Features: Retailing

Apr
2005

Optically Inclined

Optically Inclined
In the athletic world, Sports Optical’s Bret Hunter is truly lord of the lens By Jackie Micucci


Bret Hunter, owner of Sports Optical and an avid cyclist who has competed in the X Games, has fit athletes of every ilk from all across the globe in sport-specific eyewear. Hunter has developed his own lens technology as well as designed lens machinery to address athletes’ unique vision needs.

Bret Hunter has always been active in sports, especially cycling. He has also worn glasses since the fourth grade. However, at an early age he discovered that the majority of opticians he went to said the two didn’t mix.
   "They’d tell me to get contact lenses and wear plano sunglasses over them," he recalls. "I never had glasses for sports."
   After serving in the U.S. Army, Hunter decided to study opticianry. He had long ago decided he was going to solve the optics problems involved when creating glasses for athletes.
   In 1993, he started his eyewear business part time. He would attend bike races and listen to the needs of the athletes. He wanted to be totally committed before he set up shop full time. "You have to spend a lot of time and put a lot of energy in it plus they’ll [the athletes] know if you don’t know what you’re talking about," explains Hunter. "If they get product and it doesn’t work, they’re never coming back." Just two years later, in 1995, Sports Optical in Lakewood, Colo. opened its doors.


Hunter shows off some of Sports Optical’s offerings. About 80 percent of the dispensary’s business is in sports-related eyewear.



DYNAMIC
DISPENSING

WHO
Sports Optical

ESTABLISHED
1995

LOCATION
Lakewood, Colo.

NUMBER OF
STORES
One

AVERAGE SALE OF A COMPLETE
EYEWEAR
PACKAGE

$250

NUMBER OF
EMPLOYEES

One (Owner Bret Hunter does it all)

20/20 TAKE

It takes a good sport to make great sports eyewear.

   The dispensary has been a haven for athletes who could find no one to take care of their special sport-specific needs. "I developed a formula to accommodate the wrap of frames," says Hunter. "I developed the technology to switch out Rx lenses and do it easily; I’ve been offering it for about six to seven years. People often ask me, ‘Did you use a computer to figure out the formula?’ If I could use a computer to figure it out, don’t you think someone else would be doing it. It’s all trial and error on the athletes and myself."
   It is truly a labor of love for Hunter, who has been cycling for almost 30 years and has competed in the X Games. In addition, he both sponsors and founded one of Colorado’s top cycling teams—the Haul ’N Ass Race Team.
   "I don’t deal in percentages," he says." My only concern is quality, first and foremost." It takes him about a full hour of straight labor to finish a pair of eyeglasses.
   "For a regular pair of glasses you just stick it in a machine. You can do a CR-39 in a zyl frame in about six or seven minutes and there are machines that are even faster. Someone making eight glasses a shift is not cost effective."
   One of the reasons Hunter is able to process lenses other opticians and companies can’t, is that he designs his own machines for finishing lenses. "My friend Joe was a machinist who made things for NASA at one time and he helps me design and build what I need," he says.
   The shop is pretty much a one man show even though Hunter has the occasional part timer coming in to help out. "I work a lot of late nights," he says. "I come to work at nine in the morning and leave at about one in the morning. I did teach my best friend how to grind lenses but he usually just ends up doing his own lenses," Hunter jokes.
   Sports Optical boasts customers from Antarctica to Europe to Japan, many of which Hunter’s never actually met in the flesh. "I have glasses on every continent," notes the optician. He has made sports glasses not just for cyclists and skiers, but also for dog sled racers, the national squash champion and billiards players. When other dispensers are stumped, they send their patients to Hunter. In fact one of his customers is a rep for a major lens manufacturer.
   Another part of Hunter’s vast clientelle are motorcyclists. "About 30 percent of our business comes from them," Hunter notes. "They are usually looking for durability, good coverage and the ability to change coverage. It’s not unusual for me to have a group of eight Harleys pull up in their leathers and at the same time there will be the racing team back from their ride wandering around in spandex."
   So with all the work and time involved, just how much does the average pair of complete glasses cost at Sports Optical? About $250. "I want to give the people value," says Hunter. "I could charge twice that but I’d have less business."
   Hunter does no advertising other than sports sponsorships. Nor does he need to. The vast majority of his business is through word-of-mouth.
   With 80 percent of its sales purely sports-related, Sports Optical’s most popular brands are Rudy Project, Smith and Gatorz. Hunter also features a house brand called Jackass. The shop occasionally gets ski resort customers from nearby Denver, but in general the shop’s name says it all.
   What lies in the future for Hunter? The optician/cyclist has plans on expanding Sports Optical. "The area I’m in is a little bit slower customer-traffic wise, which is not good for business but gave me time to develop the technology that I have," he says. "I’m looking for a second location. But glasses are small. They don’t need too big of a space."

 

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