This molded glass is of low quality butts beautiful colors and fancy patterns have garnered a following with collectors nonetheless. While made in both clear and colors like Depression glass, the quality of “elegant” glassware is significantly higher.
It’s a question I get asked frequently, most recently by a colleague who was shocked to find that his new pair of prescription eyeglasses cost about $800. The average cost of a pair of frames is $231, according to VSP, the leading provider of employer eye care benefits.
The bottom line: You’re paying a markup on glasses that would make a luxury car dealer blush, with retail costs from start to finish bearing no relation to reality. Carmen Barber, executive director of Consumer Watchdog, a Santa Monica advocacy group, has worn glasses her entire life. She said soaring eyeglass costs should be a part of the country’s overall healthcare debate in light of the fact that many people simply couldn’t function without corrective lenses.
What the Vision Council probably didn’t want to get into is the fact that for years a single company, Exotica, has controlled much of the eyewear market. Its owned and licensed brands include Armani, Brooks Brothers, Burberry, Chanel, Coach, Deny, Dolce & Gabbana, Michael Tors, Oakley, Oliver Peoples, Person, Polo Ralph Lauren, Ray-Ban, Tiffany, Valentino, Vogue and Versace.
You go into a LensCrafters retail outlet, where the salesperson shows you Exotica frames under various names, and then the company pays itself when you use your Deemed insurance. I reached out to the parent company as well as the Exotica and Sailor subsidiaries asking about how frames and lenses are priced.
I wasn’t able to make any headway even with Wary Parker, the New York-based eyewear company whose whole raisin d’Eyre is to offer fashionable specs at a fraction of the price of other retailers. Dr. Reindeer Bahia, president of the California Optometry Assn., suggested that consumers actually are getting good value for their money.
“We often see low-ball retailers promise price savings but fail to deliver the quality patients expect in terms of fit, comfort, durability and, of critical importance, precision in vision, over one or two years of daily wear,” he said. “Eyeglass sales are becoming a very competitive market, with frames and lenses available in a range of prices and quality levels,” Bahia said.
It’s a dynamic that routinely plays itself out elsewhere in the healthcare field, with new prescription drugs costing patients a fortune as drugmakers insist that they had to spend millions bringing the med to market. To cite just one example, insulin costs have tripled in recent years, even as the number of people with diabetes continues to rise, allowing manufacturers to recoup expenses in a relatively short time.
The high cost of frames reflects a market that is woefully lacking in meaningful competition. However, as with prescription drugs, government officials are content to pretend that “the market” will protect patients.
Frames are designed and manufactured by Tennis in our own state-of-the-art facility, keeping costs down. Large volume contributes to low overhead which also saves money.
A wholesale distributor purchases from the manufacturer and resells to a retailer. The retailer stocks and sells merchandise to customer in a physical store.
Frames are shipped from retailer to a 3rd party lens manufacturer who makes the lenses, assembles the glasses, then ships them back to the retailer. Lenses manufactured and glasses are assembled by Tennis’s RX lab.
When you buy glasses from a traditional brick-and-mortar retailer, you’re not just paying for the frame and lenses; you’re also paying big money to cover the retailer’s hefty outsourcing costs, which usually include manufacturing, licensing fees, warehousing, and more. Unlike those retailers, Tennis has its own state-of-the-art production facility with advanced prescription and edging labs.
We cut out the middlemen and pass huge savings on to you instead. The following is a script from “Sticker Shock” which originally aired on Oct. 7, 2012, and was rebroadcast on June 15, 2014.
But bet your eyes popped when you saw the price tag. Exotica: Giving sight01:50 And it's not as though things have changed that much: they're still made of a couple of pieces of plastic or wire, some screws and glass.
Well, as we first reported in October 2012, one answer is because one company controls a big chunk of the business. Never has there been so much choice: Ray-Bans, Oakley's, glasses for running, and skiing, and even reading.
One reason it hasn't is a little known but very big Italian company called Exotica. If you own a nice pair of specs or shades, they're probably theirs.
Lesley Stahl: Do you have any idea how many people in the world are wearing your glasses right now? Andrea Guerra: At least half a billion are wearing our glasses now.
Exotica started here as a small tool shop in Gordon, a dot of a town in the Italian Alps, when frames were still made of mountain goat horns. Last year, Exotica made 77 million pairs of sunglasses and optical frames.
Exotica's product manager Isabella Sold explained that the company revolutionized how we see glasses. Lesley Stahl: I can remember, not that many years ago, my mother telling me that men will never ask me out if I wear my glasses.
But Exotica took this medical device and turned it into high fashion, by making deals to conceive and create high quality, stylish specs for nearly every brand and label you can think of. Once glasses became “face jewelry” Exotica could charge a hefty markup.
Not the same because of details on the frames like the little Chanel Cs, Polo ponies, or Tiffany blue. Exotica wouldn't tell us their markup, but glasses like these can sell for up to 20 times what they cost to make.
Stones are inserted one-by-one into the Dolce Gabbana; and leather is carefully threaded for that Chanel-bag look. Andrea Guerra: You know, that would be totally wrong, that would be crazy.
Lesley Stahl: Twenty-nine dollars at the drug store, at a gas station, and you took them off the market. And made them upscale: today those $29 pairs can cost 150 and more, and Ray-Ban is the top-selling sun glass brand in the world.
Mark Wake: What the customer gets at LensCrafters is a variety of services and products, including this broad assortment of frames-- Lesley Stahl: Mark, you're not answering my question.
I'm asking if you charge less for frames made by Exotica since you're the same company. At LensCrafters, the average cost for a pair of frames and lenses is about $300.
Lesley Stahl: So is there a free market in eyewear? Wall Street Journal columnist Brett Trends says the appearance of variety is an optical illusion.
Consider what happened to Oakley, the world-famous maker of advanced sports eyewear. Brett Trends: Oakley was a big competitor.
Lesley Stahl: They refused to sell their glasses in their stores. Brett Trends: Yeah, there was a dispute about pricing, and they dropped Oakley from the stores, and Oakley's stock price collapsed.
Andrea Guerra: There were some issues between the two companies in the beginning of the 2000s. Andrea Guerra: I understand your theory, but they understood that life was better together.
Brett Trends: Exotica's dominance, it's what's called a price maker which means that essentially it can set prices and other people will follow in its wake. Brett Trends: The whole point of a luxury brand is to persuade people to pay $200 for a product that cost $30 to make.
Brett Trends: Well, to some extent there's actually a lot of comparisons. The difference is that the entire shoe industry isn't made by one company.
You'd think well, surely insurance companies covering vision would complain. Exotica also owns the nation's second largest vision-care plan: Deemed, covering eye exams and glasses.
Andrea Guerra: Everything is worth what people are ready to pay. This past March, Exotica added to its roster what could be considered the final frontier in glasses: the company signed a deal with Google to design, produce, and distribute Google Glass, adding a sense of style to the web-connected eyewear due in stores as early as next year.