20 QUESTIONS WITH EDWARD BEINER

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Edward Beiner is chief visionary officer of the Edward Beiner Group, a Miami-based eyewear retailer, designer and manufacturer of prescription eyeglasses and sunglasses and its chain of Edward Beiner Purveyor of Fine Eyewear stores throughout Florida. VCPN’s John Sailer asked him to share his observations based on more than three decades in the eyewear business.

1. What frame styles have you seen maintain their popularity over the years? Your classic shape is a P3. Some form of an oval has been around in all these years I’ve been in business, be it in acetates or be it in metals. That is the one consistent product throughout the ages.

2. In what colors? The colors keep changing. Sometimes the tortoiseshells are more prevalent, sometimes the different colors of tortoiseshells or even black.

3. What trends are you seeing these days? There is a demographic separation of how styles are worn. Millennials are going with large frames, the late ‘70s early ‘80s look, big square frames, oversized, mostly metals. The other end of the spectrum, the Baby Boomers wore that when they were teenagers. They don’t look cool trying that look, so they are a bit more conservative. Those trends might change in the next few years as these Millennials get older and find jobs that might require a different look.

4. Will anything on the horizon change things? I keep hearing about and I’ve seen eyeglasses that are really tiny. Some collections in sunglasses have strong cat eyes with very small eye sizes. In the sunglass world there’s a transition already taking place. It takes a little bit longer for it to come into the Rx world.

5. Do you have any advice for independents that want to grow? The world is changing fairly fast. I see demographics as the biggest issue. We’re split between Baby Boomers who have a lot of money still and those who don’t and are worried about how they’ll retire, and you have a group of young professionals starting to have the ability to spend. How do you take care of a younger market without scaring your older market and vice versa?

6. How should eyewear retailers react? Stores need to be updated. That doesn’t mean they have to look wild, but they need to have a 21st century look. You need to adapt, to change, to create experiences, but more than anything it’s about service.

7. How do you create these in-store experiences? It’s about being able to communicate what you are selling, and I don’t care if that’s a $100 pair of eyeglasses or a $1,000 pair of eyeglasses. What’s the story behind the frame? Bring in the individuals behind the design so there’s a direct connection to the product. We fail sometimes to explain the craftsmanship, the details that go into it, the people behind it.

8. Any other suggestions for updating your look and creating an in-store experience? There is also technology now. We use the Smart Mirror for measurements, for explanations, and it shows what the anti-reflective lens is like and other products like that. So, some technology is important, but it can’t just be technology for the sake of technology. It has to be useful.

9.That’s after you have them inside. How do you get them into the store in the first place? Branding your business is number one. Number two is PR, all sorts of PR, including all social media, your website, print.

10. What’s the most effective way to use social media? Social media is important. You need to be active, know who your client is, approach them and offer events, from trunk shows to beer tastings, wine tastings, things that are of interest to bring people into your shop.

11. How do you go about deciding which frames to carry? We have 11 stores. I like to think of them as 11 separate children. Their markets are different. We have stores here in Miami. We have stores a little bit north in Boca, Palm Beach and so on, and then we have Orlando and Naples. These children all behave slightly differently. There’s a 60% match in product, particularly sunglasses, but then the other 40%, the prescription glasses, becomes a bit different. Part of it could be, again, age. Part of it can be where people are from. Different ethnic groups like buying different colors, different materials, be it metal or plastic. In the south part of Florida we can have a lot of South American tourists, so we cater to them. From Boca north are northeasterners.

12. Where do you go to find the products to meet the needs of these varied groups? Looking for products, you have to go to the shows, the national shows like Vision Expo East and West but also the European shows such as MIDO and Silmo.

13. What’s going on with your own collection of eyewear, the Edward Beiner Collection? We’ve had the collection for a good 15 years at this point. We’re using new 3D-printing technology to make eyewear along with the acetates that we make. People are interested in new technologies and products that are made slightly differently. We’re partnering with a company that does 3D printing but not for eyewear. We’re the first eyewear company that they ever worked with. The ones we’re bringing out might be a little bit different than what you usually see in the market. The fronts are 3D printed. We left the temples titanium so they look clean and have a stylish look.

14. Over the next few years in optical where do you see the business headed? With all the consolidation that’s taking place the buyers are changing their habits. They’re exposing the public to products that may be in certain markets they didn’t see before, which leads me to wonder what will happen with luxury products in the long term because a lot of these consolidators are not necessarily in the luxury industry.
Is this an opportunity for luxury opticals to open up again, because many of them have been sold, or will we continue the trend toward selling eyeglasses for $100, lenses included?

15. Anyone particular you have in mind? There are a lot of people successfully doing that. They’re selling to Millennials, and it’s not only Warby Parker. They might be the biggest, but there are other people doing this. There’s the online business, right? So, how does online develop? How do the small players develop their online business? And how will that affect the world of eyewear shopping? A lot of this has not been defined. The pendulum swings very quickly these days, so everybody runs in a certain direction to find out that, whoops, maybe we shouldn’t have gone that far. We need to go the other way. And I think everybody’s trying to find their compass and what direction to effectively move in this market.

16. How should they go about doing that? You cannot just sit and wait. You need to fix up your stores. You need to bring in technology that is worthy for your business. You need to continue communicating and constantly having a pulse on the market and adjust.

17. Are you doing anything personally to address these factors out there? We’re launching a new website not only to sell online but to bring the person into the store. Come in and try it. Come in and touch it. We are brick-and-mortar. Two years ago, everybody thought that was the end of brick-and-mortar. We were going to die. Well, in the meantime, Amazon opened retail shops. Warby Parker has more than 75 units and continues opening more. Now we’re going from click to brick. Both Baby Boomers and Millennials are looking for new stores, new brands, new stories.

18. Can you further describe your website? They’ll be able to purchase eyewear at regular retail prices. There’s no discounting. It’s just an extension of our stores. They can buy online. We can ship. They can come into the store. We are even working on technology for people to be able to take an acuity test online.

19. Do you have optometrists? In 50% of our stores we have optometrists.

20. Anything else you’d like to share based on your many years of experience in the optical field? I would say that we shouldn’t react so quickly to these market shocks. They will have long-term effects, but I don’t think we should immediately panic and jump. You do need to understand that you cannot stay where you are. You need to continuously educate yourself. Find out what other retailers are doing outside of your industry.

No knee-jerk reactions, but you know online is here to stay. It’s not going to disappear, and competition will always be there. If I look back in history, I was supposed to be out of business when LensCrafters came out and when EyeLab did. They were doing your eyeglasses in one hour, while it was taking me 14 days to make a pair of eyeglasses. I put a sign in front of my store that said, “I’ll guarantee you I’ll take more than one hour to make your glasses.” That brought in an incredible amount of business.

LASIK was supposed to knock us out of business. Oh total panic! Everybody will have this operation and nobody will need a pair of eyeglasses. We’re still in business. The business thrives, the industry is growing. I’m not speaking for myself. I’m speaking industry-wide.

Online was going to kill brick-and-mortar. Well, they’re brick-and-mortar now. The clicks are going to the bricks. They’re refreshing the retail environment. I have two Warby Parkers near us here in the Miami area. You just need to be flexible. You need to flow like you are floating down the river. You can’t be that boat that’s knocking around hitting everything in the way. Be flexible and float down river. Go with the flow. Don’t fight it because it’s not going to help you.

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