Birding Business July 2014 - Optics

Making the Most of Your Optic Offerings

BY JOHN E. RIUTTA | Contributing Editor

FROM HUNTING TO OPERA, KNOWING THE right optic to recommend for different popular activities can help you expand your customer base and increase your sales.

When you stop to think about it, there are a wide range of activities that either require, or could at least be substantially enhanced by, the use of a binocular or monocular. However many backyard nature store owners and merchandising managers tend, understandably, to focus their attention around those models most applicable to bird watching. This makes perfect sense, of course, providing that no one seeking an optic for one of these other purposes is ever expected to pop into the shop seeking one for - say… hunting, or perhaps for backpacking. But for those store owners and managers who want to appeal not only to their established  customer base but put their shops in the best possible position to expand their range of customers, it only takes a little additional knowledge and attention to optic stock lists to open up the doors to a whole host of new shoppers.

Let’s face it, there aren’t that many general outdoor equipment stores around anymore. Whereas once most every town of any size had a mom-and-pop general sporting goods shop, many of these have now closed due to online and big-box competition. Some specialty businesses have emerged to pick up the sales of specific items - firearms or soccer kit, for example - but when it comes to optics, far too many people are forced to find a large shopping mall or cruise the internet to gather the knowledge they need to make an informed choice, and once there they often buy there.

However as a backyard nature store professional, you may already have a selection of optics available - one you’ve carefully tailored to the needs of your customers and your inventory carrying capacity. Because of this, you’re also in a great position to market your shop to all those beyond the backyard nature community who might find themselves in need of an optic for different purposes - and it may not even require you to alter your stock list at all. The first step is in knowing what the possible optics choices your customers might want.

Let’s start with the most frequent buyers of binoculars and other optics after bird watchers: hunters. For years now tens of thousands of bird watchers have been going into hunting equipment shops to purchase their binoculars - why not turn the tables around and bring a few hunters and their dollars into your store? Do you have any 10x42mm binoculars in your optics selection, something like the Nikon Monarch 3 or the Eagle Optics Denali models perhaps? If you do, then you’ve got the number one binocular configuration for your potential hunting customers. They don’t even need to be expensive 10x42mm models because many hunters tend to be a bit rough with their bins - even occasionally losing them in the field - and thus often don’t seek out top of the line models. Their top requirements are a binocular that offers a bright image in low light with plenty of magnification to see the details of antlers or the wing patterns of flying birds. And if you happen to have a 10x32mm model as well - the Celestron Nature DX or the Vortex Diamondback, for example - you’re in excellent shape to appeal to the local archery hunters as well (they like to be able to handle their bins with one hand).

Are there a lot of hikers or backpackers in your area? While optics aren’t a primary piece of equipment for them, most like to have one somewhere in their kit should they want a better look at a distant peak, waterfall, or myriad other scenic possibilities along the trail. For these folks, compacts are generally preferred - something along the lines of the the Alpen Wings ED 8x20mm, the Minox BV II 8x25mm or the too-often unjustly overlooked Pentax DCF LV 9x28mm. As weight is also an issue, monoculars can be highly desirable for these customers.

Due to their single optical channel design, monoculars employ fewer total lenses and other materials than binoculars, and don’t require some of the manufacturing and assembly processes common to binocular production. Because of this, companies producing good quality monoculars can invest more into the materials they use, including better glass, higher quality lens coatings, and sophisticated designs to produce an optical instrument that performs on par with a binocular often costing much more. Thus monoculars like Opticron Galleryscope 8x20mm or the Minox Macroscope 8x25mm offer an ideal optical option for those wanting to have an occasional better look at something without adding noticeable weight to the gear they’re already carrying.

Then there are the general travelers. What constitutes an optic well suited for traveling? Well, it shouldn’t be so large as to take up valuable space in, or -- airline baggage fees being what they are -- add potentially expensive weight to, luggage. And if it is to be an optic that will be carried at all times during the trip, it must truly be pocket or purse-sized. It must also be of sufficient optical quality to perform at a level that makes it worth their while to bring along. For that reason, the best optical value for travelers is also the 8x20mm or 8x25mm monocular, or a dual hinge (for maximum portability) compact binocular.

Finally, there are the event-goers. From the theater to the stadium, most any event viewed in a large venue can be made more enjoyable if an optic is at hand to get a better look at the action. However there are two very different ideas as to what type of optic is best for such purposes. Theater, opera, and ballet naturally call for something small and unobtrusive with fairly low magnification to allow for wide field of view. A small monocular or compact binocular in the 6x-8x range is generally a good choice. Indeed, Swarovski Optik once produced limited edition models for the opera aficionados attending the Bayreuth Festival in Germany, of which the firm’s new CL Pocket 8x25mm models are present day descendants.

However with sporting events, while some would recommend the same type of small optic as would be used for theater events (especially at stadium events where it can be easily pocketed while holding snacks, drinks, and other game-time paraphernalia), others suggest “going big” with a full size 8x42mm like the Leupold BX-2 Acadia or even a 10x42mm like the Bushnell Natureview to get the best view possible - even from the “nose-bleed” seats.

As you can see, simply knowing what products are most appropriate - and why - to some common optic-using activities, can open up a wide range of possibilities for expanding your range of potential customers. Indeed, even if your optics stock list is fairly modest, you can still satisfy the needs of many different customers without needing to add a single SKU to your inventory.

Of course, should you really want to become the local “go-to” store for optics, checking your present stock against a few of the models mentioned above wouldn’t hurt for the next time you make your restocking order. Then with your optics display and your product knowledge fully prepared to handle all-comers, you’ll be ready for the next customer who comes in asking “I know you are a store for birdwatchers, but I was wondering if you could recommend a binocular for…”