Special Report

Most dispensers have strong feelings about their wholesale labs. That’s because of the vital support the labs provide for them.

Dispensers depend on labs every day to do accurate Rx work and get jobs back on time. They call upon labs to provide expert, up-to-date information on lenses, coatings, frames, contact lenses, not to mention how to market and merchandise these products. Then there’s the education and training that many labs provide. Add it all up and you get a sense of what labs mean when they promote themselves as “full service” wholesalers.

In our annual Lab Usage Survey, we polled 197 independent optical retailers and practitioners from across the country to find out their feelings and attitudes about wholesale labs. Here are highlights from the survey results.

—Andrew Karp

The Basics
The vast majority (94 percent) of independents we spoke to used at least one wholesale lab for lens processing or other products/services. Respondents also view wholesale labs (46 percent) as their primary source of lens information, followed by lens manufacturers (23 percent) and trade publications (23 percent).

Fully 93 percent of all Independents surveyed think that it is extremely or very important that their lab have the latest lens processing technology. Aside from spectacle lenses, independents are most interested in purchasing contact lenses (21 percent say they are “very interested”), while 14 percent are “very interested” in purchasing frames and 11 percent are “very interested” in purchasing accessories from labs.

As for services, lens product information was the most appealing lab offering, with 85 percent of independents expressing a strong interest in procuring it through a lab. Technical support came in second at 76 percent, with continuing education (58 percent) and remote tracing (54 percent) following behind.

Current Wholesale Lab Users
Wholesale lab users rated their lab(s) on a variety of subject areas. The one they fared best in was product availability, on which 51 percent of lab customers said the labs performed excellently. Second was tech support/customer service (50 percent). Following close behind was product delivery at 49 percent. Labs performed most poorly on remote tracing (13 percent rated their lab as excellent in this area).

Online Ordering
Only 31 percent of retailers surveyed have ever ordered lenses from a lab online. Of that 31 percent, 54 percent say the percentage of lenses they’ve ordered online this year has increased compared to last year. Only 7 percent said that their online orders have decreased. Among those who have ever ordered lenses online, only 16 percent have sent in frame tracing data with an online order. Forty-two percent of these retailers have seen the percentage of online orders they send with frame tracing data increase this year over last.

Ordering Products from Labs
Forty-nine percent of retailers who use labs say that they purchased a higher percentage of their total spectacle lens pairs through a lab than they did last year. This cannot be said of frame units. Only 25 percent of retailers said their purchases through labs had made up a greater percent of the total than last year.

Faring just slightly better were contact lenses; out of the total money spent purchasing contact lenses, 28 percent said that purchases through labs made up a greater proportion of the total than they had last year. For accessories, however, the status quo ruled. Only 12 percent said accessory purchases through labs had made up a greater percentage of the total, while fully 74 percent said this proportion had stayed the same as it was last year.

For most retailers who use lab(s) (62 percent), turnaround time has stayed the same over the last 12 months. It has increased for 23 percent.

Selecting a Lab
In selecting a lab, 74 percent of retailers who use labs consider what lens brands the lab distributes as a very important or extremely important factor. Nearly as many, 68 percent, see which AR brands the lab distributes as a very important or extremely important factor.

Product and service quality (99 percent each) are considered very important factors in selecting a lab. Turnaround time is also key, with 92 percent citing it as a very important factor. 

—Rachel Mansfield

SOURCE (all charts): 20/20’s WHOLESALE LAB USAGE SURVEY2003