Although the U.S. optical industry has been feeling the tremors of the economic recession for months, the full scope of the crisis is only now becoming apparent.

Last month, the release of Luxottica’s 2008 financial results provided an industry bellweather. The eyewear and retail giant reported a 17.6 percent drop in net income in 2008 and a 44 percent drop in the fourth quarter. Although Luxottica’s first quarter is shaping up to be a bit better, in a conference call to financial analysts, company executives said they are enacting a number of cost-cutting measures, including store closings, manufacturing reductions and cuts in advertising.

Assessing the big picture, Kerry Bradley, president of Luxottica Retail, said what Luxottica is seeing in the industry is “not a temporary crisis, not a drastic and definitive change, but a global, structural reset of the relevant market, resulting in [an industry] resizing by approximately 10 percent.” If this prediction proves accurate, optical retailers and independent practitioners need to start rethinking their short and medium-term business strategies now.

In eyecare, as in other businesses, advertising and marketing are often among the first items to be cut from the budget. Yet doing so would be a mistake. It’s more important than ever to remain visibile to your customers and patients. Whether you operate a high-end optical boutique or an “everyday, low price” chain, now’s the time to increase rather than decrease your dialogue with customers. Use all the tools at your disposal, including advertising, public relations, patient recall notices and in-store merchandising.

Let them know you have the products and services they need at prices they can afford. Remember, eyewear purchases can’t be put off indefinitely and when people are ready and able to buy, they should buy from you.

—Andrew Karp