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Couple bringing camera-equipped goggle company to airport

[caption id="attachment_35458" align="alignright" width="330" caption="Liquid Image principals Kent and Melanie Pearson at their new Santa Rosa headquarters"][/caption]

SANTA ROSA -- A Sacramento-area company that is enjoying rapid sales growth worldwide for a line of sports masks and goggles with built-in cameras for image and video capture is relocating to Sonoma County to be closer to the founders' roots.

In the next month, Kent and Melanie Pearson, ages 42 and 39, plan to move Liquid Image Co. LLC to 4,151 square feet of warehouse and office space leased at 5610 Skylane Blvd. near Charles M. Schulz -- Sonoma County Airport.

The business is lean -- about 10 people currently, including a Hong Kong office to manage contract manufacturing in China. The product, a $99 snorkel mask with a camera on the forehead portion, was released in 2008, and sales reached $2.3 million that year, $3.2 million the second year and $3.8 million last year.

Because of nationwide media exposure for a new line of off-road motorsports and ski goggles announced late last year, as well as new higher-end versions for snorkel and scuba diving, the company is projecting sales will reach $11 million in 2011.

"This market will expand, because people are interested in capturing every moment of their lives," said Ms. Pearson, vice president.

Primary buyers are vacationers, athletes and instructors, but possible markets are the military and news. Camera eyewear for paintball, skydiving and swimming are being developed, although consumers have been using existing products for such activities.

Suggested prices start at $99 for dive masks, $250 for snow goggles and $400 for motorcross goggles. The devices can store up to a few hours of video and thousands of images on removable memory cards.

Action sport cameras have moved from being a "novelty" item at dealers of power sports vehicles and accessories in 2008 to one of the top 10 selling products last year, according to ADP Lightspeed sales data cited by trade publication Dealer News. The article noted that Liquid Image is among the up-and-coming makers of sports point-of-view cameras challenging dominant players GoPro and Contour.

What's changed is the simultaneous decrease in the size of cameras, increase in quality and quantity of images and video recorded, and boom in the use of the Internet for sharing homemade videos.

Video streaming online reached an all-time high in May, with 15 billion clips or movies watched by 145 million unique viewers, according to The Nielsen Co. Google's YouTube venue for amateur and professional content served up the most last month, at 8.86 billion videos.

Product designers by trade, the Pearsons held off on the camera concept because they wanted to build it into the mask directly between the eyes for a perspective just like that of the user, rather than from a camera mounted on the helmet or off to the side of the goggles, as in products by action sport camera competitors.

The cameras were small enough for such a mounting several years ago, but the quality wasn't as high as they wanted, Ms. Pearson said.

"If we had done it earlier, the camera would have been too bulky and too expensive to meet the consumer price point," she said.

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Married in 1996, the Santa Rosa natives started a product design company in Southern California, later moving to Sacramento for the less expensive real estate, closer proximity to family and access to flights to Hong Kong and major trade show venues such as Las Vegas.

By that time, commercial airline service out of Santa Rosa had ceased. Ms. Pearson said they're pleased Horizon Air came to the airport in 2009 and now has daily flights to Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

The product design company moved into manufacturing in 2002 while preparing a prototype ride for a Taiwan science museum for production in China. Kent Pearson brought a prototype for a spiral-shaped foam football and found a factory willing to front the less than $1,000 needed for the manufacturing mold.

Zocker Toys was born, and sales of that and other products to Wal-Mart and other mass merchandisers funded development of the mask camera.

Though residual orders come in for the toys, that venture is on the back burner as the camera company expands.

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The company is hiring in Santa Rosa for customer service, shipping and support for sales and marketing.

Paul Schwartz of Cassidy Turley BT Commercial represented Liquid Image in the lease deal. Preston Smith of Cornish & Carey Commercial Newmark Knight Frank represented property owners Bruce and Sandra Rocco.

Contact Liquid Image at 916-721-4848 or visit www.liquidimageco.com.