CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE

By Kurt Gardner
It’s hard to forget the hours spent reading those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books growing up. You could read the same story a few times and just by changing one choice along the way, the outcome was completely different. The same can be true in optics.

Imagine all these years’ later, independent lab owners would be getting to make the same kinds of choices, and instead of choosing the end of a child’s story, they get to take the reins on a tale far more important, the course of the optical industry as a whole

To best see how we got where we are today, let’s take a stroll down memory lane. Before we were talking about PALs at all, the brand name behind your flattops spelled success or failure for your organization. Some people swore up and down only Brand A would work, others just the opposite. In reality, which brand name on the box was less important than the skills used to make the final product? That’s right; a lab controlled the quality of their output, not the lens blank molder.

With the advent of the blended bifocals, and PALs, molding techniques and designs became more important. Individual labs could not justify the huge capital investment to make their own lenses, the infrastructure alone to make a single base and an add power was well into the seven figures. As a result, labs began to rely heavily on larger companies who could invest in the infrastructure while adding to their global market. Then, these larger companies began to market the lenses directly to the ECP and consumer, essentially leaving the lab in the dust, turning labs into order takers while larger brands take the credit and profits. But one constant that was mostly ignored by the molding companies was that labs take pride in doing quality work, and they know what is best for their customers.

As time passed, these large global companies began to impede on their customer’s target market by selling directly to consumers. All while driving home the idea that a lab needs big brands because without it they will surely perish. It worked in the flat top world, but not in progressive market.

What Digital Processing Means to a Brand
With the new influx of digital processing technology we are seeing a shift in where the market is heading. The brand of the lens in the frame simply doesn’t matter as much as how the patient sees. Labs and the ECP took note that once lens blanks are out of the box, no one knows who designed it. With the era of control by the lens caster ending, independent labs now have the ability to customize their portfolio of products based on their customers’ needs while remaining competitive with the highest quality standards and great customer care.

The Branded Lenses Say “We’re better”
Sure they do, wouldn’t you if that brand was all you had? The truth is in the math, and no matter if a lens is designed in Europe, the Middle East, or Mars, the same laws and rules regarding how light bends apply no matter who is writing the code and deciding the direction of the designs. Consistently we see private label designs meeting and exceeding the prior expectations and experiences delivered from their branded alternatives. Of course don’t take my word for it, ask those independent labs who have adopted a self-branded approach how their own design has been a winning proposition for all involved from the patient to the lab. By branding yourself, with your lab’s own designs, quality, and customer relationships, your brand becomes your main growth point in your business. This allows labs to escape from being the middle man for someone else, and that’s something that cannot be taken away from lab owners and ECPs.

“We Offer Branded and Non-Branded solutions”
“We offer branded and non-branded solutions,” is another popular thing out in the marketplace. While it’s true that many branded lens companies are now starting to release a house brand design or two. But as you review that offering, ask yourself: Am I getting to sell the latest design technology as my brand or do these folks expect me to do all the work to develop my own brand, just to be a stepping stone to the newest, latest and greatest designs they charge me an arm and leg for? So ask yourself, do you want to brand yourself as cutting edge, or a few years behind the technology?

Why Should Labs Go Private Label?
So far we’ve covered a lot of the options in the digital world but we still haven’t covered why it makes sense for labs to take the plunge. Obviously one reason is profit. Another is a competitive edge as marketing private labels makes it more difficult for a competitor to come in and steal your business away from you, just on price (it’s hard to sell on price alone when you don’t know what product your competing against). Finally, private labels will elevate your customer service standards.

When using some house-branded designs, the ability to decenter the design on the blank means no more phone calls apologizing to customers because those lenses just won’t cut out (ensure your designer can easily offer decentration), virtually no more back orders (provided you can source lenses from any lens caster with your design choice, you have multiple supply chains for each material and base), your progressive can be made in any and all available materials, and your breakage will decrease because there is less human interaction in the processing of the lens, so no more right for left tool pulls, or off-curve laps. Combine this savings with the lack of need for so many different PALs in inventory, and quickly you’ll see how much doing this can add to your bottom line within the first year.

Should I Also Consider Doing a Branded Product?
Maybe, maybe not. That’s a tough call to make. That decision should be made based on the individual lab circumstances. Advantages are they sell their brands for you, and you just take the orders. These brands are nationally recognized and are good products. Some disadvantages are they are no better than a private label product, they are significantly more expensive than producing a house-branded lens of similar quality, often times they require certain base curves or specific manufacturers’ blanks in order to process (these may be on a backorder, or be significantly more expensive than the same blank from another manufacturer). We do have some customers who are very successful selling just their private label.

The simple and sweet way to say why a house brand makes you more competitive, is that it marks what keeps your customers coming back to you. With literally hundreds of sources for the same goods you sell today, your customers choose to continue to do business with you because of your most important asset or brand, yourself, and it’s about time you start to take advantage of that. The only way to do it is by offering the latest and greatest products to your customers at a fair price, with the only name you know isn’t going to someday come after that business, your own.

Choosing to Go Digital Private Label
So despite all those nagging worries, you’ve made the choice to go digital. Let’s talk about the first easy step. Choose a designer (I would love to point you to IOT www.iotamerica.com), but it could easily be argued that I’m biased. In truth, it takes more than just great designs to make you successful; all the flexibility I mentioned above is paramount in providing your customers success with the product, and therefore yours as well. Labs will want to make sure they can get a variety of designs, to let them fine tune offering for clients’ needs. Training and support is vital as well, in order to support training staff and customers. Lastly, labs need a partner that does more than offer designs, but also offers products to help labs market their new brand (these are all things that IOT does). Without a doubt private label branding takes effort, and those efforts pay for themselves in increased loyalty to your lab, increased profits, and better customer service.

Kurt Gardner is the national sales and support manager at Indizen Optical Technology of America.

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Lab Talk-February/March 2018