E-commerce, The Race for Market Share (Part 2)
Recently, I had the pleasure of moderating an e-commerce panel at the Optical Laboratories Association annual meeting in Las Vegas. The following are topics from the conversation that I feel will be valuable information for your business.
A company should look at a number of options when choosing an e-commerce platform. But before you do, it is important to understand what you are planning to do online. Is your strategy to maintain your current customer base or to acquire customers?
What is interesting today is the number of available solutions that have recently emerged. You have for example, MyOnlineOptical from Essilor and Eyeconic from Vision Service Plan. A company should balance the features provided such as emails, newsletters, or callback systems when choosing a platform.
The primary goal should be to extend your brand and the experience that you have in your store, laboratory, or practice. There is no need to reinvent your company for e-commerce; if it works offline then it should work online. Laboratories should work with the customers to strengthen their brands and help the retailer or ECP improve the relationship they have with their consumers.
A perfect example would be iCoat. As a lab, iCoat began looking at e-commerce as an opportunity with their partners. They first took a look at themselves to see who they are and where they excel. Then they determined what area of e-commerce to go after, rather than taking a broader approach to e-commerce. In their case, iCoat's company is very coating centric. They are very well known for creating a premium coating and licensing. This was an area where their skills as a lab would have real value. In their research, they found the sports arena to have a substantial need for high-end wholesale services. This niche is logical with iCoat's intellectual properties such as coatings, scratch resistance, mirrors, and so on.—Hunter T. Puckett is Vice President and General Counsel, HPC Puckett & Company. Based in San Diego, Calif., HPC Puckett & Company specializes in mergers and acquisitions of companies in the optical sector. You can send comments or questions about this article or any other Dollars & Sense articles to Hunter T. Puckett at email@example.com.
This article is the second in a series on wholesale labs and E-commerce. Click here to read the first article in the series.
Participants in the OLA panel on e-commerce are pictured above. From left to right are Arman Bernardi, iCoat; Steve Baker, Eyefinity; Pierre Fay, Tocquigny; Stan Pavlovsky, Vision Direct; Hunter Puckett, HPC Puckett & Co.; Bryan Schueler, Walman Optical.
Luzerne Becomes First Independent Lab to Install Hoya Free-form Technology
Luzerne Optical Laboratories and Hoya Lens of America announced that Luzerne Optical is the first independently-owned optical laboratory to install the Hoya Free-form process in its Wilkes-Barre, Pa. facility.
Luzerne, based here, has been digitally processing lenses in-house since 2009. Now with Hoya Free-Form technology, the lab can offer customers more options for their patients. Hoya's iQ lens series uses aspheric and atoric curves on the back side of the lens to offer enhanced visual acuity, reduced distortion and wider fields of vision.
"As an independently owned lab, we feel it's important to offer our customers a wide range of quality products," commented owners Neil and John Dougherty. "We believe in Hoya lens technology and are confident our in-house processing of the iQ lens series will provide the quality and quick turn-time our eyecare professionals need."
Luzerne Optical Laboratories is the largest independently owned, single location wholesale optical laboratory in the U.S. Luzerne is a family owned and operated business and has been servicing the eyecare industry nationally, as well as internationally since 1973.
ICareLabs Goes Digital
IcareLabs recently installed a digital surfacing department featuring Satisloh equipment and Vision Star LMS. The St. Petersburg, Fla. lab can now offer a wider range of products, including digitally designed lenses such as Essilor Ideal, Definity, Varilux DRx and Enhanced, as well as provide greater precision and efficiency. Along with its in-house Crizal AR facility, the new digital surfacing lab gives IcareLabs the ability to provide a fusion of high quality products and premium Crizal coatings.
"This new acquisition is a monumental step forward for IcareLabs," said Skip Payne, co-owner and president. "It is consistent with our philosophy of continually striving to offer our customers the best technology design in the market at a competitive price. IcareLabs is dedicated to providing its customers with a variety of brand lenses and lens treatments. By being an independent full-service lab, we now have, with in-house digital capabilities, another way in which we can further satisfy the needs of our customers."
B-Lite Joins OSC Network
B-Lite Optical of Fountain Valley, Calif. has joined the Optical Supply Co-op (OSC) network. The lab, located in Fountain Valley, Calif., is owned by Richard Dang. OSC now has 32 member labs, including B-Lite.
Diversified Ophthalmics' Ronald Cooke, Jr.
By Judith Lee
If you ask Ronald Cooke, Jr., he might say, "The more things change, the more they stay the same."
As chief operating officer of Diversified Ophthalmics, Cooke recognizes the importance of investing in new technology and retraining workers to keep the optical laboratory competitive. Yet, much of what Diversified is doing to compete is the same as what they've done for three decades.
"We are not a price house, we are a service house. We train our sales force to go in and help our customers run their businesses better. Along with eyewear, we offer soft lenses, gas permeable lenses, computer products—just about anything an eyecare practice needs, and we've been doing that for 30 years," Cooke said.
As an independent lab, Diversified always has had the advantage of staying nimble and responding to changing trends in the marketplace. The lab recently brought free-form digital surfacing in-house and also introduced industrial edging to enable edging of wrap frames.
Cooke noted that in the ever-changing world of optical manufacturing, it helps to have friends.
"Implementing free-form digital was a difficult challenge, but it was made easier by our lab partners in the Global Optics group. Toledo Optical gave us a laundry list of things to look for when the equipment arrived, when it was installed. They and Harbor Optics were also helpful when we implemented the designs," Cooke said.
The lab has had in-house anti-reflective coating for eight years, and Diversified is looking now at upgrading its AR offerings.
"This is the way we operate. We are always anticipating what's next. We also work on a constant improvement program, such as improving job turnaround and improve turnaround, decrease breakage, and so on," Cooke noted.
To smooth the way for change, Cooke suggested that labs put an emphasis on their due diligence before the purchase of expensive equipment.
"Always do your research. When you are considering a purchase, get out there and talk to other labs that have the equipment. There are a lot of options [for labs] and you need to crunch the numbers and find out what you need to know," he said.
Another continuous process is retraining the work force. Automation has freed up some workers, whom Diversified then retrains for other positions that will contribute to efficiency. One position that was eliminated was the task of loading an edger. Now that person is working on the front end, getting jobs into the system faster, and "floating" to other positions as needed.
The Diversified sales team will be working directly with customers to raise their comfort level with digital surfacing, including a program that allows customers to try digital lenses.
The company has invested in its website, which now contains a considerable amount of specific and general information. Diversified has been pointing customers toward the website via verbal encouragement and email, and expects to ramp up its social media presence in 2012.
Just as it always has, Diversified is sharing that initiative directly with its customer base.
"We help the [eyecare] offices use social media to bring in consumers," explained Cooke, "because we see even more value for them in social media than for us."
Social Media: It's Not About You
By Cathy Ives and Shirley Platzer-Stocks
Really, social media is not about me? It is true, thank goodness although we did have to figure this fact out for ourselves, at first we thought it was about us! But we soon learned it was more about our whole optical community. Social media is a great way of reaching a lot of people very quickly, which is why it has rapidly become a major marketing tool. But like any tool, no matter how good the tool is, it is only as good as the skills of the person using it and has to be done consistently.
We soon learned that people are quickly turned off unless they are 'engaged' and interested in the message or if there isn't any give and take. It is like a conversation, we soon get tired of the "bore" who only talks about himself no matter how interested we might be in the topic of conversation. Maybe you think you don't need to use social media for your business but this is where it is not about you! You should embrace it and here is why:
- 73 percent of people are on social media daily
- 90 percent of marketing people know that social media is important
- Your competition will be using social media. They will be using it to reach your customers
- Your customers are already using social media
Check out the entire article on LabTalkOnline.com where the authors will concentrate on the stats for the top two social media tools—Facebook and Twitter—where you'll get immediate results.