|The color/cosmetic contact-lens market—estimated to be 15 percent of the total contact lens market in the U.S. at a retail value of around $250 million dollars—continues to grow and gain consumer interest. And that’s good news for street smart optical pros.|
“Cosmetic lens fits were up 13 percent in the U.S. last year,” reports Rick Weisbarth, OD, CIBA Vision’s vice president of professional relations North America. Additionally, a CIBA survey found that “60 percent of respondents expressed a wish to change their eye color,” Dr. Weisbarth adds.
This segment of the market is ripe. So why are eyecare professionals reluctant to pursue this profitable option in their practices? One prime reason is the perception of having to spend too much office time with patients, professionalism issues and eye health concerns.
“The biggest barrier is doctors and staff spending too much chair and office time on colors. Doctors can make a simple recommendation; techs should then take over. It’s about having all the choices available, but empowering the staff to take over on how those options are presented,” says Nikki Iravani, OD, director, clinical research and professional affairs with CooperVision.
“You’ve got to have a system to work a patient through the office,” says Howard Purcell, OD, director of professional affairs at Vistakon, Division of Johnson & Johnson. “Without that, cosmetic CLs will not be the full-out success it could be in your office.”
With that in mind, 20/20 spoke with ECPs who are savvy in the color/cosmetic CL marketplace and learned the secrets of their success.
Designed for fun
As with all other optical products, the doctor’s recommendation from chair side carries weight with patients. The doctor does not have to be involved in the presentation of colors, he or she just has to mention the fact that color/cosmetic CLs are available and their staff are experts in fitting and dispensing them. Then trained technicians can take over.
“A doctor wouldn’t help patients pick out frames, so why would he or she help pick out color CLs?” several ODs say.
Staff should be specifically trained in color/cosmetic fitting, dispensing and wear and care. Vendors can help with training and keeping the office up-to-date on the latest developments in the color CL arena.
Enthusiasm is your greatest tool. “In addition to our doctors proactively recommending colors, my staff and I wear color CLs at least one day a week. It’s fun for us and fun for our patients,” says Millicent Knight, OD, of North Shore Eye Care in Evanston, Ill. “We are not afraid to offer opinions on colors and let patients try on color options.”
Dr. Knight’s office dispenses take-home lenses so that patients can try on colors at their leisure, which cuts down on in-office staff time and lets patients ask the opinions of friends, family members and co-workers. Then, when Dr. Knight’s office calls to follow up, patients can let them know what colors they’ve decided on based on an informed, relaxed assessment.
C. Steven Lancaster, OD, from Atlantic Eye Institute in Jacksonville Beach, Fla., sends every CL patient home with a trial pair of color CLs. “Nine out of 10 will end up purchasing them,” he notes adding, “Our staff wears color contact lenses and sometimes for fun we’ll wear one color in one eye and another color in another eye. That always gets noticed and patients comments lead to interest that can lead to sales.”
Considering the patients’ point-of-view is important when dispensing color contacts, says Ann Hoscheit, OD, at Summit Eye Associates in Gastonia, N.C. “Some patients are hesitant to ask for colors, be it because of their self-consciousness, their view of your office as ‘too professional’ or a ‘what will the doctor think of me wanting to tamper with my appearance’ scenario,” she observes. “That’s why my staff and I always ask, ‘What color would you like your lenses to be?’ It is a soft-sell question that really gets their attention and gets them thinking about possibilities. It also lets patients know that it’s okay to ask us questions about the lenses.”
Craig Thomas, OD, of 1st Eye Care with two offices in the Dallas Metroplex area has his staff wear color CLs and makes sure to have an ample stock of color contacts for patients to try-on at all times. “With 23 staff members, I can assign a staff member to each patient and each patient can try on color CLs as much as they want,” Dr. Thomas says. “We want our patients to have the comfort of being able to take their time and have fun trying on lenses. In our busy practice, we can have up to three patients trying on color CLs at the same time. It turns into a group interaction, where patients are commenting on and recommending certain colors to each other. It’s a fun thing for them, like shopping at the mall.”
Not Just for Teens
Getting to know your office area’s demographic is the first key to success with color CLs. Practices may want to reassess their demographics, as population shifts are rapid across most of the U.S. today. Check Chamber of Commerce and local government web sites, the local library and even drive around a five to 10 mile radius of your office to get a feel for the area. Then rework or reaffirm your commitment to your key patient demographics.
While teens and young women continue to drive the color/cosmetic CL market, other consumer groups are surfacing. There are a wide range of patients who may be good candidates for color/cosmetic contacts.
Surprisingly (or perhaps not), men are among the consumer groups embracing color CLs. Dr. Hoscheit, whose practice does 20 percent of its CL business in colors, says, “Men are realizing that color CLs are a way to change their appearance without doing anything radical. For example, I have two men wearing blue lenses that considered LASIK surgery but didn’t want to give up their blue-eyed look.”
Others driving the market are African American and Hispanic consumers. “We do 50 percent of our CL business in colors, mainly because of our demographics, which are African American and Hispanic,” says Dr. Thomas. “Shades of brown and gray are popular with African Americans and blue, greens and aqua with Hispanics.” Multiple-pair color sales are common with these groups and they often come into the practice asking for color contacts thanks to consumer advertising from major CL companies.
College towns are a popular venue for color contacts because college students have a lifestyle that meshes with these CLs. A desire to change their looks frequently through what they wear and an adventuresome spirit instigate color CL purchase of often multiple pairs and novelty lenses to wear at parties and events.
Women in their forties are getting on the color CL bandwagon as they realize that color/cosmetic contacts can offer them an easy, affordable, non-surgical way to pep up their appearance. They are typically not looking for as dramatic a color change as teenagers, but are drawn to more subtle enhancing colors. This group is often self-conscious and shy about broaching the topic of color CLs, though, so the doctor and technician must gently take the lead in mentioning options.
While there are currently no multifocal color CLs on the market, experts agree that there soon will be. In the meantime, doctors are fitting their presbyopic patients with monovision color CLs or with distance-only color CLs plus readers. Hyperopes—who have a difficult time seeing their CLs when they want to insert, remove, and clean their lenses—may want a color CL in order to work with the lenses more easily.
Patients who have medical conditions that cause their eye appearance to be other than natural—such as an iris compromised by surgery or different-appearing colors eye-to-eye—can benefit from custom-made CLs that will correct their eyes’ appearance. Hand-painted prosthetic soft CLs are available from CL companies that specialize in this kind of work.
Dale Shannon of Theatrical Eyes in Ocala, Fla. caters to local theater groups, drama departments and the movie industry. His business is listed in the “Florida Guide for Actors Guild Trade Book” and recently worked on the movie “Jeepers Creepers,” where the monster wore specialty CLs. “Fitting and dispensing specialty CLs is a wide open field,” Shannon says. “Producers want and will pay top dollar to trained professionals who will service the actors; it is a specialty field requiring special attention to setup and details. For example, in theatrical work, we use more stringent hydrogen-peroxide based disinfection methods so we have no problems with eye health issues.”