|Some optical shops put aside an area for kids, setting up a few stuffed animals and maybe a DVD player in the corner, to garner extra business from a demographic that’s considered a valuable niche. But at Solo Bambini in Burlingame, Calif. kids are more than just a niche… they are the main focus of the entire dispensary. Husband and wife team Roger Owner and Elizabeth Moore opened the shop about a year ago specifically to cater to the younger generation from infancy through to teens.
Owner has been in the optical industry for 15 years selling frames online including most recently the Solo Bambini line, Owner’s collection of soft, hinge-less children’s frames.
The duo decided it was time to go beyond virtual retailing and start a bricks and mortar optical business for kids. “The next natural step was to open a retail store with his products as well as products I could find that would be wonderful for kids up to teens,” says Moore, an ABO certified optician. “We have an inventory of 700 frames from such countries as Italy, Germany, France, Austria and Switzerland.”
Moore is always on the look out for frames that are beyond what a customer would find in the typical optical shop. Popular brands include t2, Buz, Tartine et Chocolat, Lafont, IVKO and Lindberg. And then there is their Solo Bambini line.
“Children have no bridge when they’re young,” explains Moore. “The Solo Bambini frames are held on with a headband so there is no worry about the bridge fit.” She also recommends another soft frame collection from Italy called Comoframe.
Rimless styles are among the hot looks for kids’ frames, notes Moore. “Little girls just love the t2 System by Lens Work. They can get them with straight or cable temples. There are 25 different colors and 80 shapes; it becomes an art project for them.”
The dispensary also does a healthy sunwear business. “The sunglasses are really taking off,” says Moore. “We try to educate parents about sunglasses. The ages from one to 10 are the most important time to wear sunglasses; by 40 the damage is done. We use polycarbonate lenses with proper UV protection.” Popular sun brands at the shop are Julbo, a line from France, as well as Vuarnet, Ray-Ban and Oakley.
Sports frames are another big seller at Solo Bambini. “We sell all sorts of sports frames including soccer, basketball, volleyball, lacrosse, baseball and swimming and ski goggles,” says Moore. “Even if they don’t need an Rx the parents are coming in to get their kids eye protection.”
Of course lenses are integral to any optical mix. Solo Bambini works with the Hoya Modesto lab. “They do all of our work and I oversee it,” says Moore. “I’m very experienced selecting the appropriate lens. We use lenticulars—a lens people with cataracts wear—for babies with a very high plus. We’ve done up to plus 23. If it’s a high plus, I know we have to order an aspheric. The other thing is we do frame adjusting and repairs on-site. We want people to feel comfortable coming back for repairs; kids play hard and as a result their eyewear gets out of shape.”
Solo Bambini dispenses a lot of Trivex lenses because of its excellent visual acuity. “The only difference is when you get up in high pluses the thickness of the lens becomes important to the look of the frame; polycarbonate is thinner,” notes Moore. “Scratch-resistant coating comes with both Trivex and polycarbonate lenses along with UV. We do a lot of Transitions. We also do a lot of anti-reflective coating. Parents love it because when they take a picture of their child they don’t get that glare plus the visual acuity is better.”
When the kids come in to get their glasses, they get a lesson in how to take care of them properly. “With each child after they pick up their glasses I show them how to take them off with two hands, how to fold them and put them in the case,” says Moore. “We give them cleaning spray and a cleaning cloth and show them how to clean the lenses. We tell the kids to take care of their glasses because they are expensive. They are very good about it. It’s amazing how involved they become.”
Fitting children comes with its own unique set of difficulties. Besides small children not having much of a nose bridge, temples can also be a problem. “Children’s faces from the outside of the eye to the ear are much shorter in distance than adults,” explains Moore. “So when they are fit in an adult frame the temple can go way beyond the back of the ear.” Moore advises putting smaller children and toddlers in eyewear with cable temples to avoid having frames fall off little faces.
And then there is always the fear factor when dealing with kids. Moore tries to make the children feel as comfortable as possible, some times even taking them into the store’s backyard, which has a fountain and a lemon tree, to make them more at ease. “If a child is nervous we have them go out there and pick a lemon to calm them down,” she says. “If they’ve been through a refraction sometimes they are afraid we are going to do the same thing. We try to get their trust.”
The store is indeed set up to keep the kids happy. “The space has to be accommodating to children,” notes Moore. “We have dark mahogany hard wood floors, a big round leopard print rug, soft leather cubes they can lay on or put together. They can sit on a cube and be comfortable while I do their pd. We have a DVD player with all the kids’ movies.” The DVD usually ends up entertaining the siblings who are not being fitted for frames. There are also animals positioned around the store wearing glasses. However, even though child friendly, the dispensary is light and airy. The colors are soft and not too kiddy-like with the exception of the bathroom—it’s shocking pink and has a shocking pink cat in rhinestone sunglasses as a permanent resident.
While word-of-mouth has definitely helped in promoting the dispensary, Owner and Moore have also been active in the local community. “We not only did ads but we also got involved with the schools and area fundraisers like the local fun runs. We’re getting out and meeting the local ophthalmologists and pediatric ophthalmologists. And we do a luncheon for pediatricians.”
Within a market that many consider a niche, Solo Bambini has found another niche: petite adults. “We’re getting more and more petite adults,” notes Moore. “They are going to their regular opticians and finding it hard to get frames that fit their face. They are finding what they need here because of all the small frames we carry at our store.”
But the main focus at Solo Bambini will always be the kids. “Children are beautiful,” says Moore, “and the glasses they wear should be beautiful.”