Optician Success 35

You Can’t Beat Them, So Should You Join Them?

I got an interesting email from Robert this week. He made some valid points as to why he thinks it’s foolish for independents not to carry big brands. I started to write back, but instead I told him, I’d like to share my thoughts with you in this week’s Optician Success. (Thanks for your emails. I love hearing from you guys.)


So, here’s Robert:

I'm not in favor of the merger at all, but I will say anyone who doesn't carry Luxottica brands such as Ray Ban for example will lose business. People care about what they want, not what’s best for their local eye care practitioner. They will walk and go elsewhere. It's dangerous to cut off Luxottica brands. It's about making money and creating an excellent experience for the patient.

A good example would be Walmart. They sell candy such as Hershey bars. Does that mean that an independent should not carry the same product because Walmart has it? Never. Or Nike products. If you sell athletic shoes and you have your own store you can’t boycott Nike. They have their own stores and sell there own product.

Conclusion is you can't beat them so you have to figure out the best way to make money using their products. Not to sell brands like Ray Ban only hurts the patient and helps places like Lenscrafters make more money.

I totally understand boycotting products but you’re only hurting yourselves. You have to do what's best for the practice and not selling certain brands only hurts and will drive some patients away. I think the message here should be to analyze your business model and tweak it in favor of the competition. You don't make money not selling the most popular brands in the world.


Coincidentally, there was also a thread this week in an online independent optical group on the same topic. Surprisingly (to me anyway), most echoed Robert’s sentiment. Most supported the idea of carrying Essilux (in this case Ray-Ban), largely because, “it’s what everyone wants” and it sells. While, there is no denying that many ECPs are making good money doing just that. here’s why I think it’s a bad idea:


First the obvious: While you can make money selling Essilux, Essilux (your competitor) is also making money off you. And not just you, but everyone else that decides to do the same.


Second: Depending on what percentage of Essilux you sell, you could be putting your business at risk. What if you allow Essilux to make up the majority of your sales? What if then, as the merger takes shape, they start to find more success with their own distribution channels? Suddenly they make a move that affects product availability or your margins. Where are you then? Does anyone remember what happened to Oakley?

Third, carrying Essilux sends the message to the world that you are just like everyone else. It reinforces the idea that eyewear is a commodity. You are telling your customers. “Get your eyewear here, because we the same as Costco, the store in the mall, the optical down the street, and any number of online sources where the same product can be found for cheaper.”

If you are doing the same thing as everyone else you are the definition of average.


We, as a lab, had to make a similar decision: whether or not to become a Varliux distributor. Just like Ray-Ban, at the time Varilux basically sold itself. Many of our customers and potential customers were asking for it. Selling Varilux could have doubled our business overnight. But there were two problems: One, the deal required that we always present Varilux as the first and best option, regardless of whether or not it was; and two, we knew that because of demand, Varilux would quickly become our biggest seller. As a result, our business would be dependent upon Essilor. Of course, if you’re looking to sell your lab to Essilor, that’s not a terrible thing. We weren’t. So, we remained true to our customers who already valued our fierce independence and built a business around high-quality, independent alternatives. It’s been a tough road, but today 99% of the freeform lenses we produce are IOT-designed, Integrity lenses which we’ll gladly put up against anything Varilux or anyone else has to offer.    


But, let’s go a little deeper into why else selling Essilux is a bad idea for independent retail. Optical is in kind of a weird place thanks to it’s incestous relationship with medicine. It’s almost as if optical is being kept alive in the basement of a warehouse somewhere, being sustained on scraps of Rxs, never allowed to grow freely in the world of retail, fashion, luxury, and collectibles. What’s more, many opticians seem to be afflicted by an industrial version of Stockholm syndrome, feeling safe locked up in the medical device warehouse, free from the hard work and uncertainty of finding (possibly bigger and tastier) business of their own. This relationship—enforced by law—also has the effect of making it more challenging for big retail players (e.g. Amazon) to swoop in and become as dominant as they have in other segments. Consequently, many opticals are getting away with continuing the status quo. But, make no mistake, these days are numbered. As refraction technologies advance and ODs move toward surgery, the severing of medicine and optical will happen. It’s just a matter of time. The marketplace and big retail will make sure of it. After all, as Charles Prentice succinctly put it, in what ironically became the rallying cry for the birth of optometry—and what so many have forgotten—“A lens is not a pill.”  


Okay great, but what does all this have to do with selling Essilux? Well, as I gaze into my crystal ball, I see a time not far off, when optical, for better or for worse, no longer depends on the scraps and protections medicine currently affords. Optical will be in same boat as every other retail segment and Amazon will most likely be its biggest competitor. For many, it will not be an easy transition. You can expect to see huge retail consolidation and many independent opticals will go the way of independent booksellers. The ones with best chance of long-term success will be those brave and skilled enough to find a market more specific than “what everyone wants.” They will cater specifically to that group, creating an experience that is worth returning to, talking about, and going out of their way for. Alternatively, the ones that insist on selling mass-market mediocrity and delivering the same, painful, doctor’s office experience, are in danger. Amazon, even Warby-Parker is a far more attractive alternative.


In other words, for independent optical, it boils down to the question of do I eat the Essilux-flavored ice cream tonight, and the next night, and the night after that; or do I delay gratification while doing the hard work necessary to accomplish the bigger goal of being healthy and fit?


If, in spite of it all, you still opt for the ice cream, I encourage you to hedge. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Learn not to depend on someone else’s branding and marketing. Learn to present alternatives and tell the stories of unique independent brands that fit your demographic. Be different, build an experience that focuses on something other than what your customers can already find everywhere else, and learn to attract the people that appreciate it. Your future may depend on it.


“It has long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sit back and let things happen to them. They go out and happen to things.”

― Leonardo da Vinci


Video Lesson of the Week

We’re back to basics this week with the simple question of What Is Prism? The next two weeks we’ll deal with prism concepts, then finally dig into Prentice’s formula.



Don't Miss Out!

Don't Miss Out!

Join Over 10,000 Other Optical Professionals. Become the best optician you can be with weekly content; tips, stories, and science to help you focus on getting the most from your optical business and career delivered to your inbox.

You have Successfully Subscribed!