By Andrew Karp
Edwin Ellefsen formally entered the optical industry in 1991, when he joined Opticote, a custom coating laboratory located in Franklin Park, Ill., near Chicago. However, Ellefsen was no stranger to optical. His father spent his entire career in eyewear and Ellefsen worked in the family lab, occasionally going on the road with his father in the summers.
¡°Some of my earliest memories are of Bill Strickland, then of Continental Optical, and the late Joe Bruneni, [the optical lab consultant] who was best man at my parents¡¯ wedding,¡± notes Ellefsen. ¡°Strickland went to Germany after World War II with the U.S. occupation forces to analyze and bring back the thin film coating technology developed there during the war.¡±
Ellefsen, who holds an undergraduate degree in computer science and an MBA, both from Northwestern University, has spent much of his professional career working with various technologies, both domestically and abroad. Since joining Opticote, he has received formal coating specific training at UCLA, the University of Rochester and from several prominent figures in the field including Angus Macleod.
How has the coating business changed since you joined Opticote?
There have been two major changes. Originally, independent coating companies such as Opticote provided most coatings. However, once a certain market penetration was achieved, lens manufactures took a more dominate role, soon followed by labs with in-house coating. The latest wave has been inexpensive imports of pre-coated stock lenses.
The other major change has been technological. There have been many improvements such as ion guns, fluorinated top coats, PLC/PC based control systems and turbo molecular pumps to name a few. These were developed for other industries and borrowed by ophthalmics. The basic process has remained the same, so change has been evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Other technologies such as sol-gel and sputtering have been tried, but electron beam/ion assisted deposition (EB/IAD) remains the most common coating method.
Opticote is known for its expertise in mirror coatings. How many different varieties of mirrors does the company offer?
We have over 60 standard mirrors today available with either one-, two- or three-day turnaround depending on popularity. We can make most anything. One time a customer wanted mirrors with 24 karat pure gold. We can do it. More then 60 mirrors can be confusing, so each year we drop/add about 10 to 15 colors to keep them fresh and current.
Opticote serves both the plano and prescription sunwear market. How does the plano market influence the Rx side of the business?
Plano sunwear has done a great job of bringing excitement and new levels of functionality to market. This has created a demand for Rx sunwear with similar characteristics. Some savvy retailers realize this, provide it and are benefiting with additional sales per customer.
Why are mirror coatings so popular today?
The days of ¡°one size fits all¡± are long gone. People are constantly searching for unique ways to express themselves. We¡¯ve become more competitive. Everybody is searching for even a small advantage. I was in a sporting goods store recently and they had separate athletic shoes for wood, cement, asphalt and clay courts (not to mention indoors/outdoors). Consumers have money, they want any advantage no matter how small and they want a personalized look to fit their personality. Mirrors provide this. Mirrors are a cost effective, simple and fast way for any ECP to provide infinite possibilities for the patient.
Opticote is reputed to be the first coating lab to develop a clear mirror. What is a clear mirror and when should it be worn?
Traditional mirrors darken and add a gray cast to the base lens. Clear mirrors add sparkle to a lens with virtually no change to the underlying lens color or transmission. Clear mirrors are perfect over neon and playful color tints we see showing in Europe now. We developed this many years ago, but as they say, timing is everything. We¡¯ve dusted off the formula and it¡¯s now a fast growth area.
What do eyecare professionals need to do in order to effectively present mirrored lenses to their patients?
This question can be answered on many levels. At its most basic level, mirrors are a ¡°show and tell¡± product. If they see it they will buy it. Most consumers don¡¯t go out looking for them. You need to display them prominently and display a lot of them. Large mirror displays are appealing and generate excitement. Their very presence makes them top-of-mind.
Last week I was in France visiting some customers. When there is down time, I like to visit optical shops. Everyone had over 50 percent sunwear in their store windows. Inside, 25 percent to 50 percent of frames displayed were sunwear. Rx frames were glazed with sunwear and mirrors to generate excitement and make them top-of-mind. The ECP sold the frame with dress lenses (AR¡¯d of course), but had a natural lead-in (given the frames were glazed as sunwear) for a second and third pair of sunwear.
At the next level of sophistication, with respect to sunwear and mirrors, ECPs move up from clerks just taking orders to consultants probing with basic lifestyle questions. Armed with this information they suggest and demonstrate the looks and benefits of mirrors that enhance the patient¡¯s needs and desires.
Mirrors are both fun and functional. You need some basic training on how to mix and match frames, lenses, tints and mirrors, both from a fashion and a function perspective. It¡¯s not hard and anybody can do it, you just need to get grounded in the fundamentals.
I¡¯ve noticed in the U.S., most ECPs do not know the fundamentals about mirrors or how to show them. To address this, Opticote provides CE seminars, trunk shows and regional seminars on this very subject. The last one was at Vision Expo East.
At its highest level, presenting mirrors along with lenses and frames is a mind set. It¡¯s a personal service we offer our patients. We use our skills, knowledge and experience to help them see, look and feel better. It¡¯s more than knowing where to source the newest mirrors an already knowledgeable and informed patient may request. It¡¯s more then using our knowledge and products to give physical expression to what a patient seeks but can¡¯t articulate. It¡¯s also creating an environment for both patient and ECP that informs, brings awareness of the possibilities, and encourages discovery.
The store, ECP and patients are all part of a choreographed experience that pleasantly guides the patient to realizing all that mirrors and eyewear can bring. It¡¯s a complete experience, from the patient¡¯s first glance at store window to the greeting they receive upon entering, to what they do and see while waiting for the ECP. Purchasing eyewear should be more like a visit to top-rank resort or spa than a trip to the hardware store to buy nails.