People in the United States send several billions of dollars each year on eyeglasses and contact lenses. About 90 percent of the adults older than 40 require some kind of vision correction. Many younger people and children also wear eyeglasses and contact lenses to correct faulty vision. Because of the large increase in population that occurred during the ‘baby boom’ years – approximately 1946-66—it was expected that the demand for eyewear would increase noticeably as more of the baby boom population began to enter their 40s.
Traditionally, the distribution of eyeglasses in the United States was through optometrists. Although not medical doctors, optometrists were trained to test an individual’s eyes. Optometrists usually had their own store or office where they carried out their business. Since practically all optometrists had only one store, and since there were thousands of optometrists in the United States the eyewear industry consisted of large number of competitors, each of which was very small in size and had only a minute share of the total market.
Until recent years, most persons interested in obtaining a new pair of eyeglasses would typically have to make two trips in order to do so. First, the person in need of new eyeglasses would visit his or her optometrist for an eyesight examination that would result in anew prescriptions for eyeglasses or contact lenses. The optometrist would then send the prescription that laboratory that would make a set of lenses to fit the prescription and return them to the optometrist. The optometrist would fit the lenses to the frames selected by the person who needed the new eyeglasses. Finally, about 10 days to two weeks after his or her first visit to the optometrist’s store, the person would return to pick up the new eyeglasses.
Many other people interested in obtaining a new pair of eyeglasses would first visit their ophthalmologist, a medical doctor specializing in the eyes. After receiving a thorough eye examination person would receive a new prescription for eyeglasses or contact lenses, which that person would then take to an optometrist. People who followed this routine typically would have to make three shopping trips to obtain their new eyeglasses. The entire process of obtaining new eyeglasses would take at least two weeks, perhaps longer.
Originating in the early 1970s, Pearle Vision Center was a chain of eyewear stores specializing in the filling of prescriptions for glasses and contact lenses. Most of the stores employed a licensed optometrist on the premises who could perform eye examination and write prescriptions.
Compared with traditional eyewear outlets, Pearle Vision Center innovated in the distribution and marketing of eyewear by stressing convenience for the customer. They offered their customers a selection of frames that may have been 10 or 20 times greater than that available in traditional outlets. Pearle stores were conveniently located in shopping centers and shopping malls, and they were open longer hours and more days a week than traditional outlets. Additionally, a person buying new eyeglasses could get them in a shorter period from a Pearle Vision Center than from competing optometrist and ophthalmologists. In some cases a person could obtain a new pair of eyeglasses from a Pearle Vision center in only a few days. Not only were Pearle’s prices slightly lower than those in traditional outlets. Pearle also had a policy of replacing broken glasses at no charge for up to a year after purchase.
During the second half of the 1970 Pearle Vision Center enjoyed outstanding growth. In five years the number of stores increased from 241 to more than 860 and operating earnings increased by significantly more than 200 percent. At the need of that five year period, company managers estimated that Pearle Vision Centers had about a 5 percent share of the eyewear market.
Television was the primary medium used to advertise the Pearle Vision Center’s products and services. When Pearle opened enough stores in a metropolitan area to provide distribution coverage for much of the area’s population, spot television commercials would be used to make the local populations ware of the new retail; chain of eyewear stores. Later, when Pearle’s retail coverage was nationwide, network television replaced spot television as the primary advertising medium. Most of the programs selected to carry Pearle Vision Center’s commercials were nonviolent family programs.