Tech Outlook

New technology is the winning point in the sports sunwear market and many eyecare professionals are utilizing this high-tech trend for optimum sales

Tech Outlook
New technology is the winning point in the sports sunwear market and many eyecare professionals are utilizing this high-tech trend for optimum sales
By Erinn Morgan
photography by Peter Baker
Producer: Maggie Soloday
Hair and make-up: Gareth Green for Illusions Management
Model: Robert Turcotte for McDonald/Richards

MJ Sport style MJ-409 for Maui Jim. Shirt by Fila; headband and racquet by Head

From satellites to sandwich spread and computers to canoes, new technology today is ubiquitous in products from the urbane to the mundane. Sports eyewear is no exception to this game. Today's frames are a technophile's delight.

New lightweight styles are being forged with titanium and Grilamid®, some in three-piece mounts. Hidden spring hinges and adjustable nosepads form a better overall fit. Venting prevents fogging. All these efforts help both the casual athlete and the pro perform better.

Premium lenses and lens treatments have also made their way into the athletic arena. Most products today are sporting polarized lenses, some with hydrophobic and additional scratch coatings for better performance. For enhanced vision and safety, many frames feature polycarbonate lenses--some dispensers are also putting Trivex in their prescription versions. Specialized lens colors are also now available for specific sports such as tennis, golf, and cycling.

Frames: Costa Del Mar style HR-10 Harpoon. Shirt by Verge; bike courtesy of Stamford Cycle Center

The end result is that the sports eyewear of today is packed with special features and new technology--not to mention good looks. Customers have never gotten so much for their money. "What you get for $100 today is twice as good as it was three years ago," says one industry expert.

Optical dispensers can make great inroads in the sports eyewear arena by espousing the technology front. "Those features are worthwhile and patients appreciate them," says Gregg Tillery, an optician at Five Points Eye in Athens, Ga.


A few ideas may help dispensers begin using the unspoken charms of their sports eyewear stock to their advantage. The technology held in their dispensary may be more important to the customer than ECPs think. "In San Diego, people care about the technical aspects, especially in lenses," says Al Bagby, the manager of Sunglass Shop and Optical in San Diego. "We always have sun and clear blue skies. There is a lot of bright sun here and people are aware of that."

Bollé style Kicker. Surfboard courtesy of Quicksilver Soho

1. Know your product. ECPs selling sports eyewear must understand the details of what they carry. "I learn most of what I know from the reps," says Shannen Knight, dispensing optician and owner of A Sight for Sport Eyes in Portland, Ore. Her staff learns on the job. "They hear me talking to customers about it and they pick up a lot of stuff."

2. Find out what the customer wants. Asking about their lifestyle, sports, and their level of participation will help you pinpoint the products and new technologies for consumers.

"I first try to get an idea of what they are looking for," says Knight. "I ask them about what they would like to use them for, multiple sports or one specific sport. Then I figure out what products would work best for them."

In addition, querying them about usage can help you determine which lenses will be most beneficial. "We ask them how they are going to use the eyewear, in flat light or bright sunlight," says Tim Donovan, owner of Optical Options in Aspen, Colo.

Oakley style Half Jacket with Rx lens technology. Pants by adidas

3. Give a fast but effective presentation. Time is of the essence for sports participants. "You really have less than five minutes to educate them," says Donovan. "They are standing there with their credit card and they want to get out on the mountain, so your time is limited." That being said, pick those aspects that you think will appeal most to your customer.

4. Educate on price-value relationship. With technology fronts such as polarized lenses, education on the price-value relationship will be beneficial. "I say, 'You are going to spend $20 more, but look what you are going to get,'" says Bagby.

5. Let them take it for a test drive. One surefire way to secure the sale is to allow customers to return frames if they are unhappy. "About 95 percent of our customers take them for a test drive. I charge them, but if they don't like it, they can bring it back," says Bagby. "Ninety-five percent don't."

6. Use presentation tools. "We get all the brochures we can," says Five Points Eyecare's Tillery. "We use those tools with the patients. When I buy a high-end TV, I want to know why I am paying more. We all want to be smart consumers."

Displaying sports eyewear separately, and even highlighting frames with newer technology, can also be beneficial. "We have three different displays for sports eyewear, one for more general sunglass-oriented styles, one for cycling, and one for athletics," adds Tillery. "The sports eyewear gets noticed more in the dispensary this way."

Even with the bells and whistles, cosmetics are still important to the customer. "If it looks spiffy and it is high-tech, they want it. It's kind of an easy sell," says Tillery.

Style A136 elevation ClimaCool™ from adidas for Silhouette. Hat, jacket, and gloves by Columbia Sportswear; Skis by Saloman


Understanding latest technology can give you a leg up with the presentation to the customer.

Polarization. Without a doubt, polarized lenses are one of the best-selling features on sunwear today. Polarization is the number-one technical selling point for customers. "There are different mirror applications and lens colors available in polarized," Donovan says.

Hinges. Many inroads have been made on this critical joint. New hinges have more tilt for a better fit. On the cosmetic side, "The new invisible hinges make great looking glasses," says Bret Hunter, owner of Eye Tech Sports Optical in Lakewood, Colo.

Anti-fog. When the going gets tough, glasses can get fogged--especially in a competitive event. The latest technology uses venting systems to prevent eyewear fogging.

"A lot of people had been complaining about their glasses fogging up," says A Sight for Sport Eyes' Knight. "Now, there is new technology in venting. We present this new technology too."

Interchangeable lenses. Another top selling point is the changeable lens. Frames come with a few lens color options, from clear and dark gray to light brown and yellow that can be swapped out by the wearer for activities in assorted light conditions. "There are more frames out there with this feature than there used to be. Some even come with one polarized lens," Hunter says.

Customized fit. Athletic customers are demanding about the comfort of sports gear. Today's frames boast adjustable nosepads and temples that help wearers get a custom fit. Some styles feature rubber nosepads with increased gripping properties when moistened by perspiration or precipitation.

Frame materials. One of the greatest areas of development in sports eyewear technology is in materials. Grilamid® TR-90 is flexible and can withstand pressure and temple tension. It also can be produced in a wide variety of colors for cosmetic appeal. Titanium and a titanium magnesium alloy are the base for super lightweight frames. Semi-rimless sports eyewear that is both lightweight and sturdy is also available.

Lenses. Sports lenses are receiving extra layers of scratch coating and are designed for with specific sports in mind in colors and shapes to enhance performance.

Manufacturer's Rx programs allow customers to order prescriptions in the company's proprietary lenses, with some frames featuring super-thin polycarbonate lenses.

Whether it's poly or Trivex, new hinges or a more flexible frame, eyecare professionals are finding that sports eyewear customers want the latest technology in this area.


Extreme Sporting News

The X sports influence continues to permeate the airwaves, the shopping malls, and the products that we use every day. There is no sign of a slowdown of the back flips, inverts, and big air. The Winter X Games VII in 2003 set an all-time record for television viewership (broadcast on ESPN, ESPN2, and ABC Sports) with more than 412,000 households tuned in. This year's Winter X Games VIII also marked the first time the Games were televised live on ESPN.

The number of those participating in action sports like surfing, snowboarding, and skateboarding are also skyrocketing. These consumers have purchasing power and strong opinions. Here, courtesy of BoardTrac (, are the recent results of which sports eyewear brands are important to this younger generation.

2003 Skateboarding Report--Top Sunglasses Brands Overall Rank: Oakley, Von Zipper, Dragon, Spy Electric, Arnette, Smith and Ray Ban tied for eighth place.

Oakley maintains its number-one position from the 2002 and 2001 surveys while Von Zipper moved up to the second position from fourth position in 2002. Electric is brand new to the Top Sunglasses brands list while Anarchy and Black Flys dropped from the list and failed to garner at least 2 percent of the mentions by the total sample (1,298 respondents).

2003 Waveriding Report--Top Sunglasses Brands Overall Rank: Oakley, Arnette, Roxy, Dragon, Spy, Von Zipper, Smith, Black Flys, Ray Ban and Maui Jim tied for 10th place.

Oakley maintains its number-one position from the 2002 and 2001 surveys; however, the overall percentage of mentions dropped by 72 percent from 2002 (31 percent vs. 18 percent). Maui Jim and Ray Ban are new to the top 10 list this year compared to 2002 (total sample: 2,124 respondents).