My 'Six Sense'
If you will recall, Opticianry is ultimately defined by how well
the eyewear fits the Patient. So, the real issue for Opticians and
Consumers to consider, is not whether prescription eyewear can be
purchased in stores or online. The real issue is the current deficiency
in the delivery of eyewear due to the absence of the craftsmanship
and skills required to dispense form-fitting eyewear to the Consumer.
The answer is: hands-on training, hands-on training, hands-on training.
It's time for those Opticians who know to teach those who do not know.
And it is time for any Opticians who do not know to surrender their egos.
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Read Me First.
LUXOTTICA BUYS U.S. ONLINE RETAILER GLASSES.COM
Online purchasing with all consumer products will grow as the younger generation become in control of their purchasing for sure. I think what is key for the private sector of optical retailing is to make sure your patients/customers clearly understand the benefits of having your personal professional care, service, and product quality. Your personal relationship makes more of a difference with most than you probably realize. The commercial retailers will probably lose more patients/customers than a private practitioner for this very reason--also the very reason that Luxottica wants to hedge their market position--they've always been smart from a purely business perspective. However, the private sector must be progressive and should have an interactive website for their patients/customers.
Everyone loses patients/customers to some degree for many different reasons--make sure that you have some form of "marketing" to continue to create new patients/customers. Look to network with others that can help you with small "cross marketing" programs that are free. Use the "psychology" of discussing with your patients/customers about the onset of online optical purchasing--in other words, don't "slam" it, but professionally and personally strengthen your position--that's called "planting seeds," that could make a difference down the road when perhaps a "fence-sitter" is contemplating online purchasing. Keep rolling with the punches guys!
I agree, there is a time and a place for everything and developing an online relationship with your customers is a relatively inexpensive way to level the playing field with giant companies. You can offer interactive technology that eliminates the time it takes for customers to choose a frame, then offer an in store exam to close the sale. You can also sell accessories after the frame purchase online and send appointment reminders and new product announcements once you have their email address.
My 'six sense'.
All well and good, but don't forget the issue of our basic competency as Opticians, the lack of which has created market share for online merchants. Here's the issue: As a Consumer, if I know I can't get my eyewear form-fitted at a brick and mortar dispensary, and I know if I buy online it's the same issue, I'll probably choose getting it unfitted in my mailbox. Here's where we failed over the last 50-plus years. We have not made hands-on-the-patient our industry-wide priority. We have failed to provide a sufficient practical eyewear-fitting training experience for up and coming Opticians. (Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on which side you're on, it's not available online, either.)
In my experience, here's the number one Consumer complaint: "They just handed me my glasses." It's the same issue online. No personal frame-fitting service. Again, see TimeForCraftsmanship.com.
Hari, I don't totally disagree with you, and there is certainly merit in your statement--however I think it a bit singular and over simplified as an explanation to the onset of online optical product purchasing. In an industry such as optical, there will always be some practitioners and their assistants that have not "well developed" Opticianry skills or patient handling skills --sad but true, due to more often than not apathy and poor management and poor delegating. Having said that, I still believe there are many good opticians practicing in the different optical venues.
How we evolve as an industry culture and progress is much out of our control for the most part. The online market has evolved IMO more for this reason, not from poor professional and tradesmen practices. Technology, seen as progress, can be a double-edged sword, and it's not always for the better, unfortunately. I don't disagree with you, but think that these "ends" would have the same outcome regardless. (From a mfr. sales rep.)
I don't fully agree with the fact that you think the way the industry evolves is entirely (or for the most part) out of our hands. Independents have market share, and certainly dictate what product I carry in my car to sell them. Many manufacturers rely on these folks, and so big shows and advertising are in place, new products and technologies stream from them. It is in their interests and the customer’s interests to promote the dispensaries where people like Hari work. What bothers me most is what E. Dean Butler shared with me once, and that is, these big companies whether on-line or mega chains can buy almost any product that is out there if they want...or even create something similar... or even buy the darn company (Luxottica and Mikli spring to mind). They have the bucks. We don't have that power.
My 'six sense'.
Spoken like a true sales rep, which I do respect. This industry's future however, is both literally and figuratively in our hands. As an Optician for over 56 years I have dealt with countless Consumers, some of whom have been referred to me from out of state, who have been unable to find anybody with sufficient expertise to fit their prescription eyewear. Some even from large metropolitan areas like Chicago, for instance. Not to say the expertise is unavailable there or anywhere else, but where to find it. This is exactly where I am coming from. It doesn't take much thought to understand what an unfortunate state of affairs this is for our industry. Here we have Consumers who are unable to find competent services in their home area. (So what's the big deal about ordering online?)
When I began my career in 1958 it was SOP to touch and feel the Patient's face/head in order to imprint the necessary adjustments required to form-fit their eyewear. Opticians have collectively declined in our hands-on skills to the point that in later years I've actually had Patients express shock that I would lay my hands on their face/head in order to evaluate their design/fitting needs. It got to the place where I felt compelled to ask permission in order to fit eyewear appropriately.
Imagine a Dentist having to get permission
to touch your mouth for dental work.
Opticians are out of 'touch' with Consumers.
Question: Can you imagine a Dentist having to get permission to touch/examine your mouth for dental work? I again, for the third time, refer you to my web site at TimeForCraftsmanship.com for a better idea of what I am talking about. There are links to other resources/images, as well. I perceive that many latter day participants in our industry, like yourself, don't get it, and this just confirms my point that the practice of Opticianry has declined to the point that we have lost 'touch', the direct connection between our Consumers, and the art form and craft of handcrafted, form-fitted eyewear. There's no way this skill can be acquired virtually. However, within this skill lies our job security.
Again, it's Time For Craftsmanship. All the gimmicks, technology, slogans, investment, rhetoric, etc. will never change the fact. Prescription eyewear is a medical prosthesis, first, a fashion statement, second. Opticians are Healthcare Providers, first. Prescription eyewear Consumers are Patients not Customers. Patients receive Healthcare Services. Customers receive merchandise. Ask any Ophthalmologist or Optometrist who writes eyewear prescriptions if their Consumers are Patients for Healthcare Services, or Customers for merchandise.
I predict when Opticians again refer to Consumers as Patients we'll see a turn from designing and ordering eyewear sans touch. Until then we'll play catch up with outfits like Luxottica, Glasses.com, etc. For those detractors who see my point as simplistic, I say, you are correct. It is simple. We need to get back to basics, which is very simply, fit to the Patient. Then we'll get our groove back.
I understand that Luxottica will divest it's self of retailing (except Sunglass Huts) and concentrate on wholesale. I heard that frames sold online through glasses .com are not discounted. Using skills to customize eyewear will be the key to compete with online or chain retailers...hold on...the ride will get bumpy.
I hear you, and appreciate what you are saying. I've worked most of my career as a sales rep both lab/frame/, owned & operated a case ware co. for many years, and worked as an optician for other Opticians and Ophthalmologists. I have had an interesting career from different sides of the fence so to speak. There is no question that I have always had the "Optician" on my sleeve, and their best interests as mine foremost. I'm wasn't saying that Opticians can't make a difference or have any effect on the evolvement or betterment of the industry in general--Of course I believe that mfrs listen to opticians and what your needs might be, but they listen to the fashion industry more and focus on brand awareness. They want the Consumer to come to you and ask for their product.
Hari, I don't go back as far as you, I entered opticainry school in 1972--right at the time John Lennon captivated the youth and the "wire frame" revolution began, which boosted this industry like it had never seen. This phenomenon changed the industry from purely medical to a fashion industry. I learned hands on eyeglass frame adjusting which was appreciated by most patients and I get exactly what you profess and support your ideals. Those days are gone from this industry and you can still practice Opticianry with the precept that the eyeglasses are a medical prosthesis which they are, but the fashion aspect for most patients is paramount and more on their mind. The younger generation will never appreciate in general quality Opticianry as much as our generation did or does.
I'm sorry if I'm coming across as pessimistic, and admire those that resist change when change isn't for the better. With business, sometimes we have to adapt to survive if we haven't the power to stop the forces of change. I'm only trying to be objective. I'm glad we still have Opticians like you that care about what's right.
My 'six sense'.
I remain an optimist. I predict that the online merchants will remain viable for those Consumers who care more about price and do not care about or need custom fitted prescription eyewear service. But for those Patients who do care and require long term wearability and visual comfort of prescription eyewear, those of us Opticians who care about them must insist on and participate in the training of competent practitioners to serve them. My view is that we have entered a different era/epoch on planet Earth whereby enlightened Service trumps profane dollars.
With regard to the acceptance of latter day technology in the optical industry, if you will recall, Opticianry is ultimately defined by how well the eyewear fits the Patient. So, the real issue for Opticians and Consumers to consider, is not whether prescription eyewear can be purchased in stores or online. The real issue is the current deficiency in the delivery of eyewear due to the absence of the craftsmanship and skills required to dispense form-fitting eyewear to the Consumer. The answer is: hands-on training, hands-on training, hands-on training. It's time for those Opticians who know to teach those who do not know. And it is time for any Opticians who do not know to surrender their egos. See ToServeIsToSucceed.com. Also see Letter to ECPsand ServingVersusSelling.com.
I also adhere to the adage, what goes around comes around. Service has declined over the last few decades, but the demand for competent Service is returning with great vigor. Enlightened Consumers are seeking those who can serve them with compassion and care. This is the segment of the market on which we professionals should be concentrating. Let the unskilled merchants take care of their market, the reader/cheater and one-size-fits-all sun wear folks, but let us take care of our market segment with excellence. Let our valued vibrations bleed into theirs. Consumers in general recognize value when they see it. We have to show up and make sure the value is there and that it's genuine. In a word, we must concentrate on Craftsmanship. I challenge those Opticians who get it to step up and teach their skills just as I am, going forward. Time is short for those of us in our 60s and 70s. I refer you now to words of wisdom from my teacher,
"If you want to learn something, read about it.
If you want to understand something, write about it.
If you want to master something, teach it." -- Yogi Bhajan
Those of you who are with me, please join with me in meeting this challenge. You know how to reach me. LinkedIn.com.
I love the conversations and I agree with most of it. Online can be much more about marketing your skills and your business and less about selling frames over the internet. As an eyewear manufacturing consultant, I am shocked at the prices I am seeing both online and in store...this morning's newspaper had an ad for exam and single vision frames for $25.00! There is obviously more to this discussion and the future of Independents than just the online selling trend.
There are those professionals (huh?) that do our industry a distinct disservice by cheapening things to a ridiculous extent. Business plans here would not allow an optometrist (no matter what extreme volume of patients) to run a successful business at anything less than $85 an exam (a proper exam - one that a patient deserves). Even Walmart and others knows that there is a perceived value and good level of patient care to be had in a medical eye exam.
My 'six sense'. I have to harken back to my oft repeated premise that the salvation of Independents is in the resurrection-teaching of Craftsmanship, which unfortunately I do not see reflected in many of the previous comments. Do you honestly think that any of these eyeglass merchants could offer such prices in-store or online if they were employing Opticians with the healthcare mind set and the dispensing skill set of genuine Eyewear Professionals?
You are correct, Hari. An online vendor isn't a dispenser--he's a shipper. This is troublesome for me as well. What does this do for the integrity of licensing? An unlicensed Ophthalmic Assistant cannot dispense without a licensed Optician or eye doctor on the premises in most states, albeit difficult to monitor...yet prescription eyeglasses are 'dispensed' online, "pre-adjusted"? Pre-adjusted to or by whom? Does it really make much difference who...whether the eyeglasses are shipped by a licensed Optician (making it OK, right?) or an Electrician?
I spoke earlier of being progressive in marketing and smart with Patient handling; and by all means utilizing physical dispensing skills and knowledge, like Hari, but change is coming. You may not like it, it may not be better. But it's great for "real" Opticians to fight what is not the best for private practices, or the industry, in general, but take care of your Patients and be creative and adapt...demonstrate to your Patients what is the real "value" in eyecare. This is only one of many 'waves' that have smacked Opticians over the past 35-40 years.
There was a time, when Pearle Vision was the only real major national chain. In some areas of the country, wholesale labs were dispensing, even in the 50s. Then Ophthalmologists began entering the dispensing arena in the early 70s. Imagine those Opticians that were being fed by this practice...agony! Opticians themselves began to create mini-chains, then Lenscrafters. It's a jungle out there and always has been.
I'll leave this topic with what I think is the most important thing that any of you can do to cultivate a growing business...develop a great enthusiastic, yet professional personality. Nothing will generate more return business that. When I was an on-the-road sales rep for many years, I noticed that the practices that had a 'Captain of the ship' with a wonderful personality, his or her employees pretty much matched and exuded the same attitude...those were the larger or more successful practices. When I found the contrary, you guessed it...a less popular practice, along with less business.
I don't have all the answers. I am just expressing my opinion for what it's worth, and nothing more. I've been in the construction industry for the past 12 years and I am now semi-retired. I will always value my optical career and identify with the industry where I spent the majority of my career.
Here's a note from an online acquaintance and long-suffering prescription eyewear Consumer with whom I share these narratives.
Thanks, Hari. I just read through your page and also noticed the photo of my short temple on your web site. Nice!
I am still in pursuit of a frame that will fit me properly. As long as I have my old pair, I am taking my time. I have met a few Opticians here that talk a good game but their ability to adjust the frames falls short.
Comments keep coming.
Because Opticianry, especially individual opticians that own their own stores, is a dying category up here in Canada, and no one has fought to try and keep a meaningful and updated course and license in place, it has been left to Optometrists to hire people outside of optical to manage their dispensaries. While many realize the importance of a qualified Optician, especially one with good experience, and are willing to hire them and pay them accordingly, I am afraid the general move is to hire staff at as little cost as possible, help them become "Optometric Assistants" and rely on them to carry out everything post-eye exam. Don't get me wrong, some of these people turn out to be extraordinarily capable, but many are only putting in the time and effort their pay scale demands.
Thus we lean heavily on the optometric community to uphold a certain level of proficiency which may hopefully reach the expectations of Hari (Ha!). We are now asking them to determine the levels of skill in many different areas regarding dispensing. Some will hire a warm body and allow them to operate in selling finished eyewear "as long as the optometric license is on the premises". Fortunately, some doctor buying groups up here have taken upon themselves to provide training venues to upgrade their personnel to greater levels of proficiency - realizing the important role these people will play in ensuring the successful future of the Independent Eyewear Provider. They obviously realize the value of having such trained folks on staff, hopefully they will also realize the importance by way of proper pay cheques. "You only get what you pay for".
How sad it is that people supposedly in charge of this important profession called "Opticianry" have not only dropped the baton, but have defaulted to others to take on the role of teaching and growing future generations of people that Hari so adequately describes.
Most times the Opticianry schools here are full of students who have been sponsored monetarily by big box enterprizes who need licenses on site. Mediocre and archaic methods churning out so called "trained" warm bodies that have to contract with their sponsors to work for them for X number of years.
These are the people above, whom we are hoping will wage war against the on-line phenomenon.
You bring up a point all too familiar in our USA as well. I know there are some differences in our healthcare systems and perhaps mind sets within the optical industry, but we've seen a similar trend. When and where to draw a line between being a doctor and business person, ehh? Well economics unfortunately won in areas that they shouldn't have for the long range benefit for the industry. I've worked in all facets of the optical industry since 1972. The real tragedy that the optical industry has suffered for the lack of respect within the three optical professions for one another. Had all three, Ophthalmology, Optometry, and Opticianry supported one another politically and professionally, the private sector of retail optical would be flourishing much more today and more importantly, with more quality dispensaries and less commercial optical. There will always be that sector, and that is good as long as they maintain quality control. The ratio is now unbalanced, beyond control.
If you sit down with a young Ophthalmology Resident for lunch, today, and discuss Optometry, you'll probably not hear any condescending remarks. However, if you sat down 35-40 years ago, as I did, Optometry was a scourge to be dealt with! The Opticians of that era were pals of Ophthalmology because that was who fed them. My point is that students reflect their professors - right or wrong. Optometry in the 70s didn't want to see Opticians get licensed. They felt threatened. One, this could adversely effect their unlicensed dispensers. Two, the associated cost of having to hire more expensive licensed-certified Opticians.
To further set back the Independent Optician, a few progressive Ophthalmologists in the early 70s began including optical dispensaries within their practices, (temporarily to help pay off their medical residency training costs). Did I say temporarily? Hmmm, must be nice owning a specialized pharmacy on the side. The mold was set. More graduates followed the pattern, but fortunately not all, else there would have been little future for Independent Opticianry.
In a nutshell, insecurity, distrust, greed, and lack of cooperation by the national, state, and regional associations weakened Optometry and Opticainry, but unfortunately for the Patient-Consumer, created a lack of demand for people like Hari. My hat is tipped to those Opticians that were fortunate enough to find a stable niche within their communities and practice quality Opticianry!
I was trained by a guy like you, Hari, at the U of M Opticianry school when only two students a year entered the program designed to teach ophthalmic eyewear, contact lens, and eye prosthesis fitting, mostly hands-on.
I left retail Opticianry while I was getting paid decently by an Ophthalmologist in the late 70s to become a road warrior. I was young and wanted to test out the grass on the other side of the fence. And did for many years! I worked for the old White-Haines Optical Laboratory, then Avante Garde, later Luxottica Int., where I enjoyed selling their products, only to later encounter the Lenscrafter ownership concerns of Independents. I came to understood both sides of the fence, and precariously walked a tight rope while providing for my family. At 47 years old, I was ready for a change, so I entered the Construction Industry. Wouldn't have had I had a crystal ball showing how the economy was headed for a skid in 2004-05. It's been a roller-coaster ride to say the least. Good luck, Opticians.
As an Optician for over 27 years, I have seen great disservice done to our industry by the industry itself. Too many times I witnessed practitioners try to save a couple dollars by hiring just about anybody to staff their dispensaries. They placed little to no value on the abilities of experienced and trained professional Opticians. Today's "McTicians" have little to no problem-solving skills based on experience, and zip/nada/zero knowledge of the optical goods they are fitting. Seems rather silly to provide "top quality" eye care in the chair, and far less than "top quality" eye care in the dispensary. I guess the old saying is true, "you get what you pay for."
By the time I left the dispensary almost two years ago, I didn't even bother to learn the frame/lab rep's name, because there was a great chance that a new one would be in to see us before too long. Our industry has changed along with almost every other industry.
The private practice OD/MD needs to keep a clear view as to who they are and what they offer to their patients. Attempting to be all things to all people will more than likely backfire and waste precious time, energy and money. Expertise, quality, loyalty, consistency, latest technology in equipment and eyewear/lenses, will keep our valued industry relevant.
Remember digital watches... not many out there any more... :) I agree 100%, Mr. Bird... hands on training! You have a great website!
My 'six sense'.
Let me restate my challenge to all genuine Opticians. I challenge you to step up and teach your skills just as I am, going forward. We have entered the Age of Service. Time is short for those of us in our 60s and 70s. Rise to Shine!
"If you want to learn something, read about it.
If you want to understand something, write about it.
If you want to master something, teach it." -- YogiBhajan
Those of you who are with me, please join me in meeting this challenge. You know how to reach me at LinkedIn.com.
Hari Singh, thank you for sharing your views and your websites. I have been an Optician since 1982 and relate to what you are saying. The business has changed because of eyeglass merchants and if we are to be viewed as professionals we must act and differentiate ourselves as Opticians and mentor those who wish to do the same. Regards.
Thank you Hari for your website listings and your challenge, as an Optician I am an educator and I applaud you!
I spent many years in the Optical industry (wholesale frame side) and still follow the industry today. I'm not sure there is too much to fear from online retailers.
The reality is that they really focus on the single vision market (operationally and logistically viable) and in reality most are driving a price conscious Consumer who will never really generate significant margins. Online retailers will have to rely on volume and hope (again, I say hope) that the long term value of the customer they acquired will be a Consumer that will be converted to higher margin products as they mature.
The biggest issue for most U.S. Independents is simple. They are horrible "retailers". This is not meant as a disrespectful statement, but rather as an objective observation.
When true retailers (e.g., major department stores) bring in products, they use a pricing strategy to make their margins in a short period of time. Once the product is still on the shelves past 3-6 months, they typically start discounting to make the product more attractive to Consumers. Why? Because it's all about cash flow and being able to pull in new more exciting products once the previous inventory has passed it's prime for selling.
How many of you still have frames on your boards that are beyond 2 years old? Do you really think great retailers (e.g., Macy's, Neiman's, etc.) are still selling styles from 2 years ago? Just like the major retailers, you need to discount and move those styles out. Don't be afraid to accept less margin, the cost of carrying the product over time will far outweigh the discounted margin.
Instead you rely on the major wholesaler's (like the one that just purchased glasses.com) to floor plan your inventory with terms and exchange policies. You are paying extra for these products in the wholesale list price per frame because of these policies. If your credit card was charging you 50% interest, you'd find a way to eliminate that cost, wouldn't you?
Also, don't try to compete with the discount retailers. There is no bottom to bottom.
I agree with Hari's point that there is a level of service and quality delivered by true Opticians. Do not undervalue or undersell it. Carry high quality lines of frames and lens. Rotate your frames frequently and try new things. The Consumer who will buy from the Independent is willing to pay a premium for that perceived value.
But do not be lulled into the thought that great Optician skills alone will bring the customers to your store. Eyeglasses are an intensely personal decision for most people. Once they enter your store, you need to sell them on your products, current fashion, and your service (don't simply be an order taker).
- Sell from the top down, e.g., AR, scratch proofing, etc.
- Discount for multiple pairs (if that closes the sale)
- Know your products and the Features, Advantages, and Benefits (Consumers need to be educated. They are in your shop for your expertise.)
This is just my 2 cents worth.
My 'six sense'.
Well said. However, my concern remains that practical training of latter day Opticians is not only deficient, but remains on the decline. When Patients express surprise, even resistance to an Optician's attempt to apply hands-on assessment and adjustment of their eyewear, we have to know we are literally and figuratively out of touch with the need for adequate, practical hands-on training.
Again, I liken it to getting a dental exam or dental treatment. Does anybody consider it to be inappropriate or unlikely that direct human contact will and must occur? In my earlier days as an Optician touch was expected and/or desired in order to render appropriate service. But in my more recent years I've actually had Patients pull away. Why? They explained they never knew any Optician to find it necessary to fit their eyewear with hands-on.
What a sad and unfortunate state of affairs for Opticianry. While I agree that, "do not be lulled into the thought that great Optician skills alone will bring the customers to your store," it seems to be an endemic deficiency in the training protocol of the now decades-old system, to have Patients be unfamiliar with such a necessary procedure. It indicates to me just how far the profession has declined over the last 50 years and just how far we must go to get our groove back.
To your point, it doesn't really matter what else we have to offer in the way of "products and the Features, Advantages, and Benefits," if we are unable to perform what defines an Optician, i.e., "Opticianry is defined by how well the eyewear fits the Patient."
I'm not so sure that it's entirely the result of "deficient" training. Remember, there has been a tremendous shift in the industry as well as a shift in culture over the past 50 years.I'm sure you remember years ago when frames used to come completely disassembled and you had to assemble them in your shop. They required significantly more adjustment than most frames do today. 50 years ago you expected your Optician to have to make adjustments in order to get your glasses to fit correctly.
I remember working for L'Amy 20 years ago and having one style of a frame available in 3 eye sizes, 4 bridge sizes, 3-4 temple lengths and up to 20 color variations. That simply doesn't exist any more.
Now think about the Apparel industry 20-50 years ago. It used to be common place to get measured/fitted at a retailer. Knowing a good tailor was common place back then, Fast forward to today. If you buy a pair of dress pants at a Kohl's store or a Target you would expect to find a pre-finished waist & length that is for the most part was acceptable.
This is the new Consumer mentality. Throw in political correctness and the sterility of society and you will have customers that pull away. In my mind there is a level of Consumer education that you will have to teach in your shops and perhaps that is what needs to be taught to the upcoming Opticians.
It's all about fashion and custom fit.
My point exactly.
"It's all about fashion and custom fit." These have been surrendered to the Consumer by Opticians. But what does the Consumer know about how to integrate the Rx with fashion and custom fit? Isn't guidance and craftsmanship what they come to us to acquire? Example: I remember having to decline service to Patients who insisted on integrating wrap-around sunwear with a super high-minus Rx.
Here's a thought: "The closer Opticians get to the Patient, i.e., laying skilled hands directly on the Patient, the more professionally Opticians will act in the interest of serving the Patient. Conversely, the further removed Opticians are from point of service, the less likely Opticians are to perform in the Patient's interest."
Opticians must assume responsibility for the current market. Our separation from "point of service" over the last few decades is what has contributed directly to our loss of market share, today. (We can't be anymore separated from point of service than the Internet.) The Consumer did not cause this loss of connection. (Healthcare providers can't be anymore separated from point of service than the Internet.) Opticians abdicated this direct connection, vis-a-vis insufficient practical, hands-on training. Opticians traded away direct personal contact as providers of healthcare service to Patients for marketing merchandise to Customers. Our focus remains more on Selling than it is on Serving. Opticians must regain this lost balance. The future of Opticianry is quite literally and figuratively in the hands of Opticians.
Hari - I would respectfully suggest that the loss in market share (by $ volume) has less to do with the Opticians separation from "point of service" and more to do with a lack of recognition of the shift in the market. Let me explain my statement.
Optical is no longer a closed industry where you "have to go" to an Optical Retailer to get your Rx, your Sunglasses, and your Reading Glasses. There are multiple channels of distribution. Those channels are easier to access and typically are competitive on their pricing. Which means, you as the Independent need to adapt and make the most of every selling opportunity.
I see a comment above in this thread that states that, "second cheap spare pair" will more and more be bought on line. This speaks exactly to the issue that I see. "lack of retailing/salesmanship".
If you've created a customer, there is no reason for them to go to an online retailer for a "cheap spare pair". If the customer is truly looking for cheap (most won't be or they wouldn't be in your shop in the first place) use discounting as a closing technique.
At an average of $225 USD retail for a pair of single vision glasses, offer a second pair at 50% off (not as an advertised sale, but as a closing technique). You increase your revenue by 50% and only stand to lose about 10% on the margin for the sale. Don't let them walk away and make that purchase elsewhere.
By the way, if you didn't ask your customer for the 2nd and 3rd pair sale you have missed an opportunity. Yes, you left money on the table that your customer will now spend acquiring that item from some level of competitor.
Remember, it's now a fashion driven industry. When you buy your wardrobe, do you only buy one pair of shoes? One handbag? One pair of pants?
Ready made readers are another missed opportunity that most Opticians mock because it goes against their "service" offering. You can offer a better quality ready made reader as an add on item and keep your customers out of the drug store buying those readers from you. Why would you miss the revenue opportunity?
Finally, for those independents that open at 9-10am in the morning and close at 5-6pm at night, when do you think your customers would prefer to shop for their eyewear? During the middle of their business day so they have to take time off from work? Make yourselves easily accessible. Be open from 12pm-8pm. Hint - this is one of the reasons Consumers shop online (easy accessibility).
The market has changed and the retail side of the industry needs to adapt.
My 'six sense'. Your points are well taken and I agree in accordance with your perspective. But beyond your stated points, your perspective is exactly what has created the current dehumanized delivery of prescription eyewear, and has more to do frankly with a certain segment of the eyeglass Customer market, which leans more to the one-size-fits-all and ready-made market. I am, on the other hand, concerned with the sizable market of ophthalmic Patients that are prescription eyewear-dependent and who are long-term wearers. And I point to the immutable fact that Opticianry remains defined by how well the eyewear fits the Patient, not by the number of customers served. It's a matter of balance, however. I would qualify your statement, "you as the Independent need to adapt and make the most of every selling opportunity," to say, "you as the Independents need to adapt and make the most of every serving opportunity."
In other words I come at the issue from just the opposite. You're correct, the market has changed, but service is still king. Sales follow service. To some it may sound corny and altruistic, but it is a constant. Opticianry has nothing to lose and everything to gain by providing better care, craftsmanship and service to our healthcare seeking Consumers.
You come from a mercantile-apparel perspective. I come from a healthcare-medical perspective. Nothing wrong with either. It's a polarity of views. But the current market emphasis is out of balance with regard to serving prescription eyecare Patients with handcrafted form-fitting craftsmanship. Just ask the Patients, who contact me as to where they can acquire same, including those who have tried the Internet.
All things in moderation.
I don't disagree with what you are saying re the marketing of fashion theoretically and even practically for the most part. But what you are stating, and seemingly from a "progressive" stance isn't anything different than what we Opticians were taught 35 years ago from both continuing education and through our vendor's reps, etc. Do you realize it's been nearly forty years since "Diane Von Furstenburg" frames were introduced as a "Designer frame line? "Tura," will always have the title as the first company to promote fashion within our industry, but the "Designers" are primarily what introduced "changing fashion" for eyewear.
Many Optical retailers, private and commercial have grasped and have seriously changed how they approach the selling and merchandising of ophthalmic eyewear. There are so many differences with optical dispensaries depending from their practice demographics, their proximity to their eye doctor's on which they may be dependent for Rx's, and other variables. An Optician with a "shingle" in a strip mall had better be more advertising oriented than the Optician across the hall from an Ophthalmologist. But realistically, small Opticianry practices can only do so much without serious advertising budgets.
Some Opticians have "built" their practices with different foundations or precepts--and their patient group will reflect some of those differences as well. What Hari is professing, is that universal, professional/knowledgeable hands-on dispensing should be part of "any" professional ophthalmic dispensing practice. Becoming a "fashion retailer" is paramount within some practices and less in others for reasons already explained. Any costs for advertising/marketing should be budgeted--which means, that if those costs incurred do not work, a business man or professional need to be able to "afford" to lose that investment. Having said this, I applaud the Optician that can generate business success through effective marketing, etc.
There is no one answer for success given so many different optical venues, but in my mind, Opticianry desperately needs to keep the integrity of keeping Opticianry a medical field product professionally, to keep the small Opticianry practice having viability. Of course the fashion element is extremely important for keeping abreast with competition and satisfying the Consumers that want fashion--but if I'm an Optician, and surely was for some years, I want to convey to my patients/customers that I'm going to offer them BOTH -- but those eyeglasses need to "fit, and accommodate his/her Rx functionally as well as for fashion. I will offer them professional fitting and servicing. I have said "no" to patients that wanted something that would only give us both grief down the road.
Concluding, I agree with both you and Hari, but I feel that you have to wear a few different hats in Opticianry, which is pretty cool when you think about it; and you also have to know/understand your specific market / demographic location / doctor feeder etc. Importantly, as with any business, a budget for marketing, (if marketing is needed) and prudent choices for development and employing that marketing.
I will also reiterate as I said in an earlier post--changes are again coming--be progressive and communicate with your "Patients/Consumers" through personal, website updates, and mail/e-mail with them. I can't underestimate how important just having wonderful, positive personalities within your practice will instill loyalty with many--that may be the most important thing you can do.
I had (and still do - I'll explain) an Optician in a small city in Alberta, whose ability to woo, charm and otherwise bedazzle any woman who walked in the store into buying one and most often two pairs of glasses. His ability to deal with customers and to carry a matching inventory he knew so well was amazing. I talked about him for years as being the pinnacle of what a dispensing salesman/Optician needed to be. Not only did he build a clientele that trusted and shopped his outlet, but he became known as a destination for the latest and greatest. He did not carry many "brands". He is a darn good Optician as well - approaching the Hari standard.
He made the mistake of starting sight testing, and put himself in the dark room with his equipment and donned a white coat. I suspect feeling that he was now closer to being the Optometrist down the street.
A chain in Calgary did the same thing, taking their managers off the floor and getting them to run sight testing equipment. They no longer exist for this and other reasons.
What happened was profits dropped in both cases. The reason to shop was gone, their best sales people were now elsewhere.
Regarding inventory. This brand factor is very much a myth. Only some 15% of people are brand addicted. Ask any 10 women on the street what brand their glasses are, and 9 out of 10 have to take them off so you can read what they are!
Factors for buying (for ladies who buy most glasses) are: 1. The exciting and knowledgeable dispenser, 2. Whether they look good in something or not (bring a valued friend when shopping eyewear) and 3. Whether they feel they received top value for their purchase - an important part of this being the services that Hari is describing.
So finally, how do you advertise this amazing experience of eyewear purchase to the world? Apart from the old adage that people will tell 4 others if they had a good experience, and 10 others if it were a bad one, what other technique can you use to get people in your store other than referrals???
My 'six sense'.
Here's some interesting feedback from an Eyewear Consumer who found or was otherwise turned onto this thread.
That previous comment about the "shift in the market" echoes what is going on in marketing classrooms and throughout corporate America. Marketers generally all say the same thing and say it with such exuberance, like they came up with the idea. I have been in Marketing for 20 years and the one thing that marketers have in common is that they like to hear themselves talk and are all a bunch of 'yes' men (and women). It's amazing to watch such non-creativity prosper. However, I do agree with the author's comment about keeping store hours that are more convenient for the shopper but then if the shop has nothing to offer it won't change much.
These marketers keep trying to improve their margin by asking the manufacturers to sharpen their pencils and every time those pencils get sharpened the products get cheaper, not only in price but in quality and with fewer options. Manufacturers aren't stupid and neither are Consumers but then one has to wonder how much abuse the shopper will tolerate before they demand better quality and better treatment. They can't stop buying glasses because nothing would get done and let's not even think about type-ohs. :-)
Walking into an optical shop today is much the same as walking into a car dealership. It's all about buttering up the customer and making the sale quickly so the salesperson can move on to the next selling opportunity. Actually, such tactics seem to work for the easy to fit person with an average size head. Unfortunately, the person that does not fit into the majority of frames with a 20-23 mm bridge and 130-145 mm temples is left in the cold.
Perhaps i can bring a different perspective-We are working with several online eye wear retailers that are experiencing very fast growth. We just finished building this site:
I think there will be an ever growing shift towards online sales in this space. Warby Parker, mostly a pure play, is only four years old and is hitting 4 Million in sales this year...
Luxottica wanted to ensure that they are able to further grow online sales and understands this growing trend...
My 'six sense'. Spoken like a true merchant, which I do respect.
But, how about these perspectives? Who/What/Where/When/How is the online-acquired eyewear going to get form-fitted to the Consumers required comfort level? Who's going to check the accuracy of the Rx, including placement of the optical centers, distance and near? Who's going to cover the wide-ranging and various fitting protocols such as: Who's going to form-fit the temples to fit the mastoid complex? Who's going to custom fit the nose pads to the patient's satisfaction? Who's going to modify the x, y, z planes if necessary to insure visual comfort? What online merchant is going to explain to their customer that they'll be required to pay any extra fees to have this craftsmanship applied? Who's going to cover for the cost and inconvenience of having to return the online specs for a corrected doctor's Rx and/or lab's error? What Optician is going to cover the replacement cost of any online spec that are damaged as a result of attempting patient-requested changes or adjustments? What Optician is going to cover any post-purchase services free of charge? (Note: Fees can vary widely, however most Opticians provide many of these services at no charge to their in-house patients for life.) Who is going to provide temporary specs when the errant specs must be returned to their online source for replacement? Who is going to cover the medical expenses, pain and suffering, and inconvenience due to any inadequate patient instructions, inadequate I & R supervision, and-or eye infection induced by defective and-or over-worn contact lenses? Have you considered any of these issues?
The above commentator’s perspective, on the other hand, is narrowly focused on sales growth and revenues, all of which puts the Consumer at risk in terms of visual comfort, long-term wear ability, and additional expense. All of which makes for the numerous points I and other Opticians have posited previously, i.e., Opticians focus on serving Patients in need of health and vision care. Online merchants focus on Customers in need of apparel and merchandise. These are two distinct markets served under different paradigms, a polarity of concepts. Opticians, however, can truly serve both markets, adequatley. Online merchants can only serve one market, only partially. Where would you rather purchase your next eyewear?
I'm not sure Sales Revenue is the measure of Warby Parker's success. They are backed by deep investment money.
I do agree that there is market shift towards online in the single vision category. However, to the point that Hari made above, as the Rx get's more complex and the fitting gets more complex, online won't be viable. That will require a skilled optician.
This also begs the question of long term profitability for online. Pure discounter's in the space will not be viable long term.
Warby-Parker is a lot more than $4 million in sales -- more like $40 million and growing. And, Warby-Parker is not the only fast growth on-line retailer by a long shot. I am on the Board of Directors of a UK on-line business selling over 500 Rx eyeglasses on line every day. There are VERY few fit or other problems with the (largely) SV customers who purchase on-line. The fact of the matter is that fit is not a problem with the vast majority of these customers, no matter what traditional dispensers like to think. Why do they buy at Warby-Parker and others? The answer is value for money. The vast majority of eyewear buyers believe they are overcharged by most bricks and mortar optometrists and opticians. They save a lot of money on line and are happy with what they buy. Research shows huge satisfaction. Just look up Glasses Direct on the UK Trust Pilot web site. Talking amongst ourselves about fit, PD's, etc. gets us nowhere.
The fact of the matter is that our industry is changing and will continue to do so. We need to change with this natural evolution. The difficult aspect of this change is that traditional practice is fading away and will eventually be almost extinct. We still have a (very expensive) traditional butcher in my village in England, but he barely hangs on -- out of sheer audacity. The same thing is happing to traditional dispensing. A few will survive, but not many. What do you do about this if you are not near retirement? You have to go to work for a chain (not all bad) or change careers. Moaning and groaning amongst ourselves will not get us very far.
My 'six sense'. I agree with this comment, i.e., "Moaning and groaning amongst ourselves will not get us very far."
Opticians and Optometrists created the online behemoths just like the Big 3 auto makers created the market for the foreign car makers. It all gets down to the overpriced, unskilled, and shoddy service rendered to Consumers for decades.
See http://www.consumeraffairs.com/eyeglasses/lenscrafters.html for just one example.
Instead of providing skilled services with a justifiable markup, Opticians and Optometrists kept the markup inflated and eliminated the hands-on services. We now have to pay the piper.
Again, "Opticians traded away direct personal contact as providers of healthcare service to Patients for marketing merchandise to customers. Our focus remains more on Selling than it is on Serving. Opticians must regain this lost balance. The future of Opticianry is quite literally and figuratively in the hands of Opticians."
As indicated earlier, those dispensers who have not focused on craftsmanship and added value will pass away leaving the market to those of us who are true healthcare providers. This is a good thing. Survival of the service-able.
Flash-moments of success in business occur often. From the New York Times, "Anyone buying bifocals or progressives would be doomed for disappointment. There are too many variables that you have to get right. For anyone wanting nonprescription sunglasses, there is little reason not to buy online if that’s where the lowest prices are. People wanting single-vision lenses run less risk buying online. The risk is money misspent.”
In spite of the apparent success of major online merchants, it's too early to say Opticianry is done. I remain optimistic. Much depends on what Opticians do to again offer the craftsmanship and caring service at a reasonable price that once was our signature offering. "Moaning and groaning amongst ourselves will not get us very far." Let's get to training. It's Time for Craftsmanship.
True story... A valued, long standing high Rx patient fell for the lure of the online experience. Her outcome... the O.C's were 25 mm too low, the bridge didn't even touch her nose because of the B measurement was far too deep and the KEY HOLE bridge was impossible for her tiny little narrow, short nose. Her lenses were so thick because of the lack of the 1.74 material and the huge 53 eye size. This patient was educated (Nurse), financially successful and LOVED her glasses she always purchased from us. In fact, after her double mastectomy we created a stunning pair of "art glasses" and gave them to her as a get well present. But the lure was great and she fell for it. With great embarrassment she brought in her online purchase and asked if there was anything we could do to adjust them to make them fit better. She couldn't see out of them at all and didn't dare drive in them. We assured her that there was nothing we could do to "heal" them and encouraged her to investigate returning them.
But, they only cost $79. :)
I think, if nothing else was learned from this discussion, there are those that believe a high level of service and professionalism is the key to their success via custom fitting etc. as apposed to the online purchase which is a price driven self service lower margin sale. If I was an independent and was interested in staying in business rather than going to work for a chain, I would be tempted to offer both levels of service rather than try to educate the world to the potential hazards of buying eyewear over the internet. The psychology for this is... "I am not closed to the idea of selling you what you want, I just don't recommend it"
Eventually everyone needs to have an exam and that is when you are able to provide a level of service that the online retailer cannot to a customer who may have already done business with via your website.
Maybe when eye exams are available online a different song will be sung. Never say never! :(
On line eye exams are almost here.
Take a look at this link: http://techcrunch.com/2014/02/25/do-i-need-glasses/
What these people claim to be able to do is theoretically possible using red/green color separation via (probably) fine parallel lines of red and green. Perhaps they really have figured out how to make it work. Note a very important point in the article: Rx/eye exam verification by an ophthalmologist, not an optometrist. This totally removes the eye exam from optometric regulation. When (not if) on-line eye exams are with us, will ophthalmology see this as an opportunity to take eye exam business from optometrists? This could be a huge power shift -- and perfectly feasible. I do not see how organized optometry could stop this sort of sea change.
My 'six sense'.
I agree with, never say never. However, I do not see Consumers rejecting personalized, handcrafted eyewear en masse. The problem is that most Consumers have not experienced such service for decades to the point that they do not know it ever existed. The industry's drift away from fitting eyewear directly on the Patient has been the status quo for so long that Consumers register shock and awe in some cases when a master Optician attempts to customize their eyewear, speaking from personal experience. Again, the adequate training of Opticians in the art and craft of fitting handcrafted, form-fitting eyewear is the answer. Just look around. Those Dispensers who will not or cannot perform at this level are passing away. The purge has begun.
I know, I did not want to get into all the other technology that is going to change the entire industry... 3D printing frames, heck you can be identified via facial recognition software which means the exact geometry of your head could be used to do frame adjusting prior to shipping from your online retailer. Most are not ready to hear about what is coming our way.
Re original post, yes this is a typo, Warby Parker is on track to reach $50 Million in revenue in 2014. The company is only 4 years old... i completely agree with this approach. From what I am seeing many traditional Opticians in the brick and mortar world understand that they must have a strong online strategy and do not want to be left our in the cold as online sales continue to grow. There is no reason not to have a strong in store and online strategy that compliment each other...
I do not see this as being a only online or only in store decision.
Hari, you are bringing up very valuable points, this strengthens the dual strategy approach. However technology, specifically augmented reality that we are currently integrating and expanding on is solving many of the challenges you presented. Virtual try-ons are one example of advancement in this direction...
My 'six sense'. The need/desire for a personal, human connection is in our genes. It's our sense of longing to belong. It's what makes us all humans. What is being advanced is a continuation of the dehumanized process, which is the evolving and debilitating issue the industry has been facing for decades. However, I am a patient person, albeit in my 70's, so I may not live to see the turn around, but I see it coming. The high shall become low and the low shall become high. Consumers are going to demand smaller, more local sources of personal services, service with feeling. I predict transparency, inclusion, compassion, and service will reign. See The Humanization of the American Economy.
Where any good Optician excels at is the dispensing of an ophthalmic prosthesis. I agree, Hari, that this is the foremost thing we need to accomplish, but one concept I have found missing is why and how it works. We deal with the physics of light; we should have an intimate knowledge of that. We should have a strong understanding of the anatomy and neurology behind vision. Annetta makes a valid point in that there should be copious amounts of hands on practice throughout school. Yes you can teach anything through an apprenticeship program, but society does not accept that as the case any longer.
My point is this, we are the gate keepers of the optical world. We are the first person anyone sees coming in and the last when they go out. A Patient will come to us before they see anyone else with virtually every vision problem. I have referred people that have complained of a detached retina, a denuded cornea, corneal ulcers. We must be able to recognize these situations, as well as making eyeglasses for Patients. There must be a consistent knowledge base throughout the profession.
There would be major resistance to such a shift, but it must start somewhere, so why not with us?
My 'six sense'. First, Opticians can use all the book, lecture, seminar, and-or virtual training they can get. However, this training in many ways so redundant today, to the point of boredom. Second, Opticians need to push more for the hands-on training skills that cannot be acquired by way of books, lectures, seminars, or online. Third, you mention the term apprenticeship program, which as you indicate is perhaps an outdated expression. It harkens back to a term widely expressed in previous centuries. I prefer to use the term 'residency program'. Opticians need to serve a sufficient period of residency during which they practice fitting handcrafted eyewear directly on Patients just as MD's, Dentists and other healthcare specialists are required to practice their specialties in a clinical setting before licensure. Fourth, the current Apprentice requirements are too vague or non-existent with regard to this essential training. Most Opticians today are required to get little or no real-world frame-fitting experience before serving Consumers. This is the single most important change the industry could make in order for Opticians to regain their rightful place among other Ophthalmic Healthcare Providers.
Essilor is now the world's largest seller of Rx eyeglasses on line. Take a look at this link:
Essilor already owns 100% of EyeBuyDirect.com and FramesDirect.com. The takeover of Costal.com now makes Essilor the world's number one seller of Rx eyeglasses on line, with sales of just under $100 million per year for glasses alone (not counting sunglasses nor contact lenses).
Now Essilor and Luxottica will be going head to head for the on-line business. We are sure to see a lot of marketing and a lot of on line growth.
I agree that most online sales will probably be in the nature of cheap 2nd pair or backup glasses. Over a decade ago the clothing industry started shifting their business model to allow for a significant increase in online sales. The most recent figure released (2012) stated a grand total of 9% of all clothing sales are done online. Most customers prefer to actually touch/try-on before they purchase. With the customization and craftsmanship (thanks, Hari) required to make a quality pair of eyeglasses, I would not give up on the brick and mortar dispensaries just yet.
My 'six sense'. Don't forget, prescription eyewear is a medical device (ask any MD), which makes it part of the healthcare market, which is much bigger than all the online eyeglass merchants put together, and will remain so. Now, we have all the comfort-driven, baby-boomers entering their retirement years, many of whom are eyewear dependent on long-term wear, form-fitting, eyewear.
I remain convinced that this industry suffers an identity crisis of huge proportions. Genuine Opticians can identify well. Due to their expertise, they know what to do and how to relate to superficial change, but those who are unskilled and-or unenlightened do not have a clue as to who they are within this market due to their conflicted identity between medical-healthcare and eye apparel-mercantile, therefore, they know not what to do nor how to relate to change. My advice to all parties: let it all play out. We've seen many flashy players of many sizes, shapes and durations come and go. What remains are those players who are genuine, and serve real value, service and comfort. BTW: People-connected services, i.e., services offering real connectivity with people, not virtual services, are on the ascendency. Virtual services will perpetually rise, and then fall. See IfYouKnowWhoYouAre.com, and stay tuned.
I agree with you Hari, concerning your last recent post to a degree, but completely, concerning "online purchasing" perpetually rising then falling. Here's why. Yes many commercial optical/ wholesale optical suppliers have risen and fallen, but primarily due to either not being competitive, not servicing well enough, and not adapting or being progressive within their market place. "Online purchasing of eyewear, which I personally feel is a horrible concept and shouldn't even be legal, with the exception of reading glasses or "maybe" with the condition that the product would be shipped to the professional of their choice--(which would pretty much kill the whole idea, (yea). Anyway, Online purchasing is a "method" of our technology revolution--there will be some companies do well others fail just as they do in any market place.
Being a "baby-boomer," there is no question that my generation has grown up with the more medical oriented optical experience, and will not want to change how they purchase prescription eyewear. Some may of course, if they think they can save money and are not as financially secure--which many baby-boomers are realizing that their retirement funds probably won't be enough--another subject however, but could be relevant.
The purchasing age group segment between 25-45 yrs. are definitely more apt to follow the technology revolution; they also are the parents of the youth in our country and have more influence upon them. You Hari are probably in very good shape when it comes to having your patient/customer group in place as you have cultivated and educated those people to appreciate what, why, and how you differ from their alternatives--smart! It's a little late for those Opticians who have, like you mentioned in a previous post, try to be "Omni-Optical" and compete with those they effectively can not and somehow never develop the loyal following to give them more security. Even good Opticians fail if they're not savy business people, as do some doctors. Sometimes "bad luck" can fall upon you as well when adverse circumstances present themselves that are too severe to overcome with a business location perhaps.
Online purchasing wouldn't have ever happened if the three "O's" and their national & state associations "collectively" demonstrated that this medical product should only be delivered by a professional optical dispensary with the appropriate licensed professionals responsible. -- Because it is the right thing to do.
Back to the topic, I'm afraid our generation will be in rocking chairs Hari, and there won't be Opticians like you who will care enough to go back to a better way of Opticianry. I hope I'm wrong! I just don't see enough of the younger generation having the values to want to make a difference. Think about this; young people think "nothing" of spending a dollar on a bottle of water--to them the value seems normal, to us it seems convenient, but a horrible value.
My 'six sense'. Good points, all. But think about this fact. The younger crowd you refer to are not yet presbyopic and won't be for awhile. They will remain 'invincible' just as the baby boomer generation until they reach their 40s. And then think about this. The Generation Ys, Generation Xs, Millennials, et. al., already exhibit an even greater propensity for creature comforts and gadgets than their parents, regardless of the price. I see this reality to the advantage of Master Opticians. These 'kids' will in turn think nothing of spending big bucks for their customized, well-fitting eyewear and long-term visual comfort as aging presbyopes just as they now spend a dollar for a bottle of water. Stand by! What goes around comes around. The real answer for our profession remains in insisting that latter day Opticians acquire what used to be considered adequate training in what I call hands on the Patient, handcrafted, form-fitting eyewear 50 years ago. Now, it must be referred to as 'advanced' training.
For my part, I am, as I've previously indicated, teaching clinical-style, hands-on workshops in this art and craft, and I encourage every surviving, old-school Optician to do the same. If you don't and you let my generation pass, you will have to kiss this wonderful profession goodbye. Stay tuned and keep up.
Hari, you brought up a very good point when you said, "The younger crowd you refer to are not yet presbyopic and won't be for awhile. They will remain 'invincible' just as the baby boomer generation until they reach their 40s. And then think about this. The Generation Ys, Generation Xs, Millennials, et. al., already exhibit an even greater propensity for creature comforts and gadgets than their parents, regardless of the price."
My guess is that when that magic moment happens, some marketing genius will come up with "Hands on Opticianry" as if he or she invented it and will probably make a lot of money by opening up a chain of custom eyewear shops. History repeats itself but many newcomers don't realize it. Then again, who cares as long as the problem gets fixed. --
Independent Opticians vs
Optical Insurance and Online Providers
My 'six sense' regarding recent comments on an associated, LinkedIn blog re the looming threat to the optical industry by emerging Internet eyewear dispensers and medical insurance providers follows.
"It's time for independents to have the kahunas to finally organize themselves in order to challenge eyewear and medical insurance monopolies. It's time to stop discussing the issues sans meaningful action, and act on behalf of consumers and our profession. If Opticians push back, making it 'our game', there are no ways unskilled dispensers and medical insurance behemoths can get away with their monopolistic practices. See 1plus1equals11.com.
Think about it. If a critical mass of point-of-service skilled, value-adding Opticians push back in concert, unskilled dispensing and medical insurance monopolies must change course. 'Value-adding' means adhering to the following axiom.
Eyewear consumers need and deserve the following:
a) Optician-assisted, in-depth lifestyle interview;
b) Optician-assisted, design and selection;
c) Handcrafted, form-fitting eyewear;
d) Free lifetime adjustments and minor repair services, none of which are available online.
Of course resurrecting this basic standard of care anytime in the foreseeable future requires time. But now is the time to begin.
Think about it. Without access to skilled Eyewear Professionals, what can unskilled eyewear merchants and medical insurance monopolies do?
Many independents feel insecure and vulnerable. Why? Because of insufficient training and experience, and their subsequent lack of self-confidence. It's because of our declining skill as Eyewear Professionals and subsequent inability to dispense value added service over the last 4-5 decades (How many latter day Opticians know how to adequately handcraft and custom fit eyewear?) and the fractious history of our profession that we are facing today's challenges. "Divided we stand, united we fall."
Let’s man up now. Let's take back our unique hands-on the consumer craft. (Speaking of our craft, whatever happened to craftsmanship? See TimeForCraftsmanship.com.)
Finally, think about this. "Capitalism practiced in this the Age of Aquarius is hopelessly flawed. Today's capitalists have it all backwards. The new paradigm: Serve consumers and profit will follow, i.e., service trumps the dollar. Those who fail to put serving consumers first will become irrelevant." See ToServeIsToSucceed.com.
BTW: Are you serving the eyewear consumer with what they need and deserve? See Shift Happens. --
AMEN! We sit around and have meetings how we can get them to like us or work with us! They ARE NOT and NEVER WILL do anything unless independents do something. This includes the Optometrists.
We cannot serve two masters. We must decide what direction we want to go in and begin to put one foot in front of the other toward that goal because if we don't we won't even have the relevancy to even have a place at the table. The time... Is NOW!
I agree with your thoughts expressed above. However, the crux of the situation at hand has been evolving for so long, at least since I have been in the industry...in a nutshell--deregulation. This is a regulatory issue.
Over the years I have worked and watched and tried to discuss and tried to help stop the degeneration of our practice and the looming threat of deregulation. The internet has none (regulation). We have some--but not enough. Corporate powers/retail powers that be think they will save money, and thus make more, if they are not required to hire 'licensed' opticians. They've pushed the envelope so many times and paid the legal fees when they have 'oop-sied'--not had a license on duty--that they are completely divested of the idea that licensure and certification is important.
They have more money, more lawyers, more political sway. I have watched them try to sunset our licensure, piggybacking a bill in the legislature, on-the-fly, on more than one occasion in Tennessee and in Florida, as it is a State legal issue rather than a Federal one. Me and another peer attempted to bring just this discourse to the table at an association meeting back in 1992 and were met with resistance from association leaders because they didn't want 'independents fighting with the opticians that work for chains'. And this is where we are now.
If the public does not see 'value' in what we do for them, then we lose. We, as a professional body, have allowed our profession to be hijacked by corporate powers, dumbing down what we do for the public, to the point that the public is willing to accept product and 'service' off the internet as acceptable. We will change this only-ONLY--if we are able to show them a better value AND regulate our profession across the board. That means, not only enacting legislation but enforcing it. That means, for the corporate offender (NOT the lowly optician working for them) is TRULY the one who must pay for the infraction of non-licensed activity.
We can show them value by being the BEST optician to EVERY consumer. This is what I try to do daily. But the legislative issue is, by far, the hardest nut to crack. Talking to politicians is like talking to vapor. I've done it on more than one occasion and it is exhausting--and you have to do it over and over again. Were we 'guilded'--like in early days--or unionized, we might have a fighting chance. Ideas??
As previously stated, "Divided we stand, united we fall."
It's time to get 'our shift' together. See OpticalShiftHappens.com
Yes, I do believe that we are underappreciated by some doctors, and the public. Neither understand that there is an art and science to what we do, and the complexity of it. Many times I had to do a simple adjustment behind other optical stores that couldn't get the vision to line up, making me think they probably weren't licensed or a sloptician. If the public knew that there was a difference, and that we were a wealth of knowledge in what we do that would make a difference as to how we are viewed.
I've been an optician for 25 years and unfortunately I let my ABO cert go. But that being said, not many in the field really appreciate the ABO cert. The only reason that I need to recert myself again is because I'm moving to South Carolina and I need it, otherwise I still wouldn't do it. It really doesn't help you obtain a higher salary!
I've been an optician for 35 years and licensed in 3 states that all require ABO/NCLE. My experience with ODs is respect, especially if they had a lab when I fabricate as well dispense. MDs on the other hand look down on us and show little respect. The public on the other hand don't seem to know anything about certification, and base opinions on CS and price$.
My 'six sense'.
On the preceding issues, as stated, these will not improve anytime soon, however, I remain an optimistic Optician.
I stated way back in this thread, and it bears repeating. It's time for a shift in our thinking. It's time for Eyewear Professionals to be agents of change going forward; to return to the days of providing full service; to resurrect our hands-on craftsmanship skills; and for those of us who know, to teach those who do not know. Our only salvation lies in returning to these values. The sooner Opticians shift back to these values and we manifest the attendant higher levels of value-added service by way of the craftsmanship required to provide consumers with hands-on, handcrafted form-fitting eyewear the sooner the public and the professions within the healthcare industry will respect what we do. The demand for our services will increase exponentially as a result.
Our plight is a result of decades old, declining ability to give consumers value added service. I mean it is not just a matter of acquiring licensure, certification, CE hours or marketing glitzy eyewear at bargain prices. These things you can get from books, virtual lectures, and marketing seminars, which are helpful and necessary. We suffer most from a lack of craftsmanship training, which of course can only be acquired by way of practical hands-on-people experiences. Therefore, we have to get our 'shift' together.
"It's time for those Opticians who know, to teach those who do not know."
Until then, we'll continue offering consumers much less than they deserve and far short of what they expect. Again, see OpticalShiftHappens.com for specifics, and/or contact me directly for some ideas.
I agree that Opticians are under appreciated by Doctors. I also think it's a huge mistake by them. Like the Pharmacist, we are responsible for the Doctor's Rx, and we are the last contact the Patient has with the medical professional. Doctors should be trying to groom our relationship with open lines of communication so we can all better serve the Patient. Instead when we troubleshoot the Patient's Rx and find they need to be reexamined, the Patient often returns with a corrected Rx, saying, "The Doctor said you made the glasses wrong, but he gave me this anyway." And we get a new Rx with major changes!
Why try to throw the blame at the Optician? Opticians go to great lengths not to blame the Doctor. We explain to the Patient there are many things that can affect the outcome of an exam. It reminds me of a car dealership. The service department is treated like the red headed stepchild, but what you find there are the most knowledgeable and skilled people in the operation.
The optical industry also has a problem with training Opticians. There is far to much emphasis on the parts of Opticianry that drive sales and very little training concentrated on servicing the Patient after the glasses are made, starting with the delivery, and making proper frame adjustments. I've seen so many maladjusted frames. People need to understand that this is the last impression the Patient has of their operation. We need the Patients last impression to be, "Wow this is the best pair of glasses I've ever had." We need to make sure our staff who don't have the skills at least have the opportunities to learn.
It's incumbent on those who know...to teach those who do not know. OpticalShiftHappens.com.
I could not agree more with Hari. Well said. Certification is not promoted enough or valued as it once was, but I believe it's as important today as it was at its onset. The corrosion of our profession is the result of the corporate outlets primarily. I can speak from 16 years of experience in such an environment out of the 28 years of practicing my craft. Having returned to private practice allows me to preform as a professional. I am no longer held accountable for how many multiple pairs I've sold, sales goals, being a fashion consultant, etc. I now have much more freedom and clarity. What bothers me is that the art of fitting and adjusting is dying. I learned my skills through the diligent instruction of an 'old timer' Optician and a 'perfectionist' MD. I take great care in making sure that eyewear is well adjusted on every Patient that sits in my chair. I've gotten to the point that I no longer "look" at the fit behind the ears. I feel with my fingers the contours of each Patient and translate that to temple end adjustment...not just a 45 degree bend, and then send them on their way. Fitting and adjusting has become such an after thought for so many dispensers that I try to pass along my knowledge to those who want to learn.
My 'six sense'.
Think about this. For the last few decades our collective mindset has manifested as, 'Divided we stand...united we fall.' We must shift to, 'United we stand...divided we fall,’ going forward. 1 Optician plus 1 Optician equals 11 Opticians, i.e., when skilled independent Opticians act together, synergistically, in the common interest, insurance and optical monopolies, as well as unskilled eyeglass merchants will be forced to make changes that will benefit consumers and Opticianry. See 1Plus1Equals11.com.
Here's some excerpts from an online discussion to do with the state of North Carolina making Opticianry a four-year degree program.
Hari, again, I applaud your fervor and I agree that we can teach the opticians in our employ but how do we reach those employed by others or those in the employ of ODs and MDs if they don't take advantage of the continuing education courses available through their state Opticians Association. In California, there is no CE requirement. Opticians don't need credentialing if they are employed by ODs or MDs because they are employed by a doctor and operate under his license. The state doesn't permit dual licensing (a doctors license and an opticians license) at the same location. A Dispensing Optician's license is issued to a location not a person as long as there is a qualified or licensable optician who manages or owns and manages the location full time. I am a past president of the California Association of Dispensing Opticians and a current Board Member. One of our annual tasks is a CE course that is offered twice per year. Mark Shupnick is a frequent lecturer. We offer 6 units of CE at each seminar, ABO or NCLE approved at a cost of less than $100.00 including lunch and we can't sell out the house. I'm old enough to be a cliché and another cliché comes to mind. "You can lead them to water, but you can't make 'em drink." I believe in your mantra, "Training, training, training", but how do you help those who won't help themselves. (Another cliché.)
My 'six sense'.
In the words of my teacher: “When you come upon a difficult task... start.”
Understand up front that there's a lot of what I call 'professional egotism', i.e., many 'Opticians' are unable to admit, either through ignorance or antipathy, that they really do not know (through no fault of their own) how to fit handcrafted form-fitting eyewear. (But we never stop learning. See DispensingGuidelines.com for qualifying details and EyewearMoodys.com for examples of craftsmanship.)
Qualified Opticians should be willing to make shift happen going forward, i.e., shift from the decades-old paradigm, “Divided we stand, united we fall,” to “United we stand, divided we fall.” See 1Plus1Equals11.com for more.
Qualifying Opticians should meet via phone conference to discuss the challenges and strategies for organizing a summit amongst them for the purpose of planning and implementing action going forward. I can arrange such a meeting. (Contact me here for contact data.)
Moving forward, qualifying Opticians should discuss a strategy for dealing with monopolistic, predatory and dictatorial insurance companies and wholesale laboratories. (Of course, these challenges cannot be dealt with, nor will any results occur overnight, but “When you come upon a difficult task... start.”)
Here’s an apropos quote with which I resonate, the accuracy of which I see emerging. "Capitalism as practiced in this the Age of Aquarius is hopelessly flawed. Today's capitalists have it all backwards. This is the new paradigm: Serve consumers and profit will follow, i.e., service trumps the dollar. Those who fail to put serving consumers first will become irrelevant."
“I don't believe that you can mandate a 4 year degree. I believe that those already in the field, if they are of the ilk, will pursue further education and training. You can't force-feed it. Someone considering our industry may find that a four-year degree and subsequent pay and job opportunities to be incongruent. The thing that sets you apart is your personal desire to be the best. There is no one else exactly like you.”
My 'six sense'.
I have never thought it was necessary to mandate a four-year degree, although I am not against it.
If the primary push behind the four-year college training push is for acquiring higher pay, Opticians really can't demand more wages considering the deficiencies in the practical training of latter day Opticians with or without a mandated college degree.
The respective agencies representing Opticians must mandate, irrespective of any university level training, is an adequate residency program i.e., practical clinical experience of sufficient duration in the dispensing of hands-on the patient, handcrafted, form-fitting eyewear before certification or licensure.
The Florida Board of Opticianry has taken a tiny step in this direction, to their credit. Hopefully, they will promote a more extensive requirement as a showcase for other agencies.
And if you're in touch with today's media, you'll hear a lot of conversations about America's preoccupation with expensive four-year degree programs for EVERYBODY, to the detriment of candidates for even higher paying trades/skills. In other words, the notion that everybody need not be a college grad in order to be successful is seeping into America's collective consciousness.
This is where the practical training of Opticians and other crafts/trades workers comes in. Opticians must return to the days of 'touch and feel' dispensing skills. This is what the prescription eyewear consumers expect and are willing to pay for, not the pathetic service received in many optical outlets today, including the Internet. Otherwise Opticians are to remain figuratively and literally 'out of touch' with consumers.
All the rhetoric about low wages, who's to blame for loss of market share, the Internet, profit margins, technology, product development, CE hours, monopolistic corporations, predatory insurance companies, etc., etc., is a waste of time. (These issues will pale once Opticians actually serve consumers with what they need and deserve. And the insecurity exhibited by today’s unskilled Opticians will disappear in proportion to their level of practical training.)
I recall "Opticianry is ultimately defined by how well the eyewear makes contact with the patient, not by the number of customers served."
So, unless we're willing to change the definition of what Opticians are, and what Opticians do, Opticians, especially senior Opticians, need to commit to this directive, "It is incumbent on those who know...to teach those who do not know.
If an Optician is unskilled or lacking diverse skills in this environment its because they want to be OR something is in the way of that training. A 4 yr degree solves neither cause. Nobody truly makes enough income today. I don't see making more just to pay off new loans as a good bargain. Individual training, I believe, would be much more valuable to the patient.
I will say this again because I agree with some info here and disagree with some info here. Any Optician is only as good as they want to be. A professional Optician seeks out education and spends time passing along his/her knowledge for the betterment of the optical community. He/she also works to find new ways to make the profession better; continually strives to find new avenues for our profession to help others, be it in the business setting or for public good.
Will a 4 year degree make a difference? If it proves that someone is willing to make a monetary and time investment in personal development in order to help others, then I guess it is worthwhile. As I stated before, our profession needs formal education and training. I feel strongly about this because I have seen too many "opticians" that don't know their way around a prescription or a frame.”
My 'six sense'.
I agree with this assertion, "Any Optician is only as good as they want to be." However, I am aware that corporate players employ tactics and policies that subvert this assertion. I make this statement based on direct personal experience and I challenge those folks representing corporate interests to put aside their current business plan, and think in longer range terms, assuming they're sincerely interested in the future of Opticianry and serving consumers.
As I stated previously:
"Opticianry is ultimately defined by how well the eyewear makes contact with the patient, not by the number of customers served."
"...Today's capitalists have it all backwards. This is the new paradigm: Serve consumers and profit will follow, i.e., service trumps the dollar. Those who fail to put serving consumers first will become irrelevant."
The corporate business models with which I have been previously associated are diametrically opposed to these statements.
Corporate representatives are notoriously opaque and duplicitous when it comes to supporting the education of Opticians and this attitude has made a major contribution to the current status of Opticians and the deficiencies in their craftsmanship skills. Note: Those contributors to this dialogue who are unclear about which I speak should contact me for specifics.
"Opticianry is defined by how well the eyewear makes contact with the patient.
Eyewear consumers need and deserve the following:
a) Optician-assisted, in-depth lifestyle interview;
b) Optician-assisted, design and selection;
c) Handcrafted, form-fitting eyewear;
d) Free lifetime adjustments and
minor repair services, none of
which are available online."
It's no wonder latter day dispensers do not or cannot customize eyewear.
In this ad, you see no mention of the hands-on craftsmanship required to
fit the eyewear for the visual comfort and long-term wearability of the patient.
Another example of marketing fashion sans handcrafted form-fitting eyewear.
I hear the sounds-good expressions, "formal education and training" and "quality service" a lot from corporate spokespeople, but where is the corporate support for training people in the art and craft of direct hands-on, handcrafted, 'touch and feel' dispensing skills? Many corporate outlets don't even have dispensers with this knowledge/experience capable of teaching, let alone having managers with these skills. For instance, unskilled managers, i.e., optical managers who have migrated from unrelated fields (such as grocery, photo, pharmacy, etc.) previously advised me, that I was not to spend time training inexperienced dispensers because they were to focus more on increasing sales, not technique. And this occurred with more than one employer.
It's no wonder latter day dispensers do not or cannot customize eyewear. I recall witnessing a senior hands-on skilled Optician being advised they would be terminated if they continued to put "ugly bends" in temples.
All the, "...Opticians are only as good as they want to be," attitude in the world is meaningless in this kind of atmosphere, under these management policies.
I challenge corporate players especially to support and promote Opticians "who know...to teach those who do not know." Hands-on, touch and feel craftsmanship training is the only way to upgrade the status of Opticians and the healthcare services for which they are responsible.
A college degree is not needed. Degrees do not make Opticians. It's their acquired level of caring and knowledge that is passed on from skilled Optician to skilled Optician through hands-on training. Corporate America, for instance, already looks for and hires folks with degrees to be managers, sans optical experience, in order to drive the consumer to a one-time-only purchase versus acquiring and retaining skilled Opticians who serve as true health and wellness providers whereby they earn a patient's loyalty, forever. --
"For the last few decades Optician's collective
mindset has manifested as, 'Divided we stand...
united we fall.' We must shift to, 'United we stand...
divided we fall,’ as our paradigm." See 1Plus1Equals11.com.
Back to the beginning.
See TimeForCraftsmanship.com and OpticiansForChange.com for more. --
See Online Glasses Ripoff Reports. See Testimonials From Consumers. See Chicago Tribune's Look At Buying Glasses Online. See Online Glasses Not What Doctor Ordered. See Notice To Consumers Regarding Guidelines. See Serving Versus Selling. See TimeForCraftsmanship.com. See What Is 3D Dispensing? See To Serve Is To Succeed.