Relationship Counseling: Making Your Relationship with Lens Manufacturers Work for You

By Brian P. Dunleavy

lensfocusAs a sales representative for Transitions Optical, Maryam Rahimi logs hundreds of miles a week visiting current and potential customers. Although Rahimi has been a sales representative for nine years (seven years with Nikon Optical Canada and now two with Transitions Optical), she is also a licensed optician. In her mind, her visits are more than just sales opportunities.

“I used to sit in their chairs so I have a pretty good idea of what information I can provide that will be of value to them,” Rahimi, Transitions Optical’s key account representative for Ontario, says of her client optical shops and optometry practices.

Rahimi admits she is almost always welcomed into her clients’ dispensaries because she has useful information that can help improve sales. But the relationship between opticians and optometrists and lens manufacturers isn’t always so rosy. Some optometrists and opticians refuse to meet with sales reps, believing that it is a waste of time. Others prefer to deal only with labs. However, working with reps like Rahimi and lens manufacturers in general can be a good thing for your dispensary. Like all relationships, you just have to work at it.

“They can be the best source of information on new lens technology,” Madelaine Petrin, an optician and professor in the opticianry program at Toronto’s Seneca College, says of lens manufacturers. But, she cautions, eyecare practitioners who decide to work closely with vendors must be sure to work with a diverse group to “get many points of view.”

So how can opticians and optometrists make the most of their relationships with spectacle lens manufacturers?

Good reps: sales calls from representatives of lens manufacturers are usually more education/information sessions than sales pitch. Most optical shops and optometry practices are already selling the products that reps are calling on them to discuss. Ask reps for the latest information on the newest products, and don’t be shy. Anything you learn can help in the dispensary, notes Petrin.

Collateral damage: lens manufacturers and optical laboratories are great sources of marketing or collateral materials that opticians can use to educate patients about lens options. Often, these branded materials reinforce consumer advertising (for Essilor Crizal or Transitions, for example). If they work for your dispensary and can help you better explain the benefits of premium products, use them.

“My old Nikon rep was one of the best,” explains Petrin. “He would explain how to present Nikon lenses to my clients. It was always good information, with booklets, demos, something to show my clients.”

Back to school: lens manufacturers have always supported continuing education (CE) programs for opticians and optometrists by working with eyecare professionals out in the field (those who are part of their “speaker’s bureaus”) or with those on their staff. In addition, many also offer more promotional seminars that focus primarily on their own products and service offerings. These sessions can be informative and help eyecare professionals in demonstrating and positioning their products. CE credit doesn’t hurt either.

Partner up: some lens manufacturers also offer “partnership programs” to optical shops and optometry practices that dispense their products. These programs – usually a toll-free number or web site – connect consumers to practices and shops in their local areas that dispense the manufacturer’s products. They can be a great business-building tool for shops and practices that qualify.

Even with offerings such as these, however, the relationship between lens manufacturers and opticians and optometrists is far from perfect. Pat Hobbs, optician and owner of Outtasight Opticians in Victoria, B.C., for example, says he has noticed a decline in the number of “live” CE seminars in his area, and that he often goes months without hearing from some of his local sales reps. And, as Petrin notes, some reps—and companies – are better and more helpful than others.

“What is truly lacking is training opportunities,”Hobbs explains. “I live in Victoria, a smaller urban setting. It is virtually impossible to get CE here except online. Smaller stores and offices are not as well serviced by suppliers as far as training, which perpetuates the downward knowledge spiral.”

That is exactly what lens companies who are trying to forge relationships with eyecare professionals don’t want to hear.