Overheard at the OLA - 2007

By Christie Walker
Usually this annual feature is comprised of interviews from lab owners and managers on a particular topic. This year I’m trying something a bit different. There will still be a few interviews but I actually “overheard” some very interesting bits and pieces of information while at the OLA in November. I attended classes, sat in on round-table discussions, had lunch with lab owners and attended all the general sessions. What follows are items I thought you’d find interesting, informative or pertinent.

News from the OLA

Bob Dziuban presented an OLA update with information on the Shared Lab Data Program, which can be found on the OLA Web site. A new lens center for the dispensary is in the works and there will be a group health insurance program with contracts for individual labs. This program will be rolled out in a limited number of states to begin with and then expanded. The OLA is also changing their bylaws and creating a new dues structure. Dan Torgersen, the technical director for the OLA, made a presentation on FDA impact testing for ophthalmic dress lenses. One of the changes to the FDA regulation will transfer the responsibility of impact testing to the last entity that placed the lens in the frame. What this would mean is doctor’s offices that do in-house finishing would have responsibility and liability for the final product. This could be good news for labs if doctors decide they don’t want to increase their liability and turn over their finishing to the optical laboratory.

Big News from Transitions

By now I’m sure you’ve heard that Transitions Optical is rolling out Transitions VI in all materials and all designs this February. This will encompass 225 different lens products–the largest rollout in Transitions’ history. Optical laboratories have been given the heads up and eyecare professionals and consumers will get the news in February. This will be a huge challenge for lens manufacturers and optical laboratories to swap out lens materials and designs. Old inventory of Transitions V and Transitions Next Generation should be used up or returned, as Transitions is not continuing these items. At a round-table discussion, I heard more than one laboratory manager express concern about losing money through lost inventory. One lab that was part of a buying group was not concerned as his buying group was handling the change over. To find out the new characteristics of Transitions VI, check out the news item in LabTech in this issue.

Class on Customer Service

Sat in on a class on customer service and found these pearls of wisdom. When dealing with a customer who is angry use the ASAP method of handling the call. A–acknowledge and apologize. This defuses their anger. S–be sympathetic. Use phrases like, “That must have been awful” or “I can’t imagine how that made you feel.” A–Accept responsibility. Reintroduce yourself and let them know YOU will be helping them. P–prepare to help. Doesn’t mean you can necessarily fix the problem but let them know you are going to help them.

You will spend 80 percent of your time massaging the customer’s feelings and only 20 percent of the time fixing the problem. More business is lost due to poor treatment of customers or poor service than poor products.

Round-Table Discussion on HR Issues

When asked what are the biggest HR issues facing optical laboratories today, a group of lab owners and managers came up with this top-ten list: absenteeism, cell phones in the lab, people acting like kids, inappropriate dress, negativity, customer contact/customer service training, gossip, drugs/alcohol, attitudes/lab culture, and interdepartmental training. Absenteeism was identified as the biggest issue. Labs shared what they have done to try and curb this disruptive problem. One lab doesn’t pay for sick days at all but has a bonus program where employees are paid for perfect or almost perfect attendance. Another lab pays double for sick days not taken and this is given as a bonus at the end of the year. Vacation days are distinguished from sick days with vacation days requiring 2 weeks notice.

When it came to improving moral and curbing negativity and gossip, the group agreed that these types of problems needed to be addressed immediately. Praise people in public but reprimand in private. If you are trying to change one person’s behavior and talk to the entire group, two things will occur: the people who aren’t messing up will think, “he’s talking to me” and the people who are messing things up will think, “he’s not talking to me.” The group also agreed that to get results, you need to pull the individual aside and speak to them directly. You also need to follow up and make sure that the new behavior is actually happening. Without follow-up people revert to their old behavior.

Biggest Challenges Facing Labs Today

I did interview some people asking them what was the biggest challenge facing their lab today and here’s what they had to say: Danny Perez

Sutherlin Optical

Kansas City, Mo.

“I find the most difficult thing is to try and maintain the level of consistency with each employee from day-to-day, week-to-week, for years on end. It’s hard to keep people’s minds from wandering when they are doing the same thing over and over again. Besides going completely robotic what can you do? I talk to them, go back the next day and reinforce what we discussed. Then I go back the next week and observe. They have to have a sense that you are following through on what you asked them to do. If a manager just barks and doesn’t follow through it’s useless.”

Jack & Janet Benjamin


Indianola, Iowa

“Our biggest challenge is reaching the customer base that can best take advantage of the niche we’ve created. Our Web site is our sales force. We’ve never had a sales person on the road. We are a service-orientated lab not a sales-orientated lab. We process uncuts only and have Zeiss AR in-house. Eighty percent of our customers are high-end dispensers that want real control over their quality. Our customers are master opticians. We have the highest percentage of educated opticians who have a passion for their job and what they do. Eighty-five percent of what we have to redo in our laboratory is due to the ridiculous warranties still out in the industry. The lens manufacturers don’t cover these warranties. I question why we have a re-fit warranty at all.”

Allan Hammock & Dave Kennicutt

Future Optics

Largo, Fla.

“Our biggest challenge is trying to stay competitive with the larger corporate labs. We don’t have the financial resources to jump into new technology such as digital surfacing. From our smaller labs perspective (250 jobs per day), digital surfacing looks scary. We don’t even have in-house AR yet because of the price of the investment and we don’t have space for a clean room. So we have to find ways to do things better than the big labs. We have concentrated on faster turn-around times and excellent customer service. Both have worked for us. We have one-day turn-around times and same day delivery. We have frames in the doctor’s office and frames in the lab so we don’t have to wait for the frame to arrive.”

Dan Torgersen

Walman Optical,

Minneapolis, Minn.

“I believe the biggest challenge facing optical labs today is how they sort out all the different product offerings and determine what they are going to offer. We have to ask ourselves, do we want to be all things to all people at all times–whether it’s AR, digital surfacing or a particular PAL design? We tell our customers, if you want a particular lens that we don’t stock, we can get it for you but we explain the impact it will have on delivery time, etc. We try and dissuade them from certain items and concentrate on what we feel are the best products and choices.”

And Lastly…

There was a wonderful panel discussion on digital surfacing conducted by Andy Karp from VisionMonday. Issues discussed included: what do we call it, what do we charge for it, what is the WOW factor, how do we educate the ECP, and what will be the policies regarding remakes and warranties. There was so much information that the entire topic warrants a separate article. So look for a discussion of digital surfacing in the next issue of LabTalk.


Labtalk June 2020