It's Time to Get Serious, Sun Serious

By Mark Mattison-Shupnick, ABOM, FNAO

Release Date: October 1, 2011

Expiration Date: September 28, 2016

Learning Objectives:

Upon completion of this program, the participant should be able to:

  1. Know why every optician should personally commit to discussing sunwear with every patient.
  2. Learn how to develop the goals and metrics to make sunwear a larger and integrated essential part of every office.
  3. Understand ways to better learn the technology and communicate the advantages to patients—in all departments of an optical office.

Mark Mattison-ShupnickMark Mattison-Shupnick, ABOM, FNAO is currently director of education and training, program development for Jobson Information Services LLC, has more than 35 years of experience as an optician, was senior staff member of SOLA International and is a frequent lecturer and trainer.

Credit Statement:

This course is approved for one (1) hour of CE credit by the American Board of Opticianry (ABO). Course # STWJM524-2

fig1How do I say this? We're not doing a great job and it's not just you; I'm part of the problem also. What am I talking about? We don't do a good enough job of teaching every one of our patients the real importance of good sunglasses and then completing the sale. How do I know? Look at our numbers.

Both prescription sunglass sales and photochromic lens sales as a sunglass substitute are still about one in five Rxs sold. That means about two-thirds of eyeglass wearers haven't gotten the message that outdoor eye protection is critical. Separate potential eyewear into indoor and outdoor categories to help simplify optical language into one that a consumer can better understand.

Outdoor eyewear isn't just prescription sun. A quality pair of plano sunglasses is required for emmetropes (no prescription) as well as ametropes (prescription). For the 12 months ending June 2011, independent ECPs' plano sunglass sales in the over $50 category, dropped to 6 percent from almost 9 percent in 2009. The majority of nonprescription sunglass sales (80 to 95 percent) are less than $30.

While prescription sunglasses have remained relatively stable, they still average only about 10 to 12 percent (nine million pairs) of the overall 75 million pairs (The Vision Council) of prescription eyewear sales. Is that good? I suggest it's not.

From the Management and Business Academy data, prescription sun is 20 percent of the best practices' overall prescription business, and the median practices average 10 percent. That means 20 percent sales are possible today.

Polarized, an overall better sun solution is also only just a little bit more than half the Rx sunwear sold at five of the nine million pairs. Yet, when I ask classes which sun lens best serves their patients, the overwhelming response is polarized. There's a "disconnect."

fig2What's the plano sunglass percent for best practice? 2009 showed 9 percent was the norm so a 10 percent goal is certainly achievable for best practice. Therefore, these numbers suggest a sunglass target of 30 percent of business can be in prescription and plano sunglasses. The average office today appears to only be about 16 percent.

Finally, it is estimated that 138 million adults each year are not receiving an eye exam. These are people who have not had the benefit of your expertise in providing the best of outdoor eyewear. No matter how it's sliced, there are at least another 100 million potential pairs of sunglasses out there.


It's time to rethink sunglasses. We've spent a lot of CE course time this year teaching sun but it's really time to get serious about it. Why?

From the Kid's Eye Health course, "Use of sunglasses that block all ultraviolet radiation and severely attenuate high-energy visible radiation will slow the pace of ocular deterioration and delay the onset of age-related disease, thereby reducing its prevalence. A 20-year delay would practically eliminate these diseases as significant causes of visual impairment in the United States." This is a profound statement, first published in 1992 in a paper by RW Young, MD, titled "Sunlight and Age-Related Eye Disease," Journal of the National Medical Association (1992, 84:353-358). It suggests that we must do a better job than we have. If we double the use of better sunglasses, in prescription and plano, we can significantly reduce the effects of UV radiation before someone "sees" the result, during their lifetime. A friend recently told me they had early AMD and some blurring of their vision. As an optical person at age 68, he conceded that he spent his childhood outdoors, without sunglasses and in fact it wasn't until he was in his 40s that he got UV protective sunglasses (the same time he became presbyopic). Perhaps if he wore the right sunglasses as a kid, Dr. Young's prediction might mean he would never have experienced AMD during his lifetime.


There are five ways that will make a sun difference:

  1. Set clear business goals for everyone in the office.
  2. Personally commit to talk sunwear with everyone.
  3. Personally wear premium sunwear, prescription or plano.
  4. Get educated on all sunwear.
  5. Work with your sunglass reps for the right inventory that shows you are serious about sunwear.


Sunglasses are good for business and better for the patient. In order to know where your office stands, start to measure what you do. Borrowing from Jay Binkowitz (The Edge), "if you don't measure it, you can't fix it."

Measure sunglass wearers as the metric, i.e., for every Rx dispensed, was a sunglass prescribed and purchased? That means counting Rx as well as quality plano.

First, on graph paper or in a spreadsheet (available as a download on the Training Tab at review and record the last three months of prescription and plano sunglass sales. See the chart in Fig 2. Your resources are patient orders, lab invoices, frame vendor invoices, etc. The spreadsheet will help trend sales versus comprehensive eye exams. The data will show capture rate (those that purchased), the variety of eyewear sold (multiple pairs) and details for sun.

fig3Once graphed, present the results at the next staff meeting and agree on the goals for sun for the next three months. Continue to record data for each month daily (or weekly if that is easier). The graph will look like Fig 3, with the data from the sample chart. In this case, some patients are leaving the office after exams without eyewear dispensed (see capture rate). Rx sun and plano sun provides some room for growth and address what seems like a downward trend. Now that there is some data, a plan can be put into place.

First set a goal to increase capture rate. Let me refer you to "Best Practices, Spectacle Lens Management" at as a download. It describes "What went wrong" and "Tips" to address the office changes that can make a difference. Let's instead focus on sun. Set a goal to achieve at least a 30 percent average, month to month. Increasing sun sales is everyone's job in the office.

In reception, add printed material about sunwear fashion and the requirements for UV and blue light protection. Change the last thing said to anyone making an appointment to: "Be sure to bring all your prescription sun and clear glasses when you come for your appointment." This opens the door for a dialogue about how important sunwear is to long-term eye health. The patient more likely than not will say, "I don't have or didn't know I could get my prescription as sunglasses."

Pretesting technicians are already collecting a medical history. So asking how well the patient does in bright sunlight is well placed. Ask, "Does glare bother you?" or "Do you have trouble adapting to darkness at night or at the movies when looking for a seat?", as well as, "Does driving in the early morning sun concern you for the things you might not see?" Be prepared with consumer brochures that outline the advantages of polarized lenses and how sunglasses add to comfort as they eliminate glare.


Personally commit to talk with every patient about their sun needs first or at the same time you discuss their clear lens needs. In this way, they get a picture of a more comprehensive plan for their outdoor and indoor eyewear. It also reduces the temptation to overspend on one pair when two pairs can provide a greater series of benefits.

fig3Doctor, don't just recommend; prescribe sunwear. That means the entire office is involved in the process. Talk sun before the exam, assess sun needs during the exam, then hand-off or transition to the dispensary repeating the assessment so the prescription is well understood by the patient.

Patients want to know their options from their doctor as well as staff. When surveyed, a majority (65 percent) of the respondents said their optician and/or sales associate recommended the products they purchased. More than 89 percent want their eye doctor to recommend the eyewear products and options they think make the most sense for them based on their vision needs and more than 85 percent said "regardless of the price."

Why isn't it happening? Roughly two-thirds are not hearing the message from their doctor about the need to have their eyes protected. Moreover, ensuring that a sun solution mentioned is actually understood takes more time during the explanation. Often a patient will decline a recommended product only because they didn't understand the benefits. For example, the concept of glare control is critical today for safety and comfort. Sun lenses, especially anti-reflective and polarized ones ensure that all kinds of glare are taken care of. Add in color and darkness or percent absorption, and the sunwear gets "tuned to the patient's personal situation."


There's nothing like personal experience to best describe a product's advantages. When I ask a class their color preference, there are distinct reasons why opticians or doctors in the audience answer brown, grey, racing red or green. Given the opportunity, a patient would prefer to understand your personal preference. This is because they also may have the same preferences, but perhaps do not explain them as well as you because of your experience. Try different colors and densities. Understand them for the kinds of sports, activities and weather for which they work best.

Personal experience makes your descriptions relevant. Without experiencing the comfort from a fabulous pair of polarized lenses, it's easy to forget them in favor of tints. To be relevant, understand each customer's unique relationship, with his or her outdoor wants and needs. Then recommend those solutions and that will have them nodding agreement, finalize the order and move on to clear eyewear.

Some patients with a prescription will wear nonprescription sunglasses instead because of cost, misinformation or think their Rx is not sun lens available? Some patients believe only sunglass frames can be made as Rx sunglasses. There are two important learnings here: 1. Consumers don't know that all eyewear is Rx sunglass possible and 2. If a good inventory of sunwear is missing, they think you're not serious about sunwear (more about that later).

Personal experience is not free however. Trying a variety of lenses requires frames and lab work. Determine which doctors and staff should experience and report on which colors, polarized, etc. Call your lab as well as frame and lens representatives for personal discounts on an organized program to try product. Be sure to also report back sales progress to the lab/frame/lens rep who gave you products to try.


Be able to talk technically, if necessary, as well as personally on all aspects of quality sunwear. That means the attributes of lenses and frames. Remember, it's the frame that is often the motivator in a sunglass purchase. Free-form manufacturing technique now allows both wrap Rx and flat Rx glasses to "see" the same. For more information visit for details on why high performance wrap prescription eyewear works.

The public understands the dangers of ultraviolet radiation on skin; in fact most women purchase cosmetics with a stated SPF value. They know UV causes sunburn and skin cancers. More people now know UV's effect on the skin is the same as the eyes. In fact, 91 percent of respondents to a Jobson Optical Research survey said they are aware that ultraviolet radiation is damaging to their eyes. However, nearly half of the same respondents (48 percent) said they couldn't recall their eye doctor talking to them about the dangers of UV.

Fewer than half (47 percent) say UV protection is one of the most important factors in choosing sunglasses, and 76 percent will wear their sunglasses everywhere this summer. However, less than one-third can correctly identify the eye conditions that result from overexposure to UV rays. It's up to us, along with doctors, to really drive the understanding home. There are a variety of manufacturer websites, articles and courses about sun lens products. Visit the photochromic and polarized companies' sites for really good technical and selling suggestions. See the variety of CE courses that support the business goals agreed for sunwear about glare, UV and blue light control. Develop a plan for educating everyone in the office. In fact, use these courses as part of setting goals for employee reviews. Have successful employees teach others in the office.

fig5Lastly a complete set of questions to start the dialogue is required. How about:

  • How often are you outdoors?
  • What types of activities do you engage in outdoors?
  • What does your commute to work or other regular activities look like?
  • Describe how glare affects you, when driving, bicycling, walking.
  • Describe reflections that bother you (snow, water, buildings).
  • Do you have dry eyes? Do your eyes water in sunlight?
  • How do you protect yourself from sunlight and UV light?
  • Do you know people who have age related macular degeneration (AMD)?
  • Tell me more about your current sunwear.


A complete sun assortment (both plano and quality Rxable frames) reflects your belief and insistence upon sun protection for every customer. Work with your sunglass reps for the right inventory mix of collections that shows you are serious about sunwear.

To look like you are in the sunglass business, show sunwear as part of each of the collections offered. Good merchandising of a brand would include that brand's sunwear with the ophthalmic frames in that showcase. In this way, the identification that a consumer has with a brand will confirm that sun is available in that brand and a note that says, "Available also in your Rx" will tell them that eyewear is Rxable. Often it may be the sunglass that a patient is looking for and then pleased that the same brand offers frames for their clear pair.

Five Reasons To Wear Sunglasses

Add more than one sports brand since athletes and those who identify with athletes are brand loyal. If you don't have it, they go elsewhere and that affects capture rate. To look like you're in the sunglass business, one-third of prime real estate should be dedicated to sunglasses. Sunglasses need to represent "critical mass." Then the most respected, sought-after sunglass brands should also be well-represented by signage and current images. Don't forget window displays, e-mail announcements of new collections, as well as mention on your website and in your social media plans.

What Goes Wrong?

There are a number of ways the patient loses the opportunity for a good pair of sunglasses.

  1. Sunglasses were never mentioned or the question(s) never asked.
  2. Everyone gets gray lenses.
  3. The patient's ability to afford the additional cost was pre-judged and never suggested.
  4. There were very few sunglasses to choose from.
  5. You assumed that the patient understood.
  6. The doctor or dispenser recommends only their personal preferences.
  7. There was no change to the prescription.
  8. Sunglasses were a wishy-washy recommendation.
  9. Your knowledge is too limited so objections can't be best answered directly and confidently.
  10. The recommendations weren't directly relevant to the customer's needs and see "sun as an extravagance" rather than a need.

Frame and Fashion

Frame design is as important as lens design. That means the frame should scream attitude or protection or fashion or daring or… get where I am going. It's my experience that customers will take chances with sunwear that they wouldn't with everyday clear wear. So be sure to have a more daring selection. As I said, "…that also means sports".


In conclusion, a well-planned set of goals, organized and educated to achieve a total 30 percent sun means better served patients and a more effective business. It won't happen overnight but tomorrow is a good time to start. I'm serious.