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Spring is in the air. I love the first signs of spring here in northern Indiana: the leaves on the trees...
the birds singing…my optical posting big sales figures in the category of non-Rx sunglasses. Most
optometrists tell me they don’t have great success with sunglasses, but it can be the perfect side business
that fits naturally within your practice.
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. It’s 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 won’t make you get noticed. You need a whole department
within your optical. It’s 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? It’s an investment and you will get a return
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.
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 – but the best. They trust what you carry.
Hopefully, they’ve 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, they’ll buy it.
Name brands are powerful forces in retailing today. Understand that today’s 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
To build a successful sunglass business, you must carry the brand names that people want. Without trying
to give any company a plug, I’ll throw out a few brands to get you on the right track. I’ve 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 “sale” 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 don’t 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
I think of the plano sunglass business as a totally different business than my practice. It is truly
retail, and the consumer’s 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. It’s 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 don’t 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 today’s 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
Best wishes for continued success,
Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week
Dr. Gailmard's new book, Practice Management in Optometry: A Blueprint for Success Based on the Optometric Management Tip of the Week, is now available on Amazon.