Building a House...Brand

By Christie Walker & Ann Shanley, Polycore
There are a number of reasons for creating a house brand for your optical laboratory: to build the image of your company as a trusted advisor with your customers; provide different, often more affordable options for your customers; increase profits through your branded product; and/or differentiation your lab from the lab down the street.

There are two main products—AR coatings and progressive lenses—that labs look to for creating house brands. Within the progressive category there are standard progressives and progressives created with free-form equipment, allowing new degrees of individualization. Other products to consider include polarized, photochromic, or sun lenses.

Going the house brand route takes dedication and attention to details. According to Ann Shanley, vice president of marketing and services for Polycore, “Labs should select products that provide a solution not currently being met by the products they are offering, such as a lens or coating that is more affordable; a progressive that is easier to adapt to by patients; or products that have the additional availability or range that your customers need.”

Shanley recommends labs choose products that have reasonable prices and quality performance. “Don’t underestimate the importance of quality, especially when you are attaching your name to the product,” said Shanley.

Creating a unique house brand is not a casual walk in the park. David Rips, president Younger Optics agrees with Shanley. “Don’t underestimate the challenges involved in creating a unique progressive lens. Manufacturers have been working on this same issue over and over again.”

Here are some of the challenges other labs have faced and how they have overcome them to varying degrees of success.

Katz & Klein

“We have created a house progressive and a house AR option. We met moderate success with the progressive. Although our core customer base supported the progressive, a lab our size has trouble producing the numbers most lens makers hope to see for a specified product. However, regarding our house AR…that has done very well. It is a medium priced AR. The challenge is to have a product that performs in the field as you say it will. There are many AR choices, so your claims must stand up in the market.” Corrine Hood

Soderberg Ophthalmic Services

“Our house brand AR is highly successful. We market it on its own merits as it relates to the Bayer test, hydrophobic, quality, etc. The challenges we face include comparison to other, more popular brands, positioning as it relates to these popular brands, and getting the ECP’s to try something different if they have been successful with their present product. Many ECP’s have the “if it ain’t broke, why fix it syndrome.” Therefore, it takes more effort to get them to try a house brand.” Craig Giles

Toledo Optical

“We are strong believers in branding. It is a marketing tool which provides tremendous power and influence in a marketplace. We also believe that for a house brand to be successfully positioned, a strong relationship with a businesses customer base must first be established. While house brands can flourish in many environments, it’s only possible for a house brand to truly succeed, and overcome the marketing prowess of a national brand, when consumers and customers trust, rely upon and intrinsically bond with the laboratory offering these brands.” Jeff Szymanski

Success

Toledo Optical has been very successful with their house AR brand called, ACCLARO. Thirty percent of their lenses leave the lab with an AR coating and of that 30 percent, 80 percent is their house brand, ACCLARO.

“We position ACCLARO as a premium product, capable of standing toe-to-toe with the leading national brands. We have priced it accordingly. As previously stated, our success in creating house brands has been due, in large part, to the strong relationships that we have built, and the level of trust our customers place in us when we recommend which products will be in their best interest,” said Szymanski.

Challenges

Creating a house brand and marketing it to your customer’s doesn’t come without challenges. Making sure the product with your name on it performs up to the standards you claim is only the first challenge. Marketing becomes a “sticky wicket” if you have a Varilux contract with Essilor.

“Our distributors agree to promote Varilux as the distributors’ preferred treatment for presbyopia and refrain from representing that competitive PALs are equal or superior to Varilux. However, our agreement does not prevent distributors from promoting house brands or other competitive brands (as long as they follow the rules above) and in fact many distributors do so today. If you pick up any publication that includes advertising by labs, you will see what we mean,” explained Kristan Zeilan, corporate communications manager, Essilor USA.

Another marketing challenge is promotion. Independent labs only have so much money for promotion and advertising. They can’t compete at the same level as a nationally promoted brand. If it comes down to a price war, it’s also difficult to compete based on quantity discounts. And finally, a lens brand supported by a lens manufacturer has an army of sales reps across the country promoting the benefits of that brand, while an independent lab has a much smaller sales force, usually focused locally. But despite these challenges, there are still labs who find the value in creating and promoting their own lenses and AR coatings.

“In our ever so humble opinion,” said Szymanski, “despite these challenges, the ability to create, drive and position a house brand delivers far more long term success. Profitability, creativeness, independence and a fostering of customer loyalty are all increased by the presence of a successfully positioned house brand.”

Lens Manufacturers

Check out these companies that offer products that can become a house brand for labs. iCoat

All of iCoat’s proprietary AR coatings are available for in-house branding to our wholesale laboratory customers, large retail customers and technology license customers. iCoat has been a supplier of proprietary AR coatings to both retailers and wholesalers for more than 22 years and our products have always been available for private labeling.

There are two ways customers can private label iCoat’s proprietary AR coatings.

1. Customers can order custom coatings from iCoat and label them as their own house brand.

2. Customers can license iCoat’s proprietary coating technology to run their own coating operation and brand as their house label.

iCoat has certified its coating technology across a variety of equipment vendors that customers can take advantage of. This equipment vendor choice gives tremendous flexibility for customers when they start a coating lab or for those who have some existing equipment yet want to expand using another equipment vendor. iCoat preset recipes and processes will ensure the same high quality coating results across all equipment lines. If they own equipment already, iCoat can work with the customer to verify the machine capabilities and setup the correct process to match those capabilities. Any iCoat licensed process can be private labeled.

iCoat provides its licensing customers with proprietary coating formulas under mutually agreed terms and conditions. In addition, iCoat provides complete training, equipment setup, ongoing testing, logistics, consumables and process improvements to support hassle free operations.

iCoat provides four (4) different levels of AR coatings:

Ultra Premium (Stainless) – Dip hardcoat, anti-static AR stack, super oleophobic and hydrophobic topcoats

Premium (Vivix) – Dip hardcoat, anti-static AR stack, hydrophobic and oleophobic topcoats

Ultra Standard (Topit) – spin hardcoat, anti-static AR stack, hydrophobic and super oleophobic topcoats

Standard (Fusion 5 XTO) – spin hardcoat, anti-static AR stack, hydrophobic and oleophobic topcoats

Polycore USA

“Polycore has a comprehensive house branding program. You can find more about our program on our Web site at www.polycore-usa.com/housebrand. Right now we offer our progressives as a specific program, however, all of our products are available to customers as a house brand. We don’t have a program with collateral materials already created for these other products yet. Customers typically would have to commit a certain volume but, we have been known to work with customers on start up programs as well. Our products are usually offered at the value tier.” Ann Shanley, vice president marketing and services

Shamir

“Shamir doesn’t have a “formal” program. However we do work with labs who are interested in having their own private label free-form lens. We will discuss their needs with them, and if it’s something we can do, we will get the Israel design team involved to create a private label design for them. I don’t believe there is a minimum quantity that the labs need to sell because a fee is charged for the design. Once they pay the fee, they own the design and can sell as many (or as few) lenses they’d like. It all depends on them and their needs at that point. We don’t help market private label lenses for labs. That’s up to them.” Matt Lytle, vice president, marketing

Younger Optics

“Younger Optics has three options for labs who want to create a house brand. 1) They can purchase an existing progressive lens design such as Image and rename it. 2) Younger can design a specific lens for the lab and then provide them with a semi-finished blank in all the different materials. This option is cost-prohibitive, so only large retailers have used this option so far. 3) Through our new company, Indizen Optical Technologies, S.L., out of Madrid, Spain, we can create a unique free-form design that can be used as a house brand. The lab would need free-form equipment to produce this lens once they have paid for the design.” David Rips, president

Before You Start

• Consider the service of the manufacturer.

• The product should be accessible in the time frame you commit to your customers.

• Consider the marketing support available from the manufacturer.

• Keep some lenses in stock.

• Use resources in the industry before paying to create your own marketing materials

Tips for Promoting Your House Brand

Make sure you are listed in the Frames Data Price Book

Add promo info to your statement stuffers Create an e-mail campaign

Provide the doctor with appointment reminder cards with your brand marketing message

Provide POP materials

Sponsor ABO courses

Have monthly Internet specials

Promote your brands on your Web site.


CURRENT ISSUE


May/June LabTalk 2017