|From left to right: Ralph, Robert, and Ron Cotran, co-owners of U.S. Optical in East Syracuse, NY.|
The optical wholesale lab is an important link between your practice and your patients.
In an increasingly competitive market for eyecare professionals (ECPs), it’s a good time to assess and strengthen your competitive advantages. This should begin with your closest daily relationship: your lab. Your optical wholesale lab is the lifeline between your practice and your patients. It can be a valuable asset in growing your business, especially your free-form lens business, which should make up a large part of your revenue. Now is the time to use the resources of your partner lab to make your practice grow and create a new standard of patient care with free-form lenses.
Partnering suggests the sharing of a common goal. The products ECPs order from a wholesale optical laboratory are, in large part, custom-made for each patient so they can see as well as possible. This helps ensure the success of both the practice’s and the lab’s businesses. And free-form lenses have the potential to create visual results that have never before been possible. However, to fully capitalize on this technology, you must partner with your lab to create a true digital revolution. By leveraging your laboratory’s resources, and educating your patients about the possibilities of more perfect vision, you can unlock some hidden opportunities for your practice.
I recently spoke with some leading free-form lab representatives about the programs they offer ECPs to help cultivate loyal patients to use digital lenses. I was surprised to discover that there are an astounding number of programs and resources available. All too often ECPs’ relationship with their lab is about price at the expense of value. While we are all concerned with prices, a truly valuable partner will help grow your business by providing additional services and support that buying on price alone cannot.
“Enthusiastic” is an understatement when describing Ralph Cotran, co-owner of U.S. Optical with his brothers Ron and Robert. U.S Optical is known to be the fastest lab in America and boasts a 24-hour turnaround time for free-form uncut lenses. It is that kind of forward thinking and determination that keep the Cotrans motivated to continually deliver the latest in technology. After talking with Ralph, it is clear that he will not rest until everyone in the country is wearing free-form lenses and the U.S. Optical team is helping its accounts prosper. Ralph explained that they have seven dedicated representatives who work with, educate, and support ECPs. Their services include a complete marketing program to help the practice “pull the product through” as well as complete sales and customer service support to help make each patient a success story. U.S. Optical strives to continually educate its accounts with seminars on a regional basis every quarter. Ralph also emphasizes that his customer service reps are well educated and can handle any customer’s needs.
|Rite-Style Optical’s most recent News & Views quarterly publication which also shows its new ‘Break the Mold’ logo.|
Patty Tipler, Director of Marketing at Rite-Style Optical Company, is a dynamo of innovative programs. In addition to a quarterly publication, News and Views, that offers insightful information on the latest products and promotions, Rite-Style Optical devotes many of its resources to the technology and marketing of free-form lenses. One example is the company’s new “Break the Mold” campaign which features a clever logo showing a shattered conventional lens mold along with an explanation of the benefits of its expanded free-form product line. This new marketing concept brings additional benefits. It is being included in ongoing “Rite-Style Optical Fun $$$” promotions which reward accounts with money that is based on purchased items. Tipler suggests this money be used to further increase sales by rewarding staff with fun things like pizza parties, gift cards, or trips for continuing education. Rite-Style Optical has also produced a 10-page, full-color brochure, Talking Points, which is designed to be a hands-on resource to guide the ECP to present new digital technologies to every patient.
Ted Hahn is Vice President for Direct-Lens.Com, an Internet-based optical wholesale lab. With Direct Lens, you can order free-form lenses over the Internet. Hahn is determined to change the way ECPs do business with an optical wholesale lab. He sees himself as a revolutionary when it comes to the advantages of free-form technology from cost savings for the lab as well as the “wow” factor for the patient. As Hahn explained, with the advent of free-form technology, the lab will no longer need to inventory different lens designs, in different base curves and in different add powers. This greatly reduces the cost to the lab and results in significant cost reductions to the ECP. Hahn is determined to improve the cost of free-form lenses to those of traditional molded lenses and to help ECPs both increase profits and compete against direct to consumer sellers while providing a better visual outcome for patients.
Partnering with ECPs is not an option, it is a requirement in today’s market, says Neil Dougherty, Owner and General Manager of Luzerne Optical Laboratories, Ltd. Dougherty explained that because it is easy for dispensers to become overloaded and cluttered with the amount of new lens information coming their way, his reps are skilled at helping ECPs find the products that work for their practices. Luzerne does this by providing individual training sessions for its customers to keep them current on evolving technologies and how they can benefit their patients and the practice. Dougherty’s laboratory consultants work directly with an office’s staff members to hone their sales and troubleshooting skills so they can confidently present free-form technology. To further help, Luzerne offers a number of promotions and reward programs to encourage sales of premium lenses.
Luzerne also uses various on-demand reporting techniques to track account sales to give practice managers an opportunity to set benchmarks and incentives. Dougherty explained that this enables managers to pinpoint areas of focus so they can grow their sales of free-form lenses and premium coatings. In addition, he encourages ECPs to make use of the many tools featured on Luzerne’s Web site located at luzerneoptical.com.
|Luzerne’s Automated Schneider FreeForm Digital Generator with Robotically Controlled Conveyor System.|
The sales and education teams at Pech Optical provide ECPs with in-office training on new products as well as offering them new product information through Webinars. These online sessions allow the company to pass on product information to multiple ECPs at the same time without having them leave their offices. On the flip side, Pech also invites ECPs to visit its laboratory in Sioux City, IA so they can experience the production process associated with new digital products firsthand. When asked what special promotions Pech offers to increase free-form sales, LuAnn Mosier, Vice President of Marketing, Sales, and Education said: “When it comes to advanced lens technology, one of the first things that always comes up is cost.” In the past, Pech has provided ECPs with complimentary upgrades from traditional to digital lenses allowing them to experience digital lens technology without worrying about the cost. She said that once an ECP experiences the improved quality of digital lenses—whether themselves or through a satisfied patient—it typically justifies any difference in cost. One reason Pech Optical received the 2011 Website of the Year award was the tools it offers to its accounts through its Web site. “ECPs are able to find information on our in-house digital products as well as access a complete list of digital product availability,” Mosier said.
Pech has also compiled a list of its current promotions so ECPs can easily see which digital products will earn them extra rewards. It works with committed ECPs to create lens package programs specifically designed around their needs. Many of these programs include a “good-better-best” theme providing tiered levels of digital lens options.
Mosier said Pech also encourages ECPs to pair products for the best vision possible.
Don’t overlook the partnership possibilities available to you. With a good optical wholesale lab as your partner, you’ll be able to make a difference in your practice.
Robert Flippin is a licensed optician and co-owner of Thorp & Flippin Optical in Lynchburg, VA.
|GET ADVICE With sluggish growth in the past three years, most business owners are eager to help their clients improve sales because it helps build up their own. In addition to showing their dedication to the industry and to their clients, it’s another solid reason for them to help you. Take every opportunity you can to ask each representative who comes into your office what services they can provide to help you expand your business. You should also ask them what other practices in your area, city, and state are doing to stay ahead of the competition. Lab and frame reps are a valuable source of this kind of information because they have a finger on the pulse of the industry and it is in their best interests to share that information with you to help everyone succeed. The bottom line is: if you use the many resources of your lab and the knowledge of their reps, you’ll have a lot more leverage to promote and make new and improved sales…and what eyecare office wouldn’t want to experience that this year?|