Once considered a seasonal category, sunglasses are now hot sellers year round, regardless of climate and geographic location, according to suppliers. While the year round fashion trend has been growing for the past several years, Julia Lemke, marketing director of Kachina LLC, based in Santa Ana, CA, says, "This is the first year sales pulled through the winter at a rate equal to other seasons."
"The market is hot, getting better every year, and winter sales this year took off at an amazing rate," she says. Lemke credits it to a number of factors: some having to do with consumer fashion and concern for eye health care, and others having to do with Kachina's own marketing efforts.
"We are creating a lot of customized package deals for our retailers," she says. "We offer three to four different choices of floor and countertop displayers, which we tailor to individual retailers' markets, demographics and geographic location.
"We also advise on what price points do best in certain markets, and, of course, we always update our collections regularly and inform customers of the current best selling styles." The company also provides in-store signage, touting the company's lifetime guarantee.
Sunglasses are among the most profitable of categories, all suppliers note. This makes it a mistake for retailers to shrink sunglass sections in winter, they advise. And while consumers are increasingly aware of the need for eye protection in all kinds of weather, fashion is the primary reason consumers build year round sunglass wardrobes, they say.
"Sunglasses are a fashion accessory," Lemke says. Fashion experts in top consumer magazines confirm this. Women's fashion magazines not only show models wearing sunglasses, but also show sunglasses as the essential accessory wrapping the straps of purses this year. And men's magazines portray sunglasses to accessorize the top of the ubiquitous, billed baseball cap.
"Any kind of store can profit from selling sunglasses," says Ron Bryan, sales director of Pacific Link, based in Dalton, GA. "Grocery stores, convenience stores, sports shops all benefit from carrying a display of sunglasses year round," he contends.
"It is an incredibly competitive market," Bryan acknowledges, "but this year is our best year ever, and sales have increased 30 percent a year for the past three years." One reason, he says, "Is because we've opened new markets, and we provide advice on what styles to carry in particular marketplaces."
"This is supposed to be the slow season, but our business is way ahead of this time a year ago," echoes Gerald Wilson, owner of Vanguard Optical Imports, in Pittsburgh, PA, during a recent interview with Cover magazine. "Business is booming," he reports, "and we just ordered another 1,000 dozen pairs to keep up with demand."
His company has a 30,000 square foot warehouse that regularly receives 40 foot containers of about 20,000 pairs of sunglasses, he says. To help retailers carry a large selection, he offers those who buy 12 dozen pair a free rotating displayer with mirrors on three sides. "It's an instant department," he points out.
Fashion and Profits
After 42 years in business, Vanguard lays claim to being the oldest continuous U.S. importer of sunglasses. As a result, Wilson has witnessed the market's evolution into a year round business. "I think the big frame, designer type sunglasses gave impetus to lengthening the season from a fashion standpoint," he says.
Consumers' embrace of sunglasses as fashion accessories has coincided with the retailers' discovery of the product's profit potential, according to Wilson. He agrees with Bryan that any type of store can have success with sunglasses.
Typically, sunglasses that wholesale for $2 a pair, retail for $8 a pair. Some stores capitalize on the fashion aspect by offering them at two pair for $15, raising each ticket and still obtaining a hefty margin of profit. Among the growing new markets for Vanguard are dollar stores, many of which now carry products for more than $1, Wilson notes.
Leon Tseng, who has been in the sunglasses industry for 24 years, opened his own company, American Sunshine Eyewear, in Doral, FL in 2006. "There's UV everywhere, all year, and a growing realization among the public that they should wear sunglasses whenever they're outdoors," he says.
Like some of his supplier peers, Tseng also tailors merchandising programs for retailers' individual markets. "There's a lot of fashion variation," he says. "Sunglass fashion is very regional, and it also varies by ethnic group, age, and, of course, gender. We take a lot of time with our customers, especially start up retailers, to understand their customer profile and configure a program to maximize success."
Tailoring assortments for specific markets is critical to making the most of a sunglasses section, agrees Samuel Huang, vice president of Miami based Sunny Trading. While fashion is the primary driver of sunglass sales, "Fashion varies significantly from market to market," he says.
"Everything new starts in New York and California," Huang contends, "then makes its way to the middle of the country in varying timeframes."
Yet, in all areas there are fashion trendsetters, so Huang encourages retailers to include some of the newest styles among those that are the best sellers in each market. "A store has to give customers a choice of colors and fashion styles," he reasons.
Huang recommends a minimum of 10 dozen pair for any store that is just getting started in selling sunglasses. "That gives them one dozen each of ten different styles," he says. Sunny Trading does not have a set starter pack, "Because styles keep changing," Huang says. "We want our retailers to be up to the minute in their location."
Because sunglass fashion changes quickly and varies by market, there's no single "must have" top fashion that applies to all retailers, these suppliers say. Nevertheless, they give some insight about the direction of sunglass fashion trends for the coming months.
In general, plastic frames are still more popular than metal, the suppliers report. "Over size frames will continue to do well," Huang predicts. "And white is still good, but we are also seeing a return to the more earthier tones."
"For 2007, there is a shift from the very large to a more medium size frame," predicts Tseng. "But, no funny colors." He agrees with Huang, "Dark, neutral, black and tortoise shell are the upcoming popular frame colors."
"Tortoise shell is strong again, and so is white," adds Wilson. "And while there will be some demand for red, blue and green frames in some parts of the country, black is back among the top sellers."
For those buyers that put function first, polarized lenses are forever in fashion, Huang says.
The one piece shields, "Which have a single lens that goes across the whole eye area, is hot," according to Bryan. "You couldn't give away a pink frame now," he adds. As for the rhinestone décor, which was popular in 2006, Bryan says, "it will still be with us, but this year it will be more subtle," he forecasts.
By contrast, Lemke says, "Big is still better, and frames with lots of rhinestones are still doing very well in most markets. It's an extension of last year's fashion, but flashier."
"Designer reading glasses with rhinestones, handpainting and other forms of glitter are continuing to do very well," says Wilson. Reading glasses, most suppliers agree, are an increasingly popular addition to any retailer's sunglasses section.
Others agree that as the population ages, reading glasses have become another related high profit category. And like sunglasses, they have become a year-round fashion accessory; another opportunity to brighten sales.
The following companies were interviewed for this article:
Leon Tseng, owner
American Sunshine Eyewear
1509 Northwest 82nd Avenue
Doral, FL 33126
Toll free: 866-250-5205
Julia Lemke, marketing director
1640 East Edinger Avenue, Ste. L
Santa Ana, CA 92705
Toll free: 800-550-1231
Ron Bryan, sales director
1223 Coronet Drive
Dalton, GA 30720
Toll free: 866-824-0079
Samuel Huang, vice president
8900 Northwest 33rd Street
Miami, FL 33172
Toll free: 800-327-0032
Gerals Wilson, owner
Vanguard Optical Imports
2908 Smallman Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15201
Toll free: 800-433-1325
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