|Lenses Reflect Modest Growth|
Apparently, spectacle lenses don’t need a mirror coating treatment to accurately reflect on the optical industry as a whole. Based on the 2003 projections developed by Jobson Optical Research, the lens and lens treatment categories will experience the same modest growth in the coming year as the optical industry as a whole. Lenses, however, remain the largest dollar segment of total retail sales.
Overall, lens sales, in terms of total pairs sold, are expected to grow by roughly 1.5 percent in 2003—from a projected 73.3 million last year to a projected 74.4 million. Products such as progressives, polycarbonate and anti-reflective (A-R) lenses—the industry’s emphasis in recent years—will once again lead the way. According to Jobson Optical Research, progressive lens sales will grow from a projected 22.9 percent of overall lens sales (in units, by design) in 2002 to an estimated 23.6 percent this year. Polycarbonate, still the industry’s fastest-growing lens material is expected to increase from a projected 30.7 percent of total lens sales (by material) in 2002 to a projected 31.9 percent this year. Conversely, “commodity” products such as bifocals and conventional plastic lenses will continue to decline, albeit slowly. Sales of other premium lens products—namely mid- and high-index plastic lenses—will essentially remain flat (declining from 10.2 percent to an even 10.0 percent of sales, according to Jobson Optical Research.
“Progressives especially are carrying us now,” notes Jan Liberatore, owner of JK Liberatore Optical in Horseheads, N.Y. “All the talk about Baby Boomers... It’s true. Now, when our patients get to be 40-ish and moving into a multi-focal, it’s progressives all the way. And that’s helped us. Last year, business remained at a good, steady pace. Premium products helped us keep our numbers up.”
A-R lenses are finally experiencing the growth industry leaders have hoped for, at least according to the Jobson Optical Research statistics. By this measure, A-R lenses are expected to grow from a projected 18.2 percent of all lenses sold in 2002 to 18.7 percent this year. A-R lens sales have grown in each of the past four years.
“I’m not a good enough optometrist to sell my patients cheap lenses,” jokes C. Earl Loftis, Jr., OD, owner of Eye on Gervais in Columbia, S.C. “Seriously, I’ve gone to high-end lenses exclusively. And my patients are going to get A-R unless they beg me not to put it on. It’s not just about profits, although that’s a factor. As a profession, we have to learn that it’s about what’s best for the patient’s vision. The economy recently has taught us that should be the message we give our patients. If a patient has glaucoma, we want to give them the best treatment possible. Why don’t we always do the same with vision?”
Retail lens pricing, meanwhile, seems to have stabilized following two years in decline, though a value-oriented consumer is influencing the results. Average retail prices for progressive lenses, for instance, decreased from $215 per pair in 2001 to $207 per pair last year, according to Jobson Optical Research. This year, however, the average price of progressives is expected to increase slightly to $208 per pair as newer designs hit the market. Even single-vision lenses are expected to command higher retail prices this year, thanks at least in part to growth in premium products such as poly and A-R. According to Jobson Optical Research, the average retail price of single-vision lenses was $54 per pair last year. It is expected to increase to $56.50 this year.
“I don’t feel like I can raise prices overall,” says Liberatore. “But as I move more and more patients into premium products, they are paying more for their eyewear.”
And more good news: “Alternative” vision corrections such as laser surgery don’t seem to be as big a factor, now or for the future. According to Jobson Optical Research, the number of people pursuing laser vision correction will decline from roughly 675,000 in 2000 to a projected 560,000 for 2002. That, along with all the advancements in premium lens products in recent years, certainly proves wrong the predictions of a few industry observers that “alternative” vision correction solutions would render spectacle lenses outmoded technology.
“Lenses have played a big role in what I’ve been doing in my dispensary recently,” notes Dr. Loftis. “And I expect that to continue.” —Brian P. Dunleavy