Preaching to the Choir: Photochromics are a great product, duh

By Christie Walker
Lecturing optical labs on the profitability of selling photochromic lenses is like preaching to the choir. Labs already know the advantages and benefits of the product for the end-user and for their client’s bottom line. They understand how lenses that change adapt to changing light conditions making it easier to see clearer in any light.

From everyday photochromics that change from clear to dark, to specialty lenses that combine photochromic capabilities with polarized lenses, there is an eye wear solution for every customer. Why then, do people walk out of their doctors’ offices with only one pair of clear prescription glasses?

Price

“Research has shown that 35 percent of consumers, when told of the benefits of photochromic lenses, say they would purchase photochromics – yet fewer than half do. I believe this low percentage is largely due to price,” said Jay Lusignan, marketing communications manager for Vision-Ease Lens.

Vision-Ease has recently launched a new photochromic product to address the price issue. ChangeRx is a plastic photochromic that combines lightweight comfort with 100 percent UVA and UVB protection in an “in mass” manufacturing process for fast, uniform reactivity when exposed to UV light. The indoor light transmission is 89.1 percent, which is comparable to standard clear plastic lenses. The lenses darken to an ISO Sunglass Category 3 at 50 degree F in less than 60 seconds, fading back to 42.1 percent light transmittance in two minutes. While the lens stacks up well in comparison to other photochromics on the market, its real advantage is the lower price point.

“It’s difficult to pinpoint an exact number as it will vary by lens style and volume. Having said that, customers can expect a percentage savings in the double digits with no sacrifice in performance or quality,” said Lusignan.

Photowhat?

While a price barrier could be one factor contributing to why patients walk out of a doctor’s office without some sort of sun protection, not knowing that the product exists is certainly another factor. “Optical labs can increase their sales of photochromics such as Drivewear by making sure that their customers know that this is a product they specialize in,” said David Rips, president Younger Optics. “For example, although polarized lenses may be seven percent of the marketplace, this is nowhere near even distribution. You have some labs that are doing double that number and you have other labs that are virtually doing nothing in polarized lenses. Those labs that are successful make sure all their customers know that they specialize in polarized lenses and want to be known as the polarized leader in their area. Drivewear is currently about 5 percent of the entire polarized marketplace, so if you’re not doing about one in 20 polarized lenses as a Drivewear lens, then your competition is taking this product from you.”

Lusignan of Vision-Ease agrees. “It all begins with the conversation and making sure consumers are aware of photochromic lenses and the benefits they offer. Knowing how and when to address photochromics during the office visit is crucial.”

Superior Optical Lab in Ocean Springs, Miss., has used their southern climate and proximity to the ocean as their selling hook for Drivewear.

“Here in the south, Drivewear is an easier sell if we promote the product’s all around use,” said Jon Jacobs, vice president, Superior Optical. “Drivewear is a great lens for the spring and fall months when the humidity is still up and the temperature begins to drop, producing FOG! It is also a great lens for driving in the rain when the lighting levels fall. The Drivewear’s yellow/green tint brightens up the road and the polarization removes the glare associated with the rain’s refractive qualities. This also applies to people who work on the water for a living. Along the Gulf Coast there are a lot of boat captains that have found that normal polarization is just too dark in some instances.”

During overcast weather such as fog, Drivewear is light yellow/green providing a high contrast color to cut through overcast conditions and removes glare that would otherwise destroy vision in low light conditions. Behind the windshield in bright light, the lenses turn to a copper color resulting in the best possible vision at these higher light levels. Drivewear’s high contrast polarizer is absolutely essential behind the windshield of the car, blocking out blinding glare, one of the most dangerous of all driving hazards. Finally in bright light outdoors, Drivewear is designed for maximum filtration of the excess light by turning to a dark brown. “Although Drivewear has been optimized for driving, I have literally hundreds of testimonials from wearers describing their experiences and calling Drivewear the best sunglass they have ever used for golfing, hiking, mountain climbing, skiing, boating, bicycling, and motorcycling,” said Rips. Labs can increase their sales of Drivewear and other photochromic products by showing the ECP the flexibility of photochromics for a wide variety of activities, for example, using Drivewear for golf. “Golfers seem to like the fact that Drivewear adjusts to the changing conditions that the golfer encounters during the day,” said Rips.

The Kids Niche

Selling a second pair of sunglasses for adults can be a challenge. Selling a second pair of sunglasses for a ten-year-old or teenager can be practically impossible. But kids’ eyes need protection, too, and for children already wearing ophthalmic lenses, making those lenses photochromic just makes sense.

“Kids are a great target for photochromic lenses because of their busy, in and out lifestyle,” said Lusignan. “Our ChangeRx is a plastic only offering and since kids need the protection of polycarbonate, our poly photochromic offering LifeRx would be the best choice.

Three-time Transitions Lab of the Year, Toledo Optical, has had success in the kids photochromics category.

“Photochromic lenses have no greater opportunity than in the children’s category,” explained Jeff Szymanski, vice president, Toledo Optical. “We continue to see growth within this demographic. In mid-2010, we created a very successful six-month long sales initiative, whereby we offered our customers FREE Transitions lenses for their first three children’s Rx’s and 50 percent off Transitions for the following three Rx’s. Our hope was to inspire our customers and to show them that parents would enthusiastically embrace Transitions if only given the opportunity. We were also hoping to change dispensers’ behaviors by conditioning them to talk about Transitions for every child’s Rx. Our program was embraced, and succeeded on all fronts.”

Toledo also prominently features Transitions as part of their Kids Package program, which offers savings when ECPs order polycarbonate Transitions with a children’s frame. They have even been successful broadening the reach of this program to the teenage market.

“As with most products, the key here is to simply make the recommendation. Unlike with adult decisions, few parents are willing to compromise the safety of their child’s vision,” Szymanski concluded.

Solution-Based RecommendationsThe “Choir” knows about the great products available today, from everyday photochromics to sunwear photochromics. Lack of knowledge among labs is not the problem. For labs, the issue is and always has been how to get the information to pass through the doctor to the end user, the patient.

“Historically, our industry has tried to drive sales through various promotions and programs, and while these do tend to deliver certain results, more times than not, they deliver short term success,” said Szymanski. “In order to more permanently change behaviors, drive the penetration of premium products such as photochromics and polarized sunwear, we need to change our overall approach to product positioning.”

At Toledo Optical, the most successful strategy involves the creation and implementation of a “Patient Management Process.” This process starts by better extracting the needs and concerns of the patient. By asking certain questions, the doctor can elicit responses that may identify a visual problem. This opens the door to recommend products that then solve the problem expressed by the patient. Toledo Optical has found that with a proper Dr. Recommendation to solve the patient’s problem, and a subsequent hand-off to a qualified dispenser, this approach virtually guarantees greater sales of premium products.

Options, Options and More…Options

Here’s another problem that could be stifling the sales of photochromics, polarized and polarized photochromics sales. Quite frankly, there are just too many options. Have you looked at your lens availabilities charts lately? It’s enough to make your eyes roll into the back of your head. Who could possibly keep up with this information overload? Then, of course, there is all the collateral information that goes with each of these choices.

P.O.P., brochures, training videos, Web sites, blogs, even Tweets…no wonder many doctors simply pick one product and stick with it until they die! (Just heard about a doctor who is still prescribing Varilux Comfort, because, hey, that’s what he’s “comfortable” with selling.)

So what’s a lab to do? Sending more information may not be the answer unless you can provide the doctor with a simplified information system or menu, which matches problems with solutions. As successful labs have said, being a solution-based lab will provide better results than being a hawker of lens products.

Providing your customers with a simple list of options could be one way to let them know what’s available. Transitions Optical is working with a number of partners to introduce new dynamic sunwear options in both prescription and non-prescription versions under the Transitions SOLFX sunwear brand. Check out what is available and let your customers know the variety of ways they can protect their patients’ vision. Feel free to copy and distribute this succinct list of photochromic sunwear options to your customers.

PHOTOCHROMIC SUNWEAR OPTIONS

Bell Helmets, a leading manufacturer of safety helmets for auto racing, motorcycling and bicycling, has partnered with Transitions SOLFX to launch Bell Transitions SOLFX face shields, helping riders maximize their visual performance. The motorcycle shields are virtually clear in low light and at night and they quickly and automatically become sunglass dark in bright sunlight. www.eastonbellsports.com

Essilor of America, Inc. offers DEFINITY FAIRWAY Transitions SOLFX lense, a progressive sunwear product designed to meet the unique visual demands of golfers needing multifocal prescriptions. The lenses change from amber to a darker brown and come with Crizal Sun Mirrors. www.Definity.com

Oakley offers both prescription and non-prescription Oakley Transitions SOLFX lenses. Available in multiple colors they all activate to darker, neutral tints to allow athletes to maintain peak performance. www.oakley.com

Specialty Lens Corporation offers iRx Xperio Transitions SOLFX sun lenses. These polarized photochromic sunlenses are available in single vision 1.50 and in twocolors: an ash gray to darker gray and a caramel brown to darker brown. www.iRxLens.com

Younger Optics offers Drivewear Transitions SOLFX designed specifically to meet the unique visual demands of the driving task. These lenses combine NuPolar polarization and advanced Transitions photochromic dyes, which respond to both visible light and UV light. www.DrivewearLens.com

X-CEL Optical offers Autumn Gold Transitions SOLFX specifically designed to enhance contrast and improve clarity of images in cloudy, foggy or very bright outdoor environments. Autumn Gold Transitions SOLFX are recommended for hunters, target and skeet shooters and archers. http://www.x-celoptical.com/Autum%20Gold.htm

Seiko Optical offers Seiko Sportswear Transitions SOLFX, specifically optimized to improve color recognition, contrast and depth perception in varying lighting conditions, the lens is designed for a wide variety of outdoor sports and related activities, including running, hiking and walking. www.seikoeyewear.com.

Walman/Soderberg offers NEOX Transitions SOLFX sun lenses, optimized for golf, and great for outdoor activities with similar lighting conditions to golf. The sun lens offers increased depth perception, improved distance vision and superior clarity. NEOX lenses are the exclusive lenses of Callaway golf eyewear and the les is available in non-prescription through Callaway retail locations.

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August/September LabTalk 2017