is high-end or luxury eyewear a part of your merchandise strategy in the optical?
According to your optical industry peers, high-end product accounts for a full 28% of their full product mix today (source: Eyecare Business 2017 Frames Focus Group Study). In addition, a whopping 61% of them have increased the amount of high-end product they carry in the last five years.
Why is high-end eyewear on the rise? This luxe product category delivers a differentiating, competitive advantage in a time of changing and increasing competition where eyecare professionals are employing every advantage they can find.
While frames retailing for $300 and up represent just 3.5% of overall frame sales, according to The Vision Council, more and more ECPs tell us that luxe specs are a game-changing advantage they are utilizing today. Talk to veteran ECPs, and you’ll find—as we did—that no matter their position in the marketplace, luxury and high-end product is essential to their selling strategy now more than ever.
Here, we take the pulse of three highly successful optical business owners and buyers who are representative of three different positions in the optical marketplace:
Luxe (over $500 retail)
Read on, as each reveals specifically how to stock and sell high-end eyewear right now.
10/10 Optics, New York, NY
RUTH DOMBER, optician and co-owner
“THIS ISN’T A TAPAS TASTING. YOU NEED TO BUY DEEP BECAUSE YOU CAN’T REPRESENT A COLLECTION WITH JUST FIVE PIECES. YOU NEED NO FEWER THAN 24 PIECES TO REPRESENT IT.”
This premium location in the tony Flatiron District in Manhattan has focused on luxury since opening in 1979. “Today,” explains co-owner Ruth Domber, “being in the luxury marketplace means getting involved in the artisan end of eyewear. That’s what drives today’s luxury market.
“To make it work,” adds Domber, “you need a staff that is trained to sell and you need to pinpoint the right person for the right frame. You can’t do that by buying just a few pieces. If you don’t know what you’re doing, then stay away from luxury.
“This isn’t a tapas tasting,” she says. “You need to buy deep because you can’t represent a collection with just five pieces. You need no fewer than 24 pieces to represent it.”
But it’s not just about working with frames, stresses Domber. “I really like working with the artists who create them,” she says. “I don’t just want frames that are attractive. I want frames from artists who have visions with styles, designs, materials, etc.”
But, she adds, even this focus works only if your staff is trained to deliver the product in the proper way.
Price Focus: Luxury
Frame Price Range: $75-$4,000
Frame Merchandise Mix:
20%...under $300 retail (Mid-Range)
30%...$300-$499 retail (High-End)
50%...over $500 retail (Luxury)
Frames on Display: 1,600
(1/6 on display; the rest in drawers)
European Optical, Laguna Beach, CA
ASTRID CHITAMUN, optician and owner
“WE ARE HIGH-END, BUT YOU SHOULD ALWAYS HAVE SOMETHING HIGH-END EVEN IF YOU FOCUS ON LOWER PRICE POINTS. IT HELPS YOU PUSH THE ENVELOPE AND GIVE CLIENTS MORE OPTIONS.”
Surrounded by water on three sides, European Optical’s exclusive South Coast Highway setting in Laguna Beach, CA, focuses on high-end frames.
Running a business founded by her father, owner Astrid Chitamun remembers checking frames in when she was in third grade. But, things have changed. European Optical is more upscale since she took over—with most frames at $300 and above.
“We are high-end, but you should always have something high-end even if you focus on lower price points,” she urges. “It helps you push the envelope and give clients more options.”
Talking about her inventory strategy, Chitamun says, “Before I buy, I first consider what line it might compete with in my store. I have an average of 50 frames per line. I think you need that many to really show it.”
Unfortunately, her optical shop experienced a horrific theft 10 years ago—but Chitamun made lemonade out of the lemons served to her. “It really cleaned us out, but it also gave me a chance to rethink everything,” she recalls. “I made a decision then that, because we’re an independent boutique, we should carry products from family-owned businesses that tell a story.
“So, when I look at lines now, I ask about the story—where it comes from, how it was designed, etc. When you tell the story, price doesn’t matter. Plus, people here are craving to support independent businesses.”
Price Focus: High-End
Frame Price Range: $159-$800
Frame Merchandise Mix:
30%...under $200 retail
30%...$400 and up retail
Frames on Display: 2,000+
Griffin Optometric Group, San Clemente, CA
DENISE HURST, buyer
A frame buyer for 21 years, Denise Hurst says the average price for frames at Griffin Optometric Group’s three Orange County locations is $219.
Price point aside, she is actually buying for three distinct customer markets. “The downtown office carries beachy, casual eyewear,” explains Hurst, “whereas, only three miles away, our inland San Clemente location is more high-end and business-friendly. And the third location caters to a more mature crowd that is drawn to name brands.”
Despite the differences, Hurst stresses the importance of inventorying all price points at each location to compete with online shopping, while also featuring high-end and specialty lines to differentiate themselves. As for inventory, “We carry roughly 800 frames in each location. I feel 25-40 pieces is enough to make a statement about a line, and I usually try to order two colors in each style.”
When it comes to choosing a new line, she says, “I decide if there are enough good sellers in it, and then make sure the market near us isn’t saturated with the product.”
The bottom line? “I don’t want to carry frames that a patient can drive down the street and see elsewhere.”
Griffin Optometric Group (3 offices)
Price Focus: Mid-Range
Frame Price Range: $89-$620
Frame Merchandise Mix:
10%...under $99 retail
35%...$300 and up
Frames on Display: 800 per location
We asked all three of our buying experts what’s on trend in the high-end category right now—plus what you need to know about those trends. Here’s the scoop…
“Lots of silks, woods, horns, argentium [sterling silver alloy], and titanium.”
“A frame with a classic look really has to have an interesting twist to it.”
“More lightweight and thin zyl frame materials.”
“Quality can be an issue, so ask about the material and where the frames are made.”
“Rounds are back. Thin wire metal frames, too.”
“Start by touching the frame and opening the temples to test the quality—you can feel it with your hands.”
THE HIGH-END PRICING PIE
The inside line on total U.S. frame unit sales by dollar volume in all channels.