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Winter 2014
Enduring Industry Stars: Two Companies, One Product Category and Vastly Different Journeys

Solar Flair: What’s Hot on the Horizon|Perennial Power

NYS and SolarX predicted hot new trends in sunglasses for this year

NYS

  • Retro styles from the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s will be hot
  • Polarized lenses will remain big
  • Size of the frames will become smaller
  • Multi-colored lenses for fashion not just sports
  • Textured frames (shiny, matte, rubber finish, wood finish)
  • Multi-colored frames

SolarX

  • Lower-end prices with higher-end quality
  • Aviators will come down in size and will continue to trend up
  • Revo (color-tinted lenses) style will increase in popularity with bright blue and orange tints becoming popular
  • Cat-eye style (slight point by the temple) will be popular
  • Pink frames

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We asked industry professionals what explains sunglasses’ staying power:

“Sunglasses are accessories that never go out of style. They are a staple – necessity and a fashion accessory. All consumers need sunglasses in every season and in every climate. They are also a great impulse item. Travelers forget sunglasses and it’s an easy item to pick up from an RMU. However, I think both NYS Collection and SolarX are missing the opportunity to tap into the children’s market. If they could offer more selections for children they could help operators boost sales and they would be helping parents with kids. I envision an area in a sunglass kiosk with lower mirrors, that would be a fun fashion area for kids to try on the glasses.”

-Karen Larson, Director of Specialty Leasing, Urban Retail Properties, LLC

“Sunglasses are a trendy product that changes quickly with fashion. The younger generations love sunglasses and they have the disposable income to spend on buying them. The price points of sunglasses that are being sold from RMUs and kiosks are attractive to consumers.”

-Sharon Loeff, Specialty Retail Consultant, Shopworks, LLC

Concepts come and go in the specialty retail industry. That is par for the course in an industry that is fueled by product fads and short-term trends. However, amidst a sea of rapidly changing products, there are a handful of products and companies that have had staying power. One of those product categories is sunglasses. We take a look at two market leaders—NYS Collection and SolarX Eyewear to compare and contrast the business strategies that have made both companies enduring industry stars.

NYS Collection: A look back

NYSPicture3-copyExactly one decade ago, Specialty Retail Report profiled two dynamic entrepreneurs—Sal Babbino and Marc Behar of NYS Collection. This enterprising duo grew up within shouting distance from one another in Brooklyn.  At the very young age of 10, they started working together selling flowers and newspapers on the street corner. After college, Babbino set up an embroidery business on a cart and Behar joined Wall Street. However, looking to join his friend’s entrepreneurial enterprise, Behar joined Babbino and so began their journey together.

When we last profiled NYS Collection in the magazine, they gave this advice to cart retailers: “Treat your cart as a store and not a cart. Treat it as a viable business.”

Evolution is key

Heeding their own advice, NYS Collection has grown the business since their start in 1996, by evolving with the needs of the industry. Today the business includes maintaining a handful of cart locations so they can stay in touch with the needs of specialty retailers and consumers, selling products wholesale and offering franchise opportunities as well.

“Part of our evolution is helping retailers to re-invent themselves,” Behar says. He explains that while permanent stores might change every month, many cart retailers stay the same, repeating products and visual displays month after month. Behar and Babbino attest to the importance of changing visual merchandising displays regularly, offering various sales promotions to incentivize consumers to buy and even renewing the signage every month.

Behar and Babbino have mastered the art and science of cart retailing. “Our franchisees do on average 30% to 50% higher sales due to the corporate training we provide, new visual merchandising displays and the tremendous marketing support that we can offer them,” Behar says.

They also attribute recent retail growth to the implementation of a new POS system. “The new system is helping our retailers work smarter, not harder,” Behar says. The system not only helps retailers determine best sellers, it also helps the NYS corporate team identify trends and respond accordingly.  Additionally it helps operators save time on processing payroll hours and employee scheduling. “It’s freed retailers to master sales because they don’t have to spend as much time on the operations,” Babbino points out.

A year-round business

NYS Collection operates their cart locations year round and encourages their retail operators to do the same.

Over the years, Babbino and Behar have learned how to make December a great sales month. One of the marketing ideas that they have implemented includes developing a “wish list” card that consumers can complete to give to family and friends for gift ideas.

They also discourage retailers from discounting sunglasses as part of their year-round strategy. “We don’t agree with heavy discounting. It builds a poor brand message and it conditions the customer to expect a sale,” Babbino says.

Testing the waters

snglas)redWhen we spoke with Babbino and Behar ten years ago they were hoping to grow their business internationally. Currently, they have franchises operating internationally. The franchise decision “helped strengthen the brand and increase sales via multiple retail price points, training, kiosks, and exclusive lines of eyewear all with no royalties to the franchisee.”

NYS has also started testing custom kiosks in lieu of RMUs in some shopping centers. This approach gives a more upscale look, differentiates them from the RMUs in the center and leads to a slightly higher employee retention rate. Another added benefit according to Behar is that it allows them to have more signage on the unit to effectively promote the three different price points that they offer. Ninety percent of NYS’s business is still done from RMUs.

When asked if they have tested any small temporary stores, they said that “a very small store space works best—500 sq. ft. or less.” A high-traffic location with very reasonable mall rents is ideal. While they currently operate ten temporary store locations, NYS is still in an experimental mode with this type of store format.

Behar and Babbino have also implemented very innovative branding and licensing deals. For example, NYS executed an agreement with the New York Times to launch a pair of reading glasses with the prestigious paper’s name. The company’s comprehensive accessory and readers line is a booming part of its business. NYS also signed a deal directly with Viacom for a Jersey Shore line and a separate deal was made with Snooki for her line, Babbino says. In addition, a manufacturer’s agreement is in place for Shaquille O’Neil’s line of eyewear.

Since their start in 1996, NYS has now grown to corner a sizeable two-thirds of the sunglasses market in the specialty retail segment. Signing national deals for the past eight years and increasing the range of products, have helped. A new high-quality line allows retailers to charge a higher retail price, which raises the average retail ticket, Babbino points out.

“We are always exploring ways of re-inventing our company. Whether it’s through our sales pitch, our products, our pricing or our visual merchandising displays. We are even in the process of testing things right now.”

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Patricia Norins

Patricia Norins serves as VP of Specialty Retail & Publications at the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC). Considered the authority on specialty retail, she has been tracking the industry for the past thirty years. Norins is Publisher of Specialty Retail Report, the voice of the specialty retail industry (carts, kiosks and pop-up stores). SRR has a readership of more than 75,000 each quarter.
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