Scott Poupore believes in the “real estate theory” of dispensing high-performance Rx sunwear. “It’s all about location, location, location,” says the veteran optician. “You could have the best product selection in the world and be the most knowledgable optician in the world and there are some areas where you will never be able to sell a lot of high-performance sunwear.”
Poupore’s current home—Vail, Colo.—isn’t one of them. In fact, his employer, Eye Pieces of Vail, might be the prototype for dispensing Rx product in this fast-growing category. Owned by Daniel Barry, Eye Pieces has three locations (including two small, satellite dispensaries) in and around the popular ski resort. Poupore describes the optical shop as a “high-end, high-volume boutique.” An astounding 80 percent of its sales, the optician says, start with Rx sunglasses sales, not clear ophthalmic. The dispensary sells sun styles from Oakley, Kaenon, Revo, Oliver Peoples, Costa del Mar and Maui Jim, among others, and ophthalmic frames from lines such as Cartier.
Several unique facets of Eye Pieces’ business have helped position the shop for success in the Rx sun category. First, the dispensary finishes all of the lenses it sells in-office. Through the experience of its lab techs and opticians and a lot of trial and error, Poupore admits, it has developed a proprietary process for finishing Rx lenses for wrap-style frames. The process not only involves unique applications of state-of-the-art finishing technology, but also skilled hand-crafting of lenses.
“At the retail level, you don’t call it R&D; you call it breakage. And we broke a lot of lenses to get to this point,” he says. “Not a lot of dispensaries can take that on. Being able to Rx the wrap frames is key to capturing the high-performance sunwear patient. They don’t want a flat frame with a tinted lens. They want the styles they see the pros wearing on the slopes and they want it in Rx. We can show them styles from Revo and Oakley and they’ll say, ‘You can do that?’ There’s a certain secret to Rx-ing wrap styles.”
A secret Eye Pieces isn’t about to divulge. “There are [wholesale] labs out there that can process this work,” is all Poupore will say. “But the fact we can do it in-house is huge for us because it means we can deliver product right away. Since most of our customers don’t live here—they come here on vacation—they don’t want to wait for their glasses.”
For those dispensers who may not be able to handle the trial and error work necessary to bring this sunlens finishing capability into their in-house labs, there are alternatives, according to Poupore. Several major sunglass-makers—including Kaenon, Oakley and Maui Jim—have programs where dispensers can file orders for Rx sunwear directly to the manufacturer. The only disadvantage, according to some retailers who have participated in such programs (not Poupore, who has worked with all of them closely while at Eye Pieces), is the turnaround time. Through some manufacturers, it can take as long as two weeks to fill these orders. Still, the quality of the final product is generally unsurpassed.
Of course, having access to the processing technology needed to Rx wrap styles—whether it’s on-site or out-sourced—is vital to dispensing high-performance sunwear. But so is having knowledge of the product category. According to Poupore, Eye Pieces’ location not only gives the shop a captive customer base it also gives them access to staff with real-life experience.
“Everyone who lives here has eight or nine hobbies,” says Poupore, a skier himself. “The area attracts athletic types. Our customers come in here and see our people behind the counter with hat head from being out on the slopes all day. It’s just natural for them to ask, ‘Hey, what do you recommend?’”
In general, the optician says, these customers want frames that look good and fit well (tight enough to stay on during sports participation and still be comfortable). On the lens side, they want specs offering protection from the sun (usually in the periphery—hence wraps—as well as the front) and don’t fog up on the slopes. They also want frames and lenses that are durable (i.e., not prone to scratching). It’s up to the optician selling these products to know these issues either first-hand (from participation in the sports their patients are interested in or from speaking to their patients)—and they need to be able to recommend products that address them.
One aspect of high-performance sunwear dispensing Poupore emphasizes strongly is lenses. Often lost in the shuffle of the glamour of many of the wrap sun styles, lens technology is a “big deal” to most if not all of his patients. The vast majority of lenses he dispenses to the high-performance patients in his shop are polarized polycarbonate. The material, he says, offers protection for the wearer as well as ease of use in the lab because it doesn’t “flake” during processing.
“They look to us to put them at ease when it comes to lenses,” he continues. “When they go to Dr. X in Peoria and ask for a sunglass lens, he gives them a gray tint. That’s okay at home, but our customers—high-performance sunwear customers—want high-performance. They are conditioned to that from the sunglass marketing on the plano side. That’s the nature of these customers. They want what they used to wear before they needed glasses and they want it in Rx. If you can deliver that, you’ll be successful in this business.”