Small Box, Big Profits: A sales primer for your eyewear business.

As a retailer, are you paying enough attention to your sunglass line? If not, wake up and smell the profits. Not only are margins in the eyewear category among the highest in the business, the product takes up very little floor space compared to surfboards, shoes, and softgoods. Couple that with the new influx of mainstream customers walking into your shop searching for the surfing “lifestyle, and eyewear should be high on your inventory priority list.

From a sales standpoint, eyewear is a compelling category and underscores the surf industry’s new emphasis on lifestyle fashion. “These days the water is thick with sunglass players, says Oakley Eyewear Brand Manager Scott Eilertson. “It doesn’t take up too much space, and it’s very profitable. It’s a way to fly the flag for a company you believe in. Sunglasses add a cool factor that’s immeasurable. It allows people to grab a chunk of the cool factor, the hip culture. (Eilertson revealed that next year Oakley — known more for function than fashion — will unveil a new lifestyle line geared exclusively to the surf/skate/snow markets.)

Eyewear involves both sophisticated technology designed to protect your vision and a full-frontal fashion statement. The better products deliver aspects of both. You don’t necessarily have to be an engineer or fashion authority to make the sale, but you do need some basic education and an eye for your clients’ needs and wants. Here are some tips to keep your keystone merchandise moving out the door.

1. Presale Prep.

Take some time to consider the elements of your eyewear department. Is your display area as efficient as it can be? Are your brands grouped in one place, or scattered throughout the store? Are you minimizing floor space for maximum return?

“More retailers are creating an eye center, says Spy VP Of Sales John Gothard. “They’ll put three cases next to each other, then on the backside put another three. Now you have an island, and within that the customer can walk around and window shop. In a very small space, each manufacturer can exemplify their marketing with P.O.P. displays and trinkets. At Spy we say it’s three hits of orange. You see an orange poster, an orange mobile, and an orange header on the display case.

Figure that each case has a footprint of two by two feet, with 50 units in each (including backstock stored inside). At an average of 40 dollars per unit, that’s 2,000 dollars per case. With six cases, you have 12,000 dollars’ worth of merchandise in a 24-square-foot footprint. That’s profitable use of floor space.

Gothard recalls a sales meeting with a retailer when he put a box of shoes on the table to sell eyewear. “We explained that a pair of shoes cost them about 60 dollars and retail for about 120 dollars. Then we told them to open the box, and in it were twelve pair of glasses. The point was, you can make 60 bucks for that pair of shoes, or in that same dedication of space, you can make 720 dollars. Per square foot, eyewear gives you the greatest return.

2. Remember Incremental Sales.

The leading eyewear companies spend a lot of money on branding and logos to boost add-on sales. Look at Oakley’s “O and Dragon’s dragon. “You get the customer in the nice pair of glasses, and the next thing that happens is, ‘Let’s get a T-shirt, let’s get a hat,’ explains Gothard. “The retailer can increase sales because that customer will want to carry the flag that he’s made that eyeglass purchase, so he wants to wear the Spy cross on a T-shirt or hat. That could add up to a 120-dollar sale, not an 80-dollar sale.

Also consider multiple sunglass purchases. Someone who is concerned enough with his or her visual health may be willing to spend 150 dollars on a protective pair of glasses for daytime activities, but would prefer to wear more stylish and less expensive glasses for socializing.

3. Do Your Homework.

You don’t have to have a Ph.D. in optics to sell sunglasses. Nobody is expecti you to use “diopter or “astigmatism in a sentence. But it pays to understand the differences between metal and nylon frames, glass versus polycarbonate lenses, and the advantages of polarized lenses. All the leading eyeglass brands offer free technical support through clinics and printed materials to help you sell more sunglasses. If you have more questions, call one of your eyewear reps.

Some companies offer incentives like free product and even trips to reward top salespeople. That’s fine, but resist being swayed by bro deals. Electric Marketing Director Mike Carter says clinics are valuable to learn both a basic knowledge of eyewear and what features are exclusive to each brand: “That knowledge is exciting and brings the brand to life, which makes the salesperson more confident and effective.

4. Greet Your Customers.

Some customers are loyal to a specific brand and know the style of eyewear they desire. If so, let ’em go and pat yourself on the back for an easy sale. If not, ask a few simple but important qualifying questions, starting with: “What do you intend to use your sunglasses for? It is an active use in bright sunlight like a surf trip, snowboarding, or fishing? Or do you want to scam at the club?

Often it may be a combination of each. Knowing the usage will tell you whether the customer is more concerned with function or fashion. Also, what’s his price range? If he only wants to spend 25 bucks on sunglasses for an Indo boat trip, then some education is called for.

5. Suss Out The Customer’s Face And Fashion Sense.

This is something that should become automatic over time. During the qualifying questions, look carefully at the customer’s face. Is it a telephone pole, or a watermelon? Is it angular or oval? Is the nose prominent? Faces vary greatly among the world’s cultures. From an eyewear standpoint, certain models look better on a prominent-nosed person or a person with full cheeks. This is where your homework pays off, knowing your lines and which models are suited for a particular face shape.

Also notice your customer’s appearance. Is it flashy, or more conservative? Are they a tortoise-shell-frame person, or more of a color-gradient person? Is fashion important to them, or does function come first?

“Fitting eyewear is a very hands-on process, and you have to be involved with your customer, explains Greg “GT Tomlinson of Von Zipper. “It’s different from selling shoes to someone with size-ten feet. Sunglasses are more intimate; they’re worn on your face and are an immediate personality statement. Ultimately sunglasses are about lifestyle, and it pays to have a salesperson know the lines extensively. The better retailers hire people to work the eyeglass section specifically, and it pays off. If it takes four hours to make a decision, you will lose the sale.

Adam Dudley, sunglass buyer for Pacific Wave in Santa Cruz, says he has reached the point where he can look at the customer and start grabbing the proper glasses right away. “It takes time to get to that point, he says. “The more you know, the easier it gets.

Adds Electric’s Carter, “If you don’t nail a customer in the first three or four glasses you show them, chances are you lose that sale. Product knowledge is critical.

6. Narrow Down The Choices.

Combine your knowledge with the customer’s needs and wants to find the right pair of shades sooner rather than later. Start with the face type to arrive at the proper size frame, then move into the nuts and bolts of function, materials, and style.

“If you have a skinny, teenybopper girl coming in, you’re going to have a narrow amount of glasses to choose from, says Spy’s Gothard. “Usually they want the little glass, or sometimes they want to go really big — the J.Lo look. That’s what you have to find out. Take them over to the display case and they may reference a brand. It’s not like a wetsuit when you get maybe two chances before they’re sweating like a pig. Eyewear is much easier to try on, and you can get various different looks. It’s almost like a haircut, but you get to experiment with it.

7. Avoid Information Overload.

“It’s a fine line between prequalifying the consumer’s needs as in depth as necessary according to the conversation, and not paralyzing him with too much information, says Eilertson. “But at the same time, you can’t overdo the technical information for those consumers who demand a superior, and more expensive product.

Carter says sometimes less is more: “You can come in with X-ray charts and tests and lose the customer, depending on who you’re selling it to. Someone who’s that technical will probably go to an eyewear specialty store. It’s essential to deliver the basic facts, but you can lose the sale if you attempt to dazzle them with a bunch of statistics. Knowledge is key, but it can be overdone.

8. Know The Basics.

What do polarized lenses do? What’s the difference between metal and nylon frames? Glass versus plastic lenses? Where is this sunglass made? Why does this one cost 150 dollars and that one cost 25? These are basic questions you need to answer to sell eyewear effectively. As your knowledge increases you’ll find that metal frames bring more sophistication to a face, but aren’t as durable or lightweight as nylon. You’ll discover that polycarbonate lenses are usually more scratch-resistant than glass and are more conducive to action sports.

Polarized lenses are another topic that requires some basic knowledge, especially in the ocean arena. Get familiar with how a polarized lens filters out certain light that creates glare on flat surfaces, such as water or roads. Polarized glasses cost more, but the advantages are evident. “A lot of what we design is not meant to be cool, it’s meant to protect the future health of your eyes and face, says Oakley’s Eilertson. “At 175 dollars, it’s not that much of an investment compared to a 5,000-dollar surgery to remove growths {pterigium and pinguecula} out of your eyes. If a customer goes technical at all, and the salesperson has a clue, you can hook him on the technical aspects. If it looks good and is technically good, he will go out of his cost comfort zone because of that.

9. The Fine Print, And Post-Sale.

Get to know your brands’ warranty and returns information, and relay that to the customer. In most cases, the brands handle returns, not the retailer. During the sale, look at the merchandise carefully — some retailers hold glasses under a light — to make sure there are no scratches or imperfections before the customer walks out the door. If the product comes equipped with a cloth or carry bag used for cleaning the lenses, don’t forget to mention it.

Eyewear is hotter than ever. With some prudent buying and education, your sales can be, too. pig. Eyewear is much easier to try on, and you can get various different looks. It’s almost like a haircut, but you get to experiment with it.

7. Avoid Information Overload.

“It’s a fine line between prequalifying the consumer’s needs as in depth as necessary according to the conversation, and not paralyzing him with too much information, says Eilertson. “But at the same time, you can’t overdo the technical information for those consumers who demand a superior, and more expensive product.

Carter says sometimes less is more: “You can come in with X-ray charts and tests and lose the customer, depending on who you’re selling it to. Someone who’s that technical will probably go to an eyewear specialty store. It’s essential to deliver the basic facts, but you can lose the sale if you attempt to dazzle them with a bunch of statistics. Knowledge is key, but it can be overdone.

8. Know The Basics.

What do polarized lenses do? What’s the difference between metal and nylon frames? Glass versus plastic lenses? Where is this sunglass made? Why does this one cost 150 dollars and that one cost 25? These are basic questions you need to answer to sell eyewear effectively. As your knowledge increases you’ll find that metal frames bring more sophistication to a face, but aren’t as durable or lightweight as nylon. You’ll discover that polycarbonate lenses are usually more scratch-resistant than glass and are more conducive to action sports.

Polarized lenses are another topic that requires some basic knowledge, especially in the ocean arena. Get familiar with how a polarized lens filters out certain light that creates glare on flat surfaces, such as water or roads. Polarized glasses cost more, but the advantages are evident. “A lot of what we design is not meant to be cool, it’s meant to protect the future health of your eyes and face, says Oakley’s Eilertson. “At 175 dollars, it’s not that much of an investment compared to a 5,000-dollar surgery to remove growths {pterigium and pinguecula} out of your eyes. If a customer goes technical at all, and the salesperson has a clue, you can hook him on the technical aspects. If it looks good and is technically good, he will go out of his cost comfort zone because of that.

9. The Fine Print, And Post-Sale.

Get to know your brands’ warranty and returns information, and relay that to the customer. In most cases, the brands handle returns, not the retailer. During the sale, look at the merchandise carefully — some retailers hold glasses under a light — to make sure there are no scratches or imperfections before the customer walks out the door. If the product comes equipped with a cloth or carry bag used for cleaning the lenses, don’t forget to mention it.

Eyewear is hotter than ever. With some prudent buying and education, your sales can be, too.