Robin Rhodes, VP of Strategic Accounts, Essilor Instruments USA, joined the company in 2010 as director of sales. In 2013 she was promoted to vice president of sales, but her role continues to evolve as the organization expands. Prior to working at Essilor Instruments, she was an industry executive with emphasis on development of sales and customer service teams. Here, she discusses the new company structure and how technology has changed the way Essilor Instruments can more efficiently service the industry.
ED DE GENNARO: With all the mergers and acquisitions that Essilor of America, Inc. has done in the last few years, the structure of Essilor Instruments might be a little unclear to ECPs. Please explain it.
ROBIN RHODES: The biggest change came in 2011 when we began selling direct. Up to that point, we had worked through a distributor. We wanted to have better control of our business and closer contact with our customers. We also wanted to be able to direct the entire experience for the ECP by hiring a dedicated service team. One of our goals is to be a one-stop shop to the ECP. Essilor has always had many items in the equipment, instruments, and consumable area and many ECPs aren’t aware of that.
ED: How is Essilor Instruments structured now?
ROBIN: Stereo Optical and Essilor Instruments are working together so that we can bring our sales and technical teams to Stereo Optical, and we can now offer both instruments and equipment through a single salesperson. We have everything a practice would need from equipment and instruments to connected hardware and software to consumables.
ED: How do Satisloh and National Optronics fit into this picture?
ROBIN: Satisloh and National Optronics are both part of Essilor. They are run as separate companies. Our products are very different and may compete on some segments; however the Essilor Instruments’ division is the world leader of tabletop, non-industrial finishing solutions. We are focused on servicing opticians and optometrists and offer a full range of products within five business units: finishing, optometry, screening, measurement, and consumables.
ED: What’s your five-year plan for Essilor Instruments?
ROBIN: Starting this year, Essilor Instruments is going to add optometry equipment to our portfolio. We will have lane equipment and diagnostic instruments in addition to our current finishing lab offerings. The ophthalmic office is changing into a digital environment, and all of the instruments and equipment are becoming connected though software and the Internet. For example, our VisiOffice or M’Eye Fit measuring devices can be connected to our Mr Blue Edging system so fitting parameters can go straight to finishing. This model has been used by Essilor in Europe for several years and it’s working very well.
One of the other biggest improvements moving forward will be how we service equipment. We’ve started to offer remote maintenance that enables a piece of equipment to be diagnosed electronically over the Internet. This helps avoid the time and expense of on-site service calls and downtime delays. In five years, I think every piece of our equipment and instruments will have this feature.
ED: Is selling equipment and instruments getting harder these days?
ROBIN: It’s not really harder or easier, sales have been about the same. What I can say is that the market is different. ECPs are getting used to doing more in their office so they’re looking at more sophisticated instructions and equipment. They might wait longer before they buy their second piece, but when they buy it, they are looking for more features, especially ones that can help generate revenue. For instance, including features like drilling, milling, shape modification, and high-base curve edging can help ECPs save money and turn out better results, and they’re getting it done in-house.
Our Mr Blue Edger system now allows ECPs to etch letters or graphics on a lens. Benefits are huge as it enables ECPs to provide something unique that can differentiate their shop. We already observed in Europe that this feature generates traffic, helps in closing the sales, and can create an upgrade for additional revenue.
ED: Is instrument technology driving practitioners to provide more comprehensive eyecare or are practitioners demanding more advanced technology in equipment and instruments?
ROBIN: I think it’s about 50/50. We get feedback from ECPs all the time and we pass those comments and ideas to our R&D team. We’ve also done some telephone surveys for this information. Essilor has a wonderful research facility where they investigate a wide range of things. This helps identify concepts and possible improvements the average ECP wouldn’t think to ask for or even imagine.
ED: What’s the one thing you would like ECPs to know about Essilor Instruments?
ROBIN: We’re focused on ECPs and we’re working hard to make their professional life better, more efficient, and profitable. As part of the Essilor Instruments’ division, we benefit from our own facilities, training capabilities, and R&D. The division spends 5% of its revenue on research developments each year. We have been designing, manufacturing, and distributing instruments worldwide for more than 50 years, and that makes us unique.