|For years now, optical manufacturers have predicted growth in consumer interest for anti-reflective (A-R) coatings in the U.S. market. Now, a group of industry leaders is actually doing something about it.|
Formed a little more than 10 years ago, the A-R Council—a non-profit association of coating manufacturers and distributors—has reorganized itself and its efforts over the past year to promote the problematic product it represents. Ever since its introduction in this country in the 1970s, A-R’s sales difficulties have been a mystery—and an issue for manufacturers, distributors and retailers alike. In Europe and Asia, the majority of lenses dispensed include A-R coating. Here in the U.S., according to the latest A-R Council estimates, only slightly more than 20 percent of all lenses dispensed are A-R coated—and that’s after significant sales increases in recent years. Experts say past performance issues and matters of price (according to the Jobson Optical Group Database, retailers charge an extra $60 or so, on average, for A-R coated lenses) have held sales down in this country.
But the A-R Council is hoping to build upon this recent sales success with aggressive—and, in some cases, award-winning—campaigns designed to increase both dispenser and consumer awareness of the product and assist in its positioning at retail. The Council hopes the programs will change the way people both inside and outside the industry look at A-R, starting with the name.
The A-R Council’s recently revised mission statement now reads, in part, that the group is “committed to increasing the awareness and sell-through of quality anti-reflective lenses by educating consumers and eyecare professionals about the vision benefits of anti-reflective lenses.”
“The key change is the use of the phrase ‘anti-reflective lenses,’” says Grady Culbreth, director of public and professional relations for Carl Zeiss Optical and head of the A-R Council’s Education, Marketing and Membership Committee. “We took the word ‘coating’ away. Patients don’t know what a lens coating is, and they think you’ll be able to see it or that it will peel off. A lot of dispensers worry about coatings peeling or coming off as well. A-R technology has improved so much in terms of application technology and how it works with the lens. We thought the name should reflect that.”
Another key change to the A-R Council’s structure involves its membership. For the first time in its relatively brief history, the organization is actively pursuing retailer/dispenser membership. With a sliding-scale dues structure for dispensers, based on the size of their practices/businesses, the three Os can become full-fledged members of the Council and take advantage of all of its services, including A-R technical and marketing support as well as discounts on the group’s promotional materials. Membership fees for single-location practices/
optical shops starts at $250 a year, according to executive director Lee Anderson. Information on membership can be found at www.arcouncil.org or (877) 254-4477.
The best benefit for dispensers just might be the Council’s marketing/promotional materials. Some of the group’s efforts include:
?A national press release campaign through the North American Press Syndicate (NAPS). The releases have addressed benefits of A-R usage as it applies to sunwear, computer usage and night driving. The latter release, developed last year, received an award from NAPS. It garnered 1,100 “placements” (newspaper articles or radio spots), reaching more than 76 million people in 36 states. The Council has four campaigns scheduled for the coming year—three newspaper and one radio.
?Retail materials, including a patient “take-one” summarizing the features and benefits of A-R and a two-minute waiting room video on the product’s “lifestyle benefits.” Both are generic (i.e., not brand specific). The Council plans to publish the “take-one” in Spanish in the near future.
?“Education, education, education,” as Culbreth calls it. The Council has developed an eight-page educational booklet entitled “An Eyecare Practitioners Guide to A-R.” The book, which summarizes recent improvements to the product, has already been distributed to more than 80,000 dispensers, according to the Council. The group has developed American Board of Opticianry (“A-R in the 21st Century”) and National Academy of Opticianry (“Understanding Today’s A-R”) seminars as well.
?A second redesign of the association’s web site in the past year or so, with an emphasis on information resources for dispensers and consumers. New features will include technical and marketing support, as well as a place for visitors to submit questions regarding A-R.
“We’ve been getting a significant increase in calls and emails over the past six months or so, and most of them are from the three Os asking us how we can help them sell A-R,” notes Anderson. “Our hope is that these efforts will help them do just that.”
The Council is also actively involved with the current core of its membership—the manufacturers and distributors of A-R—in discussions regarding the development of “standards or “procedures” in the application of the product. According to Don Quinn, president of the Council and a principal in coating supplier Lens Technology I, the group is in the process of developing a 24-method “test method system” for manufacturers and processors so they may analyze the final quality of the A-R they sell. The Council’s technical committee is also looking at developing standard operating procedures for applying
A-R and surfacing A-R lenses. “We’re focusing on a list of dos and don’ts,” explains Quinn.“One of the reasons the A-R market is so much more successful overseas is the product is distributed through a system of centralized labs,” he continues. “Manufacturers can control the process and there are few people involved. Here in the U.S., of course, we have a much more diverse market, with so many people involved in each step in distribution. We’ve realized that to overcome that we need to be more aggressive in training, education and quality control and we’re trying to do that.”