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UPPING YOUR GAME:
TAKING OUTDOOR SPORT EYEWEAR TO THE NEXT LEVEL, PART 1

By Rollie Stenson, ABOC

Release Date: September 15, 2016

Expiration Date: August 29, 2018

Learning Objectives:

Upon completion of this program, the participant should be able to:

  1. Enhance patients' outdoor sports experience by providing the best possible vision, comfort and convenience.
  2. Protect athletes' eyes from physical damage and sun exposure.
  3. Grow your business by becoming an expert in sport eyewear.

Faculty/Editorial Board:

Rollie StensonRollie Stenson, grew up in the optical business. His approach to optics: have fun. He is currently cycling in the Rocky Mountains in Colorado with extraordinary vision through beautiful, highly wrapped lenses.

Credit Statement:

This course is approved for one (1) hour of CE credit by the American Board of Opticianry (ABO). Course SWJH560


THE RIGHT STUFF

It's a bright, beautiful Saturday morning, and after a quick breakfast, you slip into your lycra cycling kit and sneak down the stairs with your cycling shoes and water bottles in your hands. You pack your pockets with energy bars and slip on your shoes, gloves and helmet. You've been looking forward to this ride for weeks: ease into the foothills, climb into the first range of the Sierras and fly back down the long, sweeping grades on the way home. You go through your mental checklist: cycling shoes, helmet, water bottles, food, cell phone, road ID, cycling sunglasses. You have all the right equipment to make for a great day in the saddle; no compromises at this stage of life. Everything is set, so you pull out your cell phone to text your buddies. But wait… You can't see the screen because your cycling sunglasses don't have your reading prescription in them. They look cool, and they protect your eyes, but you really could use the full prescription the doctor put in your everyday glasses to read your phone, your map or your lunch menu.

So maybe you're not a cyclist; but chances are you and your customers are involved in some sort of outdoor recreational sport. According to the Outdoor Foundation Participation Report for 2015, 48.4 percent of the U.S. population over age 6 partici-pated in at least one outdoor activity in 2014, and the average number of outdoor excursions was 83.4. Personal health and fitness are more than a rage; they are a lifestyle choice and driving force in many peoples' lives. Your customers have gone to great expense to have all the right equipment, but their everyday glasses don't provide the optics, protection or comfort necessary for a spectacular game. Like the cyclist described above, consumers are spending a good amount of money on peripheral gear for their sports. According to the Outdoor Industry Association, the average outdoor enthusiast spends $465 annually on products related to their primary sport. They are ready to spend their money on accessories that will help them perform at a higher level. As an eyecare professional, you have an opportunity to improve their game, protect their eyes and take the enjoyment of their sports to the next level. At the same time, you will experience more professional satisfaction and grow a new niche for your business.

There's a long list of outdoor sports. Let's break it down to several categories: ball sports, speed sports, snow sports, shooting and water sports. None of the categories are mutually exclusive, so there is a fair amount of overlap between one sport and another. For example, snow sports almost always have a speed component, and the quick recognition of objects in the periphery that's important in ball sports is also important to a cyclist speeding downhill or through traffic. Superior optics with as few compromises as possible are the ticket.

In virtually every sport, the pleasure the participant derives is in direct proportion to how well the sport is performed, and performance is directly related to how well the player can see. Since vision accounts for 70 percent of the sensory information we take in, reaction time is synonymous with performance. The time it takes for a hitter to determine whether or not to swing is a small fraction of a second, so the better the vision, the better chance the batter has of being a hitter. And the story is the same for any sport; the better we see, the better we can perform the appropriate action without hesitation. And everyone needs the protection from the sun, wind and environmental debris a good pair of sport glasses can provide.

WHERE CONSUMERS FIND SPORT EYEWEAR

Where will the average consumer go to get the best looking, best performing sport-specific eyewear? Good question. Most sporting goods stores have rows and rows of ready-to-wear sunglasses for skiing, boating, hiking, cycling, golfing, rock climbing… if you can name it, they can sell a pair of sunglasses that will work pretty well for any sport. At specialty stores such as cycling, golf or fishing shops, the price of nonprescription sunglasses goes up as the glasses become more sport-specific; and celebrity endorsements will have an effect on the cost: Nike had a great run during the height of Tiger Woods' career, while Oakley enjoyed at least six years of robust sales as Lance Armstrong won multiple Tour de France titles. Sometimes, it isn't even a particular celebrity that brings appeal to an accessory line. Consider Carerra or Remington or Harley Davidson. After all, Harley Davidson sunglasses will be perfect for riding the big machine, and with the special foam to keep out wind and road kill, they provide great comfort and protection. But what if you need a prescription to see down the road or the map or the GPS? Even though the specialty shops would like to pretend they are prepared to sell prescription eyewear, they are often poorly educated and uncomfortable with the process. This is great news for eyecare pros. But are you prepared to do a better job addressing the challenges posed by outdoor sports than the employee at the specialty shops?

Eyecare professionals can utilize a more complete understanding of optics, spectrum control, ergonomics, frame design and utility to provide enhanced vision, comfort, safety, reliability and overall customer satisfaction. Or they may and often do miss the opportu-nity by not discovering the need. A real eyecare pro gets to know his customers and what they do for a living as well as what they do for fun and recreation. How do they know? They ask. They'll be happy to tell you about their passionate love of fishing, golf, tennis, cycling, rock climbing or badminton; whatever sports they choose to unwind, for fun, as a physical challenge or just for the health of it.

MAY I TAKE YOUR ORDER, PLEASE?

The tendency with “order takers” is to allow the customer off the hook for a pair of sport-specific eyeglasses by making do with an old pair, something the customer wouldn't mind banging up a little on an occasional weekend outing. “We can tint these old lenses and turn them into sunglasses,” one might say, as if we are doing the consumer a great service. So Buzz goes trout fishing with his buddies and gets skunked because he can't see the fish lying in the pools behind the rocks in the stream. With a new set of polarized lenses, Buzz might have more success. Or Buzz may have purchased a slick-looking pair of polarized sunglasses at the same store he bought his fishing tackle, but he may have found it difficult to change the lure or fly without his near pre- scription. Sure, there are several ingenious ways to work around this: “cheaters” in the pocket or on top of the head, flip-down adds, a small handheld magnifier. And some OTC nonprescription sunglasses are available with standard bifocal adds. Perfect? No. Most prescriptions include some correction for distance and astigmatism; so without that correction, Buzz can “get by” but he won't excel. And this is where a true eyecare pro can make a signifi-cant impact on a customer's life. The difference a well-made set of sport eyewear can have may be the difference between a ball hit and a game won, and a disappointing walk to the dugout. Let's look at how we can provide the edge for “upping the game.”

BE THE EXPERT

Sport eyewear companies have focused specifically on the sport niche to provide improved frame performance. A quick look online will give you access to some of these lines: Oakley, Rudy Project, Maui Jim, Costa Del Mar, Wiley X, Smith, to name a few. If you have a high population of fishermen, Google will give you a good group of sun-glass vendors to choose from. Keep in mind that many of the coolest frames are NOT Rx compatible. This is one of the biggest prob-lems for the consumer. A guy just spent five grand on a new carbon bike and laid out another grand for all the peripherals and to look just like Mark Cavendish, his cycling hero, he buys a pair of Oakley Jawbreaker Prizm at the bike shop for $230. Excellent cycling glasses, but if this cyclist wants his distance Rx and 2.00D add, he may be disap-pointed. Can they help at the bike shop? They may have enough information to know which Oakleys can be made in a prescription, but can the bicycle salesperson analyze the prescription and properly measure the patient's PD, OC height, frame wrap and vertex distance? Not likely. So they send him to his eye doctor. Usually, this means a return to the bike shop for a refund, or the guy just wears the Oakleys without his Rx because they make him look fast. Just don't rely on him to read the route map accurately…

Another common scenario is the guy that checks in with you and is ready to purchase eyewear for his new sport, but is aghast that you would charge upwards of $400 to $700 for a wrap sport frame with polarized prescription lenses. Sticker shock. So he heads to his local department store where he purchases a pair of wrap sunglasses with some sort of logo on them and brings them to you to put prescription lenses in. Ever happen? You bet, and you end up looking like a dork because the guy is convinced his $40 frame is good enough for Rx lenses. To fulfill this patient's need, the eyecare pro has to educate this sport enthusiast about quality, safety, durability, craftsmanship and the best use of the consumer's dollars. Depending on how good a salesperson you are, taking the cus-tomer to class can put you in a tough position. The key is to help the consumer understand without making them feel stupid.

There are functional reasons for the unique design of sport-specific eyewear. Wrapping the frame and lenses around the face keeps the sunlight, wind, snow, rain, dust and other environmental debris out of the athlete's eyes. In theory, the wrap also provides more vision in the periphery. But keeping prescription lenses in a steeply wrapped frame requires special bevels and high-tech edging. Even then, not all frames will hold prescription lenses reliably. Nothing worse than popping a $200 sunglass lens out of a $40 frame. It might drop harmlessly onto the carpet in your office, or it might fall into the lake and sink gracefully out of sight. Just hope nobody was watching.

Ski and swim goggles keep the snow or water out but should not fog over. Fogging can be a problem in other sports like bicycling or motorcycling where the athlete (or the machine) is creating heat; make sure there is adequate ventilation to keep the lenses clear when they slow down or stop. Wiley X designs for motorcyclists have appropriate ventilation and a foam insert around the lens to keep out flying debris. And of course, they have the Harley logo to complete the weekend warrior's wardrobe. You may even be able to attach a faux gray braided ponytail to the temple tips.

Assuming you've discovered what your customer's outdoor sport passion is, under-standing the unique visual challenges the sport presents is paramount in designing eyewear that will provide the most advantages with the fewest compromises. Let's start by describing what we want to avoid. Poor optics are described by image jump, off-center blur, skew distortion, narrow fields of clear vision and poor binocular vision. These compro-mises can affect the quality of vision and visual comfort in any eyeglasses, and since the majority of today's designs for outdoor sports utilize highly wrapped frames and steeply curved lenses, these optical challenges are more pronounced and cause even more discomfort for the wearer. Well-designed and well-executed lenses can be had today, but you have to find a lab that knows how to do the calculations and fill the prescription “as worn.” This will require some adjustment of the Rx as written.

Being able to communicate with your cus-tomer about their posture and where their eyes will be looking will help in designing the lenses. Most outdoor sports focus in the dis-tance (beyond 20 feet), but what is the domi-nant posture? How does the wearer hold their head? Erect and forward like in skiing? Down and forward like a cyclist? Down as in golfing? Be careful that the add power doesn't start too high. Ask your patient to show you how they stand. Ask an avid golfer to bring in their clubs and observe, measure and take pictures. A cyclist should either be able to describe or show you their most com-mon cycling position. Will the temples slide inside a helmet easily, but stay put on bumpy surfaces? Have them bring their helmet in so you can explore and demonstrate.

Once you have a handle on the frame that will be appropriate for a particular sport, you can get a bit more specific about lens designs and treatments.

TECHNOLOGY IS OUR FRIEND

Digital lens processing using free-form generators allows lens manufacturers to create designs with attributes favorable to different activities. Lens manufacturers now provide specialization and customization for unique sports. Oakley lists an impressive 13 unique sports along with the athletes who endorse their eyewear. Rudy Project lists 17 unique sports, although “Active Lifestyle” has not yet been included as an Olympic sport.

The manufacturers' websites are good sources to become familiar with the sports, the celebrity athletes, the special frame elements, the lens tints, coatings and lens designs. Oakley's site describes the optics of both their nonprescription and prescription lenses including visuals for the different tints and progressive designs for three sports: golf, fishing and cycling. If your patient is a part of the “mature” athletic crowd, they will appreciate the graphics showing different progressive designs that can be applied for maximum visual performance for each sport.

Manufacturers may provide you with the option of producing Rx lenses that fit directly into the frame or as an Rx adapter that fits behind the plano lenses or shield. This is a nice option for CL wearers or patients with prescriptions outside the practical realm for highly curved lenses. Most manufacturers recommend using the adapter or a frame with a flatter face form for prescriptions above +4.00D and -6.00D. The higher the cylinder, the more likely your patient will experience some skew distortion in the outer reaches of the lenses; keep this in mind and be up front with your customer. Major lens manufacturers like Carl Zeiss Vision will compensate the doctor's pre-scription based on the wrap angle, optical center height and pantoscopic tilt of the frame. You can measure these frame elements manually or use a digital measuring device. The stronger the prescription, the more wrapped the frame, the more important these measurements become.

“Edge-to-edge clarity” is a reality for many wearers, but we all need to recognize the limitations of optical lenses without optimizing or customizing. The higher the Rx, the more cylinder, and/or the higher the add power, the more difficult it becomes to provide absolute clarity throughout the entire 61 mm of the wrap lens. Be realistic and don't over-sell, but offer this truly spectacular technology whenever you can. Shop for a lab or two who advertise their proficiency with sport-specific eyewear. Labs who routinely manufacture lenses with high base curves in highly curved frames will know how to compensate the Rx and edge and insert them beautifully. This technology applies to both single vision and progressive lenses

Impact resistance is of primary importance with sport eyewear. You can choose polycarbonate or Trivex, both highly impact-resistant plastics. In addition to superior impact resistance, these materials are also lightweight. With its higher Abbe number, Trivex has a slight optical advantage over polycarbonate and also accept dark tints and is available polarized in variable colors.

As with any eyewear, the patient's Rx will affect the center and edge thickness, and the resultant weight of the eyewear. Consider this when a patient with a +4.00D Rx asks for a 61-mm eye size. A 52-mm Rx insert may be a better option in this case. The optics will be good, the glasses will look spectacular, and the overall weight of the eyewear should be acceptable.

LET THERE BE LIGHT! OR DARK!

The vast majority of outdoor sport eyewear are sunglasses, and serious consideration should be given to various lens colors and treatments. Most of the major players in sport eyewear have developed their own sport-specific tints. Generally, neutral gray tints are most common for blocking direct sunlight while maintaining natural colors throughout the spectrum. Dark green lenses provide some color enhancement and are preferred by many fishermen and golfers. If the daylight is less than bright, your sportsman will benefit from other tint options. A hazy, overcast day still demands some light reduction but a vermillion or yellow tint will provide better performance by enhancing depth perception and contrast. All of these tints will perform better with anti-reflective back surfaces. Various mirror coatings from light flash to solid mirrors will further reduce the amount of light entering the eyes and can even reduce the amount of infrared light (heat) that dries the eyes at higher altitudes (skiing, mountaineering) or in very dry climates. Again, most lens manufacturers have science behind their tints and mirrors to sup-port their product claims. Find the ones that resonate with you and make them yours.

Not all tints should be polarized, but polarization generally adds comfort to sun lenses. Certainly fishing and other water sports ben-efit from polarized lenses, and most sports enthusiasts prefer polarized lenses. There are instances where the athlete needs to be able to see the undulations in the turf and terrain and may prefer a regular non-polarized dark lens. Examples are extreme snow skiing (where polarized lenses might reduce ice visibility) and golf.

There may be times highly curved sport lenses should be clear. Not all sports happen during the daytime, and if your sportsman's events occur in the dark, he will still need the protection and prescription of the sport-specific eyewear in clear lenses or with tints that enhance ball color. Think baseball or softball games played under stadium lights, or early morning hunting or night fishing. Many endurance running and cycling events begin before dawn and run late into the night.

You should have several sport frames in your inventory with interchangeable lenses. The design makes it simple to switch out the different colored lenses. Rudy Project's Rydon has this option: snap out, snap in. Some endurance events extend over several days, and if your customer is involved in such extreme events, be a part of their team and make sure they have eyewear with lenses that are right for the environment. If your athlete purchases multiple pairs of lenses, make sure every lens fits perfectly and is easy to remove and insert. Take time to practice with your customer to make certain they are comfortable with the process without damaging the frame or lenses.

THE LANGUAGE OF LOVE

If this sounds like a lot to take on, you're right. It requires a commitment on the part of the ECP to provide any specialized service to their clientele. If you haven't yet made this commitment, consider how your athletic customers are currently managing this issue. Optical professionals are well suited to create an excellent pair of sport-specific eyeglasses by taking just a few steps beyond the realm of fashion eyewear.

Which sports to focus on and how to choose product lines and lab services will be dis-cussed in detail in Part Two of this course: “Upping Your Game.”

As a business-building exercise, network with the sports shops in your area. Most of them recognize that prescription eyeglasses are beyond their scope and would be happy to refer their customers to you. Prove to the owners of these stores you are an expert and can competently care for their customers. You can promote their stores in return. You can also make a pitch to the athletic department of your public schools, colleges or sports clubs. Become an expert in sport eyewear and open a new market for your practice. Build it and they will come—and not just for the Rx jobs. Many athletes prefer contact lenses and will purchase ready-to-wear sun-glasses if you have them displayed properly and can explain the science behind the lenses and frames.

When working with your customers, take your time and ask the right questions. They will be thrilled with your interest and professionalism. Don't be surprised if they ask how many strokes their new glasses will take off their score, if they'll help catch more fish or make them a better hitter. With your help, maybe they will.