Independent market research on personal protective equipment is hard to come by, as many a veteran PPE sales and marketing director can tell you. Good news: In August 2006 Clear Seas Research of Troy, Mich., conducted a comprehensive study of more than 1,200 safety professionals and PPE product users. A total of 279 industry pros completed the section on eye/face personal protection — one of the hottest PPE markets in safety.For Distributors Onlyis pleased to share select findings with you here.

(Note: For information on the full study, “2007 Eye/Face Personal Protection Equipment: Purchase and Satisfaction Study,” contact Renee Love, Executive Director, Industrial Machinery & Safety Division, Clear Seas Research at (248) 786-1581; Clear Seas Research studies are also available on respiratory PPE, clothing PPE, and head PPE.)

The eye/face PPE study focuses on the responses of 243 individuals responsible for purchasing decisions regarding eye/face products. Parts of the study compare their responses to the purchasing behavior of PPE purchasers in general, but we won’t cover that here.

FINDING: Eyewear buyers less selective about supply sources
Unlike more technical safety products such as respirators and types of clothing fabrics, eye/face PPE buyers are less choosy about where they buy eye and face products. A bit more than three-quarters of those surveyed (76%) say they currently purchase eye/face PPE from general industrial supply distributors, such as Grainger, Airgas or Fastenal. About two-thirds (65%) purchase eye/face PPE from specialized safety distributors.

In contrast, safety distributors are the number-one purchasing source for respirators and clothing.

Direct mail catalogs, a staple of safety sales, are used by 25% of eye/face product buyers. Remember, total percentages for this question regarding purchasing sources will equal more than 100% because safety buyers use more than one source.

For all the talk about Home Depot Supply muscling into the safety market, big-box retailers like HD, Wal-Mart and Lowe’s are used by only 17% of eye/face PPE buyers.

FINDING: Calling in beats walking in for ordering
Many eye/face PPE buyers still like to pick up the phone and call in their orders. It’s the preferred purchasing method of 34% of eye/face product buyers. Right up there with the phone is the good old catalog — the preferred method of buying eye/face products for 33% of buyers. Tradition still rules in the safety market: 67% of eye/face product buyers prefer the phone or catalogs as the way to make purchases.

Interestingly, 19% say they prefer to use the Internet for buying eye/face products, but only 15% of all eye/face purchases are completed over the ‘Net. There could be some pent-up demand for buying online that presently is stymied by corporate purchasing policies or troubles navigating Web sites.

Only 7% of eye/face product buyers prefer to walk in to make their purchases, which could be a reason why the big-box retailers have yet to make much of a dent in the safety market.

FINDING: Quality & reliability key buying factors
What do your customers look for when shopping for eye/face products? The top five attributes: product quality/reliability, comfort, product availability, user-friendly products, and durability — product life.

FINDING: Web sites more popular than trade shows as info sources
The information sources that buyers turn to remain for the most part the old reliables: catalogs/product literature (86%), trade magazines (37%), distributor sales reps (29%), and the recommendations of peers (26%). About one-in-five eye/face product buyers is searching the Web, checking out manufacturers’ Web sites (20%) and distributors’ Web sites (19%). Both are more popular than trade shows (preferred by 15%).

FINDING: One-stop shopping is the favorite “value add”
The final section of the study we’ll cover has to do with that much-discussed issue of “value added.” For purchasers of eye/face products, the single most important value-added service is clear: one-stop shopping, cited by 32%. Nothing else really comes close. Other services preferred as the most important to eye/face product buyers include: assisting with OSHA compliance requirements (12%), knowledge of your workplace hazards and needs (11%), knowledge of OSHA requirements (11%), training in PPE use (11%), and assessment of workplace risks (9%).