WHEN SHOULD OUTSOURCE BECOME IN-HOUSE?

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Rite-Style has launched its own Geo-FORM private-label lens.

Now that free-form generators have come down in size and price, ECPs can decide whether to get their lenses from labs or do the surfacing themselves.

With the ever-expanding interest and usage of lenses designed and processed with free-form technology, eyecare professionals (ECPs) are starting to be faced with an interesting choice— do they buy their lenses from traditional lens channels, i.e. from major manufacturers through wholesale optical laboratories, or do they buy free-form surfacing equipment and produce their own lenses, even their own private-label lenses? While the latter is surely not for a one-person eyecare office, it’s increasingly becoming an option for larger practices because the cost of this equipment is dropping, and its availability is increasing. Which of these options is right for your office?

LAB-SOURCING
For many practices, obtaining branded free-form lenses from wholesale optical labs is a good strategy. Going this route, labs provide ECPs a quick and easy method of obtaining free-form lenses. Getting your lenses this way means you don’t have to plunk down a huge investment in the equipment needed to process these lenses. In addition, you also don’t need to allocate dedicated space, staff, and other resources necessary to produce them.

One way to categorize lenses is to offer patients a “good, better, best” range, such as Shamir’s Element (good), Spectrum (better), and Autograph II (best).

Do you save money this way? No, you pay whatever price your wholesale lab extends to you, but you don’t have any of the headaches associated with owning and operating a surfacing facility. As you sell a job, you pay a portion of the money you charged the patient for the lenses you’ve used. This “pay as you go” tactic is attractive to a lot of offices because you only pay your lab when you use a product they provide.

If you own the equipment and produce the lenses yourself, you have to make payments on the equipment each and every month (either on the

ADVANTAGES FOR THE LAB With the evolution of free-form surfacing, laboratories have become significantly faster, require much less lens stock, and have become more environmentally friendly, due in part to minimized production waste. These advantages have made teaming up with a free-form lab a very easy decision. Through free-form surfacing, the lab’s stocking requirements decrease significantly because they only need to stock lens blanks in the materials they want using a few base curves, instead of having to keep hundreds of unsurfaced lens blanks on hand in multiple designs, options, and adds from various manufacturers. Having such a stocking advantage allows for quicker production time, delivering finished free-form lenses to your door in a flash. Key suppliers such as Luzerne Optical Laboratories, Ltd. run a 24-hour operation to roll out a huge volume of free-form products per day. Other free-form labs such as Rite-Style Optical Co. average super-fast free-form turnaround times of 1.4 days on uncut jobs, and 2.7 days on finished eyewear, while approximately 200 of Pech Optical Corp.’s 1,800 jobs per day are free-form.

loan or the lease payments…that is, assuming you didn’t buy this expensive equipment with cash). If you have a couple of very slow months where you take in less than you owe, this can become a financial concern.

Some labs are producing so many free-form lenses that they are creatively offering “good, better, best” lens menus. By encompassing such a large range of free-form lens options, labs like these can easily help you match the best lens options for your patient from the most
cutting-edge advanced designs down to technologically packed budget-minded free-form choices. Expert Optics Inc. has embraced automated free-form production and offers lenses from all major manufactures including Shamir Insight, Inc.; Essilor of America, Inc.; and Carl Zeiss Vision Inc. US Optical provides lens designs from major manufacturers in the free-form category including Shamir; Seiko Optical Products of America, Inc.; Essilor; HOYA VISION CARE, North America; and Carl Zeiss.

In addition to offering name brands from the major lens manufacturers, some labs now offer their own private-label free-form lenses. The intent of this strategy is to provide their ECP customers with value lens options. Think of these lenses as free-form alternatives to brand-name premium free-form progressive addition lenses (PALs). While this has not become a mainstream practice yet, some labs such as Central Optical, Pech Optical Corp., Pro Fit Optix, Rite-Style Optical Co., and others are making some good progress in this category with their own private-label free-form lenses.

BUYING ONLINE
Labs all over the country have embraced the free-form lens revolution, and ECPs can more easily obtain free-form products. For example, the

Some lenses, such as the HOYA iD MyStyle, are only available from labs certified to produce them.

free-form revolution has spawned dedicated suppliers such as Pro Fit Optix. This lab has chosen to solely produce free-from lens products, providing an assortment of its own designs, including identity lenses and its private-label free-form PAL known as Acuity. Pro Fit specializes in offering super low pricing for free-form lenses mailed uncut directly to your door. To make things easier, you can set up a new account in a matter of minutes and place all of your orders online, quickly and efficiently.

MyLens Club has also created a Web site where you can source all of your digitally surfaced lenses online. MyLensClub.com was created as an online portal to allow ECPs to save up to 60%. MyLens Club offers over 18 collections of high-definition lenses online and a wide selection of personalized lenses. In addition to the wide range of personalized lenses it carries in all materials and all indices, it also offers its own CLEARi™ back-surface, free-form PAL. Described by the company as totally customized,

Through online sources, such as Pro Fit Optix Web site, ECPs can save money on free-form lenses mailed uncut directly to their door.

CLEARi’s benefits are full field and oblique aberration optimization, high performance for sports frames and high prescriptions, and freedom in base curve selection, all with or without extra measurements.

YOUR OWN EQUIPMENT
Some optical offices are starting to bring in their own free-form equipment. As they do, many are buying lens blanks from large manufacturers and producing brand-name lenses such as Shamir’s Autograph II®, KODAK Unique (from Signet Armorlite), Seiko’s Supercede, and Carl Zeiss Vision’s Individual® in-house. This enables them to offer premium PALs to their customers directly in a fast and efficient delivery method. For many, that’s the reason they bought free-form equipment.

Along with this approach, a new development has surfaced where offices are buying licenses for private-label PAL designs. This new direction enables the practice that owns the free-from equipment to create its own private-label lenses, thereby establishing a house brand. Having this capability allows you to market your own distinctive free-form brand that cannot be found anywhere else.

GARBAGE IN, GARBAGE OUT When private-label lenses are created using free-form processing, they will only be as optically precise as the software design allows. If the precision of the design is poor, the free-form equipment will not be able to make up for that, and the lens will fall short of your expected visual enhancements. To make the best free-form lenses, you need to have a perfect recipe of software design, the right equipment used the right way, and a top-quality surfacing process that produces high-quality free-form lenses.



By owning free-form equipment, you can save some serious money by producing your own lenses, especially the free-form PALs that are so highly valued by patients these days. With the private-label lens approach, you can offer patients a unique lens at a value price. For some offices, that’s a mighty attractive proposition. If you do a lot of insurance jobs, this may not work as well since some insurance companies won’t recognize your private-label lens for their vision insurance plan. Be sure you understand this aspect of the lens business before you invest in free-form equipment if a good percentage of your office services vision care insurance patients.

The flip side to owning your own free-form equipment is that you’ll own some very expensive equipment that you have to run accurately and maintain regularly. You’ll also have to make payments on it each month as mentioned above. In addition, you have to find a source for competent lens designs for your private-label free-form lenses. Finally, you assume a new liability. When you process (surface, edge, drill, etc.) lenses, you become a manufacturer, which in the eyes of the law, makes you liable for the quality of your work. If someone is harmed by a lack of quality workmanship, you’re open for a lawsuit. For this reason, being the processor of the lenses can be a serious concern for some offices.

By recommending and dispensing free-form products, you are choosing to offer the best optics for your patients and your practice. No matter how you decide to produce them, by supplying them you’ll continue to be a winner with your patients.

Francis Gimbel, Jr. is an optician, private consultant, and manager of the PENN Optical Department at the University of Pennsylvania.

WHERE TO FIND IT
Carl Zeiss Vision Inc.
800-358-8258 • zeiss.com/lenses

Central Optical
800-322-6678 • centraloptical.com

Essilor of America, Inc.
800-542-5668 • essilorusa.com

Expert Optics Inc.
800-892-0097 • expertoptics.net

HOYA VISION CARE, North America
877-528-1939 • hoyavision.com

MyLens Club
888-274-6705 • mylensclub.com

Luzerne Optical Laboratories, Ltd.
800-233-9637 • luzerneoptical.com

Pech Optical Corp.
800-831-2352 • pechoptical.com

Pro Fit Optix
866-996-7849 • profitoptix.com

Rite-Style Optical Co.
800-373-3200 • ritestyle.com

Seiko Optical Products of America, Inc.
800-235-5367 • seikoeyewear.com

Shamir Insight, Inc.
877-514-8330 • shamirlens.com

Signet Armorlite, Inc
800-950-5367 • signetarmorlite.com

US Optical
800-445-2773 • usoptical.com

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