Amid Economic Woes, ECPs Look for Bright Spots

By



 
NEW YORK—As the U.S. sinks deeper into the now official recession, most optical retailers and eyecare practitioners appear to be holding their own in terms of current sales as well as prospects for the early part of 2009, according to a VM survey conducted from Oct. 24 to Nov. 4 by Jobson Optical Research via the Internet.

 
 
These eyecare professionals who responded to VM’s survey reported that their sales in the third quarter of 2008 wound up either 5 percent or more ahead of the same period last year (reported by 41.4 percent of the survey respondents), or equal to last year’s third-quarter sales (indicated by 21.2 percent of the respondants). For this year as a whole, 42.9 percent said they anticipate that their businesses will finish 2008 5 percent or more ahead of 2007, with another 20.7 percent expecting to close out this year even with last year’s volume.

But the realities of today’s financial conditions cannot be ignored: more than one-third (37.4 percent) of respondents to this latest survey said their third-quarter sales were 5 percent or more below the same period last year, and 36.5 percent said they expected their total sales for calendar 2008 to be 5 percent or more lower than in calendar 2007.

By comparison, when a similar VM survey conducted in August asked retailers and ECPs about their overall sales during the first six months of 2008, 47.2 percent of those survey respondents said their first-half sales wound up 5 percent or more ahead of the same period last year, while another 31.6 percent reported sales volumes even with last year’s first half. Just 21.2 percent said in August that their business in this year’s first six months was down by 5 percent or more compared to last year.

And, tellingly, when asked if they were seeing consumers’ purchasing decisions affected by the recent economic and financial pressures, a whopping 88.7 percent of respondents to the October/November survey said they had experienced such an impact.

 
 
As for specific product segments, 31.5 percent of respondents to this latest survey reported an increase of 5 percent or more in their sales of ophthalmic frames today compared to 2007; another 29.1 percent said their frame sales were holding even with 2007 levels. But the largest segment—39.4 percent of the respondants to the October/November survey—reported a drop of 5 percent or more in their ophthalmic frame volumes during that period.

Sales of premium lenses appeared more positive. In this most recent survey, 40.4 percent of VM’s respondents said their premium lens sales rose by 5 percent or more today compared to last year; another 35 percent said their sales of premium lenses were even with the same period in 2007. Just 24.6 percent of these ECPs said today’s lens sales were 5 percent or more below last year’s.

The economy is also impacting the rate at which consumers have been getting their eyes examined in recent months. More than one-third (34.5 percent) of respondents to the November survey said the number of eye exams their practice or store has been doing in this year’s second half is running 5 percent or more ahead of the same period in 2007, and another 34.5 percent said their exam rate is holding even with last year’s second half. But 31 percent of the respondents said their exam rates in the second half have been 5 percent or more below the comparable period last year.

In VM’s August survey, nearly half the respondents (48.2 percent) had said the number of eye exams performed in their store or practice was running 5 percent or more ahead of the first 6 months of 2007 in the first six months of 2008, and another 36.8 percent said the volume of exams performed during this year’s first half was even with last year’s rate. Only 15 percent of the August survey’s respondents reported a lower volume of exams in the first six months compared to last year.

 
And what about the all-important bottom line? Some 38.9 percent of the respondents to last month’s survey anticipated their profit picture for 2008 would be ahead of last year’s; another 18.2 percent said they expect this year’s profits to stay even with 2007 levels. However, 42.9 percent of these ECPs told VM they expect their profits to be down for this year compared to last.

As for their outlook for the first half of 2009, 32.5 percent of the October/November survey respondents said they expect their sales to be 5 percent or more above the comparable period this year in next year’s first six months; another 39.9 percent expect their sales to be flat in 2009’s first half. However, 27.6 percent of these retailers and eyecare practitioners told VM they anticipate a drop of 5 percent or more in sales during the first six months of next year. 
—Cathy Ciccolella