Finishing the Job
The majority of dispensers are finishing lenses
in-office—but leaving surfacing work to wholesale labs
By Brian P. Dunleavy
If the results to 20/20’s most recent In-Office Lens Processing Equipment MarketPulse are any indication—and we certainly think they are—then not a lot of independent opticians, optometrists and ophthalmologists have rushed out to install in-office lens processing facilities during the past year. That’s not surprising, given the high cost of today’s high-tech lens processing equipment and the state of the U.S. economy over the past 18 months or so.
But it is important to note that a majority of independent dispensers are, in fact, finishing their own lenses—and more and more are using improved technology to do so.
According to the 20/20 MarketPulse—In-Office Lens Processing Equipment 2002, 56.2 percent of independent opticians, optometrists and ophthalmologists finish or edge lenses in-office. This is up only slightly from last year’s survey, when 55.9 percent of respondents reported finishing lenses in-office.
Those who have opted to remain out of the lens-processing business have done so for a variety of reasons. Many of them simply don’t feel the service is right for their business or practice. Among the specific reasons for not installing in-office labs are: space limitations (59.6 percent of respondents), staffing considerations (51.8 percent), financial considerations (38.2 percent) and staff training time (32.7 percent).
Though these numbers indicate there aren’t a lot of new finishing labs being installed, other data shows existing in-office finishing labs have upgraded to newer, computerized patternless edgers. This year, 70.6 percent of respondents report using patternless edgers in their in-office finishing labs, up from 57.1 percent in 2001. Last year’s number may have been a bit low, but this is still a significant increase.
The independents who have installed or upgraded in-office lab facilities over the past year or so cite improving customer service (80.5 percent), increasing profits (68.5 percent), accommodating business growth (58.4 percent) and enhancing competitive advantages (25.7 percent) as “very important” reasons for doing so. When purchasing lab equipment to either install or upgrade an in-office lab, respondents say efficiency (75 percent), ease of operation (71.7 percent), reducing wholesale lab costs (62 percent), reducing staff/labor costs (58.7 percent)—which is possible thanks to step-saving, automated technology found in equipment such as patternless edgers—compatibility with other equipment (57.6 percent) and price (54.3 percent) are “very important” features and characteristics they consider during their purchase decision. The speed/throughput (48.9) and size (33.7 percent) of the systems also play “very important” roles in the decision. It should be noted that operating an in-office lab involves more than just equipment costs. Respondents to the 20/20 survey say 9.6 percent of their total business expenditures over the past year were devoted to equipment costs, but 12.1 percent were spent on lab supplies. In addition, 14.1 percent of the respondents say they hired new staff to operate their lab in the past year.
While independents seem to be investing more and more in finishing facilities on-site, fewer and fewer of them are getting into the surfacing of lenses in-office. Among respondents to the 2002 survey, 9.8 percent say they surface or “cast” lenses in-office, down from 14.8 percent in 2001. This is certainly good news for wholesale labs, especially those specializing in the delivery of “uncut” (surfaced only) work.
Independents also seem to have shied away from casting—the process that creates a prescription lens via ultraviolet light curing—in the past year. Among those that fabricate prescription lenses in-office, 31.3 percent say they use a casting system, down from 36 percent a year ago. Use of surfacing generators, meanwhile, has experienced a corresponding increase over the same period, growing from 65.4 percent to 75 percent from 2001 to 2002.
Whether they finish only or perform both surfacing and finishing functions on-site, most in-office lens processing independents say having lab facilities in their dispensaries has increased profits (85.5 percent)—probably by reducing wholesale lab costs—and patient base (59.8 percent)—perhaps through improved service. Overall 37 percent of the respondents say they advertise their lens processing services. Respondents with on-site labs report an average eyewear turnaround time of 18.1 hours. It’s not “one-hour,” but it’s certainly competitive.
As with any major purchasing decision, the results of the 2002 In-Office Equipment MarketPulse show dispensers must consider benefits such as these against the costs of these improvements before deciding to install and/or upgrade an in-office lab. Of course, it is also important to note installing an in-office lab means different things to different dispensers. The survey this year clearly demonstrates that while incorporating some aspects of lens processing can be beneficial, leaving other functions such as surfacing to wholesalers may not be a bad thing.