Mark Jackson from Delaware had it all planned out since his student years in college. Back in those days, he opened a small online lens store and got his first valuable experience in the business. Ten years later, after working hard long nights, Mark's mini startup managed to turn into an optical company. Now MjLens owns several optical stores selling sunglasses, frames, and contact lenses all over the US East Coast. With an assortment of almost four thousand glass models most of which belong to world-known brands, it seems like handling the competitors for the company is as easy as shooting fish in a barrel...or isn't it?
TemplateMonster had plenty of questions to ask Mark during our interview. We learned what the gross profit of the eyewear templates business is, how to become an official representative of Ray-Ban, Vogue, D&G and other high-class brands and how to develop a successful business in this tricky industry.
Get cozy and grab a paper and a pen to note Mark’s tips on how to start the eyewear business!
TemplateMonster: So, what exactly is your business about?
Mark: Our company is a reseller of brand sunglasses, contact lenses as well as frames and lenses for eyeglasses. The most of our sales turnover is done via our website, although we also have optical stores located in such states as New York, Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina.
TemplateMonster: What turnovers have you reached? How in general would you estimate the profitability of such business?
Mark: About $40 million a month. The sales profitability by gross profit is about 40%, with all the other expenses included - about 10-15%. In general, the eyewear industry is something I would pay attention today if I were about to become an entrepreneur. According to Global Market Insights market research firm, the Eyewear Market Size is predicted to grow to $165 billion by 2022 versus $110 billion in the year of 2016. This means, there’s still a lot of “space” for new and successful startups.
TemplateMonster: What was your job before starting this business? Why did you end up choosing this particular industry?
Mark: So far I’ve been engaged in optics for ten years. It’s not like I chose the eyewear industry on purpose. It all started in college when my close pal Alex offered an idea of selling contact lenses online. At that moment, he was already working in the manufacturing company, so he knew the specifics of such business as well as the holding company’s commercial policy.
TemplateMonster: How did it all start? What was the starting capital?
Mark: We were students in college, barely any money for some substantial capital. Somehow, we managed to convince the supplier to get a 30-days delay. Once customers started to purchase our products, we used this money to pay back for the supplier’s goods. As soon as our first client base was built, we decided to rent a small space in a local mall as the order issuing point. Because of this 30-day delay from our first supplier, we were able to start our business with almost no significant investments.
In 2012, I changed the business concept and started selling glasses. The reason was, the contact lenses market git so competitive that everyone started lowering prices. It was the time of hard dumping in the industry, so I deliberately switched to selling world's leading sunglasses brands like Ray-Ban, Vogue, Prada, Versace, etc.
“I wouldn’t advise young entrepreneurs take loans during the first stages of their business development. First, you learn how it works and how much money it may bring. Gain your experience, collect statistics on your turnover and once you start thinking about the expansion and fulfilling concrete projects - go ahead.”
Mark: So, many glasses and frame retailers typically set a higher markup for the newest collections, but it’s not the case for my company. I decided that our pricing policy wouldn’t change depending on the collection.
Our company can install the prescribed lenses - nothing more. We don’t make any examinations, nor do we make any lens prescriptions. The price for the lenses installation is cheaper compared to optical stores as our revenues come from selling frames and we have an opportunity to keep the lens installation price lower. Moreover, lenses at our online shop are significantly lower from ones in the optic store. Optic retailers would charge you 5 or 10 times more of what the product costs in real while we’re limiting ourselves to 2. Once the customer selects the frame, he will immediately see the full price for the eyeglasses with the suitable lenses included.
Mark: You wouldn’t be surprised if I say that the most popular brand today is Ray-Ban. About 70% of our company sales have to do with Ray-Ban sunglasses. A couple of years ago, the most popular model was Aviator, now the trendiest one is Round. Ray-Ban is followed by Vogue. This brand makes glasses in collaboration with the famous American supermodel Gigi Hadid and stands for super glam and trendy sunglasses.
To understand which sunglasses models are super demanded at the moment, I run a trial ad to see how many people got interested and clicked on it. That’s why I started to learn basics of the contextual advertising. Then, I may check the search queries to see which models people “google” the most. Every week I gather info from analytics for the brands I sell to understand what customers are looking for now. Once I know, I do my best to supplement the store’s assortment with the necessary models. I contact the brand and manufacturer and negotiate the deal. Years of experience helped me establish a strong cooperation with many world-known brands so that I can easily order any sunglasses model from Italy and get one within 10-14 days.
Mark: As I have already mentioned, my first attempts to do business were made through my own website. Several of my friends were coders, so I asked them to help me out with the site creation. I myself did the site promotion using different online marketing instruments. This even included an SEO-promotion, which back in those days was just a simplified version of what we have now. After all, the world of online-based businesses was ten times less competitive than today. At last, MJLens was one of the few companies on the market to offer a convenient location (the city center) and reasonable delivery and product prices.
When it came to online marketing, I wanted to spend effectively. Because if I do invest, I expect maximum productivity. That was my starting point for learning how to do an SEO-promotion and work with contextual advertising. Currently, I'm trying to spend about 10-15% of the business turnover on promo and ads. Now we are open to so many promo tools and other instruments like GoogleAdwords, Google merchants, and we are actively utilizing Facebook and Instagram Ads.
Mark: I mean, if you have a terrible website interface, no advertising will help. The commercial success of your online store depends on whether consumers would want to stay on your webpage longer. If you choose the right concept and the optics you’re selling are indeed in a great demand and convenient to purchase online (which can be tricky when it comes to glasses as customers can’t try them on and see if they fit), the rest of it is a matter of technology.
Here are five criteria to help you determine whether your online retail shop is customer-friendly:
TemplateMonster: What do you think of ready-made e-Commerce templates?
Mark: I mean, it’s a perfect solution for newcomers with no substantial starting capital. When it comes down to a super tight budget, you literally have no money to make your first purchase from a supplier. Who really cares about an expensive web design studio? Unfortunately, I never knew about TemplateMonster and ready-made web solutions in general, so I just improvised on the go. But those who wouldn’t want to hurt their budget, time and minimize risks in the development process, this is just great!
First, you wouldn’t need to think of the website design, set the functionality or select developers. Just imagine - no need to learn the coding language and mess with a code every time you want to make changes. Another one is that templates help you create a quick and a relatively inexpensive foundation for the e-Commerce startup like I did back ten years ago. Whether it’s a retail online shop selling eyewear or something else, creating a website will take you no longer than 1-3 days. So yeah, templates make a lot of sense, at least in the beginning...
TemplateMonster: Would you recommend TemplateMonster for launching an eyewear website?
Mark: Definitely. You guys are awesome. I’ve looked through your WooCommerce templates and was impressed by the number of their offered functionalities. Fully-responsive, stylish and super trendy. You know, like the sunglasses I sell! (laughs)
TemplateMonster: Give your final advice to all beginners in the eyewear business.
Mark: Opening an eyewear business, whether online or as a physical store, is a promising and economically feasible step in the rapidly growing eyewear market, although the online project has significant advantages (one of them is less capital investments) over a similar offline one.
Contact lenses and sunglasses are the top products to be sold. I recommend that you facilitate virtual fitting rooms because they definitely increase sales. Launching an optical online store involves creating a website, and the best way to do so is to use a ready-made template!
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