Attention opticians of America: Online optical has been hospitalized.
Now, before you get your hopes up, he isn’t on life support, or even in critical condition. The attack wasn’t that severe: Just a few broken bones, maybe a sprained ankle, a cut here or there. The point is, this was no accident. This was an attack, probably close to midnight, probably while Online Optical was walking down a dark alley, looking to buy some black market progressives. This was intentional; this was focused; this was a message.
While you’re popping that champagne and putting on the party hats, let me make another announcement: I know who the culprit is, and I’m ready to bring him into the room. Ready for it? It was a group of opticians.
Who work online.
In the battle between online and brick and mortar optical, things have gotten fairly well polarized. Those who run online opticals claim that the in-person experience isn’t necessary to obtain a quality pair of glasses: That all a patient needs is an iPhone app and an idea of what they like in a pair of frames. On the flip side are those in the brick and mortar business who feel that the glasses fitting and dispensing experience can only grow in the sunlight of a face-to-face interaction, and that any degree of depersonalization exponentially diminishes the worth of the experience.
Yet as history has taught us, in the battle between tried-and-true methods and the encroachment of technology, there often has to be a reconciliation between the two before true progress can be made. The question for us is: Can we of the brick and mortar adapt to an online world without sacrificing the integrity of our work?
Dave Barton thinks so; and what’s more, he’s providing us with a road map.
Barton started out in the eyewear business fourteen years ago at Spy Optics. His position as director of product development led to a position with Oliver Peoples, where he first began to develop the seeds of what would become David Kind: An online optical run with the ethos—and operating procedures—of a brick and mortar.
“From beginning to end, we personalize the experience,” Barton says. “We employ real opticians who have experience dispensing eyewear through offline channels. We’ve recreated a platform to allow them to practice their craft online, virtually. No one else does that, who I’m aware of.” Rather than allow patients to simply choose frames they like and punch in prescriptions, David Kind aims to recreate the brick and mortar experience online. Prospective buyers register with the site and are paired up with one of the company’s real-world opticians, a team supervised by an ABO certified optician with twenty years of experience dispensing in brick and mortar stores. The patient then sends the optician photos of his or her face and submits a brief questionnaire that includes information ranging from the patient’s RX to the size of his or her head, as well as information about the kind of glasses they do or don’t like (Plastic? Metal? Rimless? Brown? Black? Tortoise?) The optician then compiles a selection of frames which are shipped to the patient for an at-home trial period. Unlike other online opticals who shall not be named, this part of the process is also relies on customization: Patients are encouraged to take more photos to submit to their optician of themselves wearing the frames in order to help further develop a picture of what frames would suit not only the patient’s RX but their personal style and preferences. Once the patient has chosen a pair of frames he or she likes, they submit a photo of themselves wearing them so that their optician can not only determine that dreaded PD, but, in another process that emulates the brick and mortar experience, also calculate measurements such as OC.
“We all come from the offline world of opticianry,” Barton says about the thought process behind making David Kind an online-brick-and-mortar experience. “And we looked at the online space and didn’t really see this being available to the consumer. That’s a lot of entry to low-end product available, but nothing premium, that’s true, high-end product, with better lenses... Also, we thought, once you get to that level of product, the expectations of the consumer are different. The experience of acquiring it and the dispensing of the eyewear. We believe that a pair of lenses are only as good as the effort it takes to fit them.”
Lenses are another departure point for David Kind: Differentiating themselves from other onliners, the lenses at David Kind are digitally surfaced Trivex, and can optionally come with Transitions.
As research for this article I decided to try out the David Kind experience for myself. I was partnered with Sami, an optician from Costa Mesa with six years of experience dispensing eyewear. After submitting her my photo and questionnaire, I was surprised by the level of intuition that went into my frame kit: She not only surmised that I might be a fan of their Browline frame, but also determined from my photo which of their zyl frames might ride on my cheeks and attached adjustable silicon nosepieces to them in order to compensate for my facial structure.
“Photos are essential and help replicate the in-store experience for us,” Sami told me after I’d returned my kit. “It works the same as if a customer walked into a store and asked for assistance. We analyze their face shape, eye distance and match it with their personal preferences.”
While all of David Kind’s frames are designer-quality and manufactured in either Japan or Italy, the business nonetheless provides both hope and a model for those in brick and mortar growing frustrated with the tide of online big-boxers. Rather than simply standing our ground, why not take the fight to them? It’s a vision of the future that Barton has, and one he hopes that ECPs can get behind in order to bring dispensing into the internet age in a way that preserves the integrity—and role—of brick and mortar opticians… and deals a more severe blow to the big-box world of online optical.
“Customers are increasingly buying online, and we want them to have a high quality experience with people around them who understand that experience and who understand eyewear. That’s missing… [And] we’re looking for ways to bring in the eye care professional. We work very closely with eye doctors. We like to have conversations with them. We like to have high quality conversations with eye care professionals, eye doctors, the staff that works in offices. Our vision for this is to be the first brand that eclipses what eyewear online is now and leads them into what eyewear online will be, which is an extension of ECPs. And down the road, we want to bring independent practitioners into our fold.”
Preston Fassel was born in Houston, Texas and grew up between St. Charles, Missouri and Broken Arrow, Okla.
In 2009, Preston graduated Summa Cum Laude with a degree in Liberal Arts. In 2011, he graduated Cum Laude from Sam Houston State University with a Bachelor's of Science.
Preston currently works as an Optician in the Houston area. His interest in the history of eyewear goes back to his time in high school, when he developed an interest in all things vintage.
In addition to his writing for The 20/20 Opticians Handbook and 20/20 Magazine, Preston is a featured writer for Rue Morgue Magazine, where he reviews of horror and science-fiction DVDs. His fiction writing has been featured three times in Swirl magazine, the literary arts journal of Lone Star College and Montgomery County. He is the author of the definitive work on the life of British horror actress Vanessa Howard, Remembering Vanessa, which appeared in the Spring 2014 edition of Screem Magazine.