There’s good news on the AR lens front. ECPs and optical lab managers report that the latest generation of AR lenses actually lives up to manufacturers’ claims. As proof, they cite the fact that the number of AR remakes is being drastically reduced, thanks to new products offering excellent light transmission, are highly resistant to water, oil and dust and have stronger hard coats.

Such quality improvements are boosting confidence in AR among doctors and dispensers, who are more inclined to recommend the newer products to patients. Consequently, AR lens sales are on the upswing. According to a study conducted by Jobson and the Vision Council of America, sales of AR lenses to U.S. consumers rose from 18.8 percent in the 12 months ending March 2003 to 21.8 percent in the 12 months ending March 2007.

One industry executive who is optimistic about AR’s longterm growth potential is Dave Plogmann, senior vice-president, lens products for Luxottica Retail, which operates both LensCrafters and Pearle Vision. Yet he acknowledges it will take time and resources to educate consumers about AR and properly position the product for maximum acceptance.

“The challenge we are dealing with in the market is the complexity of product,” Plogmann told me. “We’ve got to find ways to simplify and streamline the message to the consumer... We’ve been guilty as an industry of not editing down the choices. And that’s a challenge for the category, because new products keep coming out. We don’t want to be just piling a bunch of choices on top of what’s out there today. We need to be very deliberate so the consumer feels like their needs are being met and understood.”

We all need to keep Plogmann’s point in mind if we’re going to raise AR sales to the next level.

—Andrew Karp