Lenses & Technology: L&T New Products


Under the Sun

Opitcal’s smart retailers heat up the bottom line with sunglass sales

By Gloria Nicola


From top: SPX 3182 from Silhouette Optical; LULU GUINNESS 416 from Tura; OLEG CASSINI A Love Affair That Never Ends from Avalon Eyewear

As a product category, sunglasses continue to add sizzle to the optical business. In fact, according to 20/20’s 2005 Sunwear Survey of Independents conducted among 150 independent retailers and practitioners nationwide, the forecast for the sunglass business is quite bright. However, there are still some clouds on the horizon. The good news is 73 percent of those surveyed say their Rx sunglass business is on the rise. Additionally, respondents report sunwear products in 2004 accounted on average for 16 percent of total gross retail dollars, just slightly under frames, which represented 19 percent of retail sales. Spectacle lenses claimed the lion’s share at 40 percent, followed by contact lenses at 20 percent. Also significant is the average price of $251.04 cited in this survey for Rx sunglasses. The average price quoted for eyeglasses (spectacle lenses and frame) was $240.48. Even more interesting is the fact 75 percent of Rx sunglasses dispensed by survey respondents sold for an average of $200 and up, with a full 31 percent selling at $300 and above.

Two factors have undoubtedly played major roles in helping the optical market grow its sunglass business. Consumers knowledgeable about the need for sunwear and the variety of options available have increased over the past five years, according to 71 percent of those participating in the survey. The other factor is optical’s emphasis on providing service, information and distinctive product. In fact, service cited by 45 percent, was the top differentiating factor respondents say they have to offer over other channels of distribution, such as department, sunglass specialty and sports specialty stores. Participants also report customers seek them out for frame/lens knowledge, product customization and the quality and variety of branded and specialized product they offer.

From top: ZERO from Oakley; GARDENIA from Hana Eyewear; BLING BLING LUNETTES 004 from Revolution Eyewear; JALAPENOS SOL Antares from A&A OPTICAL

One of the specialized products that does well for the optical market and certainly helps that bottom line is polarization. In fact, participants say 78 percent of all clip-ons, 56 percent of all Rx sunwear and 55 percent of plano sunwear dispensed by them is polarized.

Clip-on sunlenses, too, help optical’s bottom line. Although decidedly less expensive than prescription sunwear, the average price indicated for a clip, $61.30, is not an insignificant price for an add-on. 

Another specialized product optical retailers offer consumers is photochromic lenses, a technology that has recently become a popular item for children. Indeed 33 percent of those surveyed sell photochromics to children under the age of 16.

Still another area that differentiates optical retailers from other channels of distribution is in the selection of premium lens materials available. Although the majority of sunlenses dispensed by respondents (58 percent for Rx and 61 percent for plano) is plastic, polycarbonate accounts for 29 percent of Rx sunlenses sold and 31 percent of plano among those surveyed. An additional 9 percent of Rx sunlenses are made of high-index plastic.

A service optical can provide consumers that definitely sets them apart from other channels is customized Rx programs. Of those surveyed, 33 percent say they participate in prescription programs offered by name-brand sunwear/sport companies. This figure, however, should be considerably higher. Retailers need to follow the direction of vendors, who have dedicated a great deal of effort to creating programs that duplicate proprietary performance-oriented features in prescription lenses.

The performance factor brings up yet another aspect optical retailers feel has been beneficial to the sun business. Over the last few years there has been a definite merging between fashion-oriented sunwear and sports-oriented sunglasses. Fashion sunglasses, although designed for street and urban wear, often are available with a variety of performance-oriented features including such lens treatments as  polarization, and grippable rubberized bridges and temple tips. And manufacturers are dressing up sport glasses with hot colors and contemporary shapes without sacrificing performance features. Actually 57 percent of the respondents feel the lines between the two categories are blurring and 67 percent think the merging is beneficial to sunglasses. In fact, the blending of the two areas should be beneficial to both sunglass and sport glass sales. Those individuals—frequently women reluctant to wear sport glasses because they often seemed bulky and unattractive in the past—now have many satisfactory options available. And performance features in fashion glasses appeal to those who may not be athletes, but think of themselves as having an active lifestyle.

Source: 20/20’s Sunwear Survey of Independents 2005

Although optical is making significant inroads in selling sunwear, there are still some cloudy patches that need to be cleared up.

The sun does not discriminate based on age. Yet the vast majority of respondents (80 percent) report they sell prescription sunwear primarily to adults between the ages of 17 and 44. Adults between the ages of 45 and 54 as well as those 55 and older were major sunwear purchasers for only 16 percent and 4 percent, receptively, of those surveyed. Not one respondent indicated children under 17 as major purchasers of sunwear. This is a huge problem. Everyone needs sunwear. 

Source: 20/20’s Sunwear Survey of Independents 2005

Source: 20/20’s Sunwear Survey of Independents 2005

Another area that needs serious work is when sunwear is sold. The sun knows no season. It is always there. Yet the majority of respondents characterized sunglass sales as high only during July and August (64.9 percent) and May and June (51.7 percent)—with a dramatic fall off for the rest of the year, ranging from a high of 17.2 percent for September and October to a low of only 6 percent for January and February.

A third area in which optical is falling far short of its potential is in dispensing sunglasses to contact lens wearers. Although two thirds of the retailers surveyed claim they always recommend their contact lens patients buy sunglasses (up from just over half last year), 89 percent say fewer than 25 percent of their patients make a sunwear purchase at the time they are fitted for new contact lenses even though they will need sunglasses the moment they step outside.

It’s certainly obvious sunwear has a twofold benefit. It benefits the patient’s vision health. And it benefits the practitioner’s bottom line. But optical has to be more diligent in getting its message out there loud and clear. Everyone of your customers, regardless of age, needs sunwear, every day of the year. Until this message is delivered 100 percent of the time to 100 percent of the patients, sunwear is not going to reach its full potential.

Source: 20/20’s Sunwear Survey of Independents 2005

Source: 20/20’s Sunwear Survey of Independents 2005