Even if your crystal ball is on the fritz, it’s not too difficult to see that free-form lenses are changing the lens business. With all the excitement, eyecare professionals (ECPs) need to explore ways to financially make the most of this new trend. Here are some tips.
LENS MENUS Offering lens menu options is a great strategy that will help you present and describe tiered options in a clear manner. Lens menus are often found in a “good, better, best” pricing format, where lenses are presented from the highest to the lowest price. In other words, you present the best product first so the patient hears all the features they can obtain. If the price is a problem, then the patient negotiates downward with the understanding that they’ll give up some features.
A “good, better, best” system that might be used for Carl Zeiss Vision Inc.’s Progressive Addition Lenses (PALs) might look like this: Zeiss Individual PAL is the best, their GT2 3DV is the better lens, and their GT2 3D lens is a good choice. Shamir Insight Inc. suggests that you might tier their products like this: Autograph II as their best, Spectrum™ as a better lens, and Element™ as a good offering. HOYA VISION CARE, North America positions its MyStyle as its best PAL while its InStyle™ is the better PAL, and LifeStyle™ is its good offering. HOYA even offers a “very best” when you add Free-Form iQ into the mix.
Augen’s all-in-one EasyForm processing system is easy to learn.
Another clever way of creating a lens menu is to name the categories. For example, you might create “silver, gold, and platinum packages.” Within these categories, you offer the lenses and options to create complete lens packages. This “bundling strategy” helps sales by offering patients a number of options simultaneously, usually at a discount.
GOING PRIVATE Private label free-form lenses have emerged from many of your favorite free-form labs. These lens designs are comparable to the popular premium brands, have similar available materials, and can be ordered with options such as photochromism, polarization, and anti-reflection (AR), all at a price that is less than branded lenses. These private lens designs all utilize free-form technology and make great alternatives for patients. Sightstar 365 from Luzurne Optical Laboratories Ltd. and the Acuity line from PFO Global are two such lenses.
OVERSEAS DRAWBACKS There’s a new trend of obtaining free-from lenses inexpensively from overseas. While some of these prices appear attractive, they come with hidden costs. When offered with the options of low price, speed, and quality, it’s almost impossible to receive all three. From my experience with overseas purchases, don’t expect speed. As more and more local labs purchase free-form equipment, look forward to seeing lower pricing, high quality, and road runner-like turnaround times.
Another concept that is slowly becoming popular is for you to offer your own line of in-house free-form branded lenses. There are labs that will produce custom private-label free-form lenses for you. You can even get them with your very own unique laser-marked logo or monogram. Think this isn’t a strong strategy? Remember, Kenmore is a house brand of Sears.
CONCENTRATING YOUR WORK When it comes to choosing a lab, it makes sense to place all your eggs in one basket and choose a single lab for three primary reasons: price, simplicity, and speed. Focusing the majority of your lens work with one lab is a great way to reduce your cost of goods. Many labs offer volume discounts, meaning larger savings at the end of the month. This is a wonderful value concept premium labs such as Luzurne Optical and Rite-Style Optical Co. have embraced. Both of these free-form labs offer a wide array of free-form lens brands and pride themselves on providing premium free-form lenses.
Also, by having only one or two labs to call when checking up on lab orders, you greatly reduce the amount of phone calls made, and free up employee time to focus more on patient care. Some savvy labs have even dedicated specific customer service representatives to oversee certain accounts exclusively. In addition to routine order tasks, they can also monitor turnaround times, handle special order requests, and create super-friendly relationships with your staff members.
Shamir suggests you might tier their products with Element offered as a ‘good’ lens.
UNDER PROMISE, OVER DELIVER In the world of customer service, there’s an old adage that says, “under promise and over deliver.” The idea is simple: once you promise to deliver a product or service at a certain day and time, that’s exactly when the customer expects it. Any delay in that delivery date is seen as incompetent on the part of the supplier. That’s why it’s wise to work with labs you are certain can deliver your work on time…every time.
With this understanding, you’ll be able to exceed your patients’ expectations. Here’s how: Let’s say your local lab consistently delivers your work in 24 hours. If so, promise the patient that you’ll have their eyewear in four days from today. Think of how excited they’ll be when you call them in two days to tell them their eyewear is ready! That’s what under promising and over delivering is all about—getting the patient their eyewear in less time than expected.
As free-form surfacing equipment becomes more widely used, labs are becoming more capable of producing lenses quickly and accurately. Free-form innovators such as Expert Optics, Inc. use free-form equipment and advanced lab management ordering systems to get the work to you pronto. Free-form labs such as US Optical offer a super-fast “24-hour free-form AR turnaround” for all uncut orders received by 1:00pm EST. For more information on US Optical’s customer service, see “US Optical: Fast and Friendly,” found here.
CONTRACTING LAB WORK Thinking like a lab owner for a moment, what would be a great asset for your company? How about the ability to forecast future guaranteed business? This is exactly what is occurring with some labs and retailers. Optical retailers, especially larger ones, have a fairly stable stream of lab work that needs to be done. Labs are always looking for new accounts and ways to increase their businesses. Some labs and retailers are negotiating one-, two-, and more year contracts with a lab to lock in pricing, discount rates, and terms for warranty returns.
A MONEY-EARNER Recommending and selling free-form lenses in your office easily justifies collecting premium dollars from your patients. Free-form progressives can on average sell for $100 more than your traditional non free-form progressives. If you do some quick math, you’ll notice that if you increase your free-form sales by one additional pair per day, six days a week, 52 weeks per year, your practice will earn an additional $31,200 in revenue.
While this may sound a bit foreign to those who have followed the traditional model of ordering from several laboratories, it places the power of what you pay for lab services directly into your hands. You can negotiate contracts based on pricing, specify second and additional multiple pair discount rates, scratch redo and non-adapt policies, and even bargain for prescription changes. Realistically, just about anything is negotiable in this kind of contract.
GOING FREE-FORM ON A DIME A new wave of taking equipment from the wholesale side into the retail side is beginning to catch on. Equipment manufacturers are beginning to produce free-form surfacing equipment that can be used in larger retail stores, not just in large surfacing labs. This means that larger retailers like independent opticianry and optometry offices can
Rite-Style lab offers volume discounts and uses Schneider’s HSC Master and Computer Controlled Polisher digital equipment.
produce their own free-form lenses in their labs.
Complete free-form systems are offered by companies such as Augen Optics, which has released the EasyForm processing system. This all-in-one unit includes the capability to digitally surface, block, polish, laser engrave, and finish Augen’s HDRx Trinity progressives and HD single vision lenses on site. Augen claims the EasyForm is simple to use, and very easy to learn for all skill levels of operators. Key features include a large touch screen with very clear instructions, and the capability to digitally surface both conventional and free-form lenses. The EasyForm system allows for production averages an hour of 12 pairs for free-form progressive lenses, 16 pairs for free-form single vision, and 30 pairs for semi-finished digital lenses.
Another equipment innovator, Coburn Technologies, Inc., has released LaunchPad™ which offers a more cost-efficient way of polishing free-form lenses in-house. This pad system allows the use of a traditional cylinder machine to polish free-form lenses, which eliminates the need for larger (and higher-priced) free-form polishers.
Free-form lenses can really be profitable. Try some of these tips and see how nicely your profits increase.
Francis G. Gimbel Jr., is a licensed optician and owner of Gimbel Eye Associates in Wayne, PA.