L&T: Lens Choices

Nov
2007

A Safe Bet

Developing an Effective Safety Eyewear Program



By Samantha Toth, ABOC

For many eyecare professionals, keeping up with the latest safety eyewear requirements can be a daunting task. In fact, some practices don’t feel the time spent dispensing safety eyewear is worth the hassle. This is a common misconception in the ophthalmic industry, but safety eyewear can be quite profitable. For eyecare professionals who are serious about filling the niche and willing to put in the time, it can be a great practice builder.

There is also a large amount of untapped safety business with manufacturing companies that employ 100 to 500 workers. Your practice may benefit from partnering with your local laboratory to create specific safety packages for regional companies.

“It’s not realistic for a practice to go after a company with 10,000 employees,” says Gil Igo, vice-president and general manager for AO Safety Prescription Eyewear. “However, there are many small to medium sized companies that are typically under-serviced in terms of prescription eyewear looking for a value-added program to make them compliant.”

Value-added services in a smaller community setting may include sending a staff member on-site to the manufacturing facility to schedule appointments, fit eyewear, perform adjustments and address breakages. Your practice should offer to provide eye-safety seminars and eye-health seminars for those businesses as well. These seminars lead to a decrease in workers compensation claims and provide valuable exposure to your practice’s staff. This change in the dispensing approach makes purchasing safety eyewear from your practice very convenient.

Before beginning any successful safety program, it is essential that all staff members are knowledgeable about the differences between prescription safety and dress eyewear in order to comply with OSHA and ANSI guidelines. Safety eyewear offerings now include a variety of frame materials and  For many eyecare professionals, keeping up with the latest safety eyewear requirements can be a daunting task. In fact, some practices don’t feel the time spent dispensing safety eyewear is worth the hassle. This is a common misconception in the ophthalmic industry, but safety eyewear can be quite profitable. For eyecare professionals who are serious about filling the niche and willing to put in the time, it can be a great practice builder.

There is also a large amount of untapped safety business with manufacturing companies that employ 100 to 500 workers. Your practice may benefit from partnering with your local laboratory to create specific safety packages for regional companies.

“It’s not realistic for a practice to go after a company with 10,000 employees,” says Gil Igo, vice-president and general manager for AO Safety Prescription Eyewear. “However, there are many small to medium sized companies that are typically under-serviced in terms of prescription eyewear looking for a value-added program to make them compliant.”

Value-added services in a smaller community setting may include sending a staff member on-site to the manufacturing facility to schedule appointments, fit eyewear, perform adjustments and address breakages. Your practice should offer to provide eye-safety seminars and eye-health seminars for those businesses as well. These seminars lead to a decrease in workers compensation claims and provide valuable exposure to your practice’s staff. This change in the dispensing approach makes purchasing safety eyewear from your practice very convenient.

Before beginning any successful safety program, it is essential that all staff members are knowledgeable about the differences between prescription safety and dress eyewear in order to comply with OSHA and ANSI guidelines. Safety eyewear offerings now include a variety of frame materials and styles including plastics, stainless steel and titanium in full-rim, semi-rimless or rimless. In many cases the only thing that makes them recognizable as “work” eyewear is the slightly thicker lens materials required to meet ANSI impact standards. Many opticians dispense permanent side shields that require patients to have separate eyewear for work and recreational wear. In addition to frame and lens thickness standards, it is important to also consider premium lens add-ons.

Patients have become more demanding of their prescription safety eyewear and want premium lens products that add value. With so many aesthetically pleasing frame choices, more workers are wearing their eyewear for longer periods of time. That’s why patients are often willing to invest in premium lens options that can enhance both the optics and performance of the lenses. Many patients will opt for the benefits of an anti-reflective or two-sided scratch-resistant coating. In addition, polarized polycarbonate and photochromic lenses are often preferred by patients who spend a significant amount of time working outdoors.



Filling the safety niche begins by changing the approach to dispensing. For example, consider non-traditional candidates such as existing LASIK or contact lens wearing patients who have jobs and/or hobbies that require eye protection.

“We know the lawn and garden market is huge because our plano side does a great job of selling non-Rx glasses at places like Lowes and Home Depot,” says Igo. “Those prescription eyeglass wearers represent a huge opportunity for ECPs who would be the only source for a good pair of safety glasses.”

While vendors for high-quality, plano safety frames are currently limited, Igo recommends setting up a display of some of the most attractive prescription safety frames available at your office. “It’s important,” he notes, “that you display the eyewear with permanent side shields with the goal of increasing your supplemental pair sales instead of detracting from your dress eyewear sales.”
Safety eyewear is not an obvious optical supplement. For this reason, it may be beneficial to use a visual needs analysis form with each patient to help evoke responses regarding occupations and hobbies that can benefit from safety eyewear. These forms often make recommending supplemental eyewear  easier. It takes a concerted effort to promote the sale of safety eyewear to both existing patients and to identify new opportunities.

To begin promoting safety eyewear in your community, start by contacting local business owners and human resource managers. Igo recommends planning a “trunk show” for local industry to highlight the latest safety frame styles. “Practices can invite business owners, safety directors and human resource professionals to visit the practice, see the latest in safety frames and learn more about the safety programs your practice offers. It’s easier than trying to schedule multiple appointments, plus it shows off the facility and the staff’s expertise.”

Many industrial and manufacturing companies require safety eyewear. “Having a safety program helps to make local companies compliant, while saving them money,” Igo adds. There are a variety of opportunities to service in the safety niche. The more convenient your practice is to visit for their safety eyewear purchases, the more patients you will see. While the profit from a “standard” pair of safety glasses from a patient who did not have an exam at your facility may not be attractive to some practices, the opportunity  to draw new patients to the practice should be. They may become patients and begin referring their family and friends to your office.
A new patient with a safety prescription offers practices an opportunity to recommend premium lens options as well as a chance to earn the referral of family members and friends. Offering a family discount program may also prove beneficial to entice “safety” patients to schedule appointments for their family members. If you have difficulty reaching business owners in your community, you may also choose to talk with your laboratory about safety program it may already have in place.

Essilor Laboratories of America (ELOA) provide safety lens and frame packages to a variety of companies both direct and through ECP partnership programs. Representatives from ELOA contact these companies directly and then mail ECP providers the forms outlining the program details for all the local companies who are enrolled in the Essilor safety program.

“As an independent ECP, not all practices have the time or resources to go after prescription safety contracts,” says Gary Keen, manager of National Accounts Safety for ELOA. “We help get patients through the door. This provides the practice with 15 minutes to create a warm, fuzzy experience and ask for the referral of a family member or friend.”

Practices may contact the Essilor PSE (Prescription Safety Eyewear) department and speak with the inside support staff for more information on opportunities to market to these companies, Keen notes. “Those practices that catch on to dispensing safety eyewear will grow and those that don’t are missing a huge opportunity.”

Eyecare professionals interested in entering the safety niche need to be ready to commit. Keep in mind, the amount of time involved in nurturing a new program and creating new market opportunities may be overwhelming. However, the rewards of your hard work can be enduring and profitable.


Samantha Toth is president of Innereactive Media in Grand Rapids, Mich.

 

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