Looking into the Sun

Strategies for educating parents about the importance of protecting young eyes—and selling sunglasses that suit their needs

Looking into the Sun

Strategies for educating parents about the importance of protecting young eyes—and selling sunglasses that suit their needs

By Erinn Morgan

Photography by Peter Baker

Lyla Denehy Alexandra Lauren Baker Kendal Westerlund

Gabriella Paiva

Shown right: Hilco Leader Sunglass style Sprint Jr.

Studies support it and experts agree—kids eyes have the greatest need for protection from the sun. Because their crystalline lenses have not yet matured, the eyes of children under the age of 10 are much more vulnerable to UV damage.

“Kids have these wonderful big pupils and a particularly clear lens inside the eye that allows a whole bunch of UV light in,” says Mary Lou French, OD, of Children's Eyecare, PC, in Orland Park, Ill. “Without sun protection, damage can contribute to the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration.”

Despite these dangers, studies show that there is a low awareness on the part of parents today about the need to protect their children's delicate eyes. The 2012 Sunglass Survey conducted by The Vision Council revealed that while 74 percent of respondents wear sunglasses for UV protection, only 58 percent have their children wear sunglasses.

This issue presents a perfect opportunity for ECPs to take up the mantle to educate parents and kids about the importance of UV protection for the eyes. It also presents a business opportunity in selling kids sunglasses.

“We expanded into children's sunglasses a few years ago and that business has grown significantly since we brought them in,” says Gary King, owner and optician at The Optical Center in Burlington, Vt.


Inspired ECPs are getting the word out about the importance of sun protection—and sunglasses—for kids in a variety of ways.

“I have a handout I give to parents that explains why children's eyes are more susceptible to damage from sun,” says King, who notes that the piece is a simple information sheet he prints out from one of his kids' sunglass vendor's websites.

Left to right: Style Piccolo from Julbo, Ray-Ban Junior style RJ9506S from Luxottica, and Tommy Hilfiger style TH 1148/S from Safilo

At Ellicott City Eye Care in Ellicott City, Md., manager/optician Lisa Cain employs posters, brochures, and even a video loop from The Vision Council and various vendors in the dispensary to educate her customers about the importance of sunglasses for kids. She stresses that she and her staff look for these types of educational items at the trade shows they attend.

“Many parents take their kids to the beach and slather them up with sunscreen, but they aren't wearing sunglasses,” says Cain. “They don't realize the importance of the protection. But I tell each parent during the patient screening that it's really more important to have their children's eyes protected than their own.”

She also makes a point to discuss the importance of purchasing quality sunwear—not the inexpensive drug store option—that provides full sun protection as well as the durability kids need and parents crave.

A NEW FOCUS ON Awareness
The Vision Council wants to help you find your sunglasses. With a plan to protect both young and old eyes across the country, the organization has formed The Bureau of Missing Sunglasses, an independent agency that offers tools to “help people track down lost or missing sunglasses, saving them from the severe threat of looking uncool or damaging their eyes through unprotected UV exposure.”

No joke.

“It's an awareness program,” says The Vision Council CEO Ed Greene, who says the initiative is in its second year. “We are getting word out about UV protection.”

The program includes a “police force” patrolling beaches looking for people without proper eye protection and providing education, a radio tour, and the brand new PackLists, a new free suitcase-packing app for iPad and iPhone that highlights the need to bring along sunglasses.

The program and its education also focus on the distinct need for UV protection for children's eyes. “Kids are a problem because their eyes absorb much more UV than an adult,” says Greene. “Because they are outside more, they also get much more exposure. Education is so important because UV damage is cumulative, so the damage you sustain as a kid never goes away.”

Left: Revolution Kids style REK2022. Above: Eyes Cream Shades style (left) Fudge/Vanilla Bean and Bollé style Piranha Jr.

Cain does acknowledge that parents' awareness has gotten much better. “But it's still something that really needs to be worked on,” she says.

Additionally, according to French, parents of younger children are more aware and open to receiving information today. “It's sometimes difficult to explain that it's a longer-term issue and a danger that may surface later on in life,” she says. “But they are asking now more than ever about sunlenses and sunwear for their kids. I bring it up to parents today and there is little resistance.”


Create a one-two punch for getting your pint-sized patients into protective sunglasses by bolstering your education efforts with an assortment of appealing sunwear and other UV-busting options—such as UV contact lenses, Transitions lenses for kids, and clip-ons—in the dispensary. This niche could become a boon to your business all on its own.

“We started off with half a dozen pair in the store,” says King, “and they started selling so well we expanded into it quite a bit.”

Here, some tips on merchandising and marketing kids' sunglasses from some of those who have forged this path successfully.


It is kids' sunwear, after all, which is put through the rigors and can be prone to breakage and loss. Thus, says King, it's important that the price is comfortable for parents. “Once you get above the $50 mark for sunglasses for children, people start backing off a little bit,” he notes, saying that parents start to open their wallets a little bit more for older kids (ages 10 and up) who are more apt to care for their things.

“Parents simply don't want to invest a lot of money in something the kids may lose, so keep it at a nominal cost,” adds Cain. “I don't have a large markup on my plano sunglasses for kids—it's more just about offering them something that's going to protect them.”


To help entice hesitant parents, Ellicott City Eyewear offers a value-packed package with the purchase of one of their Baby Banz sunglasses.

“We package the sunglasses in a cute, beach-ready bag with a matching hat, a swim ring, sunscreen, a squirt gun, and a brochure on how young eyes develop and why UV protection is so important for kids,” says Cain.

“When you add everything to the clear goodie bag it makes it so much more marketable—and it gets the kids excited to go to pool,” she adds.

For this creative eyewear dispensary, the goal is less about making a huge profit on kids sunglasses and more about providing an important service to its young patients.

Gucci eyewear style GG 5006/C/S from Safilo (left) and Carerra style Carrerino 7 from Safilo


With kids as the focus, the best marketing for this product niche will be colorful and fun. At Eyestructure in La Jolla, Calif., the assortment of Eyes Cream Shades is called out with a display section featuring pastel ice cream bowls, dishes, and spoons. “We are a high-end optical shop,” says Keith Marshall, optician, ABOC, with Eyestructure, “and we don't carry children's prescription frames. But we do carry the kids' sunglasses as a service to our patients. It's a good tool to help protect young eyes from UV exposure.”

Ellicott City Eye Care displays kids' sunglasses throughout the dispensary on eye-catching, oversized stuffed animals. “You can't keep them under the counter,” says Cain. “They have to be able to see it. It just creates awareness.”

On a similar note, King adds that he always keeps a display of kids' sunglasses in his front window so passersby always know the store carries this product option.


For kids in need of vision correction, some dispensers espouse the virtues of memory metal frames that come with polarized sunlens clip-ons with 100 percent UV protection. Products with clips are just right for young patients, says Cain. “Kids are hard on glasses; they get them out of shape constantly and parents don't have time to be running in for an adjustment all the time. Plus, kids think the concept is just cool.”


For those kids in need of prescription sunglasses, many ECPs today say they recommend photochromics, which keep things simple for kids and parents alike. “It really depends on the child and the funding of parents, but most often I recommend Transitions lenses, so they can put them on and not have to keep track of them,” says French.

Some ECPs also recommend photochromics for kids' sports glasses. “This way, they can be used inside or outside,” says Cain. “And, today, kids play multiple sports in varying light conditions.”


At Children's Eyecare, French fits a large number of kids with contact lenses that have UV-protecting qualities. “I frequently recommend Vistakon's Acuvue products because they have a UV coating in the lens that is perfect for kids,” she says.

French notes that of her [youth] patient base over the age of 10, up to 40 percent get contacts to wear at least part-time for outdoor activities and sports. “Parents love that UV protection is built right in.” EB

To protect their children's eyes and adjacent skin, respondents have their children...

• Use sunscreen 66.6%
• Wear a hat 48.1%
• Use sunglasses 58.2%
• Stay in the shade 33.4%
• Don't use any protection 11%

Source: The Vision Council 2012 Consumer Sunglass Survey