When behind-the-scenes edging moves front and center, retailers stand out.
A host of eyecare professionals (ECPs) have generated buzz for their practices by putting their lens processing on display. Seeing behind the scenes can be fun and fascinating to patients who have no idea how their prescriptions get made.
The genesis of the visible lab occurred with the launch of the first LensCrafters location in March of 1983. “I put the entire lab in the window,” said Edward Dean Butler, founder and ex-executive of LensCrafters. “I was the first to do this sort of thing, which was huge in making LensCrafters take off and become the world’s largest optical retailer in only a few years.”
Butler founded the company with the now-famous marketing promise of delivering glasses “in about an hour,” but he had to make consumers believe such a turnaround time was possible. “Before LensCrafters, consumers were waiting two weeks for glasses. ‘Glasses in about an hour’ was a disruptive promise,” Butler said. However, at the time, the only way to prove LensCrafters’ promise to a disbelieving public was to show them that it could be done. “We put the lab in the window and advertised: ‘Come watch us make your glasses in about an hour,'” Butler said.
The impact was undeniable. “Consumers were fascinated,” he said. “Our first store was in a large mall, and huge numbers of consumers would stand and watch through the window.” This unique customer experience is what made LensCrafters remarkable and memorable to consumers. “Most of our marketing was done through TV ads, but the lab in the window created a huge amount of word-of-mouth advertising,” he said. Consumers did not even have to recall our name; we were ‘the place in the mall that makes glasses while you watch.'”
Although LensCrafters has removed visible labs from its stores following Butler’s departure from the company, other ECPs have used similar concepts to great effect. Stanton Optical-an optical retailer since 2006 that just erected its 51st store in Anchorage, AK, in March-employs visible labs as part of the customer experience in approximately a dozen of its locations. Utilizing lens-processing equipment from Satisloh North America, Inc., Stanton Optical locations with in-house laboratories offer two speedy options for patients who wish to walk out of the shop with their new glasses that same day: A one-hour eyewear service and the company’s NOW Service, which typically yields a pair of finished eyeglasses within 15-20 mins of placing an order.
Stanton reports that it receives a lot of walk-in business simply because the onsite labs at some locations are visible from the road. Patients are intrigued by watching their eyewear be created from start to finish. The unique experience tends to lead Stanton’s patients to refer others to the company’s stores. In addition, the company claims that its employees also enjoy having an in-house visible lab, as it allows them to explain lens processing with patients in great detail.
JINS Eyewear US, Inc. has also made a name for itself with its remarkable visible lab. The focal point of its store in the busy tourist area of Union Square in San Francisco, CA, is KANNA, a lens-edging robot who made her debut one year ago. Encased behind glass walls, KANNA produces eyewear quickly and efficiently-to the tune of 63 pairs per hour-while customers wait. Within a half-hour of placing an order following an eye exam, a patient receives his or her finished pair of glasses.
According to the company, customers love the transparency and turnaround time afforded by JINS’ visible lab. In addition, the spectacle provided by KANNA in such a high-traffic area of the city results in both locals and tourists taking pictures of the remarkable robot and walking in off the street. The company reports a significant number of spontaneous and impulse buys as people are drawn in to gander at KANNA in action. Thanks to JINS’ competitive prices, the store even does considerable multiple- and second-pair sales as well, including sunglass sales. The company’s next move includes opening two new locations this summer, in the Los Angeles and San Jose, CA, metropolitan areas.
SEEING IS BELIEVING
It’s clear that practices that let patients peek behind the curtain of the in-house laboratory distinguish themselves from the competition. However, getting your own visible lab up and running doesn’t need to be as complicated as building your very own robot, nor does it need to take up a lot of space in your practice. Modern edging and finishing equipment has never been more affordable, compact and easy to use. Machines such as Coburn Technologies, Inc.’s Exxpert HPE-810 patternless edger, Santinelli International, Inc.’s all-in-one Le 700 edger and Briot USA’s Attitude edging system can fit on a countertop and help your practice stand out.
Remember, although it may be difficult for seasoned ECPs and their employees to see the appeal of watching lenses being generated, observing this process is likely a novel experience for patients. They’ll be particularly enthralled because they’re watching their own eyewear being made from start to finish. It’s a thrilling customer experience they won’t soon forget, one that can translate into more business from walk-ins and word-of-mouth referrals.
WHERE TO FIND IT:
Briot USA 800.292.7468 • briot.com/usa
Coburn Technologies, Inc. 800-262-8761 • coburntechnologies.com
Satisloh North America, Inc. 800-866-5640 • satisloh.com
Steve Curry is a freelance writer based in New Jersey.