Getting Smart with Polarized and Photochromics

By Julie Bos
Let’s face it. Selling sunwear effectively (and profitably) isn’t for dummies. In fact, getting high marks in this niche takes focus, patience and a firm resolve to succeed.

Here’s the challenge: When looking for ways to improve sales of polarized and photochromic sunwear, it can be easy to spread your efforts too thin. It’s also easy to focus on only one strategy, only to find that you’re not making a meaningful impact on the business. A better approach: Apply a serious focus to several strategies at once and get ready to reap the rewards.

To help you sharpen your skills in this area, we’ve talked to some labs that have already dialed it in—and are enjoying healthy profits from their sunwear sales. These A+ performing labs have shared some of their best tips, which can help you move to the head of the class.

Make a point of talking about polarized on every call Harbor Optical in Traverse City, Mich., is one lab that has mastered the art of communication. According to Bob Westlake, director of operations, lens specialists talk about polarized lenses in one form or another, on every call. This goes a long way to keeping the topic in the forefront, and reinforces the product value.

Tap into trainings

When talking about polarized or photochromic sunwear, training is always essential. Harbor Optical has found great success with Jump Start Training (only available from a Global Optics member laboratory). Jump Start is an interactive DVD series that trains customer staff members on everything from how to answer the phone, to how to decide whether you should put a specific lens with a specific frame and how to discuss second-pair sales with sunwear.

Another lab, Perfect Optics in Vista, Calif., uses the Transitions Online Marketing (TOM) program to help its customers promote second-pair sales and sunwear as an integral part of their businesses.

Identify the decision-makers

When trying to increase sunwear sales, it’s critical to get the decision-makers on board—whether it be the ECP or the office manager. “We try to make sure we have one individual in every office who’s like the cheerleader for sunwear,” said Westlake. “They’re the ones who will push the category within the office. If you don’t have someone who is going to coach these sales along, it will probably fall flat.”

Above all, Westlake says to just keep at it. “It can be a hard road to get started in,” he said. “In our industry, there are a lot of people who are afraid to ask for that second-pair sale. But from our experience, it’s just a matter of repeatedly going after that market.”

Create targeted promotions that drive incremental growth Harbor Optical has found success with one particular program. Over the course of three months, customers earn points for different lens sales (e.g., ophthalmic lenses, photochromic sunwear, lenses with AR coating, digitally produced lenses with AR coating) and they collect those points and redeem them for prizes. Once they hit their sales goal every month, they also get an extra rebate for every pair. So customers could get a $10 rebate for every pair above and beyond last year’s sales number, which encourages incremental growth.

“We do at least two promotions a year that are driven toward the sunwear category,” said Westlake. “Our results are generally very good. People tend to get excited about these promotions because the concept is fun and the prizes are fun.”

Toledo Optical, a two-time Transitions Laboratory of the Year winner, also uses a three-month promotion focused on incremental growth. After setting individual goals for each practice, the lab rewards those who hit their goals by taking all the staff members to a huge party on Put-in-Bay (Lake Eerie). For polarized lenses, specifically, Toledo offers passes to a local amusement park when an office sells a certain number of polarized lenses—and offers “dining dollars” (restaurant gift certificates) to offices that achieve certain growth levels.

At the end of the day, it’s the results that count. “At the end of the programs, we’re quick to show people the benefits—that they’ve not only attended a great party, but they’ve also increased their penetration rate of a certain product category to a certain percent, which equates to a higher dollar per Rx or revenue per patient,” said Jeff Szymanski, vice president, Toledo Optical.

Educate, educate, educate

According to Greg Blackwell, managing partner at Pinnacle Optical in Birmingham, Ala., another key to success in selling polarized sunwear is education.

“Our sales staff works hard to educate the ECPs—not only about the visual advantages of using a polarized product, but also the economic advantages of selling them,” he said. “We compare what they’ll pay for a tinted lens with a UV coat to a polarized lens. Cost-wise, the difference isn’t that much, but they get so much more from a polarized lens.”

Michael Rothstein, vice president of Hirsch Optical in Farmingdale, N.Y., agrees. “Without a doubt, education proves to be a key part of our success,” he said. “Whether it’s through accredited seminars, in-office training sessions, learn-and-earn meetings, complimentary pairs to our customers and their staffs or print advertising and support of optician/optometric societies, it’s all about repetition and finding new ways to keep getting the message across.”

Try a ‘round-about’ solution

Ironically, Pinnacle Optical increased polarized sales when they encouraged a low-cost alternative—Chemistrie polarized sunlenses.

“By selling these magnetic click-on sunlenses, we’ve seen patients get used to the benefits of polarization,” said Blackwell. “They love it so much, they decide they want polarization on their next pair of lenses, or they need it in a bigger frame, or they want it for outdoor sports use. They go ahead and invest the money in an additional frame with polarized lenses for specific uses. I was concerned it might take away from our polarized sales, but it’s actually increased overall sales in all polarized niches.”

Consider becoming a reference lab

Pech Optical in Sioux City, Iowa, has found sunwear success by broadening their reach.

According to Kathryn Gross-Edelman, director of education, “We get many orders directly from customers, but we also do a lot of special prescriptions for other labs that aren’t capable of edging polarized lenses into wraparound frames and extra large eyewear. So a lot of our success comes from being a reference lab to others. We have five MEI edgers and have built a reputation for our polarized capabilities and our photochromatic skills.”

Help customers open new doors

Because of its sophisticated edger technology, Pech Optical can help customers transform plain sunglasses (formerly marked “Non-Rxable”) into prescription sunwear. “Our customers are now asking us to do things that they had to tell their patients were impossible before,” added Gross-Edelman. “That has expanded our lab’s ability to offer products that customers really want, but couldn’t get before.”

Capture celebrity endorsements

To boost sales further, Pech Optical taps into some high-profile users. The lab provided sunglasses to NASCAR racer Jimmy Johnson and other celebrities, as well as local sportscasters and staff members at local radio stations in order to get some endorsements.

Don’t be afraid to expand your marketing efforts—both inside and out In a time when most businesses are cutting back on marketing endeavors, Hirsch Optical has deliberately chosen to expand its marketing efforts and commitment to excellent customer service. The lab expanded its sales force to four sales consultants in its local markets, and is in the process of expanding its in-house customer service team.

“A department comprised of experienced optical people helps us boast one of the best customer service teams in our market,” said Michael Rothstein, vice president. “To round off this team expansion, we implemented a telemarketing program that supports our sales team and our efforts to grow the premium lens business. We have also developed a new Web site to strengthen our presence in the industry and to provide a forum where ECPs can learn about Hirsch Optical and what we have to offer.”

Establish good vendor partnerships

According to Adam Winkelman, vice president of sales, marketing and finance for Perfect Optics, having strong vendor partnerships can go a long way toward improving sunwear sales. “We have very strong partners, including Younger Optics and Transitions,” he said. “Working closely with their people is really helpful in learning new technologies and staying on the forefront.”

Differentiate yourself

Perfect Optics also differentiated itself by investing in special MEI edging components that enabled it to edge difficult jobs for specific frames (e.g., Adidas, Nike, Oakley). “This has really helped us,” said Winkelman. “First, it allows us to Rx jobs that people are not accustomed to doing, and secondly, it leads into different conversations—about sunwear as a whole and about Perfect Optics’ capabilities.”

Offer a liberal multiple-pair savings program

Creating strong second-pair packages can make it easy for ECPs to price out an affordable polarized lens, frame and an AR coating all put together—making it easy for them to present this deal to their customers. Many times, patients can save about 30 to 50 percent on these packages, making it a more attractive price point.

In an effort to compete against national chains that offer big savings on second-pair sales, Precision San Diego encourages multiple pair savings. “We’re not unique in this area—most labs are offering something similar,” said Mark Becker, president/CEO. “But we are getting good traction from this effort. It’s been a contributor for us—particularly with polarized sales.”

Make sure doctors and dispensers are wearing polarized products

To increase awareness of polarized lenses, Precision San Diego provides complimentary fits for everybody in ECP offices. “It was amazing to learn how few doctors and staff members actually wore polarized lenses,” said Becker. “When we heard this, we put more emphasis on fitting the decision makers with polarized lenses.” Offer a customized business evaluation – and coordinated training

Precision San Diego also got personal with a few key customers. The team targeted some key practices, ran their stats, reviewed their total business and numbers (including breakdowns for polarized, progressives, AR and Transitions) and compared them to local and national averages. “We then helped them select one or two areas they wanted to grow in, and offered specific training in those areas, followed by tracking,” said Becker. “As long as the doctor takes leadership in the benchmarking, it’s amazing how it motivates their staff.” Incorporate marketing messages everywhere

Toledo Optical knows what it takes to make the grade with photochromic sunwear and polarized lenses. One of the company’s strategies is to incorporate Transitions marketing messages everywhere—from “on hold” messages and invoice messages to newsletters. Focus on changing behavior

According to Szymanski, Toledo Optical’s main goal with any marketing push is to change behavior—and to reward the right person. “If we can create a mindset-change and get people to see the value of presenting certain products in certain ways, then everybody benefits—the patient, the practice and obviously the lab, too,” he said. Help ECPs become better business people

“While optometry schools have done a really good job of teaching the mechanics of optometry, they haven’t necessarily done a good job of teaching the business side,” said Szymanski. Several years ago, Toledo Optical began a mission to help ECPs become better business people, and thereby ensure that their patients walk away feeling completely enchanted with their visit to the ECP’s office. That process includes using a lifestyle questionnaire to extract some basic information, incorporating doctor recommendations and following through with a proper hand-off to the dispenser.

“If those three things are handled in the right way, we can do anything,” he said. “A lot of the programs that we do are designed to help train an office to run a better business, create a better perception about products that we have, and incorporate things like a doctor recommendation. If there’s one thing we’ve done to increase our Transitions penetration rate, it’s been that process.”

Offer to help withinternal marketing

If your lab offers printing services, offer to help ECPs out with in-office printing of brochures, fliers or lifestyle questionnaires. In the process, you can help ensure proper messaging and product focus (e.g., polarized, photochromic sunwear) is present.

Use metrics in your sales cycle

Toledo Optical has an extremely active sales force that spends the bulk of its time doing training, education and metrics analysis. “We run several different performance reports that break down customers’ usage compared to other Toledo Optical ECPs, as well as ECPs in the industry,” said Szymanski. “This helps ECPs know their current numbers, so they can set goals. Plus, it helps them view our laboratory as more of a partner. It’s a great way to differentiate yourself in the industry.”

Hirsch Optical is also on board with this strategy. “Every month we arm our sales team with stats that reveal customers’ actual overall lens usage, the percentage of Transitions lenses and the percentage of lenses ordered with an AR coating,” said Rothstein. “We also provide ECPs with national and local market stats on Transitions and anti-reflective coatings. This allows us to supply constructive information to improve ECPs’ businesses. It has been a wake-up call for many ECPs who didn’t realize how much money they were leaving on the table.”

Manufacturers Chime In

Smart Tips fromToday’s Leaders

Nobody knows the polarized and photochromic sunwear market like the manufacturers in the niche. According to these leaders, here are a few additional strategies and resources to help your lab make the grade in selling polarized and photochromic sunwear.


Help ECPs evolve optically. Provide them with Kaenon brochures that highlight the advantages of SR-91 polarized lenses—and how theses lenses overcome the shortcomings of existing polarized lenses. To request copies, contact your Kaenon representative at (866) KAENON-1. Specialty Lens

HIP Program – This program can help labs stimulate growth in the hi-index polarized category by offering a simplified pricing structure along with customized marketing support.

Transitions SOLFX Events

These fun, educational events can help labs build awareness and sales for the new iRx Xperio Transitions SOLFX lens. Specialty Lens also provides free fits for attending ECPs so they can try the product for themselves.

Younger Optics

Total Vision Care Brochure – Younger’s newest ECP-targeted leave-behind collateral highlights the value of sunwear as one aspect of total vision care—and the many reasons sunwear is important to ECPs’ practices. Created by David Rips, these brochures can be invaluable tools to support your daily conversations with ECPs. Call and request some copies for your reps today. Younger is also able to personalize this brochure for you with your lab name and contact information. Get more details by calling (800) 877-5367.

For more information on any of these resources, contact your local sales representative.


Labtalk June 2020