Read and reap. The benefits of an insider look at your region’s business health and optical wealth, that is.
In this, the 10th annual Eyecare Business Regional Trends Report, we combine our own in-depth demographic and retail research of ECPs across the country with spot-on trends from key national business gurus. On the pages that follow, we’ll home in on each Census Bureau region.
But first, a bird’s-eye view of what’s trending from coast to coast so far in 2018.
Good ‘n’ Bad
Thanks to Toys ‘R’ Us closings in Q2, retail real estate vacancies posted their worst quarter in nine years. On the plus side, the U.S. economy reached its lowest jobless rate (3.8%) in 18 years this May. That’s a big change from March and April, when actual unemployment numbers were above forecast. One result? “American employers were forced to raise wages in Q1,” reports the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
As of May, the U.S. economy has expanded for 107 months, making it the second-lengthiest expansion in history, according to Chmura Economics & Analytics.
What about optical? Overall, ECPs saw sales increases in the first quarter compared with a year earlier. The Southern and Western states saw the biggest growth, while the Northeast had the least—less than half of ECP respondents reported increased sales for the quarter in the region.
One point on which all regions agreed? Women’s eyewear topped the charts countrywide in Q1.
Looking ahead, The Conference Board projects economic growth in the U.S. to exceed 3% during the second half of the year. Why? The research organization says that measures of consumer and business confidence, along with retail sales and key business investment indicators, have all strengthened.
How Did Q1 2018 Sales Compare With Q1 2017 Sales?
U.S. ECONOMIC STATS:
FROM COAST TO COAST
“With the three-month moving [spending] average up 4.6% over a year ago, we believe sales growth should remain healthy.”
—Jack Kleinhenz, Ph.D., National Retail Federation
The June 2018 consumer sentiment index reached the highest figure in three months, “due to consumers’ more favorable assessments of their current financial situation and...buying conditions.”
—The University of Michigan
Retail vacancies rose to 10.5% in Q1. While 7 out of 10 metro areas saw a rise in retail vacancies in Q2, high-end centers continued to shine.
The all-items Consumer Price Index has risen 2.8% for the 12 months ending in May 2018.
—Bureau of Labor Statistics
ECP Insight: On Growth
“We are increasing multiple-pair sales + extras, selling higher-priced and better-quality frames, and making sure each claim is filed properly.”
—Regional Trends Survey Respondent
Turning + Churning
The Northeast is definitely feeling some choppy waters.
Overall, the Northeast’s 11-state region is trailing the nation’s other regions in GDP growth this year. Its Consumer Price Index, however, has inched downward each month in 2018.
In optical, the region has seen the nation’s biggest decline in sales from a year ago, with only 43% of businesses reporting sales are up. Nonetheless, sales of kids’ and sports eyewear here top other regions.
Eyecare professionals in the Northeast also sell more plastic and higher-end frames than their peers. And, in the lens arena, ECPs here have reported the biggest increase in in-house edging over the last five years.
OF NORTHEASTERN ECPs REPORT THAT THEIR FRAME PRICING REMAINS UNCHANGED FROM LAST YEAR.
NORTHEAST: The Optical Picture in Focus
Northeast: The Big Picture
What’s the latest in business and economic news in the Northeast?
↓ JOBS. While higher than other regions, the Northeast’s May unemployment rate of 4.2% represents a decidedly downward trend.
↑ PRICES. Urban consumers have seen a 2.5% increase in their year-to-year consumer price index. Prices have also risen for medical care, up 2.6% year to year. Both numbers rose slightly from May to June.
↓ REAL ESTATE. Fairfield County, CT, and Long Island, NY, were among the nation’s biggest losers when it came to Q2 jumps in retail vacancies.
ECP INSIGHT: ON EXAMS
“We have increased our ground game—personally distributing POP materials to businesses around the community, giving a face to the need for exams.”
—ECP + survey respondent
Wrangling the Wild Frontier
The West region has earned its badge.
Nearly a quarter (24%) of businesses in the region report Q2 staffing increases, with bigger-than-average rises in the health services category, according to ManpowerGroup.
In fact, according to IHS Markit, “The West and the South have the hottest job markets and will compete for best in show” in 2018.
How is that reflected in optical? Nearly three-quarters (74%) of jobs are made in poly. That’s substantially more than other regions. Western ECPs also sell more AR (86% of jobs) than other areas.
There’s still one very open frontier in the West. That’s social media, where a whopping 38% of ECPs report they don’t use social media at all for business.
OF PRACTICES IN THE WEST SELL AND PROMOTE AR. THAT’S SEVERAL PERCENTAGE POINTS AHEAD OF THE REST OF THE COUNTRY.
WEST: The Optical Picture in Focus
West: The Big Picture
What’s the latest in business and economic news in the West?
↑ JOBS. The jobless rate of 4.1% in May was the lowest in the region for over a decade, and a healthy decrease from 4.5% a year earlier.
↑ PRICES. Prices paid by urban customers in the West are up 3.5% from a year earlier, a bigger increase than any other region.
↓ REAL ESTATE. Retail vacancies are expected to drop only ever so slightly between now and Q4 2019, due mostly to the effects of Toys ‘R’ Us, Bon-Ton, Sears, and J.C. Penney closings.
ECP INSIGHT: ON SERVICE
“[We compete by] providing legendary customer service and educating our patient by understanding and fulfilling their needs.”
— Survey Respondent Lita Chambers, LDO, Luxottica Retail
Accent on Sweet Success
For the first time in a decade, every major industrialized economy in the South is growing.
Even agriculture, mining, and forestry are improving, reversing a several-year slowdown, according to Wells Fargo Securities.
When it comes to the sexes, the South tops the charts in the sale of both women’s and men’s eyewear, while ranking lowest in unisex looks. And fully 30% of respondents say they’ve expanded to include both higher- and lower-end price points this year.
When it comes to online sales, however, 26% of ECPs sell online, representing the highest percentage and biggest growth in the nation.
OF SOUTHERN ECPs SAY HIGH-INDEX LENSES ARE THEIR BEST-SELLERS. THAT’S MORE THAN ANY OTHER REGION.
SOUTH: The Optical Picture in Focus
South: The Big Picture
What’s the latest in business and economic news in the South?
↑ JOBS. The region’s 4% unemployment rate for May is its lowest since 2007, and down from 4.4% a year earlier.
↑ PRICES. The Consumer Price Index in May jumped 2.7% from a year earlier, second only to the West in year-to-year increases.
↓ REAL ESTATE. Malls haven’t been this empty since 2012. Strip malls and other community shopping centers were the hardest hit in Q2, and Winn-Dixie closings aren’t helping.
ECP INSIGHT: ON STAFF
“It’s all about training, training, and more training. Especially on how to answer questions, read benefits and billing properly, and get copays the same day to eliminate buyer’s remorse.”
—ECP + survey respondent
A Rust Belt No More
The Midwest has a lot to be happy about.
Employers there anticipate the strongest labor market in the country, putting the Midwest at its highest hiring levels in 17 years, according to a new ManpowerGroup study.
In optical, the Midwest has seen the nation’s largest leap in optical sales from Q1 2016 to Q1 2017. While they sell more midrange product, Midwest ECPs have also added more higher-end product than their peers. They also lead the nation in both children’s and sports eyewear sales.
The Midwest is also anything but rusty when it comes to free-form. While the national average is 67% of PAL sales in free-form, Midwest ECPs are 10 points higher at 77%.
OF ECPs REPORT COMBINATION-MATERIAL FRAMES AS THEIR FAV. THAT’S MORE THAN ANY OTHER REGION.
MIDWEST: The Optical Picture in Focus
Midwest: The Big Picture
What’s the latest in business and economic news in the Midwest?
↑ JOBS. The Midwest is home to four (Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, and North Dakota) of the 10 strongest states for employment so far in 2018.
↑ PRICES. Consumer costs in the Midwest were up 2.3% for the year ending May 2018. That is the area’s largest year-to-year increase in more than five years.
↔ REAL ESTATE. Despite the wave of store closures, retail real estate vacancies remain mostly unchanged from the past four quarters.
ECP INSIGHT: ON BILLING
“We’re focusing on verifying and preauthorizing all benefits prior to seeing patients, plus educating patients about medical vs. routine exams and how billing is dependent on the diagnosis.”
—ECP + survey respondent