by Meaghan Brophy
Over the decades, sunglasses have evolved from a statement fashion accessory used by a small percentage of the population to a daily necessity for all Americans. Whether worn for health reasons, improved sports performance, out-door activities, safer driving, fashion, or a combination of the above, sunglasses are embraced by men and women of all ages. According to Statistic Brain Research Institute, over 95 million pairs of sunglasses are sold in the United States each year. Every year since 2009 this sales number has increased, meaning there is plenty of opportunity for multiple retailers to get a piece of this pie. Whether you are a sunglass retailing veteran, or looking to bring them in to your store for the first time, here are some tips and trends on how to maximize sunglass sales for your individual store.
Since virtually every consumer wears sunglasses, and every consumer is different, there is no one-size-fits-all style for sunglasses. The key is in tailoring your selection to your particular store’s audience. If you are an outdoor or sporting goods store, carry mid-range durable glasses with polarized lenses. If you are a toy store, carry colorful budget-friendly kids glasses. Gift and souvenir shops can carry theme-specific glasses, such as animal prints for zoos. Apparel and accessory stores will want to have a large selection of budget, bridge, and better glasses with a combination of classic and contemporary styles. Cathy Ives, owner of The Optical Vision Site, a free expert resource for eyewear retailers, tells Independent Retailer; “There’s really no reason not to carry them. They’re an impulse buy. Your customers are going to need them no matter what type of store you have. If you’re a liquor store: you should carry them. At the end of the day, if you don’t have sunglasses your customers will just buy them someplace else.”
Sunglasses aren’t typically a planned purchase. Customers see them in a store, put them on, and take them home. “Trying them on is 50% of the sale,” says Ives. The impulsive and tactile nature of sunglass purchases works in favor of traditional brick-and-mortar stores. Only 6% of sunglass purchases are made online annually, according to Statistic Brain Research Institute.
Wholesale and optical retail experts see a bright future for sunglass sales in 2016. Aviator, Wayfarer, and classic retro styles will still remain popular like they were in 2015. Albert Ye, Owner of Eason Eyewear, has over 35 years of experience in the sunglass business. According to Ye, “Classic styles will always sell well. In the U.S. people are usually more conservative, so the classic styles will always be a safe bet.” Samuel Huang, VP and Purchasing Manager of Sunny Trading, also with over 30 years of experience in the sunglass industry, confirms Ye’s statements. “Retro is still in, people are still looking at new styles that are based on traditional styles. A lot of designers are taking whatever’s been done successfully in the past and kind of tweaking it a little bit.” Kirk Bachelder of CTS Wholesale, with over 25 years in the business, also agrees that retro will continue to be popular. “Retro styles based off of celebrity styles are gaining popularity. Trends tend to follow what celebrities are wearing.” Sunglass fashion and trends, more so than other apparel and accessory categories, are sourced from celebrities. PR Sunglasses is a fashion-conscious sunglass supplier with over 30 years in the industry. Sales Manager Janice Chien explains that celebrities are a major source of inspiration for their successful company. “Staying abreast of trends is accomplished by reading a lot of magazines; seeing what celebrities are wearing nowadays.”
Quality over price tag is another movement with growing momentum in sunglass retail. In the past, there have been inundations of inexpensive, poorly made shades. While they are good impulse buys, they do not last long. Since sunglasses are items people use every day, many consumers are looking for something a little more durable and with a longer life expectancy. Products with a cause are also becoming increasingly popular. If a brand is more sustainable, or donates back to a community with each purchase, buyers are willing to spend a little more. Kirk Bachelder of CTS explains that one of his most popular lines takes advantage of both of these trends. He carries a unique line of higher-end recycled bamboo sunglasses. The glasses have a bamboo temple (arm) with a recycled frame, and everything is handcrafted. “When you put the glasses in people’s hands, they say ‘Wow, these really are made out of wood,’ and tend to buy them.”
Depending on your store type, it would also be beneficial to offer unique and novelty sunglasses. Sports licensed sunglasses can make an advantageous addition to any gift, souvenir, pharmacy, accessory, or apparel store. Robin Payeur, Executive Director of St. Louis Wholesale, which offers a variety of sunglasses including novelty and licensed styles, recommends retailers incorporate licensed products into their stores. “Team merchandise will forever be a great item. You’ll always have fans of certain sports and teams wanting to represent their favorites in some way.” Team branded sunglasses are another opportunity to attract impulse customers, especially surrounding major sporting events and seasons.
If you own a gift or party store, or like to have merchandise for each holiday, party and novelty glasses are a fun alternative or supplement to regular sunglasses. Metin Kilic, Owner of the Buy4Store wholesale company, recently added an entire line of party sunglasses, due to high demand. “Customers were asking for them, so I decided to branch out. Our best sellers include the American flag glasses and glasses with moustaches attached,” says Kilic.
No matter what type of store you own, you have consumers who wear sunglasses. It’s important to have a variety, even including sports and novelty items. Payeur advises that a common pitfall is only selling glasses that match your personal taste. “Some retailers think the neon glasses are too bright, or just because they don’t like a style others won’t like it either. Sometimes people like to be different. They want something bold, different or fun with funky prints on them. Not just the basics.” Having a broad selection, including novelty items, ensures you have something for everyone.
Made in the Shade
In addition to selecting the right products, it’s just as important to set them up the right way. One of the biggest mistakes retailers make, according to Ives, is not carrying enough pairs. “You’re either in the business or you’re not. You don’t have two or three pairs, they’re going to get lost or they’re never going to sell. You need to be carrying 24 – 50 pairs of sunglasses.” In essence, there needs to be enough to fill out a display and look like they not only belong, but also have a presence. Reverting back to the impulse buy, most shoppers are not going into a store looking for sunglasses, but rather pick them up after stumbling across them. For this reason it is important for your display to have as much presence as your retail space allows. The display needs to draw attention and be inviting so customers feel comfortable trying different pairs on. Likewise, have mirrors set up so shoppers can see what each looks like. Having mirrors readily accessible will also encourage people to try different styles other than what they are used to.
Once your display is fully stocked and customer-ready, your staff needs to be equally as prepared. They need to be able to talk with customers about the different styles your store offers, and be able to serve as a knowledgeable resource. According to Ives, the training aspect cannot be stressed enough. “Do a training program with staff first about sunglasses. Do the training and make sure your staff is onboard. There are even many options online.” Since shades are an impulse purchase, it’s important that employees are able to facilitate that through recommendations and problem solving. For example, if a customer is insecure of how the glasses look, offer compliments or suggestions for other pairs. Ives continues, “Sometimes shoppers will shy away from expensive glasses because they lose them. Offer eyeglass chains so they won’t lose them. Train your staff on how to respond. Depending on the type of store, you can also offer cases. You have to have someone working around the area, and they have to be knowledgeable
Turning a Blind Eye
Sunglasses are an extremely profitable item for any and all retailers. However, their size, demand, and value make them extra susceptible to theft. Instead of shying away from offering shades, there are a few tips that can be easily implemented to deter theft and minimize loss.
Make sure the display is not located near a door or exit. Have it in an area that is readily visible to employees. When creating the display, you want to include lots of mirrors not only to encourage customers to try on the glasses, but also to give employees extra visibility in the area.
In order for the mirrors to be successful, you also need to have employees who are vigilant and proactive. The best deterrent for a shoplifter is to have them feel like they are being watched. If employees greet and actively assist each customer, that will go a long way in deterring theft. Ives explains, “People will need them, and if you don’t have them they’ll go somewhere else. Make sure they’re in a place where you have visibility or cameras. You need to make sure you have the security so you’re comfortable not having them ripped off.”
If you have a larger store, or want extra security there are some additional precautions you can take. Real live security cameras are a large investment, but there are many real-looking dummy cameras available for around $30. You can place a few around the store and near the door to give potential shoplifters the impression they are being watched. If you are investing in higher-end sunglasses, there is also the option of having locked cases for more expensive pairs. If you want to protect the glasses, but also keep the display inviting for impulse purchases, create a display of testers so customers can still try on different pairs, and keep the retail pairs in a locked glass case. This way your merchandise will be protected, and customers can still interact with the products naturally.
With some thoughtful selection and proper set-up, sunglasses of all kinds can be a profitable addition for all retailers. For ordering details and further assistance on customizing a selection for your store, visit our various partners’ websites.