When I was a former chain store executive, one of my bosses asked for a favor. He wanted me to evaluate the operations of a chain of sunglass kiosks that were owned by a relative. I agreed. Not only was the project fun, but it taught me a lot about selling premium sunglasses.
The owner of the sunglass chain had about a dozen locations spread over several states. I decided to interview him to learn about his company's needs and the challenges that it was facing. I also wanted to learn the ins and outs of the plano sunglass business, one that is very different from selling prescription eyewear.
During the interview, the owner told me: "Eighty percent of the sunglasses sold in the United States sell for less than x; 20% sell above that price. Eighty percent of the profits from sunglass sales, however, come from the 20% that sell above (the target) price."
I'm sure the application of the 80/20 rule was somewhat of an exaggeration expressly for my benefit and to make a point. What is important to our discussion is that this owner had chosen to position his business toward selling the 20%—the high end—also known as premium sunglasses.
Premium sunglass customers are also younger. This makes sense because the majority of premium sunglasses sold in the United States are nonprescription. These younger individuals are also more likely to engage in active sports and rugged outdoor activities.
Of equal importance is the color of the lenses. Reds are used toward sunrise/sunset. Amber is used to increase contrast by blocking blue light. Green and grey are used to absorb the colors of the spectrum relatively evenly, providing a natural viewing experience for the viewer. Because lighting conditions can change while engaged in a particular activity (cycling, for example) many premium sunglasses are available with interchangeable lenses of different colors. A growing number of premium sunglasses can be made with a prescription, while others have prescription inserts.
Premium sunglasses are also more likely to be coated. This includes backside AR and mirror coating on the front. Often the mirror coating is colorized. This is not only functional but extremely fashionable.
When I observed the employees of the kiosk company I marveled at their selling performance. They interviewed each customer to learn how he or she intended to use the sunwear. Only then did the salesperson recommended products. I listened as they described the features and advantages of the lenses and frames being offered. The statements were followed by the benefits the premium sunglasses would deliver to the customer.
To do this effectively the salespeople needed to understand the body mechanics and visual task requirements the prospective buyer's activity would require. This meant that the salespeople had to become familiar enough with these activities to be able to discuss them intelligently. This information was gathered informally from customers and formally from the company during mandatory training sessions.
These sellers also knew the power of the motives of pride and prestige. They knew that a lot of what the buyer was purchasing was the logo on the temples and the case. In some ways that logo is a status symbol; in other ways, it is a signal to others of the wearer's social standing or lifestyle. The salespeople in this company were trained to identify these cues and use them as ways to connect with customers. Those connections generally took the form of off-script discussions of non-business-related subjects, what one sales trainer calls "schmoozing."