By Gloria Nicola

Kids mean business—big business. Their buying power and those who buy for them is enormous. And it extends over a vast array of product categories, ranging from toys, clothes and accessories to food, furniture and, of course, eyewear. The optical industry is definitely feeling the impact of these young consumers. Selling eyewear to children is no longer a  niche. It’s a full-blown business catering to a wide range of customers of varying ages, wants and needs, who require careful and ongoing attention.

According to respondents to 20/20’s Kids’ Eyewear MarketPulse Survey 2010, children from infancy to 14 years old represented 15 percent of their customer base in the past year, down from 20 percent cited in the previous two years. However, children’s eyewear and related products accounted for 15 percent of total gross dollar sales for survey participants, the same as in 2008 and 2009. But, perhaps because of the weak economy, only 28 percent indicated an increase in total gross sales from children’s products versus five years ago; 18 percent cited a decline and 54 percent said business stayed the same. In 2009 and 2008, 35 percent and 42 percent, respectively, of those surveyed cited an increase and only 9 percent in both years saw a decline.

Additionally, the 2010 survey indicates the average retail sale for kids’ frames (excluding exams, lenses and lens treatments), after rising steadily from $100 in 2006 to $129 in 2009, remained at $129 in 2010. On the other hand, the average retail price for children’s spectacle lenses, which remained steady at $100 between 2006 and 2009, climbed to $105 this year.

What’s selling in regard to frames and lenses? With lenses, the material of choice is clearly polycarbonate—undoubtedly as a result
of eyecare professionals’ ongoing efforts to inform parents about the necessity of impact-resistant materials. Of those surveyed, more than half, 52 percent, reported polycarbonate lenses comprised a greater proportion of total children’s eyewear dollars than they did five years ago; only 6 percent reported a decrease. An additional 54 percent of participants reported a decrease over the past five years in the sale of standard plastic lenses for children. Only 4 percent cited an increase.

With frame materials, we continue to see a shift toward plastic, following the trend in the adult market. Metal is still generally preferred for children because of its easier adjustability. But plastic has been showing substantial gains in kids’ eyewear sales. Of those surveyed this year, 47 percent reported an increase in frame dollar sales attributed to plastic materials in the past five years, up from 29 percent cited in 2006. Only 18 percent reported an increase in dollar sales from metal frames, sharply down from the 55 percent indicated in 2006.

Another very important growth area in the children’s market is in protective sport eyewear—again no doubt taking its direction from the increasing interest in sport eyewear among adults. The majority of retailers surveyed, 86 percent, reported selling protective sport eyewear to children. Additionally, 85 percent said they dispense contact lenses to kids—an option especially for children active in sports. 


One area in which the kids’ market does not seem to be taking its cues from the grown ups is in brands. While brands continue to play a dominant role in the optical world in general, those participating in the children’s survey reported only 25 percent of their total children’s frame sales was in branded/licensed frames, down from 33 percent in 2009. Moreover, only 26 percent of the retailers said the percentage of their total kids’ frame dollar sales volume generated by branded names has increased in the past five years, a decline from 32 percent reporting an increase the previous year. Other findings also confirmed branding isn’t a key factor in the kids’ market. Of those surveyed, 38 percent said name brands were of major importance to their child patients and only 25 percent reported brands being of major significance to the parents.

Another area that would benefit by taking more direction from the adult market is sunwear. Unfortunately, despite the necessity of sun protection for every age group, selling sunwear to kids continues to be a challenge for ECPs. Indeed 63 percent of respondents cited it as a major challenge. An additional 29 percent viewed it as a minor challenge and only 8 percent said it was no challenge at all. The main reason for these findings is undoubtedly parents’ reluctance to spend money on eyewear likely to be lost or forgotten. Fortunately, there is some good news. Of those surveyed in 2010, 78 percent said they sell sunwear to children and 97 percent dispense frames with photochromic lenses. In fact, photochromics were the favored sun option for children with 79 percent of this year’s respondents reporting it was the sunwear product they sold most to children, an increase from 70 percent in 2008 and 76 percent in 2009—no doubt because it doesn’t involve buying another frame and also is at lower risk for being lost since the eyewear does not have to be removed when inside. Plano sunglasses, sun clips and Rx sunwear complete were the sun products dispensed the most to children by only 9 percent, 7 percent and 6 percent, respectively, of the survey respondents.

Although dispensing sunwear was the major challenge most cited by participants in working with children, a variety of other challenges specific to the kids’ market also exist. Most notably: two sets of customers per visit—the parents and the child—frequently with widely varying tastes and priorities, including budget considerations. Of those polled, 27 percent saw budget restrictions as a major challenge; 52 percent reported it as a minor challenge. For 11 percent of the respondents, getting parents and children to agree on what eyewear to purchase was a major challenge; and for 71 percent, it was a minor challenge.

In fact, 61 percent of the participants reported the major consideration in selecting eyewear for their child customers is a broad range of color options and an additional 38 percent said color was somewhat important to the children. On the other hand, only 35 percent indicated color was very important to the parents. For parents, the most important factor, understandably, was durability and functionality (cited by 89 percent).

What can manufacturers and vendors do to help ECPs meet the challenges in building their kids’ business? An abundance of fun products is available. Just check the pages in this issue. And manufacturers and vendors continue to partner with retailers to offer marketing tools. The most effective method, according to 39 percent of those surveyed, is point-of-purchase materials, followed by special promotions, cited by 23 percent. Additionally, survey respondents feel offering warranties on children’s eyewear is an essential part of the package, with 87 percent indicating warranties are very important to the parents of their child customers.

Although, according to this survey, children’s eyewear did not make startling inroads in the past year—we can cite the weak economy as a reason—this category does hold its own. Kids’ eyewear, like the market it serves, is packed with power and brimming with potential. It will take time and effort on the part of the optical community before it’s all grown up, but it’s worth it. Kids are the future of eyewear.