|The New Value of|
By James Spina
Photos by Nedjeljko Matura
With an intensity not seen since the early ’90s, lower-priced frame products—“value” eyewear—has surged back into popularity in the optical arena. The range of reasons stretch from a (world-wide) wounded economy to the reality of managed care. Although this category can dig to a low of “cheap” glasses at the two and three dollar range 20/20 has set a price of under $25 (price to the dispenser) in order to designate the classification of “Inexpensive” in our New Products section.
|From top: RICHARD TAYLOR DESIGNS Riley from Eyewear by ROI; AMADEUS AZSR01 from Optimate; SABATINI Thin Rim 4 from Smilen Eyewear; ST. MORITZ Sassa from LBI|
|Though dispensers spoken to are leery when it comes to discussing pricing to the dispenser, most were in agreement that “the real cheap stuff” will only win you a one-time sale that will never to be seen again as a repeat customer. As Tim Merdiff, an optician from Brownsville, Texas put it: “Cheap doesn’t cut it these days. You need to be ready to deliver quality product and you better be ready to pay at least $15 dollars for that frame or you’re going to be letting junk go out the door. And the only thing you can be sure of is the customer will be back the next week with the frame in one hand and the lenses in the other.”|
What follows are some pointed remarks and advice on the steps optical dispensers have taken recently building on the premise that there is new value in quality-driven value eyewear.
Insurance Policy “Allowances on medical insurance keep getting lower and lower so the only way I can deliver a superior lens package is by teaming it with a solid value frame. My managed-care selection certainly addresses that angle but I always need some more fashionable, low-priced frames to offer my customers already bombarded by the TV and magazine lure of designer brands. I don’t necessarily need the designer name but I usually need at least the look.”— Marcus Van, optician, Bowie, Md.
No Insurance “I now envy practices that have the option of managed care and customers with insurance coverage. In this part of the country my new dilemma is customers who have lost their jobs and their insurance. Selling them a three-dollar frame is not going to win me anything. But at least I can be comfortable knowing that a frame I spent about $12 on isn’t going to fall apart in a few weeks. Anything cheaper and you just can’t adjust for fit.” — Terry Satch, optician, Bethleham, Pa.
De-Clipped “I would always try to sell my customers on clips to go with their glasses but lately everyone seems more interested in photochromics. So my new version of getting a second pair for half-price usually means trying to sell a second cheaper frame with a photochromic lens. In order to justify the price I have to go with one and sometimes both frames at a dispenser cost of under $25. People don’t usually balk at the lack of a name brand as long as they are getting a second pair that can function as a sunglass.” — Mare Rickly, OD, Clearwater, Fla..
|From top: EXCLUSIVE 115 from Continental Optical Imports/ Division of Ben-Glo Optical; JUBILEE 5646 from New York Eye/A Hart Specialties Company; Aspen by ALL AMERICAN from A&A Optical; HARVE BENARD 501 from Zimco Optics; ART FOR EYES Lydia from Global Optique|
|Don’t Bait On It “Everyone wants a Calvin Klein or an Armani or a Ralph Lauren but these days I need to be able to at least offer the look of some of those names but without the actual name. I carry all of those brands and they sell like crazy but I always need some no-name brands that look like designer frames but at half the price. The thing you have to be really careful about though is cutting on quality. Do that and your guilty of a cheap bait-and-switch. Optical doesn’t need that kind of underhandedness.” — Frederick Tuffle Jr., OD, Glendale, Calif.|
|QUALITY AND STYLE ARE KEY|
Suzanne Hill, manager of a Texan State Optical franchise at Sharpstown Mall in Houston, says, “We have a lot of patients who are covered by Medicaid and state insurance programs, but we also have high-end customers who pay up to $500 for a frame,” Hill notes. For those desiring value product, Hill carries frames at three price points from A&A Optical, I-Dealoptics, New York Eye, Shane Michael, Visualeyes and Zimco. “Our lowest-price frames are $59 and those are covered by insurance plans. But if patients want to upgrade, we have $80 frames. They then pay $20 out of pocket. And for those interested in even better value product, we offer frames for $100,” she explains. In buying value product, Hill looks for price, of course, but quality is also essential. “We want something that doesn’t break in two weeks. We want out customers to return year after year.” —Gloria Nicola
|Knowledgeable Consumers “Just five years ago I’d be shocked if one of my customers mentioned spring hinges, rimless eyewear or a frame with a double laminate of color. Today’s consumer knows the deal when it comes to quality and they want that quality at a competitive price. In some ways it makes my job easier because now I can spend more time on making the lens package better. But it also means that I need more low-priced alternatives for my frame selection. And that whole situation just intensifies if the patient is tied into an insurance plan.”—Victor Preston, OD, Allentown, Pa.|
|BUILDING A REPUTATION ON RESPECT|
Hammond Vision Center, an optometric practice with three otptometrists in the old downtown area of McAllen, Texas, was founded by Vernon Hammond, OD, in the 1950s. “We have built our business over the years by taking care of and respecting all our patients, regardless of economic considerations,” says his daughter Marisa Hammond-Olivares, administrator. “We have a lot of Medicaid patients who have been coming to us for years and in recent years, we’re seeing more and more VSP customers. We still have ‘private-pay’ customers, but with the increase in insurance plans, we’re seeing fewer private-pay individuals than in the past. However, we’re only nine miles from the Mexican border so we see many Mexican clients who tend to be interested in very high-end product, such as Cazal, Caviar and Fred,” Hammond-Olivares says. Frame sales range from $26 to $750 for Fred, with an average sale price of $170, excluding frames sold under Medicaid plans. Hammond Vision Center uses value products, which comprise 25 percent of the 1,500-frame inventory, from A&A Optical and Kenmark Optical.
Value product is also used for multiple-pair sales. “Our optometrists talk with patients during the exam about the need for UV protection. As a result, patients often come into the dispensary wanting prescription sunwear, but are concerned about the price,” Hammond-Olivares notes. “We help them select frames from our value offerings and tint the lenses to their specifications.” With multiple purchases, all additional frames are discounted 20 percent.
In selecting value product, Hammond-Olivares looks at the quality of solder points and spring hinges and expects warranties, especially on children’s frames. She also likes to buy combination frames. “Many of our customers prefer metal frames, but if we can sell them a design with a metal front and plastic temples, it keeps the price down. What our customers really want, though, is trendy, fashionable styles. Most of our patients aren’t familiar with the mechanics of eyewear. At the point of sale, we always discuss the added benefits of spring hinges and various materials. This helps build their confidence and keeps them coming back,” she explains. —GN
|Secret Luxury “I’m almost sorry 20/20 is writing about value eyewear again. I’ve been using it as a secret weapon for years. Most of my business is built on big-buck luxury eyewear and classy brand names but I can’t begin to count the number of times one of my customers will spend nearly $700 on a pair of glasses and then ask me if I can do up a less-expensive frame and lens package so they can have a spare for the car or next to the remote for the TV. Sometimes I think they ‘save’ the expensive frame because they’ll sit on it and break it. Meanwhile they abuse the cheaper frame so I know it better be of good quality even though it’s quite inexpensive on my end.” —James Lair, optician, Lorraine, Ohio|
|REACHING A BROAD CUSTOMER BASE|
Located in Munster, Ind., Gailmard Eye Center is headed by Neil Gailmard, OD, and his wife Susan Gailmard, OD. Dr. Neil Gailmard describes the Eye Center as a large optometric practice with four optometrists and a 3,500 square-foot dispensary, displaying 2,000 frames. “Our patient base is primarily white collar and middle to upper income. We sell a lot of high-end and designer product and like to think of ourselves as a high-end practice (an average frame sells for $250),” the OD notes. “But we are also a general primary care practice and need to reach a broad range of people of all ages from children to seniors. Some of our patients want a second pair, but have budget restrictions. And 40 percent of our patients have insurance plans and want to stay within the limits of the plan. We have found it’s effective for us to carry lower-price and mid-price products, ranging from $55 to $120, for those individuals who want to spend less. For lower- and middle-range product, he uses collections from New York Eye/Hart Specialties, including YM. “We’ve found Hart provides excellent quality at good prices,” Dr. Gailmard says. “It’s important to us that all products we carry, no matter the price, be of good quality.”
He notes that 10 percent, of the frames he stocks, are in the $55- to $120-price category. The OD says he has not seen much change in the demand for value-price frames in the last year. “Our business in this category has remained steady over the past few years, but has not increased as a result of a weak economy,” the OD explains. —GN