Business Activity Remains Brisk at VEW While Attendance Holds Steady

NEW YORK—Although the worldwide economic outlook remains a huge question mark, the atmosphere at Vision Expo West, held Sept. 21 to 25 in Las Vegas, was decidedly upbeat with both vendors and attendees giving the Expo experience a definitive thumbs-up.

“The show was very positive,” said Bob Nahmias of Hilco. “When we asked customers, ‘How’s business?’ they said it’s pretty upbeat. I guess they’re not watching the stock market. We wrote a lot of new orders and got new business while at the show.”

“Our booth was consistently busy with lots of buying activity. We’ve had good buying conversation. I’ve noticed a more upbeat vibe than last year,” said Mary Rose Jaszczynski, ClearVision.

Many exhibitors reported that this was the best show they have had in years. Holly Rush, senior vice president of sales for Luxottica USA, said, “Vision Expo West was a huge success for us this year. Thanks to the hard work and dedication from our team along with an incredibly inviting atmosphere, the event was a spectacular showing for Luxottica. Our booth was overflowing with energy, customers and orders from start to finish.”

Preliminary unaudited attendance figures for International Vision Expo West, indicate that 12,359 eyecare professionals attended the show, down 436 individuals from 2010 audited figures, according to show organizers. The conference program delivered 388 hours education, 80 additional hours of education over the previous year and drew 4,172 eyecare professionals, while the exhibit hall saw 8,187 attendees. A final complete third-party audit of International Vision Expo West will be available approximately six weeks after the show.

“Despite a slight dip in attendance, overall show quality remained high and feedback from the show floor was excellent,” said Tom Loughran, vice president for Reed Exhibitions. “Attendees were much more focused in their approach on the show floor than we have seen in the past. They did their research and came to Vision Expo West with the intent to learn, source and buy.”

Loughran attributed the success of Vision Expo West to both exhibitors and attendees. “Each year, we solicit feedback and look for ways to build upon the initiatives we’ve put in place to make future shows even better. We know attendees want convenient access to the latest industry news, technologies and learning and we intend to keep providing that to them.”

“Vision Expo West 2011 was one of our most successful shows to date,” said Joseph Tallier, vice president of global sales for Ogi Eyewear. “Although the attendance was down, the amount of traffic in our booth was up considerably. The growing trend among attendees is to cut down the amount of frame lines that they carry and focus on the brands that best suit their practice. Many of our new accounts stressed the importance of high quality products, affordable price points and reliable customer service; the three pillars of Ogi Eyewear.”

The theme of a challenge economy was echoed among responses from attendees as well.

Rachel Bourgoin of Poulin Eyecare, Waterville, Maine, said the economy is influencing her practice as it moves toward processing more claims with electronic health records. “Processing the HIPPA claims is getting confusing,” said Bourgoin, who said she relies on Optimate’s practice management software. “We wanted to get the wrinkles out of it by Oct. 1, in time for the Jan. 1 deadline so we can qualify for stimulus money.”

“Our customers want to look stylish but are watching their budgets, so I’m looking for affordable fashion,” said Tim Milauskas of Milauskas Eye Institute in Rancho Mirage, Calif. “Since 2008, there has been a price decline in luxury frames,” he observed. “Frames that had been priced at $195 are now selling for around $125. All manufacturers have had to adjust to the economy.”

Several vendors praised the layout of the Galleria, the part of the exhibit hall that is home to many frame companies.

Cynthia Shapiro, founder of Europa International and Cinzia Designs, said her company has been exhibiting in the Galleria for years because it attracts customers who favor her designs.

“Europa has changed its collections to become more designer,” she noted. “We have the Scott Harris and Cinzia collections. We fit more in the boutique-y kind of idea, we are not a great big company. We have to show here, you have to be part of the excitement and to show new people what we’re carrying and what we’re showing. Mainly we see new customers and we find the customers that really respond to what we are doing are the ones that come to the Galleria.”

Nils Fredriksson, general manager North America, Scandinavian Eyewear, said the most important part of coming to Expo is meeting a lot of new customers.

“It opens their eyes for our kind of company and the Galleria is just the place to be for us, since we are a little niche company, even though we are big in Europe. Customers are looking for unique brands that no one else has, and that makes their stores unique as well.

Some ECPs, like Kathleen Kopecko, OD, Kopecko and Mayer, Vision Clinic Optometry, Vacaville, Calif. were positive about the future. “I think the economy will grow in time. U.S. companies are set up now to move forward.” As for the show itself, “I came to Vision Expo to check out the latest frames, frame styles and major equipment. I’ll also be looking for text for optometry on pathologies,” she said.

Stephen Franklin, president of Accurate Optical took advantage of being at the show to concentrate on customer service options. “Our focus at Vision Expo West this year is on products and services that will improve our customer service relationship with our patients. Companies that offer solutions for better patient recall or improvements in applications relative to social media and CRM will be on our list to visit on the show floor.

“In this economy, practices that go the extra mile to show patients they are appreciated will be ahead of the game. And by developing a social media network, we will be able to improve marketing and communication with our active patient database at a significantly lower cost than we are paying today,” he said.

As always, Expo offered a perfect opportunity to network with industry colleagues. According to Bill Jehling, president and CEO, Clarkson Eye- care, “Vision Expo West is a great opportunity to see partners and meet with similar practices around the country. It’s also nice to have our executives meet with the executives at key suppliers while we’re here.”

Next year, International Vision Expo West will be held September 5-8, 2012, at the Sands Expo and Convention Center in Las Vegas. Show dates are confirmed with the Sands Expo and Convention Center through 2020 in the September/October timeframe.