By Wayne Parkola
Independent optical sales reps are unique to start with and no doubt a different breed! No nine to five guys here! They are generally self-motivated, energized and generally dedicated to their profession. They are considered by many as consultants, friends and industry pioneers. They normally have a strong bond with both the manufacturers they represent and their lab customers. There are, no doubt, some optical legends among this group, people that have worked tirelessly to introduce new technologies and products to our industry. Products like polycarbonate, Trivex, 3-axis generating and digital surfacing, etc. Names that come to mind from the list of both past and current optical legends are: Harry Namath, Dick Reeves, Jerry Samuleson, Phil Epperson, Ike Bender, Jim Roussel, Dick Paul, Mark Gerhin and Dick Pennington. And there are more, lots more, not enough space to list them all.

Generally, independent optical reps run their own businesses. Some work alone and others have partners and/or associates. They are considered independent, as the compensation for their work is strictly based on commission. The independent representative manages his business and travel expense from his own budget. There are many reps that specialize in lenses, frames, supplies or processing equipment. Then there are those that may work in all of the above categories.
Although many of us still in the business often feel like the California Condor, trust me, we aren’t going away. Not yet, anyway! That being said, there are mergers, consolidations, and corporate dominance that has changed the landscape. This change has required all independent reps to become more resourceful, creative and nimble when addressing their business, goals, and futures.

Optical companies have been using independent representatives for many years as this business model and relationship has proven over and over again to work for a multiple of reasons.

The suppliers that use independent representatives do so because it works for them. They can depend on a fixed cost of sales when pricing their products and running their business. They are most often able to choose a person or business that already has developed personal and business relationships within the customer base in the territory. The experienced rep usually knows the business and often the product line. The obvious benefit to the supplier is a very limited training period and cost, required to see an immediate benefit from the chosen company or individual.

As time is critical to the lab owner, it is important that visits from a representative are meaningful. A representative that carries multiple lines makes it easier to learn of product additions, developments and changes from several companies in one visit. As a multi-line independent rep has knowledge of many products and systems, the lab owner can often use him as a consultant when considering changes and improvements to his lab. And, often in one visit, a lab owner is able to convey his thoughts, wishes and messages to several of his key suppliers through a multi-line representative.

Finally, this business model allows an individual the opportunity to establish and grow a small business. An independent rep has the freedom to plan his travels and days where he feels he will be most effective serving his factories and customers. The freedom to start, grow, develop and profit, both financially and personally from an independent business is the American dream, one that is still possible in this amazing industry we work in. The independent optical rep is generally a blessed and very thankful person. I know I am!

Wayne Parkola represents multiple optical lines in a 10 state Western region. When not on the road, he can be found in his office in downtown Fallbrook, Calif. He’s always available at 760-213-2688.


Labtalk June 2020