Eyewear and Trends: Frames and Sunwear Trends


The Rx Factor in Sunwear

STEVE MADDEN 013 from Colors in Optics • Circle No. 233

Are You Ready for

A selection of Rxable sport glasses featuring proprietary lens technology: From top: HALF PINT, children’s plastic rectangular wrap, from Oakley • Circle No. 229; NIKE with Flexon Milo, rimless bowtie, from Marchon Eyewear • Circle No. 227; HS SCOOP, plastic rectangular wrap, from Spy • Circle No. 230; GARGOYLES POLARIZED GXP 3520, rectangular lenses mounted on top browbar, from Gargoyles • Circle No. 226; SIREN, plastic butterfly with WAVE 400 lenses, from Costa Del Mar • Circle No. 225; MAUI JIM 128, plastic/metal almond design, from Maui Jim • Circle No. 228

By Gloria Nicola

By offering prescription eyewear customers a variety of premium and customized prescription sunlenses, dispensers can improve their sun business and their bottom line. It’s not a difficult sell, retailers say. Consumer awareness of the necessity of eye protection and the general health awareness of the Baby Boomers coupled with the emergence of sunglasses as a major fashion accessory have spurred growth in prescription sunwear. In fact, 20/20’s 2003 Sunwear MarketPulse Survey of Independents shows Rx sunwear accounted for 48.3 percent of total gross dollar sales generated by sunwear products in 2002.

One retailer who has long committed to sunwear is Jon Gruen, head of Gruen Optika, with six locations in New York City and three in the greater metropolitan area. Rx sunglass sales account for 27 percent of Gruen’s business. “The fact sunglasses are such an accepted fashion accessory makes our job fairly easy,” Gruen notes. “Open any magazine from In Style to Vanity Fair to Vogue and you see more sunglass ads than cosmetic ads. This was not the case five years ago. But we do need to integrate sun into our presentation,” he emphasizes. His sales staff is trained to mention the necessity of sunwear after completing an ophthalmic sale.

What has also helped Gruen’s sunwear business is the Baby Boomers. “This group has had a dramatic impact on sales. We ask our presbyope customers if they read at the beach. The response is frequently ‘yes.’ We then suggest sunlenses with add powers,” he notes. Gruen says an Rx sunglass with a backside A-R coating (which he always recommends) starts at $325. His business has also been aided by an in-house lab, which can provide polarized Rx sunlenses in two to three days and lenses with specialized coatings in five working days.

Displaying a large selection of plano sunwear significantly influences the Rx sun business at Europtics, which has four locations in the Denver area. “It’s much easier for customers to make the leap to prescription sunlenses [which accounts for approximately 10 percent of total sales] if they see a sunlens in an existing frame,” says Europtics president Ira Haber. In fact, 70 percent of the Rx sunglasses Haber sells were on display as plano sunglasses. An average price for an Rx sunglass for Europtics is $275. Premium options such as polarization, anti-reflection and mirrors coatings strongly effect the bottom line on Rx products, Haber notes. He says more than half the Rx sun he dispenses is polarized. “We also do a lot of mirror coatings and it’s almost essential to have an A-R back coating on mirror lenses,” says the retailer. “When we’re not doing a mirror, we often recommend A-R on both sides to seal in the colors because fading is a major problem here.”

Premium options also impact the sunglass business at the two Village Eye Works locations in Arizona. Owner Bob Royden says 97 percent of people who buy Rx sunglasses from him get polarization. Rx sunwear accounts for 33 percent of his business. An average Rx sunglass sells for $550, but can easily go up to a $1,000. He believes this part of the business has increased over the past few years because of general awareness of the need for sun protection and because sunglasses are fun to wear. He notes 50 percent of his sunglass customers come in looking for Rx sunglasses. The other 50 percent purchase sunglasses as a second pair.

At Optical Designs in Santa Monica, Calif. the majority of Rx sun customers—Rx sunlenses accounts for 33 percent of the business—come in specifically for sunglasses, according to owner Rick Hogan. “We promote sunwear heavily in our windows and since we are a corner location, we have lots of windows,” Hogan says, adding his customers expect UV protection. “That’s a given now, but they’re also very aware of polarization and ask many questions.”
One product the California retailer has had success with is Transitions Next Generation. “It’s ideal for people who only want one pair of eyewear and don’t like the idea of clips. We also do quite a few Transitions in polycarbonate for kids. Parents are less reluctant to spend extra for the Transitions product than to buy a separate Rx sunglass for kids who are more likely to lose a sunglass than an ophthalmic frame,” he says. An average price for single-vision sunglasses at Optical Designs is between $350 and $500.

Although the Rx sun business at Schaeffer Eye Center with 10 locations in Alabama is not where Jack Schaeffer, OD, would like it to be—it only accounts for about five percent of overall business—it’s been improving. “It probably would be up to 10 percent, but today’s economy is hindering us,” the OD notes. “Many of our patients are not comfortable buying two pairs of eyewear. If they do have prescription sunwear, they tend to wait three or four years to replace it, about twice the replacement cycle for ophthalmic frames,” Dr. Schaeffer says.
To spur sun sales, Schaeffer Eye Center has begun a staff training program. “It’s essential our staff not only understand the necessity of sunwear and how to explain it to our patients, they also need to be aware of all the options,” he says. Additionally, it’s very beneficial if doctors discuss sunwear with their patients during the exam process, he adds.

Whatever the specific strategy, providing a wide variety of premium products and options coupled with extensive knowledge of features and benefits can result in a bright future for the prescription sun business. “Even though the sun business isn’t what it should be,” says Dr Schaeffer, “the positive side is it gives us a lot of opportunity to expand in the future.”