For years now, the industry has touted a “lenses-first” approach to dispensing, encouraging professionals to discuss lens options based on lifestyle needs before introducing the fashion-frame component into the mix. While this technique has been implemented at many optical shops across the country, it hasn’t necessarily impacted the way these optical shops look. In fact, when it comes to setting up the merchandising/display area of the dispensary, lenses are often given short shrift.
“From the customers’ perspective, glasses are a fashion accessory, not a device,” explains Sandy Bright, owner of Bright Displays, a dispensary design company in Woodinville, Wash. “It’s the opposite for eyecare professionals and that’s the issue in merchandising lenses.”
Unfortunately, dispensary design experts say dispensers tend to respond to this conundrum by focusing on frames when setting up—or redesigning—their shops. Almost everyone who dispenses has some sort of frame display, of course. But estimates as to the amount of dispensers with formalized lens displays—or lens centers—range from fewer than 20 percent to slightly more than half.
“And even those that do rely too heavily on what they get from lens manufacturers,” notes Jan Ennis, owner of Ennco Design in Redmond, Wash. “The manufacturers have some nice displays, but they are usually focused on their individual products. They may not get the overall message across to patients.”
Given the financial impact lenses can have in the final sale (see State of the Market, 20/20, February 2002), dispensers’ ability to drive that message home can make or break an optical shop. With that in mind, 20/20 spoke to some of the leading dispensary designers and asked about their lens-display philosophies. Whether you use their products—or design your own based on their recommendations—their insights should prove invaluable in effectively positioning lenses in your dispensary.
Be flexible. Lens products change. So can dispensing philosophies. Most dispensary designers agree the best lens centers are flexible in size, shape and content. “The beauty of our system is that it is flexible; it can be as big or as small as the dispenser wants and they can place it where they think it will be most effective,” says Brian Wolcovitch, president of Modular Designs in Concord, Ontario, Canada.
Several companies—Ennco, Fashion Optical and Eye Designs, among them—offer customers multiple lens display products in an effort to match individual customer needs. There are wall-mounted displays, which can fit into the texture of, and stand alongside, frame boards and/or cases or operate as a separate entity in a separate space. And, there are freestanding displays such as rotating kiosks, which dispensers can place strategically on the shop floor. Finally, there are tabletop displays—which can be smaller versions of spinning kiosks or small “demonstrators” showcasing the differences between A-R coated and uncoated lenses, for instance.
“We sell a lot of units for the dispensing table,” notes Ennco’s Ennis. “We have tint demos, A-R demos and aspheric lens demos. They are all table-top demonstrators, so dispensers can use them right at the dispensing table when they’re discussing lens options.”
Keep current. Dispensers should always make sure their lens centers are displaying the newest products as well as the products they sell in their shops. “Company A may be a popular brand name and it may have nice-looking POP or brochures,” says Ennis. “But if your shop isn’t selling that product, you shouldn’t display it.”
With ever-changing lens product availability and almost continuous enhancements to lens technology, it is vital to keep lens centers up-to-date. Trends also change, which may mean replacing certain cosmetic tints on display from time to time and/or emphasizing new or different materials.
“Your displays have to be easily adaptable and changeable,” notes designer Margaret Choi-Furman of San Francisco-based Magic Design/Visual Dynamics. “Things are changing in this industry all the time.”
Emphasize Aesthetics. According to Choi-Furman, Magic Design/Visual Dynamics recently redesigned its lens center to give it a more “compact, high-end” look. And Magic isn’t alone. One of the keys to selling lenses, designers say, is positioning them as an important component of the overall look of eyewear. If patients see an unsightly or poorly maintained lens center—among bright, clean, visually exciting frame boards—they will not see lenses as a serious consideration in their eyewear purchase.
“Part of the lens selection process is very much fashion-oriented,” explains Bright. “That’s why your lens center should have a high-fashion look.”
“We have display systems that incorporate all eyewear accessories—cases, chains, etc.—right into the frame boards,” adds Dan Sloan, a designer for Paradise, Calif.-based Fashion Optical Displays. “Lenses could be considered an accessory as well, so we’ve incorporated lens displays right onto the frame boards for some of our clients.”
Information, please. Most designers stress that brochures and pamphlets should not be the focus of any lens displays. “You don’t want your lens center to look like an information station or have it be too clinical, even though those aspects should be part of its function,” says Choi-Furman.
That said, they also agree effective lens centers should have a place for, and include, product literature. According to designers, product information can provide support to eye-catching displays showcasing the features and benefits of lens products.
“We call it a lens center, but it’s really a patient information center for lens products,” says Fashion’s Sloan. “With effective displays, these products can sell themselves—who wouldn’t buy A-R coated lenses after seeing how much better they look?—but product literature can generate patient questions and discussion at the dispensing table. Patients won’t bring up lenses on their own, unless the issue is brought to their attention.”
Location, location. As anyone who’s recently purchased a home knows, it’s the most important factor in determining the value of real estate. Similarly, the location of a lens center can determine how much value a dispensary, and therefore its patients, places on lenses. Depending on the design of the optical shop in question, designers will locate a lens display anywhere from the waiting room (if one exists) to an area near the reception desk/cashier to a centralized location near the dispensing table(s).
“It needs to be somewhere where the customers will see it, have time to look at it, see all the products and read some of the literature there,” says Bright. “What you want is for them to be armed with information before they sit down to the dispensing table and be able to ask questions.”
“Placement of a lens center is important in terms of creating interest,” adds Neil Freemer, regional sales and design consultant for Collegeville, Pa.-based Eye Designs. “Lens displays can be placed either within a mix of other displays, especially around sunwear, or placed in the immediate area of a dispensing table. If near a dispensing station, the optician can provide appropriate lens information and help with the selection of the lens.”
Content counsel. Designers and dispensers differ on the specifics, but most agree essential elements of a lens center should include pairs of eyeglasses (lorgnettes) or customized lens holders comparing/contrasting specific high-tech lens products. Product comparisons to consider are: high-index lenses versus hard-resin plastic, spherical lenses versus aspherics, anti-reflective coated lenses versus non-coated lenses, polarized versus non-polarized sunlenses, photochro-mics versus tinted or colored lenses and scratch-coated lenses versus uncoated (and damaged) lenses.
In addition to these pairings, a variety of other products should be available for demonstration, including individual samples of cosmetic tints, bifocals, trifocals, progressives, photochromic and occupational lenses as well as various lens materials. Each of these samples can provide the dispenser with the tools needed to help the patient visualize the finished eyewear and to understand the features and benefits of the products.
“Dispensers can display as many as 20 lenses or as few as two, as long as they do it,” stresses Choi-Furman.
Ultimately, of course, it’s up to individual dispensers to choose the best lens display technique for their optical shops. Options currently available on the market can cost anywhere from hundreds to thousands of dollars. But design and dispensing experts agree any lens display efforts are better than none.
“We always try to implement lens centers into the dispensaries we work with,” notes Sloan. “It’s an important consideration a lot of dispensers don’t pay enough attention to. Lenses are a huge profit center and effective displays make selling them much easier.”
The following dispensary design companies provided information for this story: Bright Displays, Design Concepts (Clearwater, Fla.), Ennco, Eye Designs, Fashion Optical Displays, Magic Designs and Modular Designs.