A recent New York Times (NYT) article from early November 2022 poses an interesting question in its headline. The headline reads, "Are You Ready for Gas Station Sunglasses?" Author Cassidy George goes on to explain that well-known celebrity models have suddenly embraced a particular style of sunglasses commonly found in gas stations.
The style and tone of the piece seems to suggest that sunglasses purchased from gas stations are suddenly chic. If that's true, they are only chic to that small number of consumers that don't think twice about dropping hundreds of dollars on pairs of designer sunglasses that "look cheap". To the rest of us, gas station sunglasses have always been a hit.
Two Types of Sunglasses
There isn't a whole lot that manufacturers can do to make their sunglasses so distinct as to stand out from the competition. That's why brands are so important in our industry. At any rate, the few similarities between eyewear brands leads to the inevitable reality that there are only two types of sunglasses: very expensive power brands and more affordable, lesser-known brands.
To illustrate the point, consider that George's NYT piece focuses mainly on wraparound sunglasses. You have been in the designer sunglasses industry long enough to know that wraparounds are not new. They also aren't exclusive to one or two brands in particular. Every manufacturer who makes designer sunglasses makes wraparounds.
So what's the difference between a high-end pair and a more affordable pair found at the gas station? Price. In all likelihood, any difference in quality is negligible. The biggest difference is the brand name etched into the plastic frames.
Equal Quality for Less Money
Gas stations can earn a nice profit on sunglasses by selling products of equal quality for less money. They do exactly what you do. They buy wholesale sunglasses from suppliers like us. Because our prices are so low, they can turn around and offer their customers more affordable prices – and still realize a healthy markup.
That is what you do as a retailer, right? You buy bulk wayfarers and aviators from us. You buy wraparounds, sports sunglasses, and just about any other type of sunglasses your customers want. You apply your markup and away you go.
Chances are your customers wouldn't care where you sold sunglasses just as long as they could get their hands on them. They would not care if you ran a gas station, a boutique in the mall, or a gift shop at the beach. What they care about is getting quality sunglasses without having to spend a fortune.
Late to the Party
We'll give the NYT the benefit of the doubt and assume that gas station sunglasses really are the hottest trend among the celebrity model set. But if that's the case, celebrity models are late to the party. Real America has had a fondness for gas station sunglasses for decades. That's why gas stations continue selling them.
As for the wraparound style, it is like most other eyewear styles. It comes and goes as consumer tastes change. Wraparounds look like they will be a hit come spring and summer. They will probably do very well for a season and then back off next fall and winter. That is the nature of the business.
Whether your customers want wraparounds, wayfarers, aviators, or even cat eye sunglasses, be sure to stock what interests them. And don't worry about people referring to your products as gas station sunglasses. That is exactly what most Americans want. Give it to them and you will have a leg up on your higher-priced competitors.