous approach is evident in our product development journey, such as the four-year endeavor to perfect the foot pocket for the freediving fin named "Extreme." Unlike conventional foot pockets that may cause discomfort, we aimed to create an orthopedically shaped foot pocket, ensuring comfort from small sizes (like 36) upwards, even for barefoot users.

While numerous fins flood the market, the distinction lies in the level of force exerted on the foot during freediving. Creating a comfortable foot pocket that eliminates pressure points became a paramount challenge for us. Such endeavors require time, and it's the collaborative effort of the team that ensures we progress step by step until we achieve a product that satisfies our standards.

5. In 1996, you started your employment with Mares. Can you share the dynamics of the diving industry during that period and how Mares positioned itself in the market?

I joined Mares in 1996, a period when the diving industry, particularly in the 80s and 90s, was marked by the dominance of a handful of established companies, Mares being one of them. While our roots were firmly in Europe, we expanded our presence to the Americas and later into Asia.

The 90s were relatively smooth for the industry as diving gained popularity and became a trendy pursuit. However, the challenge lay in grappling with the rapid growth of the industry. The demand for diving equipment, exemplified by fins, escalated exponentially year after year.

The turn of the millennium brought a significant shift, not just in terms of industry growth but also in cultural dynamics. In the 20th century, people tended to commit to a single activity for a significant portion of their lives. However, with the emergence of new generations, characterized by diverse interests and activities, the challenge for the diving industry was evident. The culture shifted, and younger individuals, exposed to numerous options, no longer considered diving as essential.

To navigate this shift, the industry, including Mares, focused on creating visually appealing and attractive products. The goal was to design items that captured the interest of the younger generation and countered the changing cultural landscape. This proactive approach aimed to not only adapt to the evolving preferences but also to continue attracting and retaining enthusiasts in the industry.

6. With 27 years at Mares, you’ve witnessed substantial changes in diving technology. What pivotal moments or advancements stand out to you during your tenure with the company?

Over my 27 years at Mares, I've witnessed transformative shifts in diving technology. The process of birthing a new product is akin to waiting for a baby to arrive; it involves nurturing an idea, optimizing it, and finally witnessing its birth. Every product launch is met with excitement, fueled by curiosity about its potential success.

Notable moments include our foray into computer production around 2000-2001, where within just 5 to 6 years, Mares became the first company to introduce a color computer to the market. While colored screens are now commonplace, it was a groundbreaking innovation at the time, challenging industry norms dominated by pixelated displays. This move spurred other well-established companies in the computer business to follow suit.

Another significant advancement was the introduction of liquid skin technology in masks. Traditional silicon masks posed comfort challenges due to stiffness. Mares revolutionized this by combining softer and harder silicon in what we call liquid skin technology. This innovative approach enhanced mask comfort by accommodating variations in individual facial shapes, similar to the diversity found in shoe sizes. The subjective nature of mask fittings mirrors the uniqueness of each person's preferences and facial features.

7. The Mares dive computer is a vital tool for divers. Could you delve into the intricacies of designing a user-friendly yet technologically advanced device that provides real-time data for a safer dive?

The Mares dive computer is an indispensable tool for divers, combining user-friendly design with cutting-edge technology for a safer dive experience. Ensuring safety is paramount in our approach, positioning us as leaders in the dive computer industry. Our focus lies in providing divers with quick access to vital information through a simple and intuitive interface, making us among the best in the market.

While we excel in pure dive computers, it's worth noting that in the realm of multi-sports computers, there are devices with more extensive functions applicable to various sports. Although we currently don't compete in the multi-sports computer market, our commitment to safety, functionality, and simplicity makes our dive computers among the top-tier choices available.

8. Dive watches are both functional and stylish. How does Mares strike the right balance between durability for underwater exploration and aesthetics for everyday wear in its dive watch designs?

Dive watches from Mares embody both functionality and style. Striking the perfect equilibrium between durability for underwater adventures and aesthetics for everyday wear is a meticulous process. An essential aspect is our focus on a rechargeable battery design, ensuring longevity that spans many years—typically around 6 to 8 years for the watch I have here. This approach aligns with our commitment to environmental concerns, as we aim to create not just a timepiece but a lifestyle product that offers both satisfaction and sustainability.

9. As someone deeply involved in sales and marketing, how do you foresee the future of the diving market, and how is Mares positioning itself to adapt to emerging trends?

Being deeply immersed in sales and marketing, I envision an increasing array of challenges for the diving market due to ongoing cultural shifts driven by new generations. As we compete with various outdoor sports, our industry faces the need to adapt continuously. Unlike exceptional cases like the Maldives, where diving holds a prominent status, we must acknowledge the global reality where diving competes with numerous other activities.

In destinations like the Maldives, diving stands out as a top-tier activity, capturing the essence of the region. However, this exceptional status is not universal worldwide. To navigate this challenge, the industry must stay attuned to emerging trends, crafting new products and courses that align with the preferences of younger generations. Creating a trend that blends beauty and fashion into the diving experience can be a key strategy to engage and attract enthusiasts.

Remaining vigilant and receptive to change is crucial. Unlike a crocodile with small ears and a big mouth, we must actively listen, observe, and comprehend the evolving landscape to take proactive initiatives. Mares, with its commitment to staying alert, is poised to navigate these shifts and seize opportunities in an ever-evolving market.

10. Your career has spanned over two years at Mares. What personal values or principles have guided your decision-making and contributed to your long-term commitment to the brand?

With a career spanning over two decades at Mares, my enduring commitment to the brand is rooted in my personal values and the working environment. I am deeply passionate about the sea and the ocean, making it more than just a job for me. Even after more than 40 years of diving, the excitement remains, whether it's encountering a tiny nudibranch or observing intricate details in coral and fish. The sheer beauty of the underwater world fascinates me, and this love for the sea has been a constant in my life.

Beyond my passion for diving, Mares has become more than a workplace; it's my family. Every day at the company has been positive, and I feel blessed to have found an environment where the people and camaraderie are exceptional. This positive atmosphere has made my journey at Mares enjoyable and fulfilling. It's not just about going to work and returning home; it's about loving what you do and having passion for it.

Luck has played a role in my journey, being in the right place at the right time. However, focus and dedication are also crucial. If I weren't part of Mares, I couldn't see myself working for another company because of the strong bond and positive environment that has been integral to my professional life.

11. Looking ahead, what excites you most about the future of diving technology, and how does Mares plan to stay at the forefront of these advancements?

Gazing into the future, what sparks my enthusiasm is the continuous evolution of diving technology. At Mares, we are in a perpetual state of innovation, with our 75th anniversary on the horizon. As part of our commitment to staying at the forefront of advancements, we've discreetly included four upcoming products in our catalogues sent to dealers. These undisclosed surprises are set to make waves in the market next year.

Our strategy involves meticulous planning, ensuring we have a well-thought-out roadmap for the next 2 to 3 years. Product development is a journey that spans several years, from conceptualization and planning to execution and market availability. While it presents challenges, it's a positive and exhilarating endeavor. Imagine being akin to an artist, envisioning improvements and cultivating ideas that lead to the creation of something extraordinary—a challenge that remains perpetual and, most importantly, enjoyable.


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