Lenses & Technology: L&T New Products


Selling the Future

From top: GRANT Junior 3176 from Grant USA/Estroff Optical • Circle No. 221;GEN NEXT 158 from Viva International Group • Circle No. 241; ESPRIT Kids 9184 from Charmant Group USA • Circle No. 218; UNITED COLORS OF BENETTON 444 from Altair Eyewear • Circle No. 216
The children’s eyewear retail niche
is now a clear necessity

By Gloria Nicola
Although the participants are small, the business they generate is huge. From clothes to toys to furniture, kids mean serious business. Such giant retailers as the Gap and Pottery Barn have stores—Gap Kids, Baby Gap and Pottery Barn Kids—devoted to children. Designers, the likes of Ralph Lauren and Donna Karan, have long-standing children’s apparel lines. And mega-toy retailer Toys “R” Us has Babies “R” Us, which is devoted exclusively to the fashion, furnishing and fun needs of the youngest consumers. Eyewear professionals, too, realize serving kids is no longer just a niche, it’s a significant part of the overall optical market. According to respondents to 20/20’s Children’s Eyewear MarketPulse Survey of Independents 2003, children represented 20 percent of their customer base in 2002 and children’s products and related services generated 15 percent of total gross dollar sales. The average price for a child’s frame and lenses in 2002 was $165, survey respondents say, slightly down from the $170 cited in 2001, but up from a low of $150 in 2000. The average retail price for a children’s frame also fell in 2002 to $96.50 from $100 in 2001, but was up slightly from $95 in 2000. Children’s spectacle lens prices remained steady for the third consecutive year at $80.

The survey was conducted in May 2003 among 208 independent optical retailers, including opticians, optometrists and dispensing ophthalmologists, by Jobson Optical Research’s in-house research staff. Survey participants were derived from the proprietary Jobson Optical Research database. For the purposes of this report, children’s eyewear consists of frames, lenses, sunglasses and sports glasses sold to children up to 14 years old.

Although the children’s business is essential to the future of optical, it’s an ever-changing sector with its own specific set of challenges—most notably, two sets of customers per visit—the child and the parents. In fact, 65 percent of survey participants report their biggest challenge in selling to children is matching kid’s tastes with the parents’ budget, followed by getting parents and children to agree on eyewear, cited by 63 percent of the respondents. Additionally, 44 percent find it challenging to help children feel as though they are part of the decision-making process. These concerns are of major importance, dispensers emphasize—if the kids don’t like the eyewear, they won’t wear it.

Unfortunately, what kids want is often at odds with what grown ups want. For kids, it’s all about having a broad range of colors. Participants report 96 percent of their child customers select frames on the basis of color. For parents, durability and functionality are key, indicated by 100 percent of the respondents. Interestingly, though, the second most important consideration for both kids (95 percent) and parents (94 percent) is a wide range of frame shapes. Of least interest to kids are frame and lens materials. For parents, branded product is of the least significance. However, for children, branded/licensed eyewear is of major importance (81 percent).

Another challenge often occurs because of the broad age range in the children’s category. Indeed 58 percent of those surveyed find 11- to 14-year-olds (known as tweens) especially challenging. Although still young, this age group does not appreciate cute cartoon figures on their eyewear or play areas filled with stuffed toys and coloring books.

In terms of what’s selling to children, for the most part no dramatic changes were reported in 2002. Branded/licensed names accounted for 50 percent of all frame dollars generated by sales to children for the third consecutive year. Polycarbonate was still far and away the favored lens material for children, comprising 90 percent of dollar sales for lenses in 2002, the same percentage indicated in 2001. And metal was once again the material of choice for children’s frames, representing 85 percent of frame dollar sales—in large part because metal is easier to adjust. However, plastic frame materials made inroads in 2002, increasing from 10 percent in both 2000 and 2001 to 20 percent in 2002, no doubt reflecting the increased interest in plastic among the adult population. And the majority of child patients still receive eye exams on an annual basis, just as they have in the past.

A segment of the children’s market that has experienced change, mostly positive, in the past year is sunwear and sports glasses. Of the locations surveyed, 51 percent say they dispense sunwear to children, up from 42 percent cited in 2001. And 75 percent of the current participants dispensed sports eyewear to children in 2002, an increase from 71 percent in 2001.

Rx sunwear prices for children continued their steady climb in 2002 to $160, up from $150 in 2001 and $140 in 2000. Rx sunwear now accounts for 35 percent of all sunwear dispensed to children, a substantial increase over the 10 percent reported in 2001. Plano sunglasses, too, rose in price from $59.50 in 2000 and $60 in 2001 to $75 in 2002, but lost market share, only accounting for 5 percent of sunglasses sold to children in 2002, down from 13 percent in 2001. Clip prices, however, have held firm for the past three years at $40, but have also lost ground, representing 25 percent of sunwear dispensed to children in 2002, a decrease from 37 percent in 2001.

One area, though, in definite need of improvement is the selling of multiple pairs of eyewear to children. Although everyone agrees, children, more so than adults, need a back-up pair for the times glasses are left at school or at home or inevitably broken on the playground, only 3 percent of those surveyed dispense multiple pairs to children.

It’s clear from this survey that the children’s eyewear market, like the customers it serves, is still growing. It will take time and effort on the part of the optical community before it’s all grown up, but it’s definitely worth the effort. Children are the future of eyewear.

It’s Circus Time
A virtual circus of characters greets children as they enter For Kids Eyes Only, a child-oriented dispensary affiliated with Unity Eye Care in St. Louis. The children’s area, which was redesigned less than two years ago, is separate from the main dispensary, but connected by a hall, sporting a large clown painted on the wall near the entry. The circus motif painted in primary colors by a local artist is carried throughout the dispensary. A small clown, a monkey that appears to support a mirror, giraffe, bear and an elephant with a bag of peanuts at his feet are all part of the circus mural. The peanuts were added on the advice of a child customer who observed the artist at work and noted the elephant looked hungry. Two parrots perch above a full toy box. A two-foot boarder surrounding the frame board consists of train cars loaded with children and toys. All of the animals, children and toys in the paintings are wearing glasses.

The dispensing tables are miniature train cars and a pattern of train tracks runs through the center of the carpet. A moon and stars are painted into the ceiling and a Fisher-Price hot-air balloon floats down. Three stuffed animals—Mickey, Minnie and Winnie the Pooh, each two-and-a-half-feet tall—sit on chairs. At night, the chairs are faced outward so the animals appear to be looking through the windows.

The staff reinforces the child-friendly atmosphere, manager Barbara Martin says. “Not only do our opticians talk directly to the kids, they also put a lot of effort into reassuring the parents,” she notes. “We do a great deal of work with preemies—we have customers as young as three weeks—and the parents are often quite upset at the initial visit. Our staff also spends time guiding the kids and parents in their eyewear selection so it’s agreeable to both parties.” Frame inventory includes Flexon Kids, Nike, X-Games, Disney, Fisher-Price and MagneTwist, a magnetic clip collection.

What’s especially popular with parents is a children’s package starting at $149, Martin says. The package features a frame, lenses and two-year unlimited, extended warranty that offers 50 percent off on a new pair of frame and lenses if the child loses the eyewear.

What kids want is fashion and color, especially blue. Even very young girls are very fashion-oriented and boys just want to look cool, Martin says.

The real success of the business, though, can be attributed to the staff’s knowledge of lens materials. “We provide quality lens materials and know what very small children need,” says Martin. “We use polycarbonate with a hard-scratch coating, Tegra and Resolution products. As a result, we get many referrals from area ophthalmologists and actually provide them with coupons they can give to their customers.” —GN
Selling Kid-size Packages
Children account for 20 percent of the customer base at Health Partners, a medical clinic/HMO with eight eyecare centers in the greater Minneapolis/St. Paul area. Each of the centers has a children’s section within the dispensary and a pediatric ophthalmologist and ABO-certified pediatric technicians, says Rodna Snyder, regional optical supervisor. Two of the locations specialize in pediatrics. Although the dispensaries have individual designs, all of the children’s sections feature lower, more accessible frame boards, small desks and vendor-supplied merchandising materials. Frame collections geared to children include Fisher-Price, X-Games and styles from Nine West, Polo and MagneTwist, a magnetic clip collection.

Special packages for children up to 12 years old are promoted on signage throughout the clinics. Priced at $125 and $145, the packages consist of a frame, polycarbonate lenses and warranty. Almost all of the lenses dispensed to children at Health Partners are polycarbonate. “We rarely get any resistance to polycarbonate from parents because it’s recommended by the doctors,” Snyder says.

Snyder is also seeing less resistance from parents in another key area. “In the past, parents almost always made the final decision on eyewear purchases for children, no matter what the kids wanted. However, in the last couple of years, our opticians have noticed a definite shift. Parents are much more receptive to letting children have what they want. This is really important because we know if the kids don’t like their eyewear, it’s going to inevitably be left in the desk at school or at home.”

Kids like color, Snyder notes. “Kids, both boys and girls, love color—red, blue, green,” she explains. “And they definitely prefer metal. It’s what the big kids wear.” —