The appeal of delivering glasses in about an hour is definitely not dead; it just has a lower profile than it did when a national vision care chain first launched the concept in 1983. I think many private practice optometrists today, however, are happily wearing blinders on this marketing strategy. It is quite comforting to tell ourselves that the public doesn't really need glasses in an hour or even in a day. After all, our patients are not complaining.
Delivery times longer
Surprisingly, it seems to me that the trend in lens fabrication from wholesale optical labs is to take longer than in years past. Granted, the public is buying more sophisticated products like premium antireflective lenses and high-index materials, which could take more time to process. And granted there are many glasses made within the constraints of vision plans, where a limited group of labs must be used and the economics of the plan does not make these jobs top priority. But it seems like the average turn around time is approaching two weeks and that seems pretty long to me in an industry where competition is fierce. We can call it ten working days if that makes anyone feel better, but it's the same thing. Many labs will quote an average turn-around time of much less than ten working days, but it seems there always special factors that make a job take longer.
Let's face it; people want the products they buy right now. And the more money they spend on an item, the more they expect to be catered to. I think it's extremely important for eye care practitioners to continuously look for ways to identify and satisfy patients' wants and needs. That is the definition of marketing, by the way.
Just because your patients do not complain about how long it takes to get glasses, does not mean they don't want them quickly. Glasses are a custom made item and the public does not really understand the fabrication process, so they are fairly tolerant. But it is a mistake to take that for granted and to read it as if patients don't mind waiting. A pair of glasses really does take much less than an hour to make, why do patients have to wait two weeks?
Don't kid yourself
Consider your own experience about how sensitive patients are if their glasses run even one day beyond the period of time that was quoted. Patients calling your office wondering if their glasses are ready can quickly become angry if they are disappointed. That's because they want the product faster and they are impatient. They perceive that the process took too long. They were willing to quietly wait the time period quoted by the optician because they had no choice, but they resent the wait and it better not take any longer.
Practices that set themselves apart from the norm by providing surprisingly quick delivery time, like same day or next day service, are the winners. I have a surfacing and finishing lab in my office and I assure you that patients are delighted when glasses are made quickly. They tell others about the experience. Patients truly do care about how long it takes to obtain glasses.
What can an independent office do?
If we realize that optical dispensing is a very important aspect of the total practice, then let's invest in the infrastructure of making and delivering eyeglasses. Think bigger. Make the service aspect of optical a priority. Here are some things you can do:
- Let wholesale labs know that delivery time is a huge issue for you. Track the actual time each job takes and be armed with data.
- Be willing to switch labs over delivery times. Telling a new lab that wants your business that delivery time is crucial will get good service, but you must continue to monitor performance because the service can slip away over time.
- Is there a wholesale optical lab in town that you could use?
- Use a lab with a courier service and an after-hours lockbox or use next day delivery instead of slower standard mail or UPS. If that raises your costs, then raise your fees. The public wants service.
- Explain to patients with vision plans that you are required by the plan to use one of its approved labs and your office has little control over the delivery time in those cases.
- Use a lab that can apply antireflective (AR) in house, rather than have your lab send the job to another lab across the country and then receive it back and then ship it to you.
- Use a specialty AR lab that you can send finished lenses to for the coating to be applied and then have the lab quickly return it to you.
- Do your own in-office finishing. Cutting and edging in-house makes financial sense for even average size offices. It's easy to stock single vision lenses in regular CR-39 and with AR already applied. These jobs can be done in 15 minutes. You would need to order uncut progressive lenses from a lab, but you still shave days off the fabrication time.
- Do your own in-office surfacing. Larger practices should do the financial analysis on buying or leasing surfacing equipment. Review your lab invoices and calculate what the materials would have cost if you bought semi-finished blanks instead. Add in some labor costs. The money saved on the wholesale lab bill often more than pays for the surfacing equipment. Cost of goods goes down while your control over the product is maximized.
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