Optometric Management Tip # 170   -   Wednesday, April 20, 2005
Selling Non-Rx Sunglasses

Spring is in the air. I love the first signs of spring here in northern Indiana: the leaves on the trees... the birds singingÖmy optical posting big sales figures in the category of non-Rx sunglasses. Most optometrists tell me they donít have great success with sunglasses, but it can be the perfect side business that fits naturally within your practice.

Position it

If you want to sell plano sunglasses, you have to make the first move. You need to create the image that your office is the best place in the area for sunglasses. Itís not that hard to do. You already have the basics: knowledge of optics and eyewear, an optical staff, an office, and people coming to see you who need vision care. You need much more than that, though. You must invest in floor space, display furnishings, accessories, staff training and lots of product inventory.

Consumers want choices. If they are going to pay top dollar, they want to know they bought from the best place around. Ten or twenty pairs of sunglasses wonít make you get noticed. You need a whole department within your optical. Itís hard to advise on an exact number of units, because it depends on the size of your practice, but you probably need at least 50 pairs to begin to make a statement. My office has about 500 pairs on display. Think that sounds like too much money? Itís an investment and you will get a return on it.

Consultant Dr. Gary Gerber of The Power Practice suggests placing a display of great-looking sunglasses in your contact lens dispensing area. Very smart! He has studied merchandise placement the way large department stores do. I tried it and it works. We also display a framed sign that reads: See our complete collection of designer sun eyewear to go with your new contacts.

Name brands

Why will people pay up to $300 for plano sunglasses from your practice when they could go so many other places and find much cheaper alternatives? Because there are many layers in the marketplace. Some people wear watches by Timex, others by Rolex. Many people own both. To your patients, your office is the premier source of high-end optical products. Not the cheapest Ė but the best. They trust what you carry. Hopefully, theyíve come to value the excellent customer service you provide on other optical products. If your optical presents high-end sunglasses as something of great value, the public will want it. If they want it, theyíll buy it.

Name brands are powerful forces in retailing today. Understand that todayís consumer may have a desire for sunglasses that springs from a personal interest in sports or high fashion, or somewhere in between. People want to look like their heroes, whether they are a golfer, a NASCAR driver, a movie star or a model. Pop culture helps sunglass sales every day by showing images of cool people wearing sunglasses in the media. The sports and fashion companies in the sunglass industry spend huge dollars on building the value of their brands by product and logo placement on athletes and in movies, and through advertising on television and in magazines. Even if a promotion is for clothing or sports equipment, it still helps the brand image.

To build a successful sunglass business, you must carry the brand names that people want. Without trying to give any company a plug, Iíll throw out a few brands to get you on the right track. Iíve had success with Oakley, Rudy Project, Revo, RayBan, Nike, Maui Jim, Nautica, Serengeti, Carrera and also some of the more ophthalmic-based lines like Calvin Klein, Kenneth Cole, Polo, Gucci, Nine West, and Coach.


Years ago, when my sunglass business was just starting, my practice offered various discounts to entice sales. We had a month-long ďsaleĒ in the spring, which we promoted with a banner on the front of the building and also in newspaper ads. We would mention our sunglass collection in the practice newsletter and a sign in the reception room, which referenced all the designer logos we carry. We also promoted a 20% discount on non-Rx sunglasses with contact lens fittings. Interestingly, I dropped all discounts on sunglasses a few years ago, and found that sales remained strong without them and net profit in the category jumped up nicely. Discounts are not always a good strategy if price is not the motivating sales factor. Start a ban on discounts in your practice and see how the bottom line looks.

I generally donít use advertising much, preferring to grow by word of mouth referrals instead. I believe our newspaper ad campaign for sunglasses was a good investment, however. It got the word out that we were serious.

I think of the plano sunglass business as a totally different business than my practice. It is truly retail, and the consumerís buying decision is much different in that mode than when buying a prescribed medical device. And, the usual mark-up on non-Rx sunglasses is not nearly as great as ophthalmic frames and Rx lenses. In spite of all that, the business is profitable. Itís incremental business that takes zero doctor time, and it adds a lot of fun to the dispensary!

Non-Rx helps sell Rx

People who need prescription eyeglasses donít want their sunglasses to look like they have an Rx. They want sunglasses that look cool. The lenses are extremely important: the thinness, the wrap, the rimless mounting, the color, the mirror coating, the polarization, the UV protection and so on. Of course, the lens power will dictate just how much you can do to make Rx sun lenses look like its non-Rx counterpart, but with todayís materials and technology, you can do a lot. Having a great inventory of leading edge plano sunglass styles helps your Rx patients visualize what they would like their sunglasses to look like. Seeing the non-Rx version sells the Rx version. We often use the non-Rx frame, place Rx lenses in it with a tint that matches the original, and give the patient the loose plano sun lenses in case they ever want them re-inserted.

Best wishes for continued success,

Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Chief Optometric Editor, Optometric Management