Article Date: 3/1/2004

Choosing a Lab Partner
The right optical lab can make dispensing eyeglasses a low-risk, high-return endeavor. Here's what to look for.
By Deepak Gupta, O.D., F.A.A.O., Stamford, Conn.

An efficient optical dispensary can be the lifeblood of your practice, generating up to 60% of your revenue. And regardless of your in-house capabilities, you'll need a good working relationship with at least one wholesale optical lab.

How do you find a trustworthy lab that can deliver reasonably priced, quality eyewear in a timely manner? Here are some tips to help you narrow the field.

DECODE THE DISCOUNTS

Price is an important consideration when choosing an optical lab, but the cheapest lab in town may not be the best lab for you. Examine your business, then find a good fit.

Discounts can be appealing, but be wary of exceptions that can offset their benefit. Some labs offer lower lens prices, but charge more for extras like oversize lenses, lens polish or lens treatments, which negate many of those discounts.

 

Smart Marketing

 

Does your lab offer demo lenses to help explain lens options? This sounds like a minor point, but demos of premium products really can help boost dispensary sales. Handing patients a sample tinted, AR-coated or high-index lens is a more effective marketing strategy than merely describing these features.

Look for savings on selected add-on combinations like coatings and tints. Some labs will bundle high-index or polycarbonate materials with progressive lenses for attractive savings. Using packages can increase your profit or even let you pass along some of the savings to your patients, giving you a competitive edge in the eyewear market.

Another popular incentive is a volume discount. You receive a "valued customer" price break by ordering a specified number of lenses or by paying your bill on time. For most practices, this means working with only one or two labs at a time as dealing with too many labs makes it difficult to manage your accounts.

Remember, a discount is effective only if you can take advantage of it. If you primarily dispense progressive and high-index lenses, look for the lab that offers the best deal on these lenses. Even a 4% to 5% decrease in costs can add up to profit over time.

Tap Your Lab's Expertise

A good optical lab can be more than a reliable lens supplier. Many labs offer continuing education courses that address all aspects of opticianry, from beginning lens mounting and frame selection to preparing for ABO certification. Don't hesitate to take advantage of these services. A well-trained assistant with finely honed fitting skills and knowledge of the latest products can be a valuable asset to your practice, boosting productivity and increasing patient satisfaction.

CLOCK THE TURNAROUND TIME

You'll be surprised at how many patients you'll lose when you tell them their glasses won't be ready for 2 weeks.

You may not be able to offer 1-hour service like some of the big retail chains, but you should get the job done as quickly as possible. Many of your patients have busy lives and careers. They want convenient, speedy service, and it's up to you to meet their expectations. If you can't deliver their eyeglasses within a reasonable time, don't be surprised if they take their business elsewhere.

BE WARRANTY WISE

Most labs offer a warranty on scratch-resistant coatings. And almost all progressive-addition lenses come with a nonadapt warranty, so patients can switch back to flat-top bifocal or single-vision lenses. Some labs offer significant discounts for doctors' prescription changes or even optician errors. Basically, you should be getting free or discounted replacement lenses for any patient for whom you provide a no-charge redo.

 

Safety Net

 

No matter how reliable your lab, you should always have an open account with a back-up lab. If your lab has a problem with their machines or if a particular item is on back-order, you can send a job to your secondary lab, preventing inconvenient delays.

Also, a second lab can expand your inventory. For example, you can choose a lab specializing in a brand of progressive lenses your primary lab doesn't carry, allowing you to offer your patients more diversity.

SWEAT THE DETAILS

Periodically, your optician should inspect the products you receive from your lab. Obviously, he should verify the accuracy of the prescription (although this is rarely a problem these days). He also should check the workmanship and the overall condition of the glasses and ask these questions:

None of these details would disqualify a lab, but if one lab has a higher commitment to quality, why wouldn't you choose that one?

BEST FRAME (AND LENS) FORWARD

Your optical dispensary is an extension of your practice, so it's in your best interest to provide patients with the highest quality frames and lenses.

Your patient's eyeglasses are the last impression they have of your office. Working with the right lab can ensure it's a favorable one.

Dr. Gupta practices full-scope optometry at Stamford Ophthalmology in Stamford, Conn. E-mail him at deegup4919@hotmail.com.

 

Lab's Eye View

Beyond finding the best price, the key to building a successful dispensary is forging a mutually beneficial partnership with your optical lab. Here's what some labs are doing to fulfill their end of the bargain.
  • Labs are striving constantly to strengthen their partnership with eyecare professionals. Some work with their clients to develop premium package programs, whereas others actively adapt to accommodate new trends. One lab established a specialty lab devoted to producing drilled rimless eyeglasses so they could meet increased demand without compromising quality.
  • Re-dos are a serious concern for most labs because they affect their profit margins. Many labs offer continuing education courses designed to decrease the likelihood of dispensing error and consequently, the need for lens revisions.
  • Optical labs are clearinghouses for new product information, and they're more than willing to pass this information on to their clients via Web sites, e-mail and customer service centers.
  • Wholesale optical labs are making it easier than ever to purchase lenses and frames by providing on-line order forms.

 


Optometric Management, Issue: March 2004