Imagine you walk into a car dealership and start browsing around. You’ve already done homework online so know the model you want, but you have some questions for the salesperson.

You ask about the highway mileage. The salesperson doesn’t know. Then you ask about trunk capacity and again, the salesperson is clueless. Finally, in frustration, you ask the salesperson what does he know about the car. “Well, I’m pretty sure it comes in red, black, and beige.”

This is clearly an exaggeration, but we’ve all had the unfortunate experience of dealing with an uninformed salesperson. And in those circumstances, the sale is rarely closed.

During Oakley’s recent VIP Days event in Southern California, Heather Mercier, VP of business development and finance for a company called experticity, pointed out that in any retail situation, one in three consumers will seek assistance from a sales associate and three-quarters of them will walk out of a store if they don’t get it. Mercier’s company was the developer of Oakley’s OMatter online product education program, designed to make retail associates smarter about the sun and eyewear they sell. The key, she said, is obtaining the skill to provide “helpful expertise.” Mercier pointed out that associates who are well-versed in the products they sell perform substantially better than their less- informed peers. They also tend to be happier employees and remain with their companies longer.

So why isn’t everybody practicing the art of helpful expertise? In the optical industry, there is a litany of excuses; the one about having to pay employees more when they’re smarter is legitimate. However, when one does the math, the return on investment for the knowledgeable staffer versus the uninformed employee is astronomical.

Optical is looking for remedies to rid itself of the “commodity” stigma and give pushback to online retailers. Helpful expertise is that remedy. (As an aside, check out First Vision Media Group’s newly launched training and education portal,, featuring a host of knowledge content, reference tools, and even certification.)

The past year marked the passing on of several great optical people, and it’s fitting that we acknowledge them here in our last issue of 2014:

Tom Maskery (Eyewear Designs Ltd.), a smart, canny optical sales pro and manager; Fred Friedfeld (ClearVision Optical), a quintessential father figure and guiding light; and Darryl Meister (Carl Zeiss Vision), a troubled genius who nonetheless served as mentor to many.

Their contributions will live on in our industry, and the memories they created will live on in our hearts.

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