ECPS LOOK TO THEIR LABS FOR SUPPORT

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Labs like Precision Optical Group operate high-speed, free-form machinery to produce quality products.
TRAINING AND EQUIPMENT If you’re serious about fast turnaround time, you’ll need to train your employees to get their orders sent in as quickly as possible. You will also seriously need to consider owning your own lens finishing system. This equipment will pay for itself if you are able to capture more market share because you’re taking an active part in supporting your own establishment’s competitive edge.
Digital surfacing technologies, like those used at Walman, mean a quick turnaround time.
Seiko makes its customers lives easier by offering a downloadable software tool for its PC Wide lens.
Top optical labs, like Three Rivers Optical, differentiate themselves from the competition by supporting their customers.
TRY THEM OUT! Quality always speaks for itself and does not require excuses. “Try it before you buy it” is a great motto to live by even with ophthalmic laboratories. Have them prove themselves to you by wearing their lenses and assess how well you’re being treated as a customer. You’ll both have a greater respect for each other in the long run.

Which lab services do ECPs find the most important? We interviewed some to find out.

The ophthalmic laboratory business has never been as competitive as it is now. There is a veritable explosion of choices in ophthalmic products and laboratory services so savvy ECPs need to turn to their labs for support. Top optical labs learned a long time ago that if they want the business, they need to differentiate themselves from the competition by supporting their customers. That concept made me wonder which lab services ECPs found most important; I interviewed five to find out.

CUSTOMER SERVICE
The number-one thing that I consider most important in laboratory support is being able to develop a working relationship with the people I do business with-what you might call superior customer service. After determining that a lab offers the products and services I prefer, I want to know that I have a lifeline, so to speak, with someone at that lab who can answer my questions in a timely manner. If you have ever experienced problems with a patient who needs special care, it is nice to know that help can be as close as an email or phone call away.

TRAINING
Among the many supporting lab service choices now being offered is free-form surfacing, which has become standard in the industry. Knowledge of this process, how it works, how to sell it, and how to take the proper measurements for maximum performance, are all things that are extremely important for ECPs to know. The best labs and lens suppliers provide great training for these products, knowing that it will pay dividends in the long run.

ECPs using the best labs can expect training that includes both technical and sales information that help the office understand and sell the products they’re dispensing. This service is invaluable because you can’t sell what you don’t understand and as optical products become more sophisticated, professional education will become more important. ECPs may also receive pro bono the basic digital lens data-gathering tools that include some type of frame wrap angle chart, a pantoscopic angle gauge, and a vertex measuring tool. They also can expect one or more hours of staff training that teaches them how to use these devices. When your digital volume is great enough, some labs will help you obtain one of the new computerized machines that take these measurements automatically.

I also really like a lab that offers webinars or personal training when new products are launched and their salespeople follow up to see if there are any further questions. This lets my staff get information directly from the source so there is no confusion. Not having this personal touch can jeopardize the reputations of both the wholesale laboratory and the optical retailer. Laboratories are now bigger with more accounts to manage, so the ones that make a personal effort to reach out to each account, large or small, gets my voteā€¦and my business.

VOLUME PRICING
Anyone who says that pricing is not a concern when considering what’s important in lab support is lying. It may not be their primary concern but it will be a concern if they want to stay in business. Never tip your hat to a lab potentially vying for your business when it comes to price. Don’t ever say that price is of no concern to you because you will likely miss out on the benefits of this very competitive market. There are plenty of eager lab owners out there who want your business badly enough to give you their best deal. Volume discounts are available through almost every lab. When you are price shopping, make sure that you are comparing apples to apples. Compare warranties, remake policies, payment terms, brand selections, outcome quality, turnaround time, etc. You will probably find strengths and weaknesses with every ophthalmic laboratory.

BRAND LOYALTY PERKS
Several ECPs have really cashed in on the brand loyalty perks that are out there. If you already have a preferred lens brand and have at least a medium sales volume, you probably qualify for a number of bonus bucks that are offered by lens manufacturers. One of my contacts showed me a brand new high-end lens finishing/edging system that he qualified for due to his volume and brand loyalty. He figures that with the money he saves by doing his own lens edging, he is able to make up for the discounts that he normally qualified for if he chose price over perks. In five years, the finishing system will be his with no strings attached. Afterwards, he plans on going for the deep-volume discounts that are out there that will create a sizeable margin in his retail lens sales.

Another ECP told me he takes his whole family to Hawaii each year with the points he earns with his lab. It never hurts to check to see if your lab supports you with programs like these.

TURNAROUND TIME
If you plan on making money in the retail optical business, you will want to make sure that the bulk of your time is spent selling eyewear and not babysitting orders that are late coming back from your lab. Again, due to the new digital surfacing technologies this is becoming far less of a problem. With the right support coming from your lab, it is possible to order free-form uncut lenses via the Internet before noon and have them ready for edging in your office the next day. Many new labs employ high-speed robotics along with their free-from machinery to get things done with amazing swiftness and accuracy. For many ECPs, this is a primary concern, considering the competition coming from the big box, one-hour places. Most patients are willing to wait a day or two for their new eyewear to be made but not for weeks on end as we used to have to do.

If you make an effort to decide what is most important to you when it comes to lab support, you will find that you have excellent choices. You will also find that you can get more than you think if you have wholesale labs compete for your business.

Michael Frandsen is the owner of Quality Performance Ophthalmic, Inc., a custom service optical laboratory in South Jordan, UT.

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