Focusing on the ever-expanding potential of the sport sun and sport performance eyewear business, 20/20 magazine and Vision Monday, in a joint initiative to provide eyecare professionals with insights on this evolving—and essential—segment of the optical market, hosted “The New Rules of the Game,” a breakfast and sport sun panel discussion during Vision Expo East in April. Panelists included Michael Minadeo, associate vice president of product and merchandising for Sunglass Hut and Ilori; Dr. Al Reichow, global research director of vision sciences and director of research and development for Nike SST; Barry Santini, optician and owner of Long Island Opticians and a 20/20 continuing education educator; and Dave Speranza, creative director of Rodale Press’ Bicycling and Mountain Bike magazines. James J. Spina, 20/20’s editor-in-chief, moderated.

“Because vision is the guiding sense for most human performance, our goal at Nike is to provide athletes with the tools to see sports better,” began Reichow. “Our motto at Nike is if you have a body, you are an athlete. But without innovative product that meets the requirements of athletes at all levels, consumers won’t wear it. For us the best performance eyewear is what the ‘best-of-the-best’ athletes wear in competition.”

For Speranza and the cyclists he rides with, eyewear is ubiquitous on all performance levels out of sheer necessity. “Seeing is life saving and protecting ourselves from the sun, wind and debris is absolutely critical,” he notes.

Because sport eyewear is so essential, ECPs need to create awareness among consumers about this category. Sport eyewear must be merchandised in its own separate section, not thrown in with other product, Santini emphasizes. “With the growing awareness of the importance of blocking UV light, sport sunwear and ECPs make for a perfect marriage. But you need to establish yourself as a specialist in offering this type of eyewear. There are a lot of providers out there, but consumers want to be able to turn to an expert in the field. You can be that expert,” the optician says. “For example, you can become a specialist in customized wrap eyewear. To get this type of customized wrap styling, the consumer has no option but to see an ECP.”

Selling sport eyewear is good business, Minadeo agrees. “We were in a fashion cycle for a long time with sunglasses. Now we are moving into performance,” he explains. “Continuing education and vendor reps going into stores and teaching associates to sell that product to customers is key. There is still the customer who wants sport eyewear for the look, but increasingly there are those who also want it for the performance. As a result, I see it as a category that will continue to grow.”

Speranza concurs. “People are more protective of their eyes than any other part of their body. And there are tons of reasons to take care of your eyes. If we put more information out there I think we’ll see more and more athletes going to the eye doctor to improve their performance.”

There are indeed reasons why sport eyewear has become a big game for eyecare professionals, Spina concludes. “It promotes better vision, helps performance and improves business because it includes every demographic in every age. Everyone needs protective eyewear for better vision and better performance. And they also want it for the same reasons.”

The panel was co-sponsored by Marchon Eyewear’s Nike Vision, Oakley, Specialty Lens, The Vision Council and Wiley X Eyewear. In the coming weeks, look for additional coverage on this subject from 20/20 and Vision Monday, both in print and on the web.