Bank On Binoculars

Bank On Binoculars

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Binoculars have long been a profitable niche for photo specialty stores, and there are several good reasons why selling binoculars is now more important than ever. The silver lining to today’s challenging economy is that consumers are laser focused on value, and that’s why they’re gravitating toward high-quality binoculars. 

Many retailers tell us that selling high-performance binoculars in the $300–$600 class is a lot easier than selling units that go for under $100, and others grumble they can’t keep luxury models from Swarovski, Carl Zeiss and Leica in stock, even though they retail for $2,000-plus!

The odds favoring higher end binocular sales are also stacked in your favor, because many of your customers are detail-oriented visual folks with an appreciation for fine optics. Let them look though a quality binocular and compare it with a run-of-the-mill glass and they’ll choose the former. And with advances in optical technology, they can afford a medium-priced binocular that delivers the performance and construction that rivals premium-priced models of the recent past. 

Binoculars are generally used for observation rather than imaging, but they dovetail with many photographic specialties like nature and sports photography. Picture takers are also into travel, sports, hiking, fishing, boating, bird-watching and hunting, which makes them candidates to make a binocular purchase at your store. Indeed, many fine binoculars carry familiar photographic names—Nikon, Canon, Pentax, Olympus, ProMaster, Minox, Leica and Zeiss. However, don’t overlook other brands like Bushnell, Leupold, Celestron, Carson, Vortex and Swarovski.

The performance and features offered in today’s binoculars have come a long way over the last decade. As one industry veteran opined, many current binoculars in the $300-$600 class provide essentially the same level of clarity, brightness and build quality delivered by models that sold for four times as much a decade ago. This is made possible by advances in coating technology, optical design, electronics and the precision manufacture of barrels and mechanical components in magnesium, aluminum and polycarbonate. At the high end, there are now more gyro-stabilized binoculars and more fitted with laser rangefinders aimed at everyone from hunters to golfers. 

Two overarching trends are emerging. First, as mentioned, there’s a flight to quality, as consumers perceive binoculars as long-term investments rather than impulse purchases. Second, straight-line roof prism binoculars continue to outsell offset porro prism binoculars by a hefty margin, which points to a few other key factors. Style, compactness, ergonomics and weight are more important than ever to today’s binocular buyers—an expanding demographic. Nikon’s new SHE lineup aimed at women is a great example. Other upmarket trends include camouflage finishes as well as military-style binoculars.

To magnify the sport optics and binocular market, we asked some very experienced folks to give us their insights to help guide you and your customers in choosing the best binoculars for their intended use, and to suggest which are most likely to fit in with your store’s demographics.

The Scoop on Sport Optics from Industry Insiders

Terry E. Moore, Vice President & General Manager, Minox USA

“Minox has watched the performance binocular market carefully to ensure we’re providing products demanded by today’s discerning consumer. Our recent introduction of the Minox BL 8×33 BR Comfort Bridge binocular was specifically developed based upon our observations and direct communication with optics-dependent users. It’s clear from these interchanges that their demands for lighter weight, faster handling, superior optical performance, durability and value pricing are fully met in the BL 8×33. This binocular brings a perfect balance of ergonomics, style and user-friendly features into the users’ hands and real-as-life images to their eyes. We believe the Minox BL 8×33 Comfort Bridge fulfills the promise of the brand—Minox delivers more than what you pay for.”

Rudy Winston, Technical Information Advisor, Canon USA 

“The foremost statement Canon makes in binoculars is our image-stabilized line. Two models stand out, ironically at opposite ends of the price/performance spectrum: the very affordable Canon 8×25 IS binocular; and at the premium ultra-high-performance end, the 10x42L IS WP binocular, the highest quality model in our lineup. While it’s true we make IS binoculars up to 18x magnification, the image quality and brightness of the 10x42L IS WB are what make them special.”

Joe Hamilton, National Sales Manager, Vortex Optics

“The biggest trend I’ve seen is a huge rise in the overall quality of binoculars in the $300-$1,000 bracket. Consumers are able to get a level of optical performance and durability approaching traditional top-tier optics without having to dive excessively deep in their pocketbooks. Vortex has carved out a solid niche in that sector by providing superior levels of quality and value coupled with unrivaled customer service.”

Patrick Mundy, Communications Manager, Leupold

“Leupold is a 103-year-old, fifth-generation family-owned firm based in Beaverton, Oregon. We pride ourselves on offering quality products and on our heritage of innovation—we produced one of the world’s first waterproof optics over 50 years ago. Consumers continue to demand high performance, great features and a bulletproof warranty. We offer all of these at competitive prices. Because we specialize in rugged, dependable construction, intuitive ergonomics and waterproof designs, we’re in the sweet spot of the market and continue to see brisk sales.”

 

Shannon Salyer, PR Associate, Chevalier Advertising (for Nikon)

“What you’ll see from binoculars in 2010 is an increase of specifications in the flagship lines without a price increase. A example is the 2010 Nikon Monarch 42mm ATB binocular that now features dielectric high-reflective multilayer prism coatings for brighter, sharper colors and improved low-light performance. Another trend in observation optics for 2010 is women-specific binoculars. The Nikon SHE ATB binoculars offer women the best of both worlds—trademark optical performance and attractive styling. They’re designed for the feminine hand, come in two fun colors and have matching shoulder bags.”

Glenn Heckendorf, President, Genesis Marketing Group

“While there’s a definite trend toward higher priced, premium roof prism binoculars, we’ve noted an increased interest in mid-priced promotional binoculars. These lower cost units are being used to increase and maintain sales during this challenging economy. They’re also being employed by retailers to encourage consumers to step up to higher grade optics that have a number of valid selling points, including higher light-transmissive multicoatings for a brighter view, lightweight open bridge magnesium bodies, and ED (extra-low dispersion) glass for sharper imaging. New features like dielectric and phase prism coating, plus Argon gas purging, are more common. All these factors are increasingly important as the binocular market grows more competitive.”

Trent Keller, Binocular Product Manager, Bushnell

“Our three well-established brands (Bushnell, Simmons, Tasco) continue to perform strongly. The overall market experienced hard times over the past few years, but according to our research, it is beginning to rebound. Consumer interest in outdoor activities such as wildlife observation, travel and hunting remains high, and that’ll keep binoculars and sport optics moving in the right direction.  

“Customers rely on us more than ever to deliver additional features while staying price competitive. A growing price segment in the binocular market is the $100-$250 range, where manufacturers who deliver a product packed with more benefits while retaining quality are going to be the winners. We believe Bushnell’s totally revised line of Trophy XLT binoculars is that winner. 

“Our Legend Ultra HD 8×42/10×42 binoculars with ED glass were a hit last year and should be even bigger in 2010, with the addition of two midsize 36mm models. Legend UHD optics have many of the features of a $1,000 binocular at about a quarter of the price, delivering incredible value for today’s budget-conscious consumer, from a company with more than 50 years of experience in sport optics.”

Stephen Ingraham, Birding and Observation Product Specialist, Carl Zeiss Sport Optics

“The binocular market is becoming clearly divided into two distinct groups—customers who still demand handmade, exceptionally high-quality premium optics and those who are satisfied with acceptable performance optics for less money. Carl Zeiss meets the needs of both groups with its state-of-the-art Victory line and best-in-class Conquest line of optics.”

David Brown, Vice President, Sales, Leica Sport Optics

“World economic circumstances have slowed the introduction of binocular innovations somewhat, but behind the scenes the R&D continues. Integrating electronics with optics, especially, will bring a wide range of new binocular applications. One of the new products on the Leica horizon is the Geovid Lux “talking binocular.” Using the Geovid’s laser technology, two or more users will be able to securely communicate with one another by voice or data transmission.”

Binocular View from behind the Counter

Mike Peoples, Sport Optics/Astronomy Buyer, Adorama

“Roof prism binoculars continue to be more appealing to consumers than porro prism designs based on their sleeker shape and ergonomics, and the general trend is toward prisms with newer coatings that deliver enhanced light transmission. Among mid-priced binoculars in the $200-$300 range we do a very good job with the Nikon Monarch line, Vortex and our own brand, Pro Optics. The 8×42 and 10×42 models are popular with birders, our most active buyers. At the upper end, the Swarovski 8.5×42 EL and 10×42 EL are hot commodities, even though they’re priced at $2,000-plus. They’re purchased by bird-watchers and nature observers who demand and can afford the best.”

Roger Christian, President and Owner, University Camera, Iowa City

“To be honest, there are a lot of stores in Iowa City that sell two tubes mounted together, with lenses stuck in the barrels, but not many sell real binoculars. The PRO group did their homework, and they offer a cohesive line of limited SKU, very high-quality, value-proposition binoculars that gives me the opportunity to sell to serious birders, hunters and photographers. PRO taught me what to stock, and we carry the entire line, with 8x-10x magnifications, and 25mm, 32mm and 42mm objective lenses, in standard and ELX models—all high-quality optics that I and my customers can trust, at great price points.

“One reason camera stores have difficulty selling binoculars is that it takes a trained salesperson to sell binoculars effectively, rather than just present them. The salesperson must be able to explain every detail knowledgeably without getting bogged down in minutiae that won’t make any practical difference in actual use. Fortunately, the quality of today’s binoculars is much better than 10 years ago, and prices for comparable units have remained steady or declined, so they’re a better value. Put any upper end binocular in a customer’s hand to compare with the pair the customer has, and you’ll see it isn’t hard to sell the ‘good stuff.’ We’ve found low-end shoppers aren’t really in our market; I can’t give away $25-$50 binoculars, but $100-plus binoculars sell very well, with our top end being under $500. On the other hand, never underestimate your customer’s ability to justify a high-end purchase.

“I ask random people in the store if they need binoculars. I get a lot of turndowns, but about one in five or 10 says, ‘I’ve been thinking about getting a new pair.’ There’s your opening. Additionally, sell binoculars to the wife/girlfriend when a couple comes into your store. You’ll get a lot further in the sale than by gearing it toward the man!”

Keith Johnson, Sr. Technical Writer, B&H Photo, New York City

“In the past year, we’ve seen a huge increase in purchases made with a lot of forethought. Consumers are more wary and educated, and they’re focusing on purchasing quality items they won’t outgrow. This is an area where the premium manufacturers shine: Leica, Swarovski, Zeiss, Steiner, Leupold—to name a few—are characterized by timeless style, outstanding attention to detail, heirloom-grade build quality, and cutting-edge glass and coatings. In line with this wave of ‘you get what you pay for’ thinking, Vortex released a number of top-shelf optics to compete with the big boys. Steiner just showed me a gorgeous-to-look-through military binocular with an integral laser rangefinder that is simply outstanding. I expect to see more enticing top-tier offerings.

“Another interesting note is the effect of social media on the retail and manufacturing world. As a result of an infinite amount of near-instant info sharing among consumers, manufacturers now respond to their demands more quickly. One result is that entry/mid-level optics have increased in quality and refinement. This is a good thing because not everyone wants to take prized binoculars to the beach. Personally, when I needed a ‘quick optics-fix’ before a trip, I picked up the Vortex Crossfire 8×42. It’s waterproof, fogproof and provides close focusing down around seven feet—for under $120. 

 

A Sampling of Sport Optics for Spring

Pentax DCF CS. These waterproof nitrogen-filled (JIS Class 6) binoculars are available in 8×42 and 10×42 compact models featuring fiber-reinforced polycarbonate bodies for strength and are submersible to one meter. Other features: full rubber housing for shock protection and easier grip; center diopter ring with click stops; long eye relief; and helicoid eyepieces with four click stops. 8×42, $279.95; 10×42, $299.95.
http://www.pentaximaging.com 

Vortex Viper 10×42. They feature an X-Factor vision system that combines XD (xtra-low dispersion) glass, proprietary CR multicoating, scratch-resistant Armortek coating and matched phase-corrected roof prisms for enhanced brightness and image detail. Other features: waterproof O-ring-seal construction; Argon purging for fogproof internal lenses; tapered, multi-position eyecups; and ribbed rubber armor. $549.99. http://www.vortexoptics.com

Leupold Northfork 8.5×45. Featuring an ergonomic slim-hinge design and enhanced low-light performance, this lightweight (27 oz.) unit has SHR (super high-reflection) BaK4 roof prisms, multicoated lenses and armored, waterproof, nitrogen-filled construction. It’s available in black and mossy oak breakup finishes. $599.99 in mossy oak. http://www.leupold.com

Canon 10×42 L IS WP. With Canon’s exclusive image stabilizer (IS) for shake-free viewing, this high-end glass features two UD glass elements for enhanced chromatic correction and superior image quality, and waterproof construction. $1,599.99. http://www.usa.canon.com

Carson XM-HD 10×50. This high-performance full-size roof prism binocular features multicoated lenses, phase-coated optics, rubberized armoring, O-ring seals for water- and dust-proofing, and a quick center-dial focus. It’s threaded for a tripod adapter. $274.95. http://www.carsonoptical.com

ProMaster Infinity EL-X ED. Available in 8×42 ($399.95) and 10×42 ($499.95) sizes, both feature ED glass, BaK4 phase-coated roof prisms, high-transmission internal multicoating, and Repellnax external coatings to minimize the effects of dust and moisture. They focus down to 6.5 feet and employ rugged, weatherproof, waterproof, nitrogen-filled construction. http://www.promaster.com

Minox BL 8×33 BR. This elegantly slim, lightweight German binocular features phase-corrected roof prisms, efficient multicoating, an ergonomic “comfort bridge” for easy hand-holding, a rubber-armored polycarbonate body that’s watertight to 5 meters, extended eye relief and twist-type retractable rubber eyecups with individual click stops. $469. http://www.minox.com

Bushnell Legend Ultra HD. Joining the 10×42 in this roof prism line are the 8×36 camo ($249.99) and 10×36 in black ($249.99). Both feature Bushnell’s ultra-wide custom coating for enhanced definition and edge-to-edge sharpness, ED glass for color correction, magnesium chassis, weatherproof construction and a “Rainguard HD” permanent coating claimed to eliminate fogging. http://www.bushnell.com

Nikon Monarch SHE ATB. Aimed at the female market, the midsize plum 8×36 ($299.95) and chocolate 10×36 ($319.95) are lightweight roof prism binoculars that come with matching high-fashion sling bags with pockets and a built-in optics case. They deliver the goods for active lifestyle women with rubber-armored exteriors, waterproof/fogproof construction, fully multicoated optics and a central-focusing wheel with adjustable diopter that’s easy to adjust when wearing gloves. http://www.nikonusa.com

Zeiss Victory. These high-performance, ultra-compact binoculars come in 8×20 ($649.99) and 10×25 ($699.99) magnifications. Both feature Zeiss proprietary dielectric mirror coatings applied to the Schmidt Pechan phase-corrected prisms to enhance contrast, as well as Zeiss’s LotuTec hydrophopic coating to repel water. Other features: nonslip grip; offset hinge for more compact folding; nitrogen filling to prevent fogging; and a Cordura case. http://www.zeiss.com

Leica Geovid HD Rangefinders. These ultra-premium binoculars incorporate laser rangefinders that read out in meters or yards. The Geovid HD 10×42 BRF ($2,849) and 15×56 BRF ($2,999) feature the HighLux HLS prism coating system and HDC multilayered lens coatings for bright, high-resolution viewing, plus AquaDura hydrophobic lens coatings to repel water. All new HD Geovid rangefinders employ fluoride lenses for color neutrality and are submersible to 16.5 feet. http://www.leica-camera.com

 

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