Supply and Demand: What Eyecare Professionals Should Expect From Lens Vendors

By Brian Dunleavy

lensfocusWhen it comes to exploring new products, optician Garry Oleksyn treats frames and lenses differently. 

“I’m always looking for new frame styles,” says the owner of Point Optical, which has two locations in the Saskatoon area. “But when it comes to lenses, I’ve really stuck with just three companies.” 

Make no mistake: Oleksyn does everything he can to make sure his shops dispense the latest and greatest lens designs. However, he has established relationships with certain vendors and believes in the quality of their products. He is willing to listen when it comes to discussing new lens designs from new vendors, but waits until they have a proven track record of providing quality vision before dispensing them in his shops. Oleksyn has taken the same approach in working with his lens-processing laboratory: he has been with the same one since he opened in the mid-1980s. 

And he is not alone. It seems many of Canada’s opticians and optometrists are much more conservative when it comes to the spectacle lenses they dispense – and the labs that process them – than they are with frames. That makes sense because while patients often want fashionable frames they ultimately wear eyeglasses to see properly. 

“Some of the new digital lenses designs may be great,” notes Oleksyn. “But I’ve had a number of patients who have worn them and experienced problems. I want people leaving my shop with the best vision possible.” 

Madelaine Petrin, R.O. Bc., professor of opticianry at Seneca College, says she understands the cautious approach but warns against taking it too far. “The number one thing is you have to provide what the client asks for,” she says. “Advertising directly to the public and to opticians drives the market. The client is more educated and knows what he or she wants.” 

So how do you know when changing vendors is right for you? And what criteria should you use for selecting new vendors? Consider the following: 

  • Quality rather than price. “I want more than low prices from the vendors I do business with,” Oleksyn notes. Indeed, don’t just ask about price. If you are unfamiliar with a company’s product offerings, ask around among people you trust to see how the lenses perform “in the field.” 
  • Support. Dr. Alan R. Boyco, OD, owner of Image Optometry, a 14-location chain of optometry clinics in B.C., says he focuses a lot on price because his patients do. “But given the competitive nature of our industry, the level of customer service must meet our expectations as well,” he adds. Ask potential new vendors about technical and sales support – and whether or not they will be available to assist if patients have problems with their lenses.
  • Sales assistance. According to Petrin, one of the keys to selling spectacle lenses is, “having something to show [patients]” about the quality of vision offered by the product. Ask vendors – both lens manufacturers and labs – what sort of marketing materials they have for their products, and make sure they work for your optical shop/dispensary. 
  • The process. As Petrin notes, not all lens processing laboratories process all lens designs. Ask any lab seeking your business what lenses they process and recommend. Product selection—from both labs and lens manufacturers – that matches the needs of your patient base is vital. 

Salespeople representing both labs and lens manufacturers will come calling. While it makes sound business sense to listen to their offers, being selective is important. Dr. Boyco, for example, insists on written introductions – usually by email – before meeting with sales representatives in person. For a partnership between vendors and eyecare professionals to work, he adds, both parties must share the same ultimate goal; providing quality vision care. 

Oleksyn agrees. “I want quality, service and backing and that’s what I get from my vendors,” he says. “If they want to stay in business with me, they have to give me that. I want to be looked after.”