Lens Choices

A new range of valued features will win both dispenser and consumer confidence

By Andrew Karp
Today’s anti-reflective lenses are light years beyond what was available only a short time ago. AR lens suppliers, coating equipment manufacturers and coating laboratories have made major advances in AR technology in the past few years, such as matching the index of refraction of the lens coating to the lens material and improving the compatibility between the lens material, hard coat, the anti-reflective coating itself and hydrophobic top layer. These enhancements have largely eliminated the complaints once commonly heard by dispensers about AR lenses that would crack, craze, peel, smudge or attract dust.

The development of high-quality, multi-layer AR lenses offering superior scratch- and impact-resistance, good adhesion and easy cleaning is renewing dispensers’ confidence in AR. Many dispensers say it is easier than ever to convince patients to purchase an AR lens, even patients who have previously been disappointed with the product.

Though most dispensers agree on the value of AR lenses as a patient-pleaser and a practice-builder, there is no one method for boosting AR sales. Ask any five dispensers and you’ll probably find five different approaches to merchandising, pricing and positioning AR lenses.

At Monroe Optical in Stroudsburg, Pa., AR lenses account for about 40 percent of all lenses sold, according to optician Matt Larkin. That number is nearly four times what it was just five years ago.

The main reason for the upsurge in AR sales is better quality AR, says Larkin. “There’s no comparison between the AR we’re dispensing today and what we were doing five years ago. There’s no question about it.”

Monroe charges $49 for AR on an à la carte basis, which Larkin acknowledges is “on the low side.” The store also packages AR lenses. For example, its “platinum” package includes a 1.67-index Essilor Ovation progressive for $299 and a “gold” package including a polycarbonate progressive for $248.

“When you’re dealing with a high-index lens such as a 1.67, it just doesn’t look right without AR,” notes Larkin. “AR just blows the doors off.”
Larkin believes the quality of AR lenses has improved to the point where almost all of his patients are satisfied with them. “Occasionally, someone has a problem and we immediately take care of it,” he says. “We’ll just have the lab strip it and recoat it. As long as the lab or manufacturer stands behind you and the AR, patients will trust you.” Monroe backs all AR lenses with a one-year warranty.

Despite the improvements in AR lenses, Larkin says turnaround time from his coating lab remains an issue. “It still takes a week turnaround time at its best to secure the product with the job complete.” Consequently, Larkin is shopping for an in-store AR coating system that would serve Monroe’s two stores in Pennsylvania and one in New Jersey. “We’ve looked at several systems and are close to making our choice,” he adds.

At Optical Illusions, an optometric practice with offices in San Mateo and San Jose, Calif., AR lens sales are up even more dramatically. “AR is 80 percent of sales, up from 20 percent five years ago,” notes Fenton Allen, director of operations. Much of Optical Illusions’ sales are from repeat customers, though new customers steadily join the ranks of AR converts. Purchases are split equally between men and women, Allen adds.

Optical Illusions charges $79 for AR; it recently raised the price from $69 in response to price increases at the wholesale level. “The labs raised their prices because of the new technology they need to make higher-quality, more durable AR,” he observes.

Optical Illusions uses Vivix, an AR lens produced by I-Coat, the California coating lab, but doesn’t promote the brand to customers. “We just refer to it as ‘premium anti-reflective coating,’” says Allen. Dispensers demonstrate the features and benefits of the lenses with sample lenses and point-of-sale brochures.

Although AR lenses are often sold at a single price point or as part of a package with high-index or polycarbonate lenses, more optical shops and retailers are offering two price points corresponding to “better” and “best” quality products. “For a premium AR, we charge $85 to $100, depending on whether the lens is stock or surfaced,” says Ruth Hansen, optician at JJ Poole Opticians in Milltown, N.J. “Before the new generation of AR came out, we used to charge $60 to $75.” JJ Poole also offers a “standard, stock AR” for $60, she adds.

“The improvements to AR have made a huge difference,” says Hansen, who particularly likes factory-coated AR lenses because “they have more scratch resistance.” Hansen says turnaround time for AR lenses has improved “drastically.” “It helps that our lab, Luzerne Optical, has turned into a Crizal lab,” she notes. The Wilkes-Barre, Pa. wholesaler is one of a number of labs that recently installed Essilor’s Crizal AR process in-house.

Experienced dispensers point out that not every patient is a candidate for AR lenses. While some caution against pre-judging a patient, others believe that a careful assessment of a patient’s occupational and recreational activities and eyeglass wearing habits can usually determine if they are a good match for AR lenses.

“You’ve got to pick your person,” notes John Agius, an optician with Clark-Appler Optical, a Towson, Md. store that sells AR lenses to about 15 percent of its patients. “If someone is a construction worker who is rough on his glasses or else carries his glasses in his top pocket with pencils, he’s probably not right for AR.”

However, patients with high-plus or minus prescriptions are good candidates for AR, Agius says. “The higher the prescription, the more issues with light and reflection there will be, because of higher index of refraction of these lenses,” he points out. “Also, for clarity and color contrast, AR works better with those people.”

Clark-Appler charges $89 for a Hoya or Zeiss AR combined with a hard coat; that price has held steady for several years. A few patients prefer to buy Zeiss AR lenses without a hard coat for $65.

Kevin Katz, OD, who, with his partner Marty Simpson, OD, owns and operates a Texas State Optical franchise in Galveston, Texas, also prides his staff for their ability to judge good AR prospects. “We’re very good at selecting people who are optimum candidates for AR,” he says, adding that AR lenses account for 60 percent of the store’s total lens sales.

“We just sell one type of AR at one price point because of the challenge of being able to put it on different products,” Dr. Katz explains. “Even the premium AR is not able to go on certain products.” Dr. Katz has tried several premium AR lenses; his current favorite is a Transparence, produced by the Dallas coating lab Optovision. The Galveston store charges $75 for the lenses, which includes a one-year warranty.

“We have a lot of success with stock single vision, such as the Seiko 1.66 and 1.60, as well as polycarbonate with Transparence,” he explains. “We find our stock lenses to be very good lenses. It seems like the quality is better when you know the substrate you’re coating.”

Though a few patients have been discouraged by bad experiences with earlier generations of AR, Dr. Katz and his staff are usually able to win them over. “When we tell them about the improvements in the lenses and offer them the warranty, they usually agree to try it again,” he says. “It’s all about communication, isn’t it?”