Special Report: Lens Trends 2003

Lens Trends 2003
Premium lenses—products that deliver superior visual and cosmetic benefits and carry an above-average price tag—make up a portion of nearly every dispenser’s product mix. For some, that portion is relatively small. But others build their entire practice or business on the sales of premium lenses and treatments.

What separates those who sell a high percentage of premium lenses from those whose sales are merely average? Successful dispensers say it’s a combination of factors: a thorough knowledge of the latest lens designs, materials and treatments, effective in-store merchandising and savvy marketing.
Dispensing, merchandising and pricing premium products such as anti-reflective lenses, high-performance lens materials and tints is paramount to the growth of the optical arena. Lens Trends 2003 makes that case. 
Andrew Karp

Positioning A-R Lenses
Recent advances in anti-reflective coating technologies have significantly improved the quality of A-R lenses and expanded the range of A-R options. Though multilayer coatings are now standard for A-R lenses, suppliers tout a wide variety of high-performance features such as enhanced scratch resistance and easy cleaning.

These choices enable dispensers to offer not just one, but two or more types of A-R lenses at various price points. This additional flexibility can bring high-quality A-R lenses within the reach of any patient.

As A-R lenses grow more sophisticated, so are the ways in which dispensers position the product to their patients. “I only offer one type of A-R, which my lab does in-house,” says Chet Steinmetz, OD, owner of Visual Effects Optical in Chicago. He charges $55 for the A-R and claims it is “as good as any other.”

Unlike some dispensers and retailers, Dr. Steinmetz doesn’t attach a brand name to the A-R he sells. “It’s not important,” he says. “I will not be forced into working with a particular brand just because the advertising by some company tells someone to come and ask for it.”

Michael Stoff, optician and owner of Eye Shoppe on Seventh in the Brooklyn, N.Y. neighborhood of Park Slope, offers both a basic A-R lens and a premium brand such (Essilor) Crizal or (Satis) Endura. Though he appreciates the difference in quality between the premium versus the basic A-R, he says he can make more profit selling basic A-R. “Premium adds a substantial price,” notes Stoff, who charges about $150 for Crizal or Endura compared to $100 for a basic A-R lens. “It’s costing us almost $25 more to get $50 to $60 more from the patient. With breakage and everything, is it worth it? I’m not making enough profit to go the next step up in a premium lens. I’d rather step patients up in frames.”

Optician Mary Ann Hargrove, owner of Empire Optical in Tulsa, Okla., cites another issue with dispensing premium A-R lenses. “We know we can put on a coating that can stay on longer and take more abuse. The problem is that you cannot remove it or recoat if somebody has a problem. You have to order new lenses. That has stopped us dead in our tracks,” says Hargrove. “If there’s a scratch on the lens or a problem with that coating, you have to supply a whole new pair of lenses. With so many progressives and high-index lenses being sold today, that would put us under.”

A basic A-R lens is what Hargrove recommends for most patients. If a problem develops with the lens or coating, Empire charges a nominal amount to have it stripped and recoated. “We charge $40 for A-R, unless somebody wants a Zeiss gold A-R, then we charge a little bit more,” she says. “It costs double than at most places for some of the premium coatings. But our philosophy is something that can improve a patient’s visual acuity adds a lot of value and we want everyone to use it well.”

Offering patients a variety of A-R options is something Bonnie Boney, optician and co-owner, Robert E. Paquette Optician, Mountain View, Calif., believes in. “I have the OLA lens menu, which I’ve redesigned,” she notes. “All the A-R options are listed and I review each of them with the patient. Not everybody has a champagne budget. I explain to them that you have to take extra care of a $60 A-R lens because it’s not top quality, but an $85 lens you can take steel wool to. I back them up with a two-year warranty or longer, if the manufacturer offers it.”

Taking the opposite approach is optician Joe Black of Coral Springs Eye Institute, Coral Springs, Fla. “My patients have no choice,” he says. “They only get Crizal. We charge $85. The only people that don’t get it are in a polycarbonate flat-top in a drill-mount frame. You can’t get Crizal on that type of lens, so we give them [Essilor] NT Reflection Free. We charge the same price and offer a similar warranty.”

Presenting Lens Material Options
In the beginning, there was glass. Next came plastic. Then polycarbonate, high-index plastic, mid-index plastic, ultra-high-index plastic and, most recently, Trivex. The list grows longer every year, as manufacturers continue to develop lens materials with improved performance characteristics.

While all this diversity is good news for patients, it complicates their eyeglass purchases. With so many options, dispensers must spend more time explaining to patients the advantages of one lens material versus another.

Fortunately, eyecare practitioners can utilize a broad assortment of demonstration units to show patients the benefits of various lens materials. Using demonstrators effectively is essential for dispensing premium lenses, veteran dispensers say.

“Some newer clients are unaware of the newer indexes,” says Michael Allen, optician/owner of Visual Expressions in Ellicott City, Md. “We use demonstrators provided by the manufacturers to show our patients the difference between lens materials. Seiko has one of the better demonstrators I’ve seen recently,” notes Allen. “It’s two lenses of the same power that are cut in half: a 1.67 at a -6.00D, versus a ‘conventional’ lens at a -6.00D. It’s a very vivid demo.”

Visual Expressions specializes in difficult prescriptions that often require Allen to recommend high-index lens materials. In addition to dispensing various high-index plastic lenses, Allen is a fan of Zeiss 1.9 and 1.8 high-index glass. However, he can no longer offer it since Zeiss announced recently that it will stop exporting the German-made lenses to the U.S.

“Seeing is believing,” asserts Jeffrey Erber, optician and owner of Jeffrey’s Manhattan Eyeland in New York, who uses displays featuring cross-sections of Hoya and Optima lenses to show the differences in edge thickness between different materials in plus and minus powers as well as aspheric and spherical designs. “I superimpose a frame, so I can show patients what the lens will look like with decentration. Patients get it right away.”

Some dispensers prefer to create customized lens demonstrators. For example, Dr. Steinmetz uses two sets of three spectacles made up with different powered lenses in different materials. One set consists of small metal frames with -5.00 and -8.00D lenses in regular plastic, 1.6. and 1.66. The other set is a slightly larger metal frame with -3.50 and -6.50D lenses using the same three lens materials.

“I lay them down right next to each other and show people the difference in lens thickness,” says the OD. “I cover the ground between a fair range of power. Because the frames are slightly different sizes, you can see, for example, that the -6.50 in the larger frame is the same thickness as the -8.00D in the smaller fame. People get the message that size matters. Of course, there are other factors involved such as PD and the thickness of the frames. But when someone’s on the edge of deciding between one material versus another, this can really help. Also, if a patient has a -3.50D, there is so little difference between the 1.60 and 1.66. I tell them to save their money and spend it on another feature. That way you build up their trust.”Dr. Steinmetz also refers patients to his web site,, which has information about high-index plastic lenses and other premium products.

Merchandising Tints
Although sales of clear lenses far outstrip sales of tinted ones these days, tints remain popular with many patients. Savvy dispensers know how to leverage the power of tints to help a patient make a fashion statement and enhance their visual performance.

“Gone are the days when this year’s hot tint is x or y,” says Hargrove. “Tinting is more of a specialized market now. Our tinting business went way down, even though the ‘club tint’ movement came in this year. [So-called club tints are fashion-forward colors worn by nightclub devotees.] A lot of the frames that come in with fashion tints leave with a clear lens. We have to remove the demo lenses because people prefer the clear.”

Despite this, Hargrove says pale tints are becoming popular with her patients. “We sell a lot of silver mirrors with a light gray fade tint behind it,” she notes. “We call it ‘the day after the night before tint.’ Both men and women like it. It’s a good cosmetic tint; it can hide a lot of things, but you can still see a person’s eyes through it.” Empire tints the lens in its in-store lab before sending it to an outside coating lab for the mirror treatment. The complete service costs about $60.

“We have people who have been injured or have eye problems and that pale tint behind the mirror works well for them, too,” adds Hargrove.
Pale is “in” at Robert E. Paquette Opticians, too. “We’re slipping right back to ’77 and ’78 with the pale blues,” says Bonnie Boney, a tint specialist. “We’re also selling lavender and green tints. Vivid colors such as yellow, orange and magenta are also popular.”

Boney believes products such as Transitions Splitz may have helped reawaken interest in colorful tints. “People liked the colors, but didn’t want lenses that changed from one color to another.”

Last year, sales of tinted lenses spiked up after many sunglass makers began offering a greater selection of tints, Boney observes. “Now people of all ages want them. A 75-year-old woman came in because her grandchildren wanted her to look hip and took a tint and A-R. Another woman who is 81 bought Arnette Hot Cakes, which is an eight-base wrap frame, and put in a Transitions flat-top 28. Now people stop her and ask her where she got them.”

Boney often combines tints with A-R to give patients a fashionable look, improved cosmetics and increased light transmission for better vision. “Then you have the therapeutic end, where people who have cataracts removed, or albinos, need the tint. The A-R really helps them, too.”
Jeffrey’s Manhattan Eyeland on New York’s Upper West Side, sells very few tinted lenses. “Either we do a full blown sunglass or clear A-R,” says Jeffrey Erber.

However, Erber does sell tinted clip-on lenses. He says polarized clip-ons are popular, especially when combined with an apple green and sky blue tint. These clips are priced at about $200.

“With the clip especially you don’t want a very dark lens, because there is optical distortion,” Erber adds. “Patients like to have that option when driving. I give them a lighter tint and a polarizing filter to boot, and they’re happy.”