|Starting out in the 1990s as a seasonal spot in coastal Charlevoix, MI, the Sunglass Shoppe has since expanded into Petoskey and Traverse City, which are also on Lake Michigan’s coast. Owner Robin Bennett, along with her husband and his parents, make it their business to educate customers about sunwear, but they never take the fun out of the experience.|
SUNGLASSES: How did the first Sunglass Shoppe get started?
ROBIN BENNETT: My husband started the business about 20 years ago. He’s a school band director, and he decided to open up a seasonal sunglass shop in Charlevoix, MI. He did that for a few years when school wasn’t in session. His parents, who were in the eyecare business for about 50 years together, retired from their own practice and moved up to Charlevoix. They started getting involved in the Sunglass Shoppe, and we expanded our season from the beginning of May until the end of October.
SG: How did the year-round locations in Petoskey and Traverse City come about?
RB: We decided, “Hey, this Sunglass Shoppe thing is going pretty well. We need to open one in our hometown, Petoskey.” We opened that store in February 2002. The torch was passed to me at that point. Then three-and-a-half years ago, in 2007, I opened the store in Traverse City.
SG: Does the presentation of the merchandise vary from one location to another?
RB: A little bit. At the Charlevoix store, part of the presentation is my mother-in-law. She’s 80, and people come back year after year to see the Sunglass Lady. Just this weekend, someone came up to me and said, “You know it’s like Mardi Gras, she’s pulling me in from the street, ‘Hey, I’ve got something new to show you.’” She loves people—she takes time with them, and she knows sunglasses inside and out. The Traverse City store has more of a hip look. We have to be a store and a boutique.
SG: What’s the difference between a store and a boutique, in terms of your business?
RB: I really feel the Tom Davies customized eyewear is boutique, as are some of the other lines: Tom Ford, John Galliano, Roberto Cavalli. These make us boutique-like, and you build on the relationship with that. It’s something customers might go to New York and maybe down to the Detroit area for, but when they are here, they can still find it. We do have the so-called rack glasses, but we don’t display them as such. They are more tangible for everybody and thus more store-like.
SG: Do you see trends in what your customers are looking for?
RB: Yes—polarization, because we’re by the water. Five years ago, people didn’t ask for the polarized lenses, but now they do. We carry a lot of polarized brands, so we always make sure we educate the customer on what each brand offers.
SG: What are some of the brands you carry?
RB: Maui Jim is by far our number-one seller. We get people who want Prada. In Petoskey and Traverse City, we offer the Tom Davies line. You can customize it, and that was our main reason to bring it in. We carry Costa Del Mar—they make beautiful frames and lenses specific for open water. We also carry Native Eyewear, which is all polarized, interchangeable eyewear. A lot of people like that for outdoor recreation.
SG: What’s your approach with customers?
RB: You have to be a good listener and watch body language. Even if somebody doesn’t want to buy something right now, I know I spent quality time with them and educated them. They’ll probably come back to get a pair of glasses from us because we’ve spent that time.
SG: What kind of experience do you hope your customers have when they come into any of your stores?
RB: It’s got to be a fun, positive experience. They’re sunglasses. What’s not fun about sunglasses?