PRODUCT FORUM – JULY 2011

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PRODUCT ROUNDTABLE WITH OPTICAL PROFESSIONALS ON: ACCESSORIES

WHILE SOME EYECARE PROFESSIONALS (ECPS) TURN AWAY FROM ACCESSORY PRODUCTS, OTHERS HAVE FOUND THEY CAN BE A PRACTICE BUILDER. EACH OF THE FOLLOWING HAS DISCOVERED A UNIQUE WAY OF MAKING ACCESSORIES AID THEIR BUSINESS, CREATE A REVENUE STREAM, AND BRING PATIENTS INTO THEIR OFFICE.

PANELISTS:
Nallibe Mehfoud, Manager, Stoney Point Optical Center, Richmond, VA

Joni Schrup, Co-Founder, Discerning Eye, Iowa City, IA

Roxanne Armstrong, Co-owner, Art For Your Face, McLean, VA

What type of accessories do you offer and why did you decide to add accessory products to your office?

Mehfoud: We carry cloths, cleaners, chains, readers, designer eyeglass cases, cords, and cleaning kits. We also include scarves, mugs, handbag holders, etc. that complement an eyewear outfit. Accessories always add to sales and often help with additional pairs. Scarves, chains, and cloths often dress up eyewear and help put an outfit together. This enables patients to look at eyewear as something other than just a pair of glasses.

Schrup: Our office carries over-the-counter readers, locally designed jewelry (under $200), handbags (under $200), umbrellas (unique designs), eyewear cases, lens cleaners, and microfiber cleaning cloths. We have used accessories as a marketing tool in addition to providing another revenue stream. Our umbrellas and handbags look fantastic in our front window and attract consumers who might not normally come in. Once in the store, we can talk about our eyewear. The extra revenue pays the light bill.

Armstrong: We carry an assortment of readers, cleaning products, eyeglass cords, decorative eyeglass holders, cases and eyeglass storage boxes, and fit-over sunglasses. When we created our first business model many years ago, we included accessories. After years of optical industry experience observing the successful marketing and profitability of accessories, we knew that it was to our advantage to provide quality optical accessories. Initially (10 years ago) we offered an even larger selection of optical accessories but many of our vendors (small independents themselves) have gradually retired or left the field, reducing our product line.

What are the two most successful accessory products you carry?

Mehfoud: My two biggest accessory products are chains and cloths, and I also sell a lot of cleaners. I get all of these products from California Accessories. Maui Jim, Inc. has an assortment of beach-/pool-related accessories, cup holders, and float cords I display with its sunglasses. I sell 75% of its accessories with the sunglasses. Maui also has cleaning kits that include a cloth and cleaner, which is a sure sale.

Schrup: We have several lines of handbags, the best selling being the Baggallini line. We also have several lines of over-the-counter readers, our newest addition being A&A Optical’s Jimmy Crystal, which has lots of bling with Swarovski crystals in every color—women love them!

Armstrong: The two biggest selling products are Hilco’s alcohol-free anti-reflective formula cleaning solution and ICU Eyewear readers. The Hilco cleaner is popular because we educate and demonstrate eyeglass care to all patients at dispensing and again whenever they return for an adjustment. People who have purchased a premium pair of eyeglasses appreciate the importance of maintaining it. We discuss the usefulness of readers to everyone because even a non-presbyope can utilize them. It’s not uncommon for a purchaser to buy three or more at a time.

How do you mark up these products?

Mehfoud: I personally don’t use a hard-and-fast rule so my accessories are marked usually between two to three times the cost. Maui Jim has a suggested retail price that I always go by. I try not to go too low on any accessory because people get the impression that it’s cheap and not worthwhile.

Schrup: We typically follow the MSRP, which is between two and two-and-a-half times our cost. For us, the goal is not to make a lot of money with our accessories but to view them as more of a marketing concept. If we can find a great price for the consumer and still make money, it is worth it for us.

Armstrong: We study the market area and determine what the going rate at a non-optical retailer is for similar products, then price in a like manner. If you don’t, you will not sell many accessories. We find that in most cases in our market, a one-and-a-half times markup is very successful. Your patients shop at the local “…Mart,” drugstore, department store, or grocer much more frequently than they do at your optical shop so if you want to compete, you must be competitively priced. Once they are in your office, educate them that you are the “go- to” place for this type of product. By offering a great selection and demonstrating the products, you’ll have a greater success rate than a retailer that just puts these items out on display.

Have accessory products become a revenue stream for your office?

Mehfoud: My accessories have ranged between 5% to 20% of profits—it’s all in how you present them with your eyewear. I always give a free cleaner and cloth at dispensing and remind my patients the importance of buying an extra cleaner for the house, office, or car. This works nearly every time! It’s also a good idea to keep cleaner cloths and cases for stocking stuffers, birthday gifts, or that “just because” gift. I wouldn’t have an optical shop without accessories.

Schrup: Accessories account for about 3% of our revenue. However, it is difficult to gauge how many people initially come through the door to browse handbags and end up buying eyeglasses that day or a month or two down the road. Overall, we feel that the type of accessories we carry allow us to stand out from our competition and give patients one more reason to drop by. If one line of handbags isn’t selling, it doesn’t break the bank to try another. Accessories are a more fluid commodity than frame lines. Women often stop by the store now if they are looking for a gift for a friend knowing we have moderately priced unique items from our jewelry collection.

Armstrong: Our accessories account for approximately 10% of our sales. I think it’s a fantastic boost to the bottom line. We are in a location that benefits from a large walk-by traffic so offering accessories for sale is a way to capture a market share that might not necessarily frequent our store for prescription eyewear. We also find that in seasons which are historically slower for eyewear sales, the accessories can boost our sales figures to a level that creates a more uniform monthly cash flow.

How do you promote accessory products in your office?

Mehfoud: I give an eyeglass cleaner and a cloth at the time of dispensing and ask patients to buy additional supplies for their car, office, home, etc. This works exceptionally well. There’s always a full display of accessories that catches the eyes of the patients and accessories are offered to all, even those who don’t buy eyewear or who are “just looking.”

Schrup: Many of our accessory products are worked into our front window displays and complement our frame lines. A great number of our current and potential patients walk by our location on a daily basis. We promote some items on our Web site but we don’t sell directly online although we include some product photos and descriptions on the Web site. Our over-the counter-readers have great display space on our front counter. The staff often points out new accessory items to patients after making the eyewear sale.

Armstrong: We promote the sale of accessories by demonstrating and educating the public and we don’t stop talking about all the great accessory products we carry until the patient is out of earshot. Our loyal followers laugh with us about this habit and when we’re busy, many of them will start “selling” the products to browsers while they are waiting for their turn.

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