barryWell the boys from Wharton sure have done it. From a no-name upstart to one of the most recognized eyewear brands in the world in only five short years, Warby Parker got their $1.2 billion valuation by smartly targeting Millennials—a demographic known to have the Internet woven into their DNA.

Warby Parker dictated a new Rx for the eyewear consumer: A $95 package of trendy eyewear that eventually defined them as a fashion brand. Their attractive package pricing also resonated with more than just Millennials. Consumers finally found their feelings validated that eyewear is not much more than “a few pieces of plastic.” More importantly, ECPs were wounded by being described as greedy middlemen. Deserved? Maybe.

Take a look at our reactions to Warby Parker. It smacks of the 5 Stages of Grief. First: Denial (“They can’t be any good.”) Second: Anger (“They called us greedy middlemen.”) Third: Bargaining (“Wait!” as they walk out with Rx and PD in hand. “We have some $99 packages too!” “Really? You have complete eyewear packages for around $100? Why haven’t you told me before? Oh, I see… perhaps you are a greedy middleman after all!”) Depression follows the loss of business. Eventually, you may find acceptance. In the meantime, here’s a recipe on how to deal:

Lose control—Refusing to release the Rx, the contact specs and now the PD has not won us fans in the court of public opinion. With evermore sophisticated apps poised to empower consumers further, it’s time to learn from our past and start to give the public what they want: The full optical menu, served a la carte. And without the feeling of being controlled.

Respect consumer choice—Buyers today have access to far more choices than a brick-and-mortar door could ever have. As established companies redirect their marketing to forge an even stronger brand connection with the end consumer, many call for eliminating any brand sold online from your store. But is that constructive? In my honest opinion, it’s better to align yourself with popular brands and make covering your monthly nut that much easier.

Make yourself a brand—Start by defining who you are and what you represent in a crowded eyewear market. That’s called a mission statement. Retell your origin story. Tell them your promise.

Reality check: Your customers are going to buy more and more optical goods outside your store. And they are going to need a local “eye guy” to give adjustments, repairs, emergency service and lead them to upgrades. So don’t refuse to service outside glasses. Trust me: You’ll be far better off welcoming a competitor like Warby than waiting to whither. You agree?

—Barry Santini, Contributing Editor

My Frustrating PD Experience

Andrew KarpUntil recently, I have sided with ECPs who resist the idea of surrendering a patient’s PD. Their concern about their liability should the patient have a problem with eyewear purchased elsewhere is legitimate. The concern that giving the patient their PD makes it easier for them to shop elsewhere is also real. Yet my experience after a recent eye exam has caused me to rethink my position.

The exam was my second in six months, and it was performed by the same ophthalmologist. I went back to her because my vision has not been as sharp as before, and I wondered if my refraction was accurate or if I might have a medical problem.

Fortunately, no medical problems were detected. Puzzlingly, my refraction was exactly the same as it had been six months before. That left me wondering if my optician had erred in taking my PD or any other measurements, or if my lab had made a mistake when fabricating my lenses. Thinking that I would try a different dispenser, I asked my doctor for my prescription, including the PD. She refused to release the PD on the grounds that she didn’t want to assume liability if I encountered problems with my eyewear. I walked away feeling frustrated by my lack of options, as I’m sure many consumers do when encountering this situation.

What’s the answer? Perhaps patients could sign a waiver releasing the doctor from potential liability. That makes the PD release strictly a business issue.

As an informed consumer, having vision care options is a priority. So although I have confidence in my doctor’s medical abilities, her position on PDs may cause me to seek out another doctor who supports my freedom of choice. Consumers shouldn’t have to select a doctor on that basis, but that is the reality of vision care today.

Andrew Karp, Group Editor, Lenses and Technology

Loyalty Oath

Brad Childs Who is more loyal? Is it your dog or your spouse?

Got ya! Now that we have your attention, here’s hoping you are actually thinking about this question as we take it from dogs and marriage to what concerns you and your opti-pro intentions. Loyal clients are actually the essence of your existence, your survival and your ability to thrive. Your business is virtually built on an oath of loyalty. The biggest worry should not be the 16 other optical shops in a 5-mile radius of your practice. We need not fret about the evolution of the e-commerce platforms that continue to pop up by the second. Stay on course serving your clients. They are your past, present and future.

Research shows that it costs five times more money to earn a new client than it does to retain one you already have. Your money, time and effort are better invested keeping your existing clients happy. A happy client will proudly spread the word for you. Would you believe me if I told you 80 percent of your future earnings will come from 20 percent of your existing clients? I didn’t believe it either until I read it as a metric missive at Forbes.com.

Word: Customer service at all costs. That is how we do it here in Pittsburgh. And that is how we intend to do it at our new ventures in Cleveland. Research also shows that 90 percent of your clients will not return to your shop once they have had a bad experience. If these numbers are not adding up for you at this point, then you have much bigger problems. What is your point of difference? What will you do today that will improve upon what you did yesterday? How do you plan to keep your clients LOYAL?

Here’s my five-point guide to running a practice as an independent optical professional:

  1. Do WHATEVER it takes WHENEVER… and as you let that marinate, think about a follow-up from your perspective, and let me hear your thoughts in the comments section.
  2. How far are you willing to go for a client? Our answer: to the end of the earth.
  3. Never let up on personal and social interaction, and ALWAYS respond in real time to any client request.
  4. Make your mission your story and your story your mission. Your business is basically a service handmade in America. Be proud of that accomplishment.
  5. Always embrace the ability to change even when all systems are running smoothly.
  6. Customer retention equals customer loyalty, which ultimately equals your survival in this ever-changing, exciting optical arena

—Brad Childs, Vice President and COO, Eyetique

PD or No PD

Andrew KarpPD or no PD, that is the question posed by Barry Santini in this month’s L&T feature, “The Power and Politics of the PD.”

Although I doubt Hamlet was on Santini’s mind when he wrote this article, the question he explores—whether or not an optometrist should provide a patient’s PD along with their prescription—arises from a drama that’s almost worthy of Shakespeare. It’s a conflict that plays out every day in eyecare practices around the country, as more consumers ask their eye doctors for their PD measurements so they can then go purchase eyeglasses online.

As Santini notes, tensions build between doctor and patient when ODs are reluctant to release a patient’s PD because it means they are “losing a bit more of their historical control over the sale of prescription eyewear.” Times are changing though, as consumers demand more transparency in all their interactions with health care professionals. Because of this, Santini believes that ODs are bound to lose the struggle over PDs, and he marshals a formidable array of facts to support his argument.

I agree with Santini. Consumers are not going to stop demanding what they believe is rightfully theirs. In today’s consumer-centric world, you swim against the tide at your own risk.

Instead of balking when a patient asks for their PD, why not use the opportunity to talk with them about their pending online eyewear purchase? Perhaps the deal they’re seeking or the eyewear style they want is not so different than what you can offer them, either through your brick- and-mortar dispensary or perhaps your own online dispensary. Don’t be afraid to remind patients that your skilled staff can help them select the best-looking and best-fitting eyewear, and that you can offer them a range of options too.

You may not persuade every patient to abandon their online purchase, but you’ll certainly get some to think twice about it. More importantly, they’ll see you as an ally, not an antagonist.

We hope “The Power and Politics of the PD” will get you thinking about how you can do better to serve your customers, even if meeting their needs may feel uncomfortable at first.

Andrew Karp, Group Editor, Lenses and Technology

When Buying Glasses, Price Isn’t Everything

Andrew KarpIf you’re like me, you’re probably getting tired of the consumer media telling eyeglass wearers they are being overcharged for their eyewear. From respected publications such as Consumer Reports to award-winning television programs like “60 Minutes,” consumers are hearing a rising chorus of mainstream media voices advising them to cut their eyewear costs by buying online or from discount stores.

Although price is always an important factor in any buying decision, it’s just one element, something this one-dimensional reporting overlooks. The other element is quality. It is the balance of these two elements that creates value for the consumer.

The latest ones to jump on the “eyewear is overpriced” bandwagon is ABC News. In a special report by ABC’s “Real Money” team, reporter Paula Faris offers this pearl of wisdom: “Shop around with your prescription. Don’t get stuck buying glasses at the optometrist’s office.”

I guess it never occurred to Faris that some optometrists might offer good deals on glasses, not to mention a comprehensive eye exam and advice about which lenses might best suit a patient’s visual needs. The OD might even have a well-stocked dispensary run by an expert optician where the patient can conveniently be fitted with those lenses. What a concept!

Shortly after the ABC News report aired, VSP Optics blogged, “There have been a lot of stories counseling Americans not to buy eyeglasses from their local eye doctor. This is not only bad from a personal health perspective but also from a personal finance perspective.” VSP went on to list various reasons why consumers should buy their glasses from independent eye doctors. In addition, VSP Vision Care president Jim McGrann stated in a video posted on the company’s website, “You really want to stay involved with your eyecare professional to make sure you’re getting the medical side of this experience, and couple it with the cool fashion side.”

Nicely put, Mr. McGrann.

Andrew Karp, Group Editor, Lenses and Technology