From coast to sunny coast, eyecare professionals (ECPs) who specialize in sunwear protection constantly seek to find new ways to build sales, especially in the fall and winter. Premium product, superior customer service, special events and a knowledgeable staff all contribute to this bottom line. We spoke with Ron Wolcott of Salt Lake City-based Wolcott Optical; Joe Bouchard of Newtown, CT-based Village Eye Care; and Christine Eaton of Overland Optical Family Eye Care in St. Louis, who have a collective experience of more than 100 years. These long-time practitioners share some of their marketing strategies and how they cater inventory to their distinct patient bases.
Jackie O’Keefe: What is the history of your practice and your professional background?
We are nearly 75 years young since 1945. My uncle, Vern Wolcott, opened his optical dispensary with my father, Harvey, shortly after his return from military service during WWII. Hard, long hours, with attention to quality and customer service, were an investment toward the heritage on which the second generation of Wolcotts could find solid footing.
I received my Connecticut Optician’s License in 1979, and I have been an optician for 42 years. Over the years, I have worked at boutiques, chains and private stores and managed a sport-specific eyewear division.
We are a family-owned practice that has been open for more than 35 years and is proudly owned by opticians.
O’Keefe: What has been your overall approach to selling sunwear?
My older brother, younger sister and I are the second generation [in our business], and we had many discussions around plotting our course. Rather than following the trends, our ultimate choice was to continue to invest in our customer and our brand. Our product would be premium, our service unparalleled.
I was trained to always ask about sunglasses in Rx and plano, and once the correct question is asked, it is very easy to sell. For next year’s Memorial Day weekend, we are already scheduled to do a trunk show featuring Rudy Project. This increases our bottom line.
We have been offering sunwear to our patients since we opened. Throughout the years we have added mirror coatings, gradient lenses and polarized lenses, and our newest offering is gradient polarized lenses.
O’Keefe: What are the demographics of the area in which you sell?
Our demographic is predomiantly middle-class professionals. Still, our offerings are inclusive. We feel we
have something for everyone.
Newtown has a population of a little over 2,000, with almost 50% men to women. It is a blue-collar town with down-to-earth people that include active adults and children.
We see [a variety of patients]at our two practice locations in diverse neighborhoods. Primarily we serve the 40 to 50 age range, but we operate in a very diverse neighborhood
O’Keefe: What types of sports does your sunwear cater to?
We now stock 10 performance sunglass lines including Maui Jim, Zeal, Oakley, Smith, Kaenon, Rudy Project, SPY, Bollé, Serengeti and 7 Eye. And, of course, we carry numerous designer and fashion pieces.
Our sports performance eyewear caters to archery, golf, shooting, soccer, running, cycling. We carry Rudy Project, which is one of my favorite brands. The complete line is adaptable to any sport. I currently wear the Rydon in my Rx. I have the ‘photo red’ and interchangeable polarized lenses. The photo red lenses are great for dawn and dusk, very high contrast. I run at 5am most mornings, so as the sun is rising, the lenses darken. I can easily swap them out for polarized if I run later in the day. We also carry Wiley X, and I wear the AirRage in my Rx, under my motorcycle helmet. We also have a complete line of Liberty Rec Specs available.
We cater to golfers, those who enjoy swimming and avid bicyclists. The most popular brands are Ray-Ban and Nike.
O’Keefe:What types of features are your patients looking for?
Our customer is looking for sport-specific sunwear, with the emphasis on performance, or fashion in both prescription and non-prescription applications.
People are looking for a lot of features from their sports glasses, comfort, ease of swapping out lenses, anything that gives them an edge. Safety must also be taken into consideration for bikers, runners and those who indulge in contact sports.
Polarized and mirror coatings have been huge this year for us!
O’Keefe: How do you maximize sun sales during the spring/summer months?
We began what became an annual sunglass sale in 1991 with the inspiration that [this type of event]could draw new customers for both sun and prescription eyewear. We just celebrated the 25th anniversary of ‘SunXpo,’ a three-day event that includes all our brands.
We strive to increase the inventory of sunglasses we offer in-house. We live in a coastal town, so I always have my sunglasses on and talk about sunwear with everyone I can.
We typically roll out a Sun Sale. The key is to purchase high-margin sunglasses then put together a package with polarized lenses and pass those saving on to our customers.
What advice can you give to other eyecare professionals who want to sell more sunwear?
Whatever you do, invest in yourself and save enough cash to make it successful! You can’t just “œdabble” in anything and grow sales. ‘SunXpo’-type events don’t succeed overnight. We started with a 10-foot tent and less than 100 SKUs. It’s now a six-figure revenue event with a 25K advertising budget. It has been a huge complement to our business! But, as the market continues to evolve, we’re looking forward to introducing a new event in 2017. Stay tuned!
Remain enthusiastic about sunglasses and do your research about performance eyewear. Which lenses are best suited for different sports, higher contrasts, low light, fishing, for example. Be knowledgeable, and wear the product so you can be confident in yourself and your product.
Educate your staff! This includes the front desk. Our front desk staffer at our primary location didn’t understand the need for sunglasses. She’s now excited about the education she has received and is sharing it with everyone.
Jackie O’Keefe, LDO, is a writer, speaker, course preparer and consultant in the Tidewater area of Virginia.