Unbeatable Ideas

Winning strategies for selling, merchandising, and marketing sports eyewear in the dispensary

Unbeatable Ideas

Winning strategies for selling, merchandising, and marketing sports eyewear in the dispensary

By Erinn Morgan

The owner and dispensing optician at A Sight for Sport Eyes in Portland, Ore., Shannen Knight's business is growing despite the down economy. As people turn to the outdoors as a means to look beyond beleaguered times, it's no real surprise that sports eyewear is rising up as one of the stars of today's dispensary.

In 2010, nearly 50 percent of Americans ages six and older (137.9 million people) participated in outdoor recreation, including everything from hiking and cycling to snowshoeing and adventure racing. In fact, participation in adventure racing saw a 23 percent one-year increase from 2009, while the number of people who participated in a triathlon increased by 64 percent. Other winning sports included whitewater kayaking (up 35 percent), BMX bicycling (up 31 percent), and running/jogging (up 13 percent).

Here, we share strategies for making your sports eyewear assortment a formidable contender in the dispensary.


Grab customers' attention right off the bat with a sports section that stands out and is easily navigable. “We have a lot of sports stuff shown with our eyewear displays, which are divided into sections by specific sports,” says Knight. “There's a big boat near all fishing stuff and faux trees near all our skiing styles.”

At N3L Optics, a sports eyewear chain with locations in Arizona, Florida, Colorado, Texas, and California, inventory merchandised by activity. “This enables our in-store ‘Gearus’ to help customers choose the right sunglasses, plus provide ongoing cleaning and tune-ups when they visit,” says Matt Moss, marketing manager.


Much of today's active lifestyle sunwear sports a relatively high price tag, an excellent reason to enable customers to test eyewear. N3L Optics' Explorer Chamber simulates how sunglasses will perform in different environments and sports.

“We bring outside light and wind conditions and sport-specific environments in-store to help customers select the right sunglasses for their unique needs,” says Moss.

Tom's Sportique Eyewear in Boulder, Colo., uses a natural testing ground. “I don't have a wind chamber, but I do have a bike path behind the shop,” says owner Tom Buell.


The next generation is one of the big growth categories in sports eyewear. “The biggest increase we've had in sports eyewear sales is in kids' products,” says Katie Faucher, optician and co-manager at Five Points Eyecare in Athens, Ga., who notes that they have seen a 40 percent increase in this business in the past year. “One of our eye doctors does vision therapy for pediatric optometrics, and she almost always recommends sports glasses.”

Sports eyewear chain N3L Optics features an Explorer Chamber that simulates different sports environments for patients


Athens is an avid cycling town, so Five Points Eyecare is well stocked with glasses for cyclists. “We are also educated on which lenses will work for cyclists' different needs, whether riding during the day or at dusk,” says Faucher.

To find your area's outdoor sports focuses, check with your tourism office or the chamber of commerce.


When eyecare professional preach what they practice from an educated standpoint, they have a business advantage. Mike Hileman, owner of Eye Gear Sports Optical in Henderson, Nev., has passion for cycling that pays. “I work around product and an atmosphere I love every day. About 75 to 80 percent of my clientele are into cycling in some way,” he says.

Buell and his sons are also avid outdoorsmen who can be seen regularly at local events and races, where they will sometimes have a booth promoting Tom's Sportique Eyewear. Beull notes: “The best thing, really, is to get out there yourself and test your products.” EB

What does sports eyewear look like in an optometric practice's dispensary? Here, we reveal the specifics with a peek at Centennial, Colo.-based Highline Vision Center and sports sunwear purveyor Tom's Sportique Eyewear in Boulder, Colo., which also happens to be an optical shop with an in-house optometrist.

Highline Vision Center

LOCATION: Centennial, Colorado
Total number of frames: 800
Number of plano sunwear frames: 200
Number of sports eyewear frames: 120+ (about 60 percent)
Sports sunwear sales: 20+ per month

MERCHANDISING: Sports eyewear is separated out from other plano sunwear and displayed in manufacturer-supplied cases. This optometric practice is moving to a new building this spring and a very distinctive sports eyewear section is planned.
“We often sell sports eyewear with prescription lenses created by our brands' proprietary prescription programs.”
— Bob Tucker, optical manager
Tom's Sportique Eyewear

LOCATION: Boulder, Colorado
Dispensary size: 1,200 square feet
Amount of space devoted to sports eyewear: 40 percent
Sports eyewear price range: $75 to $300
Rx/plano breakdown: 50 percent prescription and 50 percent plano

MERCHANDISING: Sports sunwear lines the entire left side of the dispensary while ophthalmic frames are displayed on the right-hand side. The sports side is separated out by manufacturer and displayed in the brands' specific cases, which are updated on a regular basis.
“Manufacturers like to have continuity with their current look and marketing and they sometimes want us to change up to their new cases. We hate to have to dumpster a case, but we yield to their marketing.”
— Tom Buell, owner