Features: Successful Retail Strategies

Jul
2003

Optical wizardry

 

Follow the yellow-brick road to success with kids

By Jackie Micucci

Photos by Mike Tamborrino

Eric Silverstein, owner of
Test Rite Opticians/The Wizard of Eyes, with just a few of the toys the dispensary has to entertain its younger clientele;  stuffed animals are among the items used to merchandise kids’ product; some of the 500 styles of children’s eyewear on display at the shop.

Kids have always been good for business at Test Rite Opticians/ The Wizard of Eyes. Since the Livingston, N.J. optical shop first opened its doors back in 1976, it has made the children’s category both an important and viable specialty.

When Eric Silverstein took over the dispensary in 1995, he kept that tradition going. Children’s eyewear accounts for about 35 percent of total sales at the store. “The Wizard of Eyes section is our play on the children’s part of the business,” says Silverstein, who has been in the optical industry since 1982, including 10 years as a regional manager for LensCrafters. “It gives us a personal niche none of the chains are trained to do.”

And “personal” is exactly the type of attention customers receive. Silverstein will often schedule young patients’ appointments before normal business hours. “We schedule appointments before we open for parents who want private attention or if the parents are worried about their child acting up in front of other customers,” he says. “This morning we fit a seven-month-old baby. They came in at 10 before we opened. We custom made a pair of glasses that wouldn’t hurt him when he was crawling around.”

Silverstein breaks out the children’s segment into three facets. “One is fashion,” he explains. “Even a seven-year-old girl is looking to be trendy. Two is durability. We have a lifetime guarantee for those customers 13 and under. No matter how many times the frame breaks we’ll replace it. The third is optics.”

Optics is indeed a key part of the dispensary’s reputation. Test Rite specializes in hard to fit children’s prescriptions. The shop, which does not have an optometrist or ophthalmologist on site, works with two local pediatric ophthalmologists who recommend patients—especially their more difficult Rxs—to the dispensary.

“There is no doctor on the premises,” notes Silverstein. “It all comes from the outside so it’s important to have a strong reputation with local doctors. There has to be a reason to send the children to us. We don’t get the typical minus two patient; we get the child with Down Syndrome who has a minus 13.” In fact, Test Rite’s strong reputation with kids brings customers from all over including some that fly in from Florida or drive several hours out of their way.
There are also more business savvy touches that help the practice build relationships with its customers. “Something else that’s unique to our business is that if a patient—both kids and adults—lose their glasses in a year after they’ve purchased, them we’ll replace the glasses at 40 percent off,” says Silverstein.

The Wizard of Eyes children’s section of Test Rite takes up 400 square feet of the 1,000-square-foot dispensary. The area is designed to hold young, finicky attention spans. “We have two benches full of stuffed animals and two baskets full of toys,” notes Silverstein. “There are little cars for boys to play with. Typically parents come in with a sibling so they need to keep them occupied. Kids have a short attention span; they need to be fit in five to 10 minutes. We use the toys as props to get them involved.”

Approximately 500 styles are on display with popular kids’ brands being Grant, Guess, Esprit and Nike. “Older kids and teens like brands such as Giorgio Armani, Kate Spade and Polo,” adds Silverstein. The average price for a complete pair of children’s eyewear is $248.

As children get older, brands play a larger role in the eyewear selection process. “A nine-year-old girl will wander to the adult section and want a Kate Spade style,” says Silverstein. “Eyewear is a fashion business and an accessory. The older kids understand that. We just try to get a price category the parents are comfortable with. We’ll tell the parents to select a frame that they are comfortable with looks wise and we’ll take care of the sizing and lenses.”

Test Rite works with several local labs. A strong lens brand for the dispensary is Fisher-Price’s Tough Guard. Kids always get polycarbonate lenses but Silverstein stays away from dispensing youngsters AR coating. “With kids, AR will be scratched up in six to seven months,” he says. “It’s not worth it for parents to pay for AR.
We do more clip-ons and Transition lenses. Plus all the lenses have Scratch Guard.”
Because there are eight other independent optical shops as well as all the major chains in the Livingston area, Silverstein stresses the importance of staying competitive. “We’re building a long-term relationship, which is critical with no doctor on the premises,” he says, adding wryly the store has “two-and-a-half” opticians on staff. “Most of our business is repeat business. Once we know what the customer’s price range is we try to keep that relative. We’ll show two price categories. If we tell them a frame is $190 and they balk, we’ll pull down something at a lower price point.”

Optician Tara Mannigan with owner Eric Silverstein in the 400-square-foot Wizard of Eyes section of Test Rite Opticians; popular brands for kids include Guess, Esprit and Grant.
As for the adult side of Test Rite, the dispensary caters to the middle and upper end customer. “We deal with more of a fashion-forward patient,” notes Silverstein. Popular adult brands include O & X, Grant, Click 12 and Beausoleil as well as such designer names as Gucci, Polo and Hugo Boss. The average cost of complete adult eyewear ranges between $280 and $300. Between 1,500 to 2,000 adult styles are on display.

“We fit a variety of lenses including the new Varilux and Zeiss brands,” says Silverstein. “We try to keep up to date with thinner materials.” Close to 30 percent of adult customers purchase AR coating. “The adults have an understanding of the care involved verses kids who are in and out of different eyewear every year,” explains Silverstein. “We warrantee AR for two years. We don’t do any [lens] packaging for adults; it’s all broken out by category.”
Tara Mannigan helps fit a young customer. Personal attention is a key ingredient to the dispensary’s long-term success in the children’s category.
Test Rite also does a good business in Rx sun. “We’re heavy into polarized lenses; we do a lot of custom mirrors and clip-ons through eClips. That’s our second sale,” says Silverstein. “Especially when somebody is concerned about price, a clip-on is more reasonable than another pair of glasses. We’re also selling more Transitions now than in the last five years because of the economy.”

The dispensary, which has an annual sales volume of about $500,000 has been somewhat affected by the weak economy. “We are absolutely affected by the economy. We have patients doing just lenses only,” says Silverstein. “We have customers who will get by for another year without new frames or are looking for more price-conscious frames. They’re not doing more expensive pairs this year. We’re changing our buying patterns a little bit. I’d say we’ve changed 15 percent of our product to accommodate a more price-conscious customer. We’re feeling the impact more on the plano sunglass side. We carry 300 pieces of plano sun. That’s where we’re finding more of a price-conscious shopper. Customers are buying their plano sun at department stores and Sunglass Huts.”

But Silverstein notes that being too reactionary is a sure way to turn off his loyal customers.

“We’re known for a certain thing so we’re not going to change our product base too much,” he explains. “If we change too much we’ll lose our loyal patients.” And that loyalty has been cultivated with almost 30 years of customized service for patients both young and old.

 

|