Overheard at the OLA - The Next BIG Idea

By Christie Walker
The annual OLA event is a great place to see new equipment, take a few educational classes and reconnect with fellow lab owners, managers and employees. For me, it’s a wonderful opportunity to find out what’s on the minds of the lab community. Each year I ask a particular question and get the opinions of the lab owners and managers. This year I tried something a little different. I asked people what the next BIG idea was going to be. Here’s what vendors, lab owners, managers and employees had to say.

Warren Meyer,Retired Lab Guy

Big Idea – Customer Service, Sharing Equipment, Go to the Customer Early

“There are very few products that are exclusive to just one lab. So the only thing that will differentiate one lab from another is your customer service. If small labs want to keep up with technology but can’t afford it, they may want to partner together with another small lab to purchase major pieces of equipment such as AR or freeform. If I were to start a new lab today, the biggest thing I’d do differently is I’d go to the customer much earlier to find out what they want. We used to assume that if we had a product, they would buy it. Not true.”

Bob Pommier,Expert Optics

Big Idea – Hiring a Roaming Customer Service Person

“As our lab grew, more and more things were slipping through the cracks. We were getting phone calls on a daily basis from upset customers. That’s when we decided to hire a roaming customer service representative. This new employee carries a cordless phone and is out on the lab floor tracking down any job that is five days or older. There are many legitimate reasons a job may be taking longer. She identifies the reason and contacts the doctor from the floor. She has the ability to go to several people at their stations until she finds the job in question and can find out what is holding the job up. This has minimized interruptions on the floor from calls coming over the PA system, asking everyone to stop what they are doing and look for a particular job. It’s a proactive approach that is working.”

Scott Borthwick,Kaiser Permanente

Big Idea – Labor/Management Partnership “Kaiser is a unionized optical laboratory. We needed to come up with a way to empower our people to create their own systems for getting the work done and solving problems. We created a labor/management partnership consisting of an equal number of people from each group–labor and management. This group is responsible for setting production standards and procedures. We needed to come up with new standards that were fair. Because the employees were involved in creating the standards they have buy in and have accepted the agreements and are working toward the goals that were set by the group.”

Andy Karp, Jobson Publishing

Big Idea – Knowing What Your Customers Think

At the opening session of the OLA, Andy Karp presented the following statistics that were of interest and importance to optical laboratories. “Seventy-five percent of ECPs work with more than one wholesale lab. Thirty-six percent rely more on their labs now than three years ago. Sixty-seven percent order specific types of product from one lab but not from another and forty-three percent expect to do more business with wholesale labs in the coming year while only ten percent expect to do less. ECPs continue to rely on optical laboratories for a diverse mix of products, information and product education.”

Chris Bowers, Walman Optical

Big Idea – Solving the Slippage Problem “The majority of all finish breakage occurs due to slippage. Lenses are off-axis, the lenses are tilted… each lab reports it differently but it’s all the same thing… slippage. We’ve always had this problem but now with the use of hydrophobic coatings it’s even worse. We don’t need a new pad; we need to re-engineer the process so that slippage is not an issue. Everyone claims his or her pad is better. Show me the scientific, quantifiable proof. We need to be able to measure the performance. The next BIG idea will be the solution to this problem.”

Don Barton, Homer Optical

Big Idea – Training the ECP & Staff “We’ve got to get to the ECPs and decision makers in a practice. Our lab association has created Strada, a wonderful training tool to educate ECPs and their staff. The ultimate goal is to make private practice a more profitable place to exist; it’s about filling the needs of your customers. If we look at our customers and those that have a high dollar average, they will have a forward-thinking MD or OD or a highly trained optician in place. It’s not necessarily product-specific. There is a pull-through happening that we can track. To be successful, optical laboratories MUST work with their ECP clients.”

Rich Palmer, Practical Engineering

Big Idea – Incorporating New Technology “I believe free-form and cut-to-polish and all the technology to achieve this goal will be the next evolution in equipment. Then this equipment must be assimilated into the manufacturing process. We need to look at our optical laboratories more in terms of manufacturing than as a lab. So far the industry has done a good job of embracing technology. I expect to see more of the same in the future.”

Jeff Endres, Ophthonix

Big Idea – Wavefront Correction of Prescriptions “Although I admit that I’m a little bias, I believe that wavefront correction is the next big idea. Why is 20/20 vision the standard? It should be 20/12. Maybe the standard is obsolete. Why should a patient settle for 60 percent of what they need when they can have 100 percent? A big discussion going forward will be, ‘Isn’t what I have now good enough?’ If the industry had this attitude we wouldn’t have progressive lenses and AR coating and we’d still be wearing bifocals.”

Kurt Atchison, Satisloh

Big Idea – Single-side AR lenses “With the advent of in-line hard coating and AR coating processes, we will see single side AR lens manufacturing along with a single one-time blocking process for both surfacing and finishing. Why is it possible? Because with free form processing, there will likely be just a few single vision blanks to choose from for all lens types including all progressives. This means less inventory cost and the ability to easily inventory pre-front side AR blanks. This in-line process is still in development and will not happen overnight. But we will see a transformation in the coating process that will bring a new level of consistency and flexibility, better quality and index matching, an elimination of batch processing, and a continuous production flow.”

Tim Steffey, Sunstar Optical Laboratory

Big Idea – Improve Customer Service & Quality “We need to make customer service and the quality of the products, especially drill mount, better. Labs need to service their local markets and put out some damn good lenses. If that happens, independent labs will survive, grow, and move forward.”


Labtalk June 2020