Optical Retail Success 85
Formerly Optician Success but still the same tasty, weekly nuggets of random goodness; tips, stories, and science hand-picked to help you find the most success in your optical retail business/career.
Opticians Will Always Be Third
Last week, I asked you to give some thought to a comment made by an experienced optician, wishing he had known from the beginning that opticians would always be third: ophthalmologist, optometrist, and then optician. A sad state of affairs that most people believe as fact, it simply does not have to be the case. In fact, it’s a choice made by the overwhelming majority of opticians each and every day.
Opticians suffer from a bit of an inferiority complex, understandably so. Working with doctors, opticians tend to garner less respect and less pay than many feel they deserve. Optometrists have a minimum of 8 years of school while ophthalmologists have a minimum of 11. Opticians, on the other hand, are likely not to have any. Most State laws don’t even allow opticians to do (what I would consider) to be their jobs unless under careful “adult” supervision. The general public has a hard enough time discerning the difference between an OD and an OMD, let alone what the professional responsibilities of the “sales girl” in the front are.
So, on the totem pole of the three O’s, opticians can only ever hope to occupy the bottom spot, right?
Well, for as long as I’ve been in the industry (and much longer I’m sure), there has been a group or groups of well-educated, experienced opticians talking about improving the lot of the optician. (Strangely enough, these groups and their efforts don’t seem to originate from the existing national optician organizations.) They form as small groups of concerned opticians. Motivated, by the same frustration most opticians feel, the woeful lack of skills they see in their peers, and a desire make a change; their conclusion inevitably seems to land on higher standards and more education.
How else do we solve the problem of the ignorant optician hordes bringing down the industry as a whole, all while improving pay and gaining more respect in the process?
The only logical path seems to be to raise the standards and require more education.
After all, it worked for optometry… Well, yes. It did. But, someone’s been sleeping in that bed and well, she’s still there. So, you’d be hard-pressed to make the case that there’s either room or demand for an eyewear-fitting-OD-junior-type profession. Also, perhaps you’ve noticed, ODs are still trying to advance further into medicine. There’s a reason for that.
But, college is the path to success, you say? It’s been the case for years. More education means more opportunity, more respect, and more pay, etc.
Except that it’s not. Not anymore. Why are so many college graduates unemployed?
Forget about all the statistics you read regarding the huge gap in unemployment numbers and income earning potential between those that graduate college vs. those that do not. No more than a moment of thought reveals the fraud. There is a glaringly obvious selection bias in the numbers. Simply consider people with the ability, desire, and means to attend and finish college vs. the people without. Now take college out the picture entirely. Which group is more likely to succeed? Of course, there’s an income/employment gap. Income potential as far more to do with the motivation (and means) of the individual than a college degree.
It’s also becoming increasingly clear that our education system(s) are not preparing us for the future. See: How Technology Is Leading Us Into The Imagination Age
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying college is bad, far from it. But, for what it’s worth—for more reasons than I have time to elucidate here—I am not encouraging my son to go to college. Ultimately, it will be up to him to decide. But, I generally consider college to be a poor investment, both in terms of money and in terms of opportunity cost. Keep in mind, I have a Master’s level education (along with the ability to use fancy words like elucidate) and my wife a Ph.D.
Now, back to optician standards and higher education. Let’s set aside the improbability of actually getting this done and, for the sake of argument, assume we can snap our fingers and have a higher standard in every State that includes a license and a college degree...
Opticians everywhere now have big, beautiful, framed degrees on their walls. They understand optics, the physics of light, lens design, anatomy, diseases of the eye, risk factors and things to be on the lookout for. They know how to fit contact lenses. They know how to use trial lenses and refract (but only in the presence of a doctor). More importantly, they know how to make glasses that fit properly and help people see. It’s a dream come true.
Or is it?
What has actually changed?
...besides a new army of technically and theoretically proficient opticians? Can the industry support wage increases for everyone? Can we raise the price of glasses? Are customers—excuse me, patients—suddenly willing to pay for optician services? Do they now care about the certificate on the wall or exactly what an optician does? Will they vote with their feet, rejecting the convenience of ordering online? What demand was created by all this education? Did opticians move up a spot on the totem pole of the O’s? Are these “more qualified” opticians really going to get any more respect?
So yes, there is an argument to be made for a wage increase. Higher standards will inevitably increase the scarcity of opticians as fewer people are willing to spend the additional time and expense required to gain entry into the field. The resulting competition for fewer opticians will necessitate higher wages.
But in a market that is unlikely to tolerate price increases and a solution that does little, if anything, to address the demand side of the equation (meaning nothing has been done to make people want to buy more glasses), raising the cost of making, fitting, and selling glasses might not be the best idea.
What it the alternative?
Well, in spite of downward pricing pressures and online sales, there is still a great unrealized opportunity in optical retail. But, it requires a change in our approach.
It’s been suggested that we need a new “super optician”, to which I agree. But the highly educated optician described above is not it.
In fact, I might call it something a little different. If you’ve been reading Optical Retail Success for any length time, you might have some idea where I’m headed. If not, it’s getting late here at the homestead, which means you’ll have to wait until next week to find out what we can do to not only improve the lot of opticians, but bring far greater success to the industry as a whole.
“If you really want to escape the things that harass you, what you’re needing is not to be in a different place but to be a different person.”
Confusion About Competence
A friend was describing a clerk he had recently dealt with. "She was competent, of course, but she couldn't engage very well with the customer who just came in."
Then, of course, she wasn't competent, was she?
It doesn't take a genius to see that competence is no longer about our ability to press certain buttons in a certain sequence. Far more often, competence involves the humanity required to connect with other people, in real time.
It requires emotional labor, not merely compliance [or technical proficiency].
This Job Would Be Great If Not for The Customers
What can we do when other people are annoying, frustrating, inconsiderate, irritating, even aggravating? You'll never get others to become less annoying, so that leaves only one viable option.
The Robots Are Coming
Google's parent company has developed an algorithm that evaluates eye scans. By analyzing scans of the back of a patient’s eye, the software is able to accurately deduce data, including an individual’s age, blood pressure, and whether or not they smoke. This can then be used to predict their risk of suffering a major cardiac event — such as a heart attack — with roughly the same accuracy as current leading methods.
The algorithm potentially makes it quicker and easier for doctors to analyze a patient’s cardiovascular risk, as it doesn’t require a blood test.
Amazon Is Coming
Amazon has reportedly received regulatory approval from about a dozen states to do business as a pharmacy wholesale distributor, and analysts at investment bank Leerink Partners in recent months have said that it's only a matter of time before the e-commerce giant makes a significant pharmacy play.
Something To Remember
Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.
OpticianWorks Video Of The Week:
Wow, travel really disrupts things. If you missed it last week, John and I were in Iowa shooting for our upcoming video on surfacing and AR coating. In it, we’ll take you step by step through the processes of conventional surfacing, freeform surfacing, and AR/hard coating, so you can learn what goes on behind the scenes in an optical lab where optics are still made by people and not robots. This is a relatively big project, one that’s already been months in the making. It should be ready for release next month. We’re super-pumped about it and hope you are too.
If you’re still dying to see John’s smiling mug this week, you’re in luck!
Through the OpticianWorks free video lessons, Laramy-K Optical is making every effort to provide better and more accessible education for opticians everywhere, but we’re only able to do it with your support.
You can help keep it going in two ways:
Become a paid member of OpticianWorks.com for access to the best in online optician training (The videos are only a small portion).
Or, even better, open a Laramy-K Optical lab account for the very best in independent uncut work and we'll throw in the OpticianWorks memberships for free! Your customers and your staff will thank you!
I hope you enjoyed this edition of Optical Retail Success.
Here’s to your success in this year and beyond.
Thanks for reading and sharing!