The popularity of AR lenses is growing in the U.S. Time for you to get growing.
By Eric Rollins

Although the U.S. still trails far behind many European and Asian countries in anti-reflective (AR) lens sales, the domestic AR market is on the upswing. Thanks to a sustained push by leading optical chain retailers, mass merchants and, increasingly, independent eyecare practitioners (ECPs), sales of AR lenses have been growing in the U.S. over the past several years. AR lenses accounted for 21.9 percent of all lenses sold in the U.S. during the 12-month period ending September 2006, up from 20.7 percent for the same period in 2004, according to Vision- Watch, a study of 100,000 U.S. consumers conducted by Jobson Medical Information and the Vision Council of America.

Among independent ECPs, a growing number of “AR stars” are emerging. These savvy practitioners understand how to educate their patients about the value and benefits of AR lenses. Several were willing to share the secrets of their success with L&T.

Practices with a high percentage of AR shared a number of common traits. All the doctors and dispensers interviewed for this story believe in the product and wear it themselves. They are knowledgeable about the features and benefits of the newer technology. They take the time to explain those features and benefits to their patients. They have also built a high level of confidence dispensing the product to their patients.

The newest AR treatments available, such as Carl Zeiss Vision’s Teflon Clear Coat, Essilor’s Crizal Alizé with Clear Guard and Signet Armorlite’s Kodak CleAR combine excellent abrasion resistance with dirt and smudge resistance for easy cleaning. The newest technology combines oleophobic (oil-resistant), hydrophobic (water-resistant) and anti-static properties to not just make the lenses easy to clean, but also repel dirt and smudges. These enhancements have made AR more user-friendly than ever.

Ed Grubb of Eye Associates Optical Services in Langhorne, Pa., was an advocate of AR in the early days despite the drawbacks the product has now outgrown. Now that the newer AR treatments are available, he recommends AR for all of his patients.

“Our sales techniques and comfort levels have grown over the years. It seems easier to offer a $100 AR treatment with $500 progressive lenses than $150 flat-tops. Our percentage of AR on progressive lenses is over 75 percent, but not as high on single vision and flat-top bifocals.”

Patients at Eye Associates Optical Services hear about AR from three different people while going through the examination and selection process.

The MDs prescribe or recommend AR to the patients, the certified ophthalmic technicians talk about AR during testing and the opticians follow up those conversations with more information about AR.

Grubb uses Crizal Alizé as his AR of choice. “Logistics are good now that Balester Optical has it on site. Quality and service are great, so we can sell it with confidence. The theme with our patients is educate, educate, educate.”

Grubb also markets AR with accessories to keep the patients compliant with their care regimen for the lenses. “We give every patient a two-ounce bottle of lens cleaner and will refill their bottles for free. We also give a free box of Kimwipes to every patient with a purchase over $400. We take a lot of time teaching our patients how to clean their lenses.”

Kathy DeCarlo of Family Vision Care in Lagrange, Ill. is a newer convert to AR. “Five years ago I didn’t wear AR. I tried it, but found myself cleaning it 50 times a day. But then I turned 40 and started having issues with night driving. So I tried AR again and was impressed with the newer technology. Now they are easy to clean, scratch resistant and still do what they are supposed to do— let more light in and prevent reflected glare. All of the higher-end AR coatings are equally wonderful. Teflon, Crizal Alizé and Hoya Super Hi-Vision are all fantastic.” DeCarlo emphasizes that Family Vision Care doesn’t use the “standard” AR products, only the better “B” and “C” levels from the VSP options list.

“Our newer doctors are very pro-AR,” says DeCarlo. “The doctors encourage AR in the chair. Ninety-five` percent of our sales are done in the exam room.”

DeCarlo also incentivizes the opticians, setting growth goals to earn rewards. Family Vision Care also targets some specific patients: people that drive a lot, plus Rxs (hyperopes) and high-index lens wearers.

Tapping Your Lab’s AR Expertise

If you want to increase your AR sales, the laboratories and lens manufacturers can be great allies. Many labs and lens manufacturers have developed programs to assist eyecare professionals (ECPs) in improving their AR lens sales. According to Dominic Parisi, sales manager for Balester Optical in Wilkes Barre, Pa., it all begins with education. “Our sales consultants will help eyecare professionals understand the level of technology and quality of today’s AR, and how AR will benefit their patients.” Their consultants do in-office seminars and larger educational gatherings for customers. Balester has in-house facilities to produce the Crizal family of coatings, RF Endura EZ and Zeiss coatings. Parisi also emphasizes the financial importance of AR. “There are wonderful success stories out there today. The perception of AR has changed dramatically. With the improvements in scratch resistance and cleanability, it needed to be changed. The new processes produce a product that benefits the patient and benefits the financial health of the practice. It’s a win-win for both the patient and the practice.”

Balester promotes AR to its customers with promotions and packaging. The lab has developed frame and lens packages that offer the AR coatings at a small discount from their normal prices. Balester sales consultants work with practices one-onone to set up packaging programs in their office and help the practice implement the changes. Parisi also credits Transitions for assisting the eyecare industry with their Transitions On-line Marketing (TOM) program.

“Transitions has done a great job with TOM, packages including AR are laid out on line for the ECPs and it doesn’t cost the ECP anything to develop their own packages,” says Parisi. “It is such a valuable tool to encourage the ECP to embrace the new high-tech products.”

Jerry Mansuy of Vision Craft in Walled Lake, Mich., is also working to support ECPs’ efforts to increase AR. Mansuy has produced a “Ten Tips for Selling More AR” sheet that he gives to his customers. He recommends using the best of the new AR products.

 “Sell on the best AR, don’t sell tiered products,” says Mansuy. “It may be a negative experience for the patient to use older technology coatings. If they use the older technology and have issues with scratching, smudging and cleaning it is a negative for the patient.”

Mansuy believes that one of the biggest drags on AR sales is the attitudes of some dispensers and doctors. “I do business with all three of the ECPs in a small town. One of the practices is over 80 percent AR, one is just over 50 percent AR and one is less than 20 percent. I spoke to the practice under 20 percent and offered to work with them to raise their numbers, but they felt that the population of their town couldn’t afford AR. If the ECP doesn’t feel the product is worth it to the patient, they won’t even offer it.”

Vision Craft also promotes AR with education tools and seminars. In addition, they have an innovative promotion to grow AR with their customer base called “Stairway to Success.” It is a monthly rebate program that gives increasing levels of support as the ECPs’ percentage of AR increases.

If you aren’t already working with your laboratory or lens supplier to grow AR, it would be worth a call to get started. As Robert B. Gollance, MD, observed, “Get to know your suppliers, they can be your best friends. Approach them with the thought ‘if I do well, you do well.’ They are going to help you tremendously if you approach them correctly.”

—Eric Rollins
Daniel Quon, OD, of South Coast Optometry in Costa Mesa, Calif. is over 80 percent in utilizing AR with all spectacle lenses sold. “I am confident in prescribing the newer technology AR products such as Teflon, Crizal Alizé with Clear Guard and Zeiss Carat Advantage,” says Dr. Quon. “Premium ARs are so much better than the standard AR products of the past. The oleophobic and antistatic properties keep the lenses clean and the lenses have great transparency with less reflected color than previous AR technology. Clean and clear lenses require less cleaning so they will last a lot longer than the older ARcoated lenses. The AR treatments also work extremely well with photochromic lenses such as Transitions. The AR helps the Transitions immediately appear much lighter in color when the patient comes indoors and make a fantastic package for night driving.” Dr. Quon also takes the time to prescribe or recommend AR from the chair. “I believe in the newer technology AR products so much that I plant the seed at the conclusion of my exams and as part of my treatment recommendations. This way, the optician is merely following the recommendations of the doctor and doesn’t project the image of an aggressive sales person. Everybody gains this way. The patient gains the benefits of AR and my opticians gain time efficiency.”

Tamia Kingsfield, manager of the regional chain Wisconsin Vision’s Blue Mound, Wis. store, is over 80 percent AR. “I love the product, I wear it all the time. My patients see it on me and the staff. AR gives me better vision.” Tamia feels that AR is affordable and works great for her patients. “I have a lot of confidence in AR. I always wear my Teflon lenses.” Kingsfield also credits her doctor’s recommendation for AR with the patients. AR sales for this location have doubled in the last year due to the confidence of the staff in the quality of the product. Kingsfield also encourages the opticians with little contests and incentives, but notes “the main motivation of the staff comes from the quality of the product.”

Robert B. Gollance, MD is in practice at the New Jersey Eye Institute in Wayne, N.J. Dr. Gollance was concerned after the first six months’ sales at the optical shop were slightly off from the previous year, so he went to Vision Expo West with the mission of learning more about that aspect of his practice. After a whirlwind first day filled with new ideas and concepts, he was so excited he couldn’t sleep. He used the show and classes to educate himself. He and the other ophthalmologists and opticians are determined to keep up with new technology and trends, and all have registered for the exhibits and classes at Vision Expo East.

His first focus back at his practice was to spend more time with the patients and recommend solutions for their eyewear needs. Dr. Gollance feels it is critical that the doctor is educated in all aspects of opticianry to be prepared to discuss optical options with the patients. He takes the time to walk the patients into the dispensary and discusses in front of the patient and optician what he recommends for their eyewear. He hires the best opticians and avoids micro-managing them.

Dr. Gollance feels he needs to spend time addressing his patients’ primary concern. “If it’s a cataract patient, then we spend time discussing treatments for cataracts. I don’t treat eyes; I treat people, their concerns and their needs. Most patients’ primary concern is their eyewear. If I can insure that their primary concern is handled more fully by spending a little more time discussing their eyeglass options, then I feel that the patient is entitled to that time. After all, they are spending a lot of money in our dispensary.” Dr. Gollance also notes the dispensary is equipped to demonstrate many products to the patients, including AR, progressive lenses and polarized lenses.

Charlene Ford of Huron Ophthalmology in Ypsilanti, Mich. is another AR success story. Their practice averages over 80 percent AR by offering the product to every patient. Charlene explains, “We have tried the product ourselves, we love the product and we demonstrate it.” Among the point–of-sale tools used is a Crizal Alizé’ with Clear Guard anti-static demonstrator, a lens with AR in a “bull’s-eye” and utilizing a dryerase marking pen on an AR and non-AR lens. “The marking pen is a dramatic example of why AR is so good. It leaves a heavy blue line on the regular lens, but the line disappears on the Crizal lens.”

Ford also notes the importance of educating her patients. “We tell the patients about the great technology of AR, including the durability, the two- sided scratch resistance, the warranty and the ease in cleaning. We have an elderly patient base—glare bothers them. They want to improve their vision.” Ford also credits the doctors. “The doctors here all wear AR lenses and they suggest AR to our patients.”

If we will follow the advice and techniques of the eyecare professionals above, two things will happen: AR percentages in the U.S. will rival the 80 percent numbers of Europe and Asia, and we will have happier patients with better vision.


L&T contributing editor Eric Rollins is a 20- year veteran of the optical retail, manufacturing and laboratory segments. He is president of Rollins Consulting LLC, a Michigan-based firm serving independent eyecare professionals and optical retailers.