Given the economic rollercoaster we’ve all been experiencing the last few years, I was wondering how the high-end fashion sunwear market was affected by it. Did it remain untouched by the recession, had it recovered, did consumers alter their high-end sunwear buying habits in any way? To find out, I interviewed a few optical professionals and owners of optical shops who have been involved in high-end fashion sunwear sales for years.
|Burrow's & Mr.Frank's Optical in Little Rock, AK, has consistently carried high-end brands such as Robert Marc (Style No, RM654/2 shown here).
Lonnie Burrow, Burrow’s & Mr. Frank’s Optical in Little Rock, AK.
Madeline Kruhsberg, Optique of Denver in Denver, CO.
Bernie Oberlander, Oblerle Opticians with locations in Surfside and Hollywood, FL.
Barry Santini, Long Island Opticians in Seaford, NY.
What was your sunwear inventory mix like prior to the recession?
Burrow: We have not varied our sunwear lines before or during the recession. We carry Cartier (LEAD Amerique), Robert Marc, David Yurman (Legacie, the lux-ury house of B. Robinson, Inc), Oliver Peoples, Chrome Hearts, and more. About 90% of our sunwear sales are consistently comprised of these high-end fashion collections.
Kruhsberg: Before the start of the recession (2007), I was still in the Norfolk, VA, location where I carried Maui Jim, Oakley, Inc., and Ray-Ban® (Luxottica).
Oberlander: We carry a mix of sports lines such as Oakley and Maui Jim as well as high-end fashion sunwear collections including Cartier, Maybach (IVKO USA), Chrome Hearts, and Fred (Premiere Vision). Our branded collections consist of Christian Dior (Safilo USA), Bulgari and Chanel (Luxottica), and David Yurman. Most of our sunwear sales were, and still are, in the branded and luxury collections.
Santini: We have always concen-trated on sports and licensed brand sunwear sales. We carry Oakley, Ray-Ban, Maui Jim, Nike (Marchon Eyewear) and a good amount of Prada and Coach (Luxottica), and Gucci and Christian Dior (Safilo).
|As part of its evolving sunwear inventory strategy, Long Island Opticians in Seaford, NY, carries Safilo's Marc by Marc Jacobs (Style No. MMJ262/S shown here).
At what point did you see any change in the purchasing behavior of your high-end sun fashion patients?
Burrow: We saw no change in the purchasing habits of our high-end patients and the collections they bought as a result of the recession. Lower-end purchasers, however, were looking for even lower-priced products if they were to buy sunwear.
Kruhsberg: We have over 300 days of sunshine here and as it is a tourist destination, we have many sunwear sales from folks who left their sunwear back home. I don’t think any of my patients were affected with respect to purchasing high-end fashion sunwear. Even though I opened up three months before the recession started, my store has grown significantly.
Oberlander: We saw a consi-derable downturn on all accessory wear across the board when the recession hit. While sales on prescription sunwear were steady all along, all categories of non-Rx sunglasses were down.
Santini: There was a sharp change in interest in high-end fashion sunwear with our patients at the onset of the recession. The collections that were the most greatly affected were Dior, Prada, Gucci, and Coach. We counteracted by running a sale on these collections—50% off on in-stock inventory only. What we also found was that the patient who spent $400 and under was very price-conscious while for those who spent $800 plus, economic conditions didn’t matter much to them.
What did you do differently to address the evolving purchasing patterns in sunwear?
Burrow: We found that people who wanted the best still bought the best. We were confident with the collections we chose to carry and we made no changes to our inventory mix.
Kruhsberg: I increased the amount of sunwear I carried and displayed it more prominently here than I did in the old store. I also have a beautiful lighted Maui Jim cabinet display in the window. I don’t carry many Luxottica collections because I want to be different than the chains. I’ve also worked out cross-referrals with a Sunglass Hut close to me that sends me Rx patients and I send them Ray-Ban sales. I think increasing my inventory of sunwear has been successful and I have changed my sunwear inventory mix to 90% polarized as well.
|Most of Oblerle Opticians' sunwear sales have remained in the branded and luxury collections, including Premiere Vision's Fred (Volute shown here).
|Oliver Peoples is a well-known fashion sunwear brand (Mande shown here).
Santini: Instead of exchanging discontinued styles, we keep them, especially the name brands, and offer them at 50% off. It’s amazing how having these available makes everyone’s lives easier. It’s a triple win—we make more on them than the “exchange” value, the manufacturer doesn’t have to take them back, and the patient gets a deal. If the consumer doesn’t see a “sale” style they like, at least their pursuit of a discount is somewhat satisfied and they are more likely to purchase a current model, which, being sunwear, we bundle with digitally enhanced premium-filtration lenses. As far as inventory changes, we reduced the Prada, Dior, and Gucci collections and began carrying Michael Kors (Marchon), Ralph Lauren (Luxottica), and Marc by Marc Jacobs (Safilo). We also increased our Ray-Ban inventory as the brand is so hot right now.
How do you see the high-end fashion sunwear market trending in the near future?
Burrow: I don’t think the econ-omy plays a great part in what your patients are buying if you know your clientele and purchase your inventory accordingly.
Kruhsberg: The high-end market for sunglasses will never go away as long as there are movie stars and famous people who wear them. Not everyone wants to wear what their parents wore. The innovations of frame colors, materials, and lens designs have made the high-end sunglass market a large industry. It will never go away, especially with all the talk about protecting your eyes against harmful UV rays.
Oberlander: I expect to see a strong return for luxury and branded sunwear. The high-end fashion sunwear market should be in demand this season.
Santini: If the sunwear fits, feels comfortable, and looks well, it’ll sell. The initial impressions of fit and comfort are paramount. With the online shopper, if they want a brand I don’t have for an Rx, I suggest they purchase it online or at a retailer and bring it to us to make the prescription. They trust me and they do it.
While the market for fashion sunwear may be a moving target, keeping in mind that everyone needs it is a good way to make sure you present it to everyone who enters your office.
Roxanne Armstrong is a licensed optician and owner of Art For Your Face, in McLean, VA.
WHERE TO FIND IT:
800-647-2345 • chromehearts.com
IVKO USA Inc.
866-842-4666 • maybach-eyewear.com
Legacie, the luxury house of B. Robinson, Inc
866-534-2243 • legacie.com
800-447-7405 • cartier.com
800-422-2020 • luxottica.net
800-645-1300 • marchon.com
Maui Jim, Inc.
888-MAUI JIM • mauijim.com
800-733-6255 • oakley.com
866-865-7599 • oliverpeoples.com
Premiere Vision, A luxury division of Logo of the Americas Inc
800-345-3733 • logo.fr
212-675-5200 • robertmarc.com
800-631-1188 • safilo.com