By Julie Bos

Are you interested in kick-starting incredible sales for prescription sunwear or photochromic lenses? The time has never been better. According to VisionWatch, a study of U.S. consumers conducted by The Vision Council, sun is the biggest opportunity in the market for growth now. Seventy-five percent of Americans need some kind of vision correction, yet only 15 percent of them have a prescription sunwear solution. In comparison, 86 percent of Americans wear some form of non-prescription sunglasses. That’s quite a gap.

And according to Transitions Optical consumer research, 9 out of 10 people who try Transitions lenses love them, and Transitions lens wearers are just as likely to be interested in purchasing Rx sunglasses, assuming their ECP recommends them. By offering knowledgeable choices to patients, and personalizing recommendations to meet their needs, ECPs can open the door for a huge growth opportunity for their practice.

Clearly, selling sun protection can be a smart strategy for growth. For independent eye care professionals, photochromic lenses are more profitable, and sunwear is a tremendous opportunity to sell a second pair to existing patients—essentially growing the business without having to acquire new patients.

Why is sunwear such a golden opportunity? Sunglasses are a product that consumers can get excited about because of the combination of aesthetic appeal with a true medical benefit of UV protection.

“Many times, selling a regular pair of prescription lenses is a natural segue into selling a second pair of sunwear lenses,” said Brian Peterson, director of coating technologies for Satisloh. “For not too much more effort, the sale just doubled and profitability went way up.”

There’s no doubt that the sunwear niche is a real money-maker—but not all labs are equipped to capture all the profits.

“Many labs send out their mirror coated work and this is expensive and time-consuming,” said Ronald Cooke, Jr., sales manager ophalmics for Buhler Group/Leybold Optics. “By bringing the work in-house, they can increase their profits dramatically and with the flexibility of today’s equipment—like our STAR machine—labs can greatly improve turnaround time for their customers, not to mention offering a variety of fashion mirrors and AR lenses.”

Key Trends in Sunwear and Photochromic Lenses

Trend #1 Increased demand for individuality and choice.

When it comes to sunwear, Norm Kester, president at Quantum Innovations, says today’s millennials want choice and individualism.

“With mirror coatings finally making a push at the wholesale level and subsequent adoption at the retail level (often offering quality mirror coatings in less than two weeks), this area is poised for the largest growth in our industry,” said Kester.

Leaders at Essilor agree. “The primary trends in the sunwear market are colors, gradients and mirrors,” said Samy Lauriette, Essilor’s vice president of product marketing for coatings and sun. “Consumers are very focused on having a variety of aesthetic options for their prescription sun lenses. Examples of this are the new colors and gradients available on Xperio UV polarized sun lenses called Essilor Sunwear Colors, as well as other new semi-finished mirrors launched by KBCo.”

To better address patients’ heightened interest in mirrors, various equipment manufacturers offer targeted solutions that can help. One example is the STAR unit from Buhler/Leybold, which processes small batches of AR and mirrored lenses and is able to produce two pair every 10 to 15 minutes depending on the process.

Trend #2 Growing public awareness of harmful blue light.

Blue light is also creating a lot of buzz, as more people are learning about the connection between blue light and digital devices. But what most people don’t realize is that the sun is actually the largest single source of harmful blue light—over 100 times the intensity of electronic devices and screens. That creates another opportunity for sunwear or photochromic lens sales.

“There are already several kinds of optical solutions for eyeglass wearers to reduce exposure from harmful blue light, including blue-filtering AR coating, yellow dye solutions, sun lenses and Transitions lenses,” said Patience Cook, director or North America marketing, Transitions Optical. “What makes the Transitions family of products different from other solutions is that they are dark outside when sunlight is bright and intense, so they offer extra blue light filtering where you need it most. They can be worn at all times and also help provide good indoor protection against artificial blue lights with no un-realistic residual yellow color.”

Many equipment manufacturers also offer a blue-light blocking process on their systems, as well.

Trend# 3 Desire to have UV passing AR on the backsides of mirrored lenses.

 Backside AR has been available in the market for a few years, but more consumers are expressing concerns about both UV protection and scratch resistance of prescription sun lenses. To address this growing concern, labs can consider adopting an upgraded UVAR process to offer more complete protection.

What’s Hot in the Polarized and Polarized Photochromic niche?

Gradient polarized sun lenses, such as Younger Optics’ NuPolar Gradient lenses, are for patients who love the look of a gradient sunwear lens and want the glare-blocking power of polarization. Style conscious patients can get the gradient they want with the polarization they need.

NuPolar Gradient lenses are the first polycarbonate polarized lenses with an encapsulated gradient. With NuPolar trusted quality, labs no longer need to try and tint polarized lenses. Younger technology with encapsulated gradient colors provide labs with color consistency. Should there be a lab breakage, labs no longer have to match tints. With color consistency the lab can process another NuPolar lens that will match perfectly. Labs can realize huge time-savings with this offering. For patients who want their prescription with a gradient polarized color—it’s no problem now!

Tips for Marketing to Doctors

If your lab is like most, you want to dive deeper into the lucrative sunwear and photochromic lens market and capture the growing revenue. Yet the key to higher sunwear sales is getting through to ECPs. Here are some tips that will help you reach this critical audience.

•Educate ECPs on blue light. Even though discussions around the dangers of harmful blue light are at the public forefront, many eyecare professionals are misinformed about the sources of harmful blue light, and aren’t always aware that certain products (e.g., Transitions lenses) already help provide protection. Education is the best first step labs can take in helping their customers understand this added benefit. 

• Encourage the UV conversation. ECPs need to be able to explain to patients the benefits and health concerns that sunwear addresses. This includes things like discussing UV protection—what it is and why it’s beneficial. Encourage ECPs to have a conversation with every single patient about the effects of cumulative UV damage, so they understand the importance of UV protection. Also, it’s important to explain the available products and the difference between photochromic lenses, tinted, polarized and backside AR coating options.

• Don’t be afraid to talk about insurance. Many managed vision care patients don’t understand what benefits are available to them, so helping them understand how to utilize their individual plans for prescription sunwear is key. Encourage ECPs and their staff to take the time to ask about insurance benefits. It just might lead to them choosing a premium lens product or making a second-pair sale.

• Spread the word on gradient polarized sun lenses. Encourage your ECP accounts to visit the website for simple education on the value of these new lenses. You can also read about a free trial offer for NuPolar Gradient prescription sunwear lenses. Younger Optics can provide your lab with custom-printed job stuffers on this new product (free of charge), too.

• Promote the value of demonstrations. We all know that demos in the office can help close the sale. Having polarized lenses available to look through can help patients better understand the difference between inexpensive low-quality tints and the performance advantages of polarized. For more fashion-forward patients, ECPs can also utilized in-office demos available from manufacturers with colors, gradients and mirrors.

• Help patients “visualize” the finished product. Having great point-of-sale marketing materials and displays at the doctor level is a must. Opticians need an easy way to differentiate sun protection options (photochromic lenses, polarized and mirrors) and show patients all the options. For patients interested in mirrors, they want to see the different mirror options and look at them with a selected frame choice. Mirror sample books or boards are a fantastic way to do this. Or consider creating a sexy display for frames with your mirrors in them. For costly displays, your lab can charge a fee for the display and mirror lenses, along with coupons that can be redeemed when placing a mirror order. This will help cover the cost of the display and entice the office to utilize more mirrored lenses.

• Always think about affordability. Encourage ECPs to leverage any available marketing programs through your lab (and various manufacturers) to help make sun lenses more affordable for their patients.

What Sales Tools Are Available to Help?

From Transitions: New education materials can help you educate your eyecare professional customers about harmful blue light and how Transitions lenses can help reduce exposure. Found at, these materials include: an educational video, quick study guide and brief training presentation.

From Satisloh: This company offers a broad library of mirror processes and UVAR for labs to reference. 

From Essilor: The Power of Vision program is a national consumer program that has an offer for a second sun pair. In addition, Essilor offers both an Xperio UV polarized in-office demo, as well as an Xperio UV color and gradient demo kit. The company also has comprehensive sun portfolio collateral to enable ECPs to more easily describe to patients the product availability, as well as several sun-focused trainings to help offices grow their sun business.

From Younger Optics: Younger offers a free five-by-seven “counter card” that you can provide to your ECP accounts for display in their dispensing areas, along with some new attention-grabbing point of purchase (POP) materials.

Secrets to Success: Two Labs Weigh In

Pech Optical, Sioux City, Iowa

Pech Optical is one lab that’s having great success selling sunwear and polarized lenses. What’s their secret? According to Luann Mosier, vice president of sales, marketing and education, several factors are at work.

“Awhile back, we made some serious investments in state-of-the-art edgers to create prescription polarized lenses to look like the planos that consumers see at sunglass kiosks. And our reps make a point to always wear polarized lenses themselves, so they’re walking the walk as well as talking the talk,” said Luann. “In addition, there are many TV ads for Xperio and attractive rebate programs available. So a lot of our growth has been driven by patients—they are getting educated and asking for polarized lenses because of their ability to block glare. This demand generation is creating a pull strategy—it’s a great thing.”

Together, all of these efforts are doing great things for this lab’s business and bottom line. 

“We’ve found that this category is growing about five percent year-over-year, due in large part to all of the external advertising and TV ads alone,” she added.

On the local level, many ECP offices also have digital displays that promote the benefits of polarized lenses and show how dangerous glare can be. Mosier says this is another tremendous resource for educating patients—and one that’s really paying off.

Walman Optical, Minneapolis, Minn.

When it comes to selling sun protection lenses, Walman Optical is doing many things right. The fact that this lab has seen positive increases this year—both in units and in dollars—proves that the efforts are working.

How are they growing this niche?

First, as an independent distributor of many lines of branded and quality sun protection lenses, Walman prides itself in delivering a wide selection of products from all of the major brands. Thanks to the many marketing programs and incentives available, Walman is able to get great options in front of the practices they serve.

“We also work to educate practices on the blue light message, noting that there is 500 times more exposure to blue light from the sun than from indoor lights and screens,” said Bryan Schueler, vice president and general manager, Walman Optical. “Knowing this key statistic, along with the increasing public awareness of concerns with blue light filtering and UV risk, it’s more important than ever to ensure patients are leaving the office with sunwear.”

Finally, this lab always ensures that customers have good incentive to work with Walman.

“We’ve always provided our customers with second-pair discounts and a patient satisfaction guarantee, making it easy for them to discount sunwear to their patients with complete confidence,” said Schueler. “Second pair discounts reduce the objections patients may have regarding the expense of prescription sunwear.”


Labtalk June 2020