By Julie Bos

The prescription sunwear market has never been hotter—and the numbers prove it. According to Vision Watch, a study of U.S. consumers conducted by The Vision Council, Rx sunwear unit sales rose 6.3 percent from 2012 to 2013, while total industry retail dollars rose just 3.8 percent.   By comparison, frame units rose by 1.3 percent from 2012 to 2013 and lens pairs rose by 1.5 percent.

Several factors are driving this market’s growth. One is the debut of new innovations in materials, treatments and processing technologies that have dramatically increased the range of prescription lens options. Another is the growing awareness among consumers about the need to protect their eyes from glare, UV, HEV radiation and other ocular hazards. And let’s not discount heightened marketing by suppliers of popular Rx sun brands, which is making prescription sunwear seem cooler than ever before.

If your lab is like most, you want to dive deeper into this lucrative market and capture the growing revenue. Yet the key to higher sunwear sales is getting through to ECPs—something seemingly out of your control. Is it even possible to spur change at the ECP level? And if so, where do you begin?

To help get answers, we sought the input of several leading laboratories: FEA Industries (Morton, Penn.), iCoat Company (Santa Fe Springs, Calif.), Interstate Optical (Ontario, Ohio) and Superior Optical Lab (Ocean Springs, Miss.). Consider their input—and the strategies that are working for them—so you can capitalize on a sunwear hot streak of your own.


ECP Challenge #1: Not Staying Up-To-Date On What’s Available
With all the changes in sunwear—and new offerings   being debuted continually—it’s easy to see how ECPs can have trouble staying current. However, your sales team is in a unique position to change that.

“All of our reps always carry a few samples of prescription sunwear, typically a high Rx in a wrap frame in a minus 3, 4 or 5 prescription, so they can show ECPs what can actually be done today,” said iCoat Company’s director of sales and marketing Tom Pfeiffer. “I think a lot of ECPs still can’t grasp that we can do a minus 6 Rx in a wrap frame and create a precise bevel and a really beautiful pair of sunglasses. This can create new sales opportunities for patients who may have never been able to wear modern frames like Oakley, Nike and Adidas—and now get them in their prescription.”

The lab also asks doctors if they would like a free (or heavily discounted) pair for themselves, so they can see, touch and feel the benefits for themselves.

ECP Challenge #2 – Making Poor Assumptions
“Another one of the major challenges ECPs have to overcome is themselves,” said Bill Heffner, president of FEA Industries. “Many assume that their patients either don’t want sunwear or don’t want to pay for it.”

Pfeiffer agrees. “A lot of opticians hesitate to mention a second-pair sale, assuming that the patient can’t   afford it; but that’s doing a big disservice to the patient,” he said. “We can make some fantastic sunwear today with all the frames, lenses, freeform, wraps and mirror coatings—and it’s also a very profitable segment of   the business, so it should be a priority for everyone.”

But how can you convince ECPs to proactively mention sunwear to all their patients, all the time?

“This is where education comes in,” said Heffner. “ECPs need to be able to explain to patients the benefits and health concerns that sunwear addresses. This includes things like discussing polarization—what it is and why   it’s beneficial.”

To help, FEA Industries offers display kits that illustrate the glare reduction of polarized lenses. It also provides information about different freeform design choices that are ideal for sunwear, including freeform progressive   designs specifically geared for driving and sports.

Superior Optical is another lab that focuses on point-of-sale displays. “POS items are always effective, provided they’re displayed in places where patients can see them,” said Hal Walker, president and COO. “Patient waiting   areas are usually the best locations for these sales tools because patients have time to review them and read any items of interest. Another good idea is a flat-screen TV with a continuous loop on sunwear, specifically discussing the importance of UV protection as opposed to just the glamorous aesthetics. Although a great looking pair of sunglasses can attract attention, it’s usually the health advantages that often make the sale.”

ECP Challenge #3: Not Promoting The Benefits Of Glass

One reason for the major increase in the sunwear market is the growing use of glass freeform—yet not every ECP is promoting the advantages.

According to Bill Heffner, glass is the perfect material for sunwear. Since glass sunwear is being worn outside, it’s more likely to come in contact with dirt and sand. Fortunately, the natural scratch-resistance of glass, combined with this material’s superior optics, make it   ideal for sunwear.

Furthermore, today’s freeform technology enables labs to take a wide array of glass colors—from gray and brown to G15, Rose and Yellow—and create progressive lenses. The ability to decenter the lenses is another big benefit, since sunwear lenses tend to be in larger frames that are not suitable for standard progressive lenses.

How can you get ECPs to take notice? Take some time to educate them specifically on the advantages of glass sunwear. It may help them make a more compelling case for a second-pair sale.

ECP Challenge #4 – Differentiating Sunwear From Other Photochromic Lenses
Some ECPs also struggle to sell sunwear to patients who   already have photochromic lenses like Transitions.

“They feel that the patient already has some level of sunwear, so they don’t know how to convince them to buy a dedicated pair of sunwear as well,” said Heffner. “This is one area where promoting the benefits of glass comes in handy. ECPs can encourage patients to use a dedicated pair of glass sunwear when outside for long periods of time—like doing yard work or relaxing at the beach. They won’t risk getting their everyday prescription lenses scratched or dirty, and they can save their photochromic lenses for day-to-day wear with only brief periods   of time outside.”

ECP Challenge #5: Not Recommending Sunwear from the Chair
We all know that one product suggestion from the   doctor carries a lot more weight than one from a dispensary staff member who may come across as just wanting to make a sale. Yet according to John Art, president of Interstate Optical, getting ECPs to recommend prescription sunwear from the chair remains another big challenge. And again, one of the keys to overcoming this   hurdle is education.

“We provide educational in-office training classes   and make this an important part of our entire sales process,” he said.

“Our company is huge in pushing sunwear and subsequently giving educational classes in the ECP’s office,” agreed Hal Walker. “Lunch-and-Learn events are good, however, time constraints often limit the amount of time our sales people have to deliver the message and typically the Q&A sessions tend to exceed the time allotted. Therefore, we’ve found that after-hours educational events are always better than trying to squeeze them in during the work day.”

ECP Challenge #6: Flying on “Auto-Pilot”
For many ECPs, selling more sunwear also may require  a serious change in some long-standing habits.

“Every dispensing optician is typically on auto-pilot   when working with patients on their frame and lens   selections,” said Hal Walker. “Their pitch is usually the same to everyone and as long as that pitch doesn’t include sunwear, potential revenue will always be lost.   To break any habit, people need to make a conscious effort to change—and that includes ECPs discussing a patient’s need for sunwear.”

To help break these bad dispensing habits, Superior Optical Lab puts a strong focus on promotions—and the results are positive.

“Whenever we run promotions, which are usually sponsored in part by sunwear vendors, we see a good spike in sunwear sales,” said Walker.

ECP Challenge #7: Missing the Follow-up Window
Often times, a patient is not prepared to spend the extra money on sunwear during their regular appointment, but with a little forethought and planning, the window of opportunity doesn’t have to be closed permanently.

“We provide patient handout cards that are customized to each individual practice explaining the promotional offer, such as 50 percent off when you purchase in the next 30 days,” said Interstate Optical’s Art. “We also encourage the ECP to call patients after two weeks to remind them of the promotional offer. We’ve found that these efforts often drive the patient to action.”

ECP Challenge #8: Selling to Younger Patients
Many established ECPs may also struggle with the   notion of selling sunwear to a new generation of   younger   patients.

“I think a lot of today’s latest sunwear styles cater to a younger audience that many opticians may not be as familiar with,” said iCoat Company’s Pfeiffer. “Especially when we’re talking about sports sunwear that’s geared to 18-to-35-year-olds, this may be a market segment that some ECPs aren’t used to addressing, which can put them out of their comfort zones.”

Again, combating this problem really boils down to   one thing: education.

“One of the first things we did internally was give our staff a lot of training so that they were ready to answer questions and upsell our customers on the importance of sunwear,” said Pfeiffer. “Even if customers were simply   ordering a tinted sunglass, our sales and customer service teams would take some time to discuss the advantages of polarized, mirror coating or backside AR.”

ECP Challenge #9: Not Addressing the Cost Objection Head-on
One of the primary consumer objections to a second-pair sale like sunwear is always one thing—cost. But many ECPs are finding great success by packaging sunwear with another sale. Often this includes attractive discounts that tempt even the most frugal customers.  

“We tend to do a number of offers around polarized lenses, especially in conjunction with freeform and AR coating,” said Heffner from FEA Industries. “Freeform makes it possible to offer expanded availability along with a much better price than a traditional polarized   progressive lens.”

“One of our recent promotions was a combination between NuPolar lenses (Younger Optics) and our Eagle freeform lenses,” he said. “This put a very attractive price on both plastic and polycarbonate lenses in freeform, which was much lower than other options for sunwear.”

Interstate Optical also focuses on packaging, promotions, bundles and displays.

“We try to provide our accounts with turnkey solutions to make it easy for them to sell their patients second pair sunwear,” said Art. “We have a polarized frame and lens Rx package that bundles the two at a very competitive price. This makes it easy to present and also easy to create a simple retail price for any of the styles   on the package.”  

“With VSP and other managed care plans, the ECP must give the patient a discount on second pair orders, and our offer, combined with our frame and lens package, helps them to do this and still make a substantial profit.”

The lab also created a wall display for the sunwear styles and makes it available at no extra charge when ECPs put the package in their office [see photo on page 10]. The lab also offers 50 percent off the second pair so ECPs can pass the savings on to their patients.

In addition, Interstate Optical created a Wrap Hotline with a database of frame styles and simulation software that allows customer service reps to determine if the Rx will work in the frame up-front. This is especially   helpful as it prevents ECP offices from having to call   patients back after they’ve left the office to tell them that their Rx won’t work in their chosen frame.

ECP Challenge #10: Not Understanding the Latest Technology Innovations
Lastly, ECPs may not have a full understanding of what lab equipment and technology is available to make cutting-edge sunwear—or if their preferred lab has such equipment. And this naïveté may hold them back from recommending certain sunwear styles and prescriptions.

“The equipment and technology we’ve brought in-house makes creating the latest sunwear styles much easier,” said Pfeiffer. “We couldn’t do this type of work without our two MEI edgers, and our in-house freeform helps a lot with cut-out issues, especially with high-wrap frames. We also have mirror coating and   AR coating in house, and letting our customers know   we have all these technologies in-house make them   feel more confident in our being able to handle those types of jobs.”


Labtalk June 2020