Eyewear and Trends: Frames and Sunwear Trends


Sunny Side Up

Sunny Side Up

The warming trend continues for sunglass sales
By Gloria Nicola

To paraphrase a certain ’80s song, to make optical’s future so bright, you’ve got to get your patients to wear shades. As a product category, sunglass sales are hot, but there are still a few cool patches, according to the findings of 20/20’s Sunwear Survey of Independents 2004 conducted nationwide among nearly 150 independent retailers and practitioners. Almost half of the survey respondents (49 percent) report that the percentage of total retail dollars generated from sunwear products increased in 2003 compared with the previous year. Even more significant, 57 percent of those surveyed say sales revenue from Rx sunglasses, the most expensive of sunglass products, increased in the past year. An additional 44 percent report clip-ons contributed a larger portion of retail dollars than in the previous year. Also 60 percent of the respondents indicate growth in the percentage of Rx frames sold in the past 12 months that came with clips.

During the current uncertain economic times, getting consumers to buy a prescription sunglass or a clip for ophthalmic eyewear is a key to driving up the bottom line. What has undoubtedly helped the optical market grow its sunglass business is an emphasis on providing service, information and distinctive product. In fact, service was the top differentiating factor survey respondents say they have to offer over other channels of distribution, such as department, sunglass specialty and sports specialty stores. Frame and lens knowledge is cited as a close second. Participants also report customers seek them out for the quality and variety of branded and specialized product they offer.

One of the specialized products that does well for the optical market is polarization. In fact, 70 percent of the participants say they sold more polarized lenses in the past 12 months than in the previous 12 months. Only 4 percent report selling fewer polarized lenses.
Another specialized service optical retailers offer consumers is customized Rx programs. Although only 24 percent of those surveyed say they participate in prescription programs offered by name-brand sunwear companies, a full 60 percent of current participants report working with more such programs now than they did five years ago. Retailers need to follow the direction of vendors, who have dedicated a great deal of effort to creating programs that duplicate proprietary features in prescription lenses.

A major factor undoubtedly contributing to optical’s success in the sunwear market is consumer knowledge. As a result of widely available information on the need for UV protection and an increase in brand-oriented advertising campaigns, 74 percent of the respondents indicate their customers are more knowledgeable about sunwear (frames, lenses and materials) than they were five years ago. And 65 percent say their customers are more knowledgeable about sunglass brands than they were five years ago.

Although optical is making significant inroads in selling sunwear, there’s still considerable room for improvement. Just over half, 51 percent of the respondents, say they always recommend sunglasses to their contact lens customers. And 24 percent report never recommending sunglasses to contact lens wearers. This is twofold neglect. It neglects a patient’s vision care AND it neglects improving the dispensers’ bottom line. The message regarding the necessity of sunglasses for contact lens wearers has to get out there—100 percent of the time—before consumers leave the premises and go elsewhere for the sunglasses they definitely need. Delivering this important message also could lead to an increase in plano sun sales—the weakest sunglass category for optical retailers. Only 29 percent of those surveyed report an increase for plano sales in 2003 and 19 percent cite a decline.

Another message that should be reinforced is sunwear knows no season. Yet the majority of respondents characterized sunglass sales as high only during July and August (63 percent) and May and June (55 percent)—with a dramatic fall off for the other eight months, ranging from a high of 16 percent for September and October to a low of 5 percent for January and February. How’s this for an immediate advantage to any 20/20 reader. Use our January issue, which is always dedicated to sun as a reminder to sell sun all year.

It’s clear from this survey the optical sunwear market is heating up, but it has not begun to reach its boiling point. The potential is limitless. The product is there. Knowledgeable consumers are present. But for sunwear to really sizzle, there must be a focused and constant commitment on the part of retailers throughout the entire year. 

Source: 20/20’s Sunwear Survey of Independents 2004

20/20 Magazine’s 2004 Sunwear Survey is based on data collected from structured phone interviews with 147 independent optical retailers and practitioners. All interviews were conducted by 20/20 Research’s in-house staff. Respondents were offered no incentive to participate.

The survey sample was developed to reflect the national population of independent optical retailers and practitioners based on region, annual sales volume, company size and whether or not there is an OD or MD on site at the practice. This data was derived from the proprietary Jobson Optical Research Database, which is updated quarterly.  All interviews were conducted in November 2003. Data is presented from a retailer’s or practitioner’s perspective and may reflect seasonal market and thus behavioral fluctuations. While the sample was tailored to reflect the national makeup of dispensing locations, the results of this survey cannot be projected to the entire optical universe.

Note: Due to the limitations of a structured interview format, not all respondents provided complete answers to all survey questions.
 —Rachel Mansfield, Manager, Research Publications