Features: Contact Lenses


CLs Can Sell Sun

CAZAL 942 from Eastern States & Ultra Palm Optical;
TOMMY BAHAMA 58-RI from Altair Eyewear.
Photo by DANIEL STAUCH/www.danielstauch.com

Sell sunwear to contact lens patients by taking the PROactive and ultra positive approach

By Jackie Micucci

When it comes to contact lens wearers, plano sunglasses are the perfect complement. CL patients tend to be more photosensitive so having them leave the doctor’s office with a good pair of sunwear makes perfect sense.

But while some two thirds of dispensers say they recommend plano sun to their contact lens wearing patients, 89 percent say fewer than 25 percent actually buy them at the time they purchase their contacts, according to 20/20’s 2005 Sunwear Survey of Independents.

Doctors have always been a bit leery of selling. However, this is a case where being proactive can make a world of difference. “Private ODs don’t do enough,” notes Gary Gerber, OD, an optometrist with 22 years experience in private practice who is also president and founder of the 10-year-old optical consulting firm, The Power Practice in Hawthorne, N.J. “They segment the sale as an add-on. At the moment two things are happening—the patient gets an exam and then gets contact lenses. To introduce plano sunglasses adds a third layer; now they have to worry about three things. However, the patient comes in for a complete eyewear solution, which includes an exam, a contact lens fitting and plano sunwear.”

The OD, says Dr. Gerber, does not need to be a pushy salesperson. What the doctor needs to do is literally put sunwear front and center. “If a doc really wants to promote sunglasses, they either need to be moved or duplicated in the contact lens room,” he explains. “They should be in the contact lens training room, at eye level, when a patient is learning how to put in and take out their lenses.” He recommends carrying about 50 to 60 higher-end styles, with 10 to 15 displayed in the contact lens room.

Another great way to promote sunwear to CL wearers is to give them a “loaner” pair for a week. “Don’t assume that, especially new contact lens patients, have good sunglasses,” says Dr. Gerber. “Keep a limited supply of plano sunglasses around. Give them a pair as a loaner for a week. If they decide they like them they can come back and buy a new pair of the same style. You want them to recognize the benefits of having a good pair of sunglasses.”

Earl Loftis, OD, owner of Eyes on Gervais in Columbia, S.C. has come up with a unique way to offer affordable plano sun options for his patients. “We have used and ‘old’ frames that have been around the shop for about a year or so that we put plano sunlenses in,” says the veteran optometrist of 25 years. “We give them a good deal. If they’ve bought frames we give them the frame for free or we sell them for $50 and then focus on the lenses. I’m big into polarized. We can turn old glasses into polarized sunglasses for $125.”

The proactive approach works for Deborah G. Kurpjuweit, owner/ optician of Debonair Eyes in San Luis Obispo, Calif. Her dispensary is right next to an optometrist’s office so she makes it a point to know who is coming in for a contact lens fitting and is ready with a pair of sunglasses when the patient walks past her out of the exam room. “You want to see who the contact lens patients are and be familiar with them; even know who is coming in before hand for an appointment so you’re ready,” she explains. “I look at them before they go in for their exam and pick out some styles I think will work on them. When they come out of their appointment I put the sunglasses on them. I say, ‘I got these great new Christian Diors I’d love for you to try on.’ I also tell contact lens patients who come in wanting a back up pair of ophthalmic glasses that they also need a very good pair of plano sunglasses.”

The reaction from patients is positive, notes Kurpjuweit, who has been a practicing licensed optician for more than 20 years. “It’s the way you present yourself. You make value of the frame. Once you get the sunglasses on them, then you have to talk about the lens and why it’s protective. I always have patients try on one style that’s polarized and one that is not. Then I have them walk outside and see the difference.”

Debonair Eyes also has a large inventory of plano sunglasses, about 400, according to Kurpjuweit, and she makes sure to merchandise them well and prominently. She carries an array of brands that appeal to residents of the active beach community the dispensary is located in, including fashion names Cazal, Caviar and Lafont and sport brands Smith, Oakley, Maui Jim and Spy. “I get many customers through the door who do not wear prescription glasses,” she says. “Once I sell them a particular lens treatment or sport color, they will come back to me when they need a new pair.”

Everyone needs sunwear to block harmful UV rays, says Ken Frederick, president of the Sunglass Association of America (SAA). But contact lens wearers can be more light sensitive. “Light sensitivity is increased when people wear contacts,” explains Frederick. “When a new contact lens wearer goes outside it appears to be brighter.” This happens because many new CL patients have worn eyeglasses, which block some of the light. “That eyeglass lens will have some darkening effect. Also when a contact lens is that close to eye, the lens does refract some of the light coming in and it makes the world seem brighter.”

Some contact lenses do have UV protection. For example, all of the CLs from the Acuvue (Vistakon/Johnson & Johnson) family block UV rays as does CIBA Vision’s UV Precision lens. And even contact lenses that don’t specifically shield against UV do offer some UV protection. But as CLs only cover the circumference of the cornea, some experts say this is not enough protection. “Even a little round John Lennon style offers more protection,” notes Frederick. “Sunglasses protect against other elements such as the wind, which along with the sun, can be a factor in dry eye syndrome.”

If a patient is experiencing dry eye syndrome Dr. Loftis says he will see if they’re spending too much time in the sun. “I talk to them about adding oils to their diet like flax seed oil,” he says. “It helps produce mucin, which helps eyes not be dry.”

 “Don’t assume that, especially new contact
lens patients, have good sunglasses.”

—Gary Gerber, OD

The OD adds he is cautious about using “scare tactics” to get CL patients into sunwear.  “I don’t talk to patients about the dangers of UV. I think they are used as a scare tactic to sell sunglasses,” says Dr. Loftis. “I don’t say if you don’t get this then this will happen. The UV blocker in a car’s windshield, for example, knocks out a lot of UV. I am appalled by the way we sell sunwear by creating negatives. If I look at a patient and they look like they’re baking in the sun we talk about it.”

However, scare tactics need not be employed to teach about the importance of good sun protection, says Dr. Gerber. “The reason most people wear sunglasses is that the bright lights bother them,” he says. “But once they are past that point, they are not going to want dorky sunglasses. Tell your patients they look cool and, by the way, this is also blocking out harmful UV light.”

The Sunglass Association’s Frederick says fear should not be the main selling factor for sunwear. “Dispensers should stress fashion and comfort level,” he notes.

For dispensers to drive home the message that they are the source for all eyewear needs, they need to be proactive. Selling plano sun to contact lens wearers is one way to demonstrate prowess as an optical pro.