If you’re currently in a situation where you carry a large number of big-brand frames, what can you do to get yourself out of there? Obviously, you don’t want to just swap to any frame line – you need to research what your options are. When doing that research, however, what kind of things do you need to be concerned about? You want to make sure you’ve asked the right questions and taken everything into consideration before you drop one line in favor of another. The last thing you want to do is switch from one to the other and find out that your new one does a lot of the things you didn’t like about the old one.
One of the major problems that a lot of people can experience when they carry big brand frames is how popular they are. I say that’s a problem because, being so popular, that means a LOT of places sell them. Specifically online markets like Amazon, which can make it almost impossible for you to compete against them on price. It doesn’t exactly seem like it’s in your best interest to have someone standing directly in front of you, seeing if they can get a ‘better deal’ online. Then they proceed to ask you why you’re selling this frame for $200, when they can get it for $60 off of Amazon. Which is below your wholesale cost, of course. How is a brand actively helping you, at that point? It seems more like is actively damaging your relationship with your customer. It makes them think you’re ripping them off.
That being said, just because a frame is available online doesn’t mean that the frame manufacturer is evil and out to steal your business. There’s some other things that go into it. Firstly, they may sell them on their own website for the same price you’re selling them in store. In that type of a situation, they’re not really doing anything that’s going to get a customer to buy from them instead of you – if the customer is going to pay the same price either way, there’s really no negative for you. Especially for smaller independent frame companies, it can be necessary for them to offer their product for sale online, simply because it’s a lot more cost effective for them to do that as compared to the cost of hiring a nationwide coverage of sales reps to place the product in stores.
Similarly, if you see their product being sold online below your costs, you have to see where it’s being sold. If you see frames going cheaply on a site like Ebay or other places with a “marketplace” (available on sites like Amazon, Walmart, and others), it may not even be the frame manufacturer selling them. The frames there could easily be someone listing because they got ahold of some frames and wanted to make a quick few bucks. They could also be discontinued, overstock, or even stolen frames here and there. With that in mind, you need to take a good look at where the sources of online competition are coming, and make sure the frame manufacturer is the one that’s undercutting you.
With all that being said, there are certainly options available to you if you prefer to have an ‘internet-free’ eyewear company. Many of these types of frame companies will offer private label options, or simply choose not to make their product available to chain stores or online sellers. This could be something else you look for, in order to further differentiate your offerings from the competition.
Do you have….
Often times if people ask for a brand, they don’t actually know what the frames really look like, or that there are multiple styles. There’s a lot of homework that you usually need to do in order figure out which frame they actually want – if they even know. In this context, though, how much do they care about “the name” and how much do they care about “the look”. How often are you likely to lose a sale because you don’t have the specific name, as long as you can tell them, “I’m sorry, we don’t carry Brand X, but we have this line that has similar styles.”
They’re already there, so they will most likely at least have a look. You’re probably not going to end up losing much if they walk, since if they’re so dedicated to getting a specific brand name and only that brand name, they’re going to be the type tofind out where they can get it cheaper anyway.
Part of this is being able to tell a customer “No”, which can be difficult. If you can explain why, however, it helps to get the point across to them that there’s a good reason you don’t carry a specific brand. Saying that “I’m sorry, we don’t carry that” as compared to, “I’m sorry, we don’t carry brands that are easily available online. Instead, we have this line which allows our customers to be unique, and not with a style easily found on any website.”
Made in America
It’s becoming more and more popular to look for frames that are “Made in America”. While not common, there are certainly several options that are available to the independent eye care professional. This type of offering makes it easier for you to offer a product at a higher price point, and to have a good reason for it.
That’s one thing you need to keep in mind with this type of frame – it’s going to cost more. You aren’t going to be getting a sub-$10-wholesale price of frames that are made in America. The people putting the frames together were paid a much higher wage than those in the countries that typically make frames, so you need to make sure that your customer knows what they are getting. This, of course, is a great addition to your frame selection, as you can use it as a unique selling point. Much of this is going to depend on your demographics, of course.
In order to get some perspective on the frame market (and the overall market in general), I received some input from Maarten Weidema. Maarten specializes in eyewear and store design, and also runs a facebook group called “The Eyewear Forum”. This is a group of about 11,000 opticians from around that world, and focuses on independent eyewear design and store interiors. I felt his perspective would be useful here, as it gives us insight from someone outside of the US market.
“The time to differentiate is of the essence! The recent mergers should have told you that much by now.”
“The time has come to ask yourself: why is it that people visit your store, and not the chain store around the corner? Sure, you are a locally owned store. You support your community. You employ locals and pay your taxes – but guess what? So does that store around the corner!
You offer Raybans, with a nice pair of lenses – but so does that store around the corner, only theirs is a lower price. So why should I buy my frames at your store? Okay, maybe you serve a better coffee. That’s nice, but I didn’t come here for coffee! If i wanted some coffee, I would go to Starbucks. You’ve got better service? Yeah, when you are open, but that store around the corner has got a 24/7 hotline to call. You are a great guy who coaches the football team, yeah, I am sure the guy at that store around the corner keeps little boys locked up in his basement.
You can differentiate your store with a great cup of coffee, a friendly chat and the best eyecare your customer can find. But do you really think these big box guys can’t do the same? That they will serve crappy coffee forever and mess up people’s RX for ever? No!! They are smart, they’ve got marketing budgets that can buy out your countries debt AND pay for a wall on both borders.They didn’t evolve from creating handmade frames out of their daddy’s garage into international conglomerates because they are stupid.
Be that local hero. Serve them that great coffee, ask about their kids, provide the best eyecare and service. Create the best brand, product and quality awareness. Do that, sure. But the most visible way to differentiate is to offer them something that the other guy doesn’t have. Not coffee. Not great service. The big box guys will beat you at that in the end – trust me they will! You need to be able to offer them something that’s unique. What I’m referring to is the very first thing that The Eyewear Forum was founded on – independent eyewear! Find those pearls in this big ocean that we call “the optical arena”, because an arena it is!
Sure, there are indie start ups with crappy quality, companies with a great line but a poor back office, but find those awesome ones that work! The ones that provide you with that missing link to complete your collection. It isn’t just about adding that one brand. You can add to your assortment so it will all be good. You have to create a harmonic selection that can both extend your current lines or make them more unique.
The best way to do this is to look for yourself, and not wait for someone to come find you. Go visit at Vision Expo, Mido and Silmo! See the HOT! zone and the Village! But don’t forget the smaller niche shows that are more local. Sometimes, the pearl is just around the corner!”
SHO Them Who’s Boss
One other option is to do it yourself – create your own brand. Private labeling is not only an opportunity to carry your own collections, but something much, much better. A chance to fight the online epidemic and Big Optical takeover. You get to wait – calmly – as your customer searches in vain to undercut your prices and waste your precious time. When they realize they can’t find your product elsewhere, you can proceed with the sale and get compensated for your expertise and overhead.
Private labeling is becoming available to the little guy by innovators like SHO Eyeworks. Their philosophy is to support the Independent by offering customized products with high margins, low minimums and quick turnaround times. There is a frame for every face in the collections making it easy to offer a range of styles and price points. The product is billable through all major insurance carriers and is published at a higher price than what you pay. SHO enables you to build your brand with high quality product and 2 year warranties, new styles quarterly, custom POP, marketing tools and Branding Consultants.
It’s not about stamping your name on a frame and leaving you to it. They want to support your sales and marketing cycle and help make you a more well-rounded practice. This is a great example of how a smaller, independent company have an interest in increasing your business. By offering branding support your sales increase which then increases their sales, but there is no ulterior motive to steal your customers like certain Big Optical companies. If having your own line of frames sounds appealing to you it’s worth a conversation with one of SHO’s Branding Consultants. Visit www.shoeyeworks.com to learn more or email firstname.lastname@example.org
As you can see, there’s a lot of ‘little things’ that go into frame lines, even when you don’t consider what the frames themselves look like. Keep in mind, that many of the above issues didn’t touch on the quality of the frames, simply the method of sales and competition. When it comes down to it, only you are going to know what kind of frames will sell in your area. The thing that you need to do is keep an eye out for what your options are – and that can often involve seeing new designs and meeting new companies first hand. Only when you’ve been able to connect with other independents and gotten a broader view of what’s available can you feel comfortable in the frames that you offer to your patients.