Why They Walk

By Seth J. Bookey
Everyone likes paying less–and when it comes to lenses–that includes optometrists and optical retailers. However, saving money is no bargain if jobs are coming in chipped, scratched, too late, or in the wrong prescription. Failing to relate to a customer’s dissatisfaction, or being completely unresponsive, can ensure that a lab customer will walk.

As one optical store manager, Susan Presti of Pearle Vision in Ozone Park, N.Y., said, “When you get to a point where you’re ordering a special job and you’re holding your breath and you’re saying a silent prayer, hoping it will get done on time, that’s a pretty good indication that you’re having trouble with your lab.”

Getting to Know You

“We wanted someone who connects with you and is not part of a conglomeration of labs–someone that makes a connection with you individually,” said Harold Stried, owner of Family Vision Care in Marion, Ohio. “We like that our new lab is privately owned, and that they are into building business and relationships, compared to our old lab’s complacency,” he added. Stried changed labs more than two years ago, the main factors being service and his sales rep.

“Our previous lab was part of a big group. I worked with them for 15 years, and I finally felt like I wasn’t getting very much individual attention at all. My dissatisfaction was in not being able to get someone to come in and talk to us about new products. We wouldn’t see anyone for eight months at a time,” he noted. With his new lab, Stried said his rep comes in every five to six weeks, allowing Stried’s staff to get to know the rep as well, and allowing the rep a way of understanding the dispensary’s needs. “I also have access to him at any time,” he added. “If there’s a difficult job, there’s someone I can call who outlines all of my options.”

For Joe Slapnicher, OD, owner of Rivertown Eye Clinic in Hastings, Minn., feeling left out of the loop led to a lab change for him. “The new lab includes me, not just the opticians, in what’s going on. They are calling more often, too,” he said. Slapnicher relates a good example of being in the loop. With his old lab, second-pair sales got a 50-percent discount, but only on the same prescription. With his new lab, the second-pair discount is only 30 percent, but can be used for a patient’s family members. Knowing the new lab offers this pricing has allowed him to bring it up as a sales initiative at a recent staff meeting, since he is now aware of the lab’s policy. While pricing is a major consideration for Dennis Miller, OD, of Miller & Miller Optometrists, VanWert, Ohio, being stonewalled by this lab was his main reason for changing labs. “They could have given us better service, but the rep definitely should have returned phone calls about problems.”

Not connecting with the lab was also a problem for Susan Presti, manager of a Pearle Vision store in Ozone Park, N.Y. “A lab we used to use had a lot of service issues. I didn’t feel like we were getting the attention we needed once the problems were known to them. They passed the buck a lot. I need to have a person I can call. Now, there are two key people I can call who will give me an answer. It’s comforting to know they’re there, watching out backs,” Presti said.

Now, Presti also has a lab rep visiting once a month. “He’ll do a training about new products’ benefits so we can educate the patients. My rep knows my staff, and they know him and can call him.” She also noted that while her old lab used to send a lot of literature about new products, she appreciates the live demos, saying work is too busy for her to read all the new product information.

No Time to Waste

Service is also a big issue to Presti. “Our old lab had competitive pricing, but service and turnaround time is key,” she said. “We are a high-volume store. I cannot afford to deal with a lab that is not giving me the service that I need. I don’t have time to send back jobs that are incorrect or bad quality.” Kelly Reynolds, optician and office manager for Insightful Eyewear, Troy, Ohio, echoed similar concerns. “We’re pretty patient, but don’t’ have time to babysit labs. We’re basically a two-person facility here with the doctor. I only have time to service my patients,” she said. “We have no problem with lab costs as long as the lab keeps up its end of the bargain,” Reynolds continued. “We cannot wait three weeks for a job. Most of the time, our problems with the lab are the time factor such as when you have breakage on a job that sets you back a week. Sometimes, labs haven’t called us about lens choices, or they didn’t get the frame and didn’t tell us for three weeks.”

Reynolds noted that unlike her previous optical job, which dealt mostly with simple Medicaid Rx jobs, Insightful does a lot of work with rimless and AR, and more complex jobs. In her one year on the job at Insightful, she has used as many as six labs, and is still having problems with quality work.

“It’s been frustrating. I haven’t had to deal with this in a long time. One of the labs I recommended was the one that lost me three families. Once it took three months to get a pair of glasses right. These people pay a lot of money for their glasses. I want for my patients what I would want for myself. I wouldn’t accept frames or lenses that were scratched up.” While human error accounts for some of the errors in Rx or time delays, Reynolds noted that her practice uses DVI for ordering, and that 65 to 70 percent of their jobs are with VSP, so these problems have persisted despite error reduction through remote ordering.

A responsive service rep can make all the difference. For Pamela Krieger, owner of Mt. Sinai Optical in Mt. Sinai, N.Y., she changed labs mostly because she wanted to keep the relationship with the sales rep, who changed jobs. When the rep switched labs, she was able to offer Krieger better pricing, but, Krieger noted, “Because of her follow-through and attention she gives us as an account, I would pay even more. She comes to do training, and the staff knows her. She stops in at least once a month.” Krieger added that she has used most of the labs on Long Island (where her dispensary is located) and that she prefers to stick with one lab whenever possible.

Bob Marsh, owner of Marsh Optical in Jamaica Estates, N.Y., uses five different labs, and notes that he has switched mostly due to service problems. “I like to get the best from each lab,” he said. “Quality is the most important thing. Some labs are more expensive than others, and sometime, after a rep comes in, I will try them, but I always go back to the regular lab. It pays to have lab options.” Marsh noted that common service problems for him have been mistakes on the phone when placing orders, and not getting credits for returns. “Inconsistency in customer service is a big concern,” he added.

While good service is a major concern to most ECPs when picking a new lab, for some, price is still a major consideration. For Greg Call, president of Eye Time Optical, with two locations in Minnesota, getting a better discount was his reason for recently switching labs. “With the economy going the way it has, we found that our patients were beginning to watch their dollars more closely,” Call said. “There were many more patients that were comparing prices. We had to look more closely at our bottom line. Price was the reason that we switched, without losing the service, guarantees and quality.” Overall, ECPs are most concerned with timely service and quality. As Insightful Eyewear’s Reynolds said, “I’m the first one to hear about problems. This can put my name on the line, and in this industry, your reputation follows you!”

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Labtalk November/December 2018