Why Glass? Why Not? Part 2 of 6

By Bill Heffner

Glass free-form products are becoming more and more mainstream these days. This is evidenced by that fact that glass is now offered in designs by several major name brand lens designers. This includes IOT, Shamir, and Signet Armorlite/KODAK designs. As a lab, the question becomes how can we leverage specific brands to our benefit? It's one thing to simply add an item to the price list, but it's quite another thing to be able to use the brand as a tool to increase sales.

Importance of Brands

The concept of brand loyalty goes far beyond the lens design itself. It gives the customer a way to easily judge what kind of product they're getting without having to worry about trying something new and unexpected. Even if the brand isn't necessarily 'the best' at a specific thing, customers feel safe using them. This goes not only for the end-consumer, but for the eyewear dispensers as well. Many of them prefer to use one lens designers' family of lenses to keep everything easy. This means it can be hard for a lab to offer them products that are outside of their preferred brand.

Selling lenses isn't simply a question about the 'best lens'. If it was, we wouldn't have so many different ones available. It comes down to not only the specific needs of the patient, but also the way that a given eye care professional works with a lens. The more familiar a dispenser is with a group of lenses, the better decision they can make for their patient. It also makes it easier for the ECP to offer a cohesive product line to their customers. This is why brands are important, as many practices prefer having a pre-built brand to sell as opposed to creating something of their own.

Expanding Availability

Glass free-form makes it much easier for a brand to enter the glass market. Before the option of free-form, launching a new lens would require a very large capital expenditure. People, equipment, raw materials, and storage space, to name a few components needed. It wouldn't have been practical to launch a conventional progressive lens without several thousand pieces in stock. This means you want to have your range of base curves and add powers already made and sitting on a shelf somewhere before you can even think about selling them. You then have to hope you don't run out of stock of the popular add powers, and then have to worry about restocking them quickly. This still hasn't even addressed the marketing costs of launching a new lens. That's a lot of investment to launch a new product in a relatively small part of the lens market.

Free-form makes it possible for brand manufacturers to reduce their market entry cost from hundreds of thousands of dollars down to almost nothing. Since there's no inventory to handle, there's no production, warehousing, or shipping costs involved. Other than a few minor software changes, there's nowhere near as much cost involved in bringing a new free-form glass product to market. Since it's free-form, it's also very easy to have it in a variety of materials that would never have been considered before.

Most standard glass progressives only come in two or three material/color combinations. If you wanted any kind of glass progressive sunwear, there's really only one conventional lens available. Free-form, however, makes expanding into this area much easier.

The Brands

To my knowledge, there are currently three major U.S. free-form lens designers that currently offer designs in glass. This includes IOT, Shamir, and Signet Armorlite. A lab can use each of these brands for a different purpose, as each of them fulfills a different role in your product catalog.

IOT is perhaps one of the most popular lens designers in the U.S. for private-label brands. This makes it very easy to fit in with an existing product catalog. For example, if your lab already uses IOT designs in plastic, you can now expand your range to include all manner of glass materials and colors while still maintaining the same lens design. This makes it much easier to push to your customers that are already familiar with your own house-brand lens. IOT also has the distinction of being the lens company with the most free-form designs currently available in glass, with over a dozen of their full-backside designs able to be produced. This wide availability of designs helps to take advantage of the versatility of glass by pairing it with this wide array of designs. For example, now it's possible to have an indoor-type progressive focused on intermediate and near vision in glass. This would be ideal for a number of applications, such as shop workers and mechanics. This wide availability and ease of integration into existing product lines makes IOT a powerful brand name for labs that use private-label lenses.

Of the three brands I mentioned, Shamir is probably the easiest to introduce in glass free-form. They currently have the Spectrum and InTouch available in glass. Since Shamir is already established in the glass market with their Genesis and Piccolo lenses, they already have a glass following. Moving customers from a conventional lens like the Piccolo to a full-backside design like the Spectrum should be easy. In this instance, free-form is an especially potent weapon when the Piccolo and Genesis are only available in  two different material/color combinations each. The Spectrum, on the other hand, has over 25 different material/color combinations.

The Kodak Unique HD from Signet Armorlite is also slated to be available in glass, and may well already be by the time of printing. While the Signet offering doesn't have the same breadth of designs as IOT, or the established glass market of Shamir, it does have one thing the others don't – name recognition. This lens is where the power of the brand comes through for the customer. While our other two lens designs may be well-known in the optical world, I think we can all agree the KODAK name is going to be the one that anyone off the street recognizes. This makes it a powerful tool for practices that want to push this name recognition out to their own customers. By harnessing the power of the brand name and putting it in front of customers, we are able to steer customers towards choosing the higher-end lens options. Similarly, glass tends to be a more 'premium' material than plastic. When we pair this material choice with a brand name, we can more easily sell the lenses at the premium price point.

Being able to offer the latest developments and brand-name products can only help the independent lab. With an expanded lens offering, it's much easier to match a lens to the needs of the patient. Brands, as we've seen, also help the lab meet the needs of the ECP dispensing the eyewear. While it often seems like a brand is 'just another item on the price list', it's important to keep in mind that to those that prefer that brand, it's more than just a line item. It's important for a lab to be able to support the needs of their customers, and having multiple brands available really helps to ensure that the needs of as many customers as possible are met

This is the second in a six part series exploring the many uses of glass lenses, dispelling myths around glass and helping to show glass as the premium product it is. The following topics will be discussed:

• May/June: On-the-Job Uses for Glass—Occupational  designs, shop workers, mechanics

• July/August: Glass Sunwear Lenses—Premium eyewear,  color availability, durability

• September/October: Innovations in Glass Technology—Thinner, lighter, better

• November/December: Specialty Applications for Glass—X-Ray, Contrast Enhancement, Glass Blowing

Bill Heffner, aka Other Bill, is the director of IT, marketing and sales for FEA Industries. Other Bill is a fourth-generation lab executive following in the footsteps of his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. Other Bill has worked at FEA in an on and off capacity for most of his life coming aboard full time in September 2009. To reach Bill with comments on this article email him at otherbill@feaind.com







May/June LabTalk 2017