Retail Strategies: Retail Design



Bill MacGillivray is not content sitting on the sidelines. As the owner of three retail optical businesses, this optician wants to constantly stay in the game.

With over 25 years of experience and the courage to tackle a segment of the market that few are willing to pursue, MacGillivray has made a name for himself in the city of Portland—and beyond.

“I really enjoy hooking people up with the right eyewear for their sports and hobbies,” says the industry veteran. MacGillivray owns two stores in the Portland area—North Portland Optical and All About Eyes in the suburb of Hillsboro. And, about five years ago, he launched an Internet venture——that specializes in the direct sale of Rx sport optics to consumers.

With two established optical shops and a growing web business, MacGillivray credits much of his success to the fact that he was able to create an area of expertise and run with it. “Most people tend to take the path of least resistance,” he says. “It’s easier to say you can’t sell sunglasses than to learn the business and be aggressive about it. I was motivated because my own eyes were bad and I couldn’t find good options for Rx sun. I started in the early ’80s doing my own stuff with Vaurnets for me and some of my friends.”

Soon after, MacGillivray hooked up with the folks at Oakley and their Rx sun program, which he considers redefined industry standards and changed the face of sport optics. He worked closely with the sunwear giant, testing new products, fine-tuning his merchandise mix, and, he says, “It grew from there.” showcases styles from Oakley, Maui Jim, Nike, Spy and Adidas, among others. Customers can surf the site and then order online or make a call directly to MacGillivray, the “Sunglass Dr.” for advice and direction. “The site gives people access to things they can’t find in an optical shop. We do measurements over the phone—sure, it’s challenging, but we know what we’re doing and I would say that 99.9 percent of the time we get it right and our customers are happy,” he explains. “We try to make it as easy as we can. Because we are targeting a niche segment online, we have very little inventory to stock. All the product we sell over the Internet is Rx, so we order the full component directly from the manufacturer.”
Setting up the site was no easy feat. According to MacGillivray there was a pretty steep learning curve. “I’m happy with the site now, but I think my lack of knowledge and lack of computer skills cost me a lot of money on the front end. It’s a business we have to work hard at, but in the end, it’s still all about customer service.”

And that’s something MacGillivray knows a bit about. With three doctors on staff at the North Portland shop and three more at All About Eyes in Hillsboro, MacGillivray offers customers a full-range of optical services. Product mix in the two stores is similar, but there are fine-point differences that allow each location to better target its clientele. “North Portland is in a mixed income area—we almost never know what kind of patient we are going to get. It’s an ethnically diverse area so we tend to feature a wider range of high-fashion styles and designer brands, like Gucci and Juicy Couture, within our frame selection.”
By comparison, All About Eyes has a younger, more active base. “The clientele here has a generally high income and because they tend to be involved in a lot of different activities, we do sell more multiples in this location,” he adds.

In both shops, sunwear accounts for about 25 percent of total sales. “If you want to sell it, you have to buy into it. Even if you are doing a lot of Rx, if you don’t have the styles to show people, you are going to lose the sale.”

The average cost of a complete pair of Rx sunwear from either of MacGillivray’s two store locations is between $350 and $400. “We don’t see a lot of resistance to the cost,” he says. “As long as you educate your customers, the product will sell itself.”

MacGillivray firmly believes in getting the customer to try frames on. “You can sell 50 percent more if you have people try it on. You have to be able to look right at them and know what will work; what style, what color. And if you can do that, you’ll sell. But you can’t have just one person in your office who knows how to do that, you have to train everyone.”

Because he is such an advocate for sunwear, MacGillivray works closely with the reps, inviting them to the store often for training sessions and mini-clinics with employees. “It takes some pushing and prodding with the staff at times, but customer service is based on product knowledge and so we have the reps come in and help educate everyone. It’s an important effort. There have been so many advancements in technology—both in lenses and frames—the more you can show, the easier it will go. And, a lot of that new technology, like the MP3s, Razor Wires and Bluetooth compatibles, can be great tools to help up sell the rest of your line.”

Clearly, MacGillivray spends a lot of time mapping out his next play—this is not a man who sits back and watches. And that, he says, is the difference between winning and losing. “Good retailers are always looking for an edge. We watch the neighborhood, keep an eye on our demographics and make sure our inventory caters to any changes.”

And, with two freestanding optical shops and one virtual venture, this optician is covering as many bases as he can.