"The future's so bright, I gotta wear shades," pop group, Timbuk 3, famously declared in 1989. But just as those one-hit wonders' actual future prospects in the music industry quickly dimmed, so too has some of the market for sunglasses over the past couple of years. The good news, however, is that many now see those sales clouds parting, at least a little.
Determining the actual size of the sunglasses market in the U.S. is difficult, with most reliable sources tending to combine the market with nonprescription eyewear. According to The U.S. Eyewear Market: Prescription and Nonprescription Lenses, Sunglasses, Contact Lenses, and Frames, 2nd Edition, published by Cogitamus Consulting, "In the past, the eyewear industry was more or less insulated from economic downturns, as eyewear was deemed a stable commodity product. That changed, as eyewear grew into a fashion product and more prone to the whims of consumers and the ups and downs of economic markets. The big question is whether consumers will purchase fashionable brand name eyewear in the midst of an economic crisis, as seemingly more pressing demands are at hand," the report continues. "Eyewear stores across the United States had already seen the effects of the economic downturn, with many stores reporting significant drop offs in store traffic at the end of 2008. And by the end of first quarter 2009, some underperforming stores had been closed and manufacturing plants were idled."
Though the total eyewear market in the U.S. grew at an annual rate of eight percent between 2004 and 2008, growth in 2008 slowed to four percent, and indications are that figures for 2009 will reveal an even smaller increase. Such information didn't come as a surprise to Fashion Elite's David Song, who a year ago said his company would not be introducing any new marketing or sales initiatives until attending the annual International Vision Expo East trade show in New York City last March. Within a few months, Fashion Elite got out of the sunglasses business, turning its attention instead to luggage. "To anyone looking to us for sunglasses (a market Fashion Elite was in for ten years), we say, 'Thanks for your interest, but we've moved out of that area,'" Song declares. Similarly, California based Sunfree International, closed up shop sometime in 2009, its website taken down and its phone disconnected.
Those who have continued to weather the economic storm, however, see (if you'll pardon the expression) sunny days ahead. Retro designs (think classic aviators and RayBans) are more popular than ever, while the large-ish "bug-eyed" frames favored in years past by celebrities like Nicole Richie have mostly faded back into Jackie O-blivion. Though classic black and tortoise shell frames will probably never drop from sight, this year, designers and sellers are expecting vibrant colors in frames, and to an extent, on lenses, to be big hits.
"The vibrancy of the top five colors for women, versus the neutrals we see toward the bottom of the ranking, show that designers are choosing optimism for the season," Women's Wear Daily quoted Leatrice Eiseman, executive director of the Pantone Color Institute, in a recent report. "It's a cautious optimism, however, because no one can ignore the elephant still in the room: the recession. As the recession continues, consumer purchases trend toward needs versus wants, so our line will extend toward performance features in 2010," Tom Kabbash, founder and designer at Pleasure Ground Eyewear, which specializes in polarized sunglasses, told trade publication Trans World Business. "With us, you'll see low profile integrated hinges, small gripper details in the bridge and temple tips, full coverage, subtle venting, and other performance features that start to cater to the very active customer that needs performance in their eyewear, in addition to just looking good."
"Retailers are definitely working to keep their inventory as tight as possible, so from our side we just need to make sure we service them as best as possible," Brent Lantz, director of sales at sunwear designer Anon, said. "This means making sure we refill the cases with product that moves on a regular basis, as well as rotating the stock in their case to keep the inventory fresh." "2009 was actually pretty good for us," remarks Todd Stotesberry at Connecticut based Sax Optical (http://saxoptical.com). "It was certainly better than 2008. Business is up about 20 percent, due to diversification of our product line." Although Sax Optical's website is currently under construction, the company has tried to stay in touch with existing and potential customers by opening a Twitter account (http://twitter.com/SAXOPTICAL). The company hopes to have its website up and running soon.
Diversification has been one of the keys to success for Miami Wholesale Sunglasses (www.miamiwholesalesunglasses.com), according to sales manager, Tucker Bowyer. "We've been doing well with our D&G brand, as well as our Locs and X-Loop, which have been our most popular," he reports. "Overall sales were up a little bit in 2009 from '08, and we hope it'll pick up more this year." X-Loop Sunglasses is Miami's exclusive brand of sports sunglasses, made of high quality plastics and metals, with many styles offering impact-resistant polycarbonate lenses. Priced at $24 to $34.50 per dozen (depending on style), most are available in two to five colors.
Dolce & Gabbana is the company's exclusive brand of fashion sunwear. Starting at $24 per dozen and going up to $48 per dozen (for rhinestone studded designs), D&G's are available in a number of colors and designs, from wraparounds to more standard squarish and oval frames. Locs are considered the company's "hardcore" sunglasses, and add some stylish flourishes to the basic black frame design; they're priced at $24 to $30 per dozen. All orders are subject to a 15 percent discount for totals of $500 to $999, and a 20 percent discount for totals of $1,000 or more. "Traditionally our business slows down around August, but last year we really fell off," Bowyer notes. "But right now everything seems steady."
A positive outlook also abounds at Modesto, California based Sun Fashion Wholesale Sunglasses (http://sunfashion.com), where president Artin Khatchadourian says, "Everything has been up for us." He adds with a sardonic laugh, however, that, "We've only been in business since 2007 though, so we really started from nothing." As a direct importer and wholesaler, Sun Fashion maintains its own quality control team in China, as well as a market research team tracking sales and trends across the U.S. "Sunglasses are very much about fashion," Khatchadourian declares, "and fashion is always moving. It's imperative that we find the right style in the right category, with the right colors all the time."
How does Sun Fashion continue to accomplish all that? "Trade secret," he laughs. The company offers a range of sunwear products, including styles from D&G, Locs, and Khan, as well as a number of other styles, including Tattoo, which features skulls, dragons, tigers, and other such ink shop favorite images on the frames, and a number of retro designs. Khatchadourian notes that Sun Fashion has designed and patented a drawer style display box that he claims can greatly increase sales. Its sunglasses are, therefore, available by the dozen in either a standard box, or for an additional $2 per dozen, the drawer box.
Most of Sun Fashion's inventory is priced in the $20 to $30 per dozen range, with an additional dozen sunglasses sent free with every 11-dozen purchased. Free shipping is also offered on orders of over $350. Again, Khatchadourian emphasizes, the lion's share of his business seems to come from cutting-edge designs. "Classic frames is the one area that's been slow for us."
Unfortunately for Miami based Next View (www.nextviewnet.com), business overall has been slow, according to president, Sasson Joury. "We were hit very hard by the recession in 2009," he says. "Business was down by nearly 50 percent. The majority of our product is sold to resort areas, and there was very little action there for us over the past five months."
As does Sun Fashion, Next View strives to stay abreast of the latest fashion trends, with an inventory that includes such big names as RayBan, Versace, Gucci, Revor, Ralph Lauren, Cartier, Armani, Fendi, Polo Jeans, X-Flame, Chopper and Polarize. The company also distributes reading glasses, optical frames and related optical accessories, and can add customer logos to some of their products. Joury says that both metal and plastic are the preferred materials, and echoes other observers when he predicts that the move to mid-sized frames will continue throughout the year.
Noting the (mostly) positive predictions for the national economy as 2010 develops, Joury says, "We are very hopeful that business will be good this year. We're planning on doing anything and everything we can to see that it improves." As part of that effort, Next View plans on revamping its website soon to better reflect the new styles that are coming in this year.
Although sunglasses are but a small part of Forever Trendy's business, owner, Tokunboh Oyenuga, says the category has done well over the past 12 months. The company (www.urbanoutfitsdiscount.com) offers a wide range of products, including clothing, accessories, shoes, "and everything else to make it a one-stop fashion store," she says. Forever Trendy features a number of sunglass designs, "inspired by" famous designers, including Louis Vuitton, Roberto Cavalli, Dior, Chanel, Prada, and Gucci, as well as more generic designs, with most priced at $6.99 to $10.99 each. "It's definitely a part of our business that moves," Oyenuga says.
The following companies were interviewed:
Todd Stotesberry, president
127 Myrtle Ave
Stamford, CT 06902
Toll Free: 800-223-5127
Tucker Bowyer, sales manager
Miami Wholesale Sunglasses
3860 Curtis Blvd
Cocoa, FL 32927
Toll Free: 888-672-4322
Artin Khatchadourian, president
Sun Fashion Wholesale Sunglasses
5225 Pentecost Dr., Suite 10
Modesto, CA 95355
Toll Free: 866-263-2323
Sasson Joury, president
20725 NE 16th Ave #A12
North Miami, FL 33179
Tokunboh Oyenuga, owner
P. O. Box 10
Alpharetta, GA 30009
Toll Free: 888-708-4582
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