Wholesale Labs Take DIY Branding Approach

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Among wholesale optical laboratories, creating a house brand typically translates into a Do It Yourself approach in which the lab produces and markets its own lenses. Labs that sell their own lenses alongside established optical brands usually offer anti-reflective lenses, conventional progressive lenses or, most recently, progressive and single vision free-form lenses. Because these “lab brands” appeal to eyecare professionals and consumers often due to both their pricing and quality, they are often as popular as name brand products, several lab executives told VM.

“Having a credible brand helps the ECP with the consumer,” said John Art, president of Interstate Optical, an Essilor partner lab in Mansfield, Ohio that has been producing the ARx brand of anti-reflective lenses for over a decade. “There isn’t a lot of consumer recognition of optical brands, except perhaps Transitions. Consumers aren’t that familiar with optical brands, and as long as the ECP offers them a product that has the look and feel of an established brand with all the POP materials, the consumer can be confident they’re getting something of quality.”

Robertson Optical’s John Westbrooks, left, and Mike Fussell making Robertson’s Cozē brand lenses in the company’s Loganville, Ga. lab.  
Art said the value of Interstate’s house brand AR is that it gives the lab a product in the AR category that the ECP can use to differentiate themselves from chains. Interstate has kept the brand fresh by adding a line extension, ARx High Performance, which incorporates oleophobic and hydrophobic properties.

“We mirrored what Essilor did with Crizal when they added Crizal Alizé,” said Art, adding that Interstate sells the ARx brands for about $10 less than Crizal. “It’s been a good program for us right from the start. Just under half of all the AR units we sell are ARx,” Art noted.

MJ Optical, an independent wholesale lab in Omaha, Neb., also offers customers a choice of two AR house brands: Maraje, a standard coating, and Nyteyez, a premium coating.

“Our customer base is primarily mom and pop accounts,” said Parke Wilkinson, director of sales and marketing. “When they place an order, they want to get the job back quickly so they don’t lose a customer. And they want to get their AR in the same place as they get their lenses. So we developed our own AR brands, which we produce in-house and can turn around quickly and can put on almost any lens. We also offer Crizal and Zeiss AR, but we have to send those out.”

Although quick turnaround is a key selling point for MJ’s in-house AR brands, the pricing is also attractive. MJ sells Nyteyez for $40 a pair and Maraje for $20 a pair, about 15 percent less than Crizal and Zeiss.

The two-pronged AR lens offering has yielded impressive results. MJ produces a combined total of about 180 to 190 premium and standard AR jobs a day, compared with 10 to 12 jobs a day for the other brands, according to Wilkinson. The lab sends out every AR order with a cleaner and cloth emblazoned with both the AR brand and the lab’s name.

MJ’s branding efforts extend to progressive lenses. The lab sells a competitively priced “MJ” progressive, which features a conventional design. “It’s a number one seller,” Wilkinson reported.

 

Interstate Optical offers special point of purchase materials for its ARx HP brand lenses.



About a year ago, the lab began selling a free-form progressive, Platinum HD. It is rapidly becoming a customer favorite because of its lack of distortion, said Wilkinson, who noted that the lab went from producing zero pairs of Platinum HD to 70 or 80 pairs a day.

MJ has also experienced success selling its own frame and lens packages. The lab offers two: MJ FP, which combines a frame with either a single vision, bifocal or progressive lens, and its popular Titanium Drill Mount Frame Package, which includes a titanium drill mount, a Trivex lens and Nyteyez AR coating.

The advent of free-form surfacing technology has given labs the capability of producing their own lenses in-house using a lens blank supplied by a lens manufacturer and a lens design licensed by a company specializing in lens design. These suppliers typically sell lens designs at competitive prices because the lab assumes the marketing costs.

One lab that is successfully marketing its own free-form lenses is Robertson Optical of Atlanta, which introduced its Cozē brand about a year ago.

“Our strategy was to position free-form at an entry level price point,” said Mike Fussell, Robertson’s sales and customer service manager. “It’s difficult to do because the equipment is expensive and there are license fees. We selected a product that didn’t have compensation for position of wear. It’s just a good digital, backside lens. It has done extremely well. People who are wearing it comment on the ‘wow’ factor.”

Fussell said the popularity of Cozē, which is priced about 20 percent less than the other free-form brands Robertson sells, such as Shamir Autograph II, Zeiss Individual and Seiko Succeed, has convinced Robertson to extend the line. “We’re planning to release an “office” lens, a compensated lens and a wrap,” he said.

Robertson also sells its own AR lenses under the Ultraclean brand. “We don’t use the dip coating process on it, like we do on Carat Advantage, Teflon or Crizal Alizé,” explained Fussell. “Instead, we use factory coated blanks with a spin coating on the back. It’s a little less expensive process to produce a lens and it’s faster to process. Ultraclean has a proprietary AR stack with hydrophobic and oleophobic properties. Our customers have really embraced it. They like the price point. It hits on all cylinders,” he concluded.

Perfect Optics, a San Diego lab specializing in free-form lenses, offers the Perfection brand of free-form lenses.

“The Perfection brand was conceived three or four years ago because our customers needed an entry-level free-form product,” said Adam Winkelman, vice president of sales and marketing for Perfect Optics. “We had products at the ‘better’ and ‘best’ levels, but not at the ‘good’ level. Perfection helped convert people from semi-finished to free-form. This year, we’re planning to expand the portfolio.”

Perfect Optics also offers Perfect Ion, an AR lens. The lab created it several years ago in response to the demand for a lens with a blue hue. Perfect Optics priced it the same as Teflon, the only other AR lens with a blue hue available at the time. “It wasn’t your typical low price-high value house brand,” he said. “It developed into a little cult market. Since then, products like Zeisss PureCoat and Teflon Elite have come out, so we priced it a little below those brands.”

Winkelman said that being able to combine various lens designs, materials and coatings gives Perfect Optics the flexibility to create distinctive, branded products that differentiate the lab from competitors. He also noted that customers like having options.

“If you want to have all the customers’ needs fulfilled, you’ve got to have options at different price points,” he remarked.

akarp@jobson.com