Eyewear retailers look to youth demo

Approximately 20-million people in Canada wear some form of corrective eyewear, but with the introduction of refractive eye surgery to permanently correct vision for those aged 18 and over, the adult eyewear demo is starting to decline. The under-18 demographic makes up an estimated 10% of the eyewear market in Canada, so with the number of refractive surgeries on the rise, the optical industry is responding by shifting its focus onto the youth market.

Approximately 20-million people in Canada wear some form of corrective eyewear, but with the introduction of refractive eye surgery to permanently correct vision for those aged 18 and over, the adult eyewear demo is starting to decline. The under-18 demographic makes up an estimated 10% of the eyewear market in Canada, so with the number of refractive surgeries on the rise, the optical industry is responding by shifting its focus onto the youth market.

Marketing to children and teens is no longer seen as a niche, but as a necessity.

Dr. Jerry Nolfi, a Toronto-based optometrist, and managing partner of vision-care consulting company Smartpass, says, ‘There is no doubt that retailers are marketing eyewear increasingly to the child demographic. If other forms of vision correction threaten the market, then manufacturers have to look for new sources of revenue. They have to adapt, to market the products in different ways.’

According to Nolfi, the impetus to have permanent correction is growing year by year. ‘The kids who are being fitted with glasses today won’t be thinking twice about having laser surgery in 10 years time,’ he says. ‘So we are going to see a huge surge in that area.’ In the U.S., roughly 2.2-million refractive surgeries will be performed this year, according to stats from the market research firm Spectrum Consulting, which is up from 1.4 million in 2000.

Optical practices in Canada are also competing with big retail chains, such as Wal-Mart, Costco, Sears and The Bay, which stock a wide selection of eyeglasses for children. Youth-friendly brands include Nine West, Tommy Hilfiger, Guess and Candies, while tots go for brands like Barbie, Osh Kosh and Fisher-Price.

‘When you look at the Canadian marketplace you see a very fragmented industry,’ explains Nolfi. ‘Each of those retailers is going to be marketing more and more to the child demographic in the hope of gaining a customer for life.’

Clifford Richstone, managing partner of Smartpass, and former director of marketing for Johnson & Johnson Vision Care, elaborates: ‘There are a number of new players coming into the cosmetic lens business who are targeting children in different ways. You see frames in different shapes and colours, and there is a lot of licensing of names such as Roots and Disney.’

Lantis Eyewear recently debuted its Seventeen-branded eyewear collection, under a licensing agreement with the magazine’s owner, Primedia. And in February, CIBA Vision, a large player in the international contact-lens market, launched a $1-million US, teen-girl-targeted print campaign for its Focus Dailies disposable lens line. Running through October, the effort consists of an ad appearing 23 times in mags like Seventeen and Teen People, which are available in Canada as well as the U.S. Projected to reach 65% of the total teen population in the U.S. and 93% of teen girls, the ad builds on the success of last year’s 30-second TV spot, ‘Teen Tribunal,’ in which a gaggle of teen girls counsel their spec-wearing friend to switch to contacts. The spot aired during shows such as Party of Five, Charmed, Felicity and Buffy from February to September 2000.

‘An important part of being a teenager is fitting in and being part of the crowd,’ says Steve Colton, VP of marketing for CIBA Vision North America. The company used this vital teen need for acceptance in its campaigns, and enables Canadian and U.S. teens to get their hands on a free contact-lens trial certificate by going to www.focuscontacts.com.

‘Contacts are easier to wear for recreational and social reasons, and they are being marketed increasingly as a cosmetic product to teens,’ says Nolfi. ‘Daily disposable contacts are the safest and easiest way for kids to wear lenses because they don’t have to be cleaned, so there is a great push towards them in the Canadian marketplace.’

Nolfi estimates that there are between 2-million and 2.5-million people wearing contact lenses in Canada, and the number of children in that statistic is rapidly rising. According to U.S. trade association the Contact Lens Institute, about 13% of the more than 34-million contact lens wearers in the U.S. are under the age of 18.