Back-to-School Busyness Drives Optical Retailers' Business

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When it comes to overall retail sales, Back-to-School shopping ranks second only to the holiday shopping season, according to economic analyst IHS Global Insight. For eyewear sales, this time of year is among the busiest, and optical retailers plan accordingly by preparing promotions, stocking up on trendy collections and even discouraging staff vacations.

The following mid-size regional optical retailers told dba the Back-to-School trends they see for 2013: Shirleen Steele, purchasing director, Henry Ford OptimEyes; Jason Van Stone, director of marketing, OptiCare Eye Health & Vision Centers, Inc.; Laura O'Neil, frame buyer, Nationwide Vision; Daniel Stanton, CEO, Stanton Optical; Gordon A. Bishop, FNAO, ABOC, RO, CEO and president, Sunland Optical; and David H. Hettler, OD, Drs. May & Hettler.

 

How important is the Back-to-School period to your optical business, and what styles/categories of kids/tweens eyewear/lenses do you anticipate will be important this year?

 

Shirleen Steele, purchasing director, Henry Ford OptimEyes, Madison Heights, Mich.

Back-to-School is a very important season for us. It is, in fact, one of our busiest periods of the year. We embrace families and look forward to the excitement of busy offices taking care of all our patients' eyecare needs. We begin to prepare months in advance with our vendor partners assuring we have all the necessary tools to assure a successful campaign. These include fresh merchandising, gift-with-purchase options and, of course, the latest products. All of our children's and tween collections are updated to be sure the most current styles are available. We also feature Back-to-School prominently in the third quarter issue of our Henry Ford OptimEyes magazine along with great student eyewear packages.

Frame style options that will be important this year are lots of color—navy, hunter green, khaki for boys, and purple, pink and mulberry for girls. Plastics are coming on strong with the geek chic trend making its way through both youth and tween designs. Accents are also important as they are now a bit more "grown-up" in their aesthetics. Flex hinges are key to most parents, so of course we are sure to have plenty of options along with a full range of flex metals. With respect to lenses, polycarbonate, anti-glare, and Transitions all pave the way for the perfect eyewear to head back to school with style and vision!

 

Jason Van Stone, director of marketing, OptiCare Eye Health & Vision Centers, Inc., Waterbury, Conn.

At OptiCare, we use the Back-to-School period as a springboard into the second half of the fiscal year. We tend to see an uptick in both patient encounters as well as eyewear sales. In addition to elementary and high schools, many of our offices seem to each have a college or university just around the corner, so for us the student going back to school can be anywhere from seven years old to 25. Knowing this, we not only make sure to have a variety of traditional kids frames but also a large selection of the more trendy options for the teen and beyond crowd.

 

Laura O'Neil, frame buyer, Nationwide Vision, Chandler, Ariz.

For 2013, Back-to-School, geek chic frames are still big for kids this year. Chunky, slightly oversized plastic frames with fun details are what kids are dying to wear. Parents love these frames for their durability, and kids love them for the look. Brands that are on fire are Skecher kids, Converse kids and Lucky Brands kids, all hitting the mark for kids fashion in eyewear.

For the older kids, Tween Ray Ban frames are a must have. Candies and Bongo frames are a big hit with teen girls who want lots of fun colors and unique temple details.

In lenses, parents should seriously consider photochromic lenses, which look great in geek chic frames. These lenses help protect your child's eyes from the sun without changing to sunglasses. These are not the old glass Photogray lenses that people remember. The advances in technology in this product are amazing, and most of the time nobody will know that they change until they are outside and the lenses are darkening.

 

Daniel Stanton, CEO, Stanton Optical, Palm Springs, Fla.

Back-to-School is always an important time of year at Stanton Optical. With children out of school during the summer, we see an increase in the number of kid's eye exams we normally perform as parents want to make sure their children have the correct prescription glasses before heading back to classes in the fall.

Parents can follow fall trends in the fashion clothing industry to get an idea of what colors of glasses for kids will be hot in the coming months. Popular colors for fall 2013 include bright and bold colors such as emerald green, dark purple and bright red, which are translated into stylish eyewear for kids from designers such as Nike.

More subtle and muted earth tones are also predicted to be popular for boys' eyeglass frames. These include coffee brown, gunmetal gray and lichen green, along with earthy patterns such as tortoiseshell. Pastel colors are always a popular option for girls' glasses such as the peach, lavender and light blue frames available from Modz Kids.

With 3,000 frames to choose from at Stanton Optical, starting at $69.00 plus a free eye exam, we always have a great choice of children's glasses for kids to choose from before they head back to school. The great thing about having so many styles of kids and tweens glasses in stock is that they don't have to settle for just one pair. We encourage our customers to buy at least two pairs of eyeglasses for their children. That way, should one pair get lost or damaged, they have another pair of glasses in reserve. A great new promotion we have for 2013 is free impact-resistant lenses with the purchase of every pair of children's glasses.

 

Gordon A. Bishop, FNAO, ABOC, RO, CEO and president, Sunland Optical, El Paso, Texas

Although Back-to-School is still an important period in Sunland's marketing calendar, this event has evolved over the last several years as the visual screening of our younger children's eye health is occurring on a much more frequent basis throughout the entire year...not just during this period. In addition, the awareness of today's parent about good eyesight for their children is now more paramount and top of mind.

We continue to promote Back-to-School savings that offer significant discounts, however, we are focusing more on promoting the higher end lens materials such as Trivex lenses along with Transitions to ensure that students are getting the most bang and function out of their eyewear purchase and eyewear experience.

Today, students continue to be fashion savvy and are looking for the preppy retro styles that are being worn by more and more of their peers. Our suppliers have caught on very quickly and are providing these styles in acetate and acetate/metal combinations along with funky or flat metal frames with vibrant colors and appropriate sizes for this market demographic.

All lenses sold by Sunland to children under the age of 18 are automatically upgraded to polycarbonate for free, so CR-39 is not available to any of our patients under the age of 18.

 

David H. Hettler, OD, Drs. May & Hettler, Alexandria, Va.

Prior to the Back-to-School season, our group completes as much training as possible to handle an increase in traffic. Our patient volume increases by more than 25 percent during this time. To handle this volume, we have increased frame inventory, updated our frame lines, and trained staff to be as efficient as possible in patient flow. Staff vacations are encouraged for all other times, so that staff shortages are minimized at the busiest times.