Article Date: 4/1/2005

point/counterpoint
Private-Label Vs. Mass-Marketed Contact Lenses

Keep patients in the practice with private-label contact lenses.
By Jerome Sude, O.D., Tallmadge, Ohio

PRIVATE LABEL
As I consult for optometrists around the country, the number-one challenge I hear is that there's no longer money to be made in contact lenses. My clients tell me that their patients, in greater numbers, are purchasing their lenses elsewhere and that running a contact lens dispensary is labor-intensive but the margins are small.

Do these complaints ring true for you? If so, then consider incorporating private-label contact lenses into your practice.

Identifying the problem

Recent market data from Health Products Research suggest that the total number of dropouts may be as high as 16.3 million (10%) of the vision-corrected population to alternative sources of distribution including the Internet. We also know that we not only risk losing a contact lens sale, but that large Internet companies are now directing our patients to their affiliate offices for eye exams. When our patients purchase contact lens solutions at the friendly drug store or the supermarket, their receipts urge them to purchase their next supply of contact lenses at certain Internet retail sites. And if you think that these practices don't affect you, then randomly pull 100 contact lens charts and check the last time those patients purchased contact lenses at your office.

Do we have options?

Believe it or not, we can employ several strategies that might bring revenues and profitability back to our contact lens practices. Consider the following:

► Increase your professional fees and decrease your material fees. If your professional fees aren't high enough and you're selling contact lenses just above cost, then you'll probably lose fewer patients to alternative sources of distribution. The only problem is that your cost of goods will increase and cut into your profitability.

► Design your own Web site and direct your patients there to purchase contact lenses. This option, however, can prove expensive and time-consuming.

► Sell contact lenses that aren't as readily shopable or sell private-label contact lenses. Below are some benefits you can expect to enjoy if you sell these types of lenses:

Strategies

Whether or not you already include private-label lenses in your practice, the tips below will help you maximize this option.

► Find a vendor that has private label as an option and if possible, a vendor that doesn't handle branded lenses that are recognizable to the public. (Some of these vendors will offer lenses in a slightly different base curve than their counterpart lens.)

► Offer significant discounts on glasses or sunglasses for patients purchasing one of your private-label lenses.

► Have patients sign off on testimonials on how happy they are with your own private-label lens and make sure all of your patients see these testimonials.

► Make sure your contact lens techs buy into this concept, as they actually close the sale.

► Make sure you're getting monthly reports on the amount of different lenses you're selling so you can measure your success. Put these strategies to use in your practice and prepare for success!

Use your best available tool

In a perfect world, dispensing lenses that aren't available on the Internet or through large commercial outlets would solve most of the issues we discussed. However, few companies fit into this category. Private-label lenses are the next best option -- employ them in your practice and you'll be glad you did.

Dr. Sude is the regional optometric director for Sauflon Pharmaceuticals and is a member of the American Society of Eyecare Specialists, the American Optometric Association and the Ohio Optometric Society. You can reach him at (330) 630-9699.

 

The big advantage of brand name contact lenses is technology.
By Robert L. Rosenthal, O.D., Newtown, Pa.

BRAND NAME
Successful practitioners know that patients judge them not only on how they conduct an examination, but often on what they prescribe at the end of every visit. As a contact lens specialist, I'm particularly aware that my professional reputation rises and falls based on my patients' perceptions of the type of contact lenses I recommend to them.

We shouldn't approach the process of selecting a contact lens for fitting with a cavalier attitude. Our patients must see us as professionals who have their best interests at heart. When deciding whether to prescribe mass-marketed (brand name) contact lenses or to get involved with private-label contact lenses, a contact lens specialist must determine which option better serves both his patients' health needs and his practice's bottom line.

The comparative advantages of mass-marketed lenses (e.g., the perceived value of a known and trusted brand and the consistent quality associated with that brand) are overwhelming. I'll use this article to discuss these advantages.

The technological advantage

Perhaps the most compelling advantage of mass-marketed contact lenses is technological. Our industry has made many breakthroughs recently, and patients will perceive practitioners who embrace these advances as up-to-date and innovative.

Take, for example, new materials such as silicone hydrogels that significantly improve both the comfort and health of contact lens patients. Thanks to marketing campaigns, patients are savvy about these new medical developments and will, therefore, expect their practitioners to make those choices available to them. This means that, conversely, patients won't settle for older, inferior materials.

I have found, for example, that most private-label contact lenses offer only two choices in material, neither of which offer the superior wettability and oxygen permeability that the brand-name contact lenses do. Such materials are outdated by today's standards; therefore, practitioners who offer older, inferior technologies risk having their patients perceive them as out-of-touch with new product development -- something that definitely would limit the potential success of their practice.

The marketing advantage

The major contact lens manufacturers invest a lot of time, research and intellectual capital to build and reinforce brand recognition with consumers. Strategic marketing campaigns have made companies such as Kleenex household names. These campaigns do more than help consumers forge emotional bonds with a brand (something that's undeniably important). They also provide essential information about individual products that can help consumers make an informed healthcare decision.

Furthermore, acting as a provider of information confers a level of authority and expertise upon major brands that generic brands aren't matching. As professionals, why wouldn't we want to associate ourselves with the professionalism of a major brand?

Mass-marketed contact lens companies provide many tools to help practitioners with internal marketing. We often use eye health informative materials and product communication pamphlets to help educate our patients. An informed contact lens patient fit with a quality product at a reasonable price is less likely to leave your office.

The financial advantage

Patients are also concerned about material costs. When you separate material costs from professional fees and establish a fair price schedule for each, patients are less likely to comparison shop for brand-name lenses. I make my living with my professional fees; my lens costs are equal to or less than those of most competitors. Patients perceive value in superior professional services and are less inclined to shop elsewhere if the material cost is fair.

The choice is clear

Private labeling has lost its appeal. If patients trust the quality and reliability of the brand-name product that the practitioner prescribes, then they'll trust the practitioner. And as any business professional knows, a satisfied patient is the most effective marketer.

Dr. Rosenthal has been in private practice in Newtown, Pa., since 1983. He has participated in clinical research for major contact lens and ocular pharmaceutical companies and is nationally recognized for his contact lens and practice management expertise.

 



Optometric Management, Issue: April 2005