How to Open an Optical Shop

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The eyeglass market is booming. In 2016, it generated over $95 billion in the U.S. alone. As more and more people seek corrective glasses, this industry is expected to grow over the next few years. There has never been a better time to open an optical shop and turn it into a lucrative business. The key to success is to plan everything ahead and find a way to stand out from the competition.

Make a Business Plan

Like any other business, opening an optical shop takes planning. Determine its size, location, structure and the equipment necessary for dispensing eyeglasses. You will also need to assess the costs of hiring staff and obtaining a license. Think about the quantity and the quality of the products you are going to sell. If you're planning to offer only fashion sunglasses and inexpensive frames, your expenses will be lower. Designer eyeglass frames and prescription glasses, on the other hand, cost more to purchase, but the profit will be higher, too.

If you're going to sell prescription lenses, it's necessary to invest in optical equipment. You may need to purchase a refraction unit, a keratometer, an auto-refractometer and other optical devices. Additionally, you will need to hire an optometrist – or partner with one – for conducting eye exams and writing prescriptions.

Comply With the Law

Certain licenses and state permits may be required to open an optical shop. Before getting started, check your state and local business licensing requirements. Browse the Small Business Association's directory of local resources to find a professional who can assist you and answer your questions.

Another excellent resource is SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits. Here you will find information about the legal requirements necessary to start a business based on location, activities and government rules. Also, consider consulting an accountant to determine how much you'll have to pay in sales and other taxes.

Research Your Competition

In today's competitive market, the only way to succeed is to differentiate yourself from other businesses. Check out the optical shops in your area and elsewhere to see what others are offering. Come up with something better – don’t just copy them.

Study the most successful eyewear retailers and figure out what makes them stand out. Do they sell unique products that can be found hardly anywhere else? Do they offer lower prices than the competition? What does their customer service look like? Visit websites and social media pages of the competition to see what customers are saying. What do they love the most about a store? What are their turn-offs? Take notes and use this information to your advantage.

Find a Supplier

Depending on your budget and the products you have in mind, look for optical shop suppliers that best suit your needs. For instance, if you're going to sell designer eyeglass frames, make sure you choose a trusted supplier that offers authentic products. Selling counterfeit glasses will hurt your business and your reputation. Plus, it may result in heavy fines.

Request quotes from at least three suppliers. Ask whether they offer discounts for large orders or monthly purchases. Don’t be afraid to negotiate. Suppliers are aware that this is a competitive market, so they will go far to win a new business.

Choose a Location

Location can make or break a business. Poor access or visibility can reflect negatively on your brand and revenue. Sure, you want to keep the costs low, and rent alone can exceed a few thousand dollars per month. But location is one aspect you should never compromise on.

The better the retail exposure, the lower your marketing costs. A centrally located optical store is more likely to attract customers than one placed on a side street where no one can see it. Some people will enter your store out of curiosity, and from there, you can easily turn them into buyers.

Consider renting space close to a popular business, such as a health food store, a restaurant or a gym. This will ensure more foot and car traffic past your storefront. Think of it as free advertising. Other factors to consider are parking spaces, demographics, distance from other optical shops, convenience and price.

Assess Your Budget and Expenses

Next, determine your expenses. Think about optical shop equipment, location, products, design and marketing strategy. Don’t forget about the small details, such as website and online advertising costs. Electricity, heating and equipment maintenance costs matter, too.

Once you get a rough estimate of expenses, figure out how to lower this number and maximize your return on investment. For instance, if you lack the funds needed for an on-site lab, partner with one in your area. Another way to reduce expenses is to purchase second-hand optical shop equipment. A slit-lamp microscope, for instance, will be just as good used as a new one. Later, you can upgrade to a more advanced model.

Invest in Marketing

Finally, decide how you're going to promote your optical store. This will depend largely on your budget and business goals. From setting up a website to advertising in local magazines and distributing flyers, there are plenty of options available.

Since more and more customers are now online, it's worth investing in paid ads and social media marketing. You can also partner with other local businesses, such as wellness clubs and private clinics, to recommend your services to their clients. In exchange, you will refer your customers to them.

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About the Author

Andra Picincu is a digital marketing consultant with over 10 years of experience. She works closely with small businesses and large organizations alike to help them grow and increase brand awareness. She holds a BA in Marketing and International Business and a BA in Psychology. Over the past decade, she has turned her passion for marketing and writing into a successful business with an international audience. Current and former clients include The HOTH, Bisnode Sverige, Nutracelle, CLICK - The Coffee Lover's Protein Drink, InstaCuppa, Marketgoo, GoHarvey, Internet Brands, and more. In her daily life, Ms. Picincu provides digital marketing consulting and copywriting services. Her goal is to help businesses understand and reach their target audience in new, creative ways.