It takes more than innovative technology for premium lenses to have an impact in the optical marketplace. Sometimes it takes innovative dispensing.
One recent product niche illustrating just that is a sub-category category of sport or polarized lenses called “Shooters.” For years, gun-sport enthusiasts have used tinted lenses of specific shades to improve their “shooting vision” while hunting or shooting on the range. These tints were effective, but they didn’t necessarily help these athletes—both professional and amateur—deal with sunlight and reflected glare.
Here’s where polarized lens technology comes into play. Within the past year, leading manufacturers in the polarized lens arena—such as Specialty Lens and KBCo.—have introduced polarized lenses with “fashion” tints, including violet, red, orange, blue, green, yellow and amber. Their primary goal with these products was to provide polarized lenses—which help reduce glare off reflective surfaces such as water, pavement and ice—in stylish, appealing shades for use in the fashion sunwear and mainstream sport eyewear industries.
“It’s a great combination,” notes Tim Donovan, optician and owner of Optical Options of Aspen, Colo., which includes many skiers, snowboarders and fishermen among its customers. “We’re starting to see a lot of athletes taking advantage of the improved visual acuity these tints give them in their specific sports, now with the added benefits of polarized glare protection. Plus, they look great.”
Fashion usually isn’t a big concern in the gun-sport arena, but that hasn’t tempered the buzz surrounding this relatively new product combination among its enthusiasts, especially since leading shooter eyewear manufacturers such as Decot Hy-Wyd and Randolph Engineering have begun distributing the products. Long-time optician Allan Lehman, owner of Allan Lehman Optical, runs an appointment only business for sportsmen interested eyewear designed for shooting out of his Dewey, Ariz. offices. He also travels by trailer to more than 15 gun shows and tournaments a year. The trailer houses a full shooting eyewear dispensary as well as sleeping quarters.
“I’ve been turning shooters on to these polarized lenses,” says Lehman, who was a tournament clay-target shooter himself for more than 20 years. “Until recently, polarized was only available in gray C or brown C lenses, and if you added red to improve visual acuity the lenses would get very dark. But shooters are particularly interested in hand-eye coordination so we’ve always tried to keep them in lighter lenses. As a result, we didn’t do a lot of polarized until now. These new lenses have lighter tints with the polarized filter. They are a great lens for shooting because while shooters aren’t looking for a lot of sun protection, they do like the contrast capabilities of the polarized filters.”
“We dealt with polarized in the past, mostly gray As and Cs that we modified the colors for sportsmen,” adds Decot Hy-Wyd optician Sam Cherry. “But those usually ended up being too dark. These give us the lighter tints we need for shooters.”
According to Lehman, the new polarized lens tints—designed for fashion uses—match well with shooters’ needs. Orange, for instance, is excellent for clay-target shooting, he says, while red tints are excellent for hunting, given the green background of trees and brush against which hunters must isolate their targets. Purple lenses, he adds, also come into play for shooting. Most shooting eyewear features interchangeable lenses, in fact, so shooters can adjust their lenses based on the type of shooting, the color of the target, the color of the background or the lighting conditions.
It is this kind of attention to detail and expertise on the various aspects of shooting sports that separates Lehman’s specialty business from many “traditional” dispensers who attempt to add the niche market to their practices or optical shops. But that hasn’t—and shouldn’t stop—those with knowledge of shooting sports from entering the field. According to estimates from the National Sporting Clays Association and the National Skeet Shooting Association, at least five million Americans currently participate in skeet or clay-target shooting at some level.
Jack Wills, OD, a solo practitioner in Fredericksburg, Va., for instance, has been prescribing and dispensing shooting eyewear ever since the doctor “first got involved in competitive skeet shooting and saw a need,” according to his son and optician Chip Wills. While the practice still focuses primarily on traditional eyecare and eyewear, it has also been successfully fitting both its regular patients, as well as others nationwide, with shooting eyewear for years. The practice has even advertised its services in outdoor sport magazines such as Field & Stream.
“You really have to be set up to service the shooter market,” notes Chip Wills. “Ideally, you’ll have someone on staff who is an experienced shooter, someone who knows what colors work on what backgrounds.”
Like Lehman, Wills, too, says the new tinted polarized lenses have opened up new doors for the shooting eyewear industry. “Shooters may not realize it, but the polarized filter helps eliminate one of the major distractions they face—reflected glare,” he explains. “Sun glare off the target or something in their field of vision can cost them a competition. Sometimes a competition comes down to one shot, so we do what we can to eliminate distractions.”
The expertise needed to dispense shooting eyewear, though, involves more than understanding tints and polarized filters. It also comes down to fitting. If an optician is fitting a regular single-vision lens on a regular street frame, they usually keep the optical centers on center because the wearer generally looks through the center of the lens. Because shooters generally sight through the top portion of the lens, however, opticians fitting shooter eyewear will fit the optical center at least 3mm higher (Vogal’s formula calls for raising the optical center vertically 1mm for every 2mm of pantoscopic tilt).
“This kind of knowledge is not common knowledge, which is why businesses like ours have been successful,” notes Lehman. “It has nuances not everybody figures out. But, if you have knowledge of the sport and the industry it’s worth looking into. Not that I want more competition, but a niche market like this in a regular practice can be great in a slow economy.”