We met Barry back in early June when he and I had an exchange on an EyeOverheard post. Barry had more to say, and I've taken his last message verbatim and responded to each point. Hopefully, it's easier to read. It certainly gives an insight into some of the more traditional eye care providers.
Grab a glass of wine and a comfortable seat and settle in.
NOTE: "ECP" equals "Eye Care Provider" -- and although this may look roughly like a screenplay, there is no chance that Jerry Bruckheimer will see any promise in it as a Summer 2011 blockbuster.
(Lights fade as an ECP and a guy in a well-worn Minnesota Wild T-Shirt, tan shorts and Keen sandals enter an empty room -- both men wear eyeglasses)
BARRY: I think Ira’s "mission" to expose the inefficiencies in eyewear delivery today is on target.
GLASSYEYES: Why thank you.
BARRY: Blanket statements, to the effect that "all mom & pops or brick and mortars" have too much overhead is inaccurate at best.
GLASSYEYES: I apologize if you take offense, but I stand behind that. I've yet to walk into an optical shop (apart from inside a big box store) that wasn't overdone in some way or another. It is perhaps a bit generalized on my part, but you should really try to honestly step into one of your stores as a consumer some time -- with kids and a budget. I keep hearing how these eyeglasses that I need to see are a "medical device". The lobbyists for the ECPs have done and paid so much to keep things this way even in an era when no one is "grinding" lenses in the traditional sense.
So OK, we're talking a medical device -- until ten minutes later when I'm flipping through a magazine or watching television and see the latest LensCrafters ad. If you didn't know better you'd swear they're selling jewelry or jeans. They're pushing lifestyle. I, and many others, just want to be able to see -- and be able to afford groceries at the same time. The independents, instead of forging their own courses, seem to want (or maybe feel they need) to emulate the Luxottica stores. It's difficult to trailblaze, yes, but someone besides Wal*Mart needs to serve "regular people" -- PLEASE!
This is the gray area that optical stores have exploited since the advent of the designer brands. You want it both ways. If this is a medical device, treat it as such, if not then stop behaving as if it needs the same federal oversight as a bionic heart valve. You can't have it both ways and expect people to take you seriously.
I think most people would be comfortable forgoing the fancy lighting and displays -- they can't see any of this when they're trying on frames anyway.
BARRY: Like the writer who skewered me in last summer’s Conusmer Digest article purportedly exposing eyewear’s outrageous cost, there really is more to the story than simple price or "glasses".
GLASSYEYES: I, too, was quoted in the Consumers Digest article. If you blinked you may have missed it (we spoke for about 30 minutes and I got a paragraph) -- however she got at least part of what I said correct. Re-reading it again today after reading your comments was a real eye-opener.
[Here's a link to a PDF of the article]
As far as price goes, there are many people opting for the $8 glasses, but there are many others who feel more comfortable paying $40 to $60. This seems like a legitimate price to me for $10 to $20 worth of materials. I've paid more and I've paid less.
BARRY: Ira, with your new position of recognition and perceived authority, you are well advised to try to walk around behind some of us ECPs and see what we see & do. We strive to the absolute pinnacle of excellence in what we do… everyday.
GLASSYEYES: "Perceived authority"... That's a thinly-veiled insult. ;-)
I'm sure some of you do strive for that. The problem comes from those of you who don't. I don't have access to the full ODwire forums, but there was a time that they were less locked down than they are now. Someone placed a comment in one of my posts a couple of years ago and provided a URL and I did some digging. This may not be the way you do business, but this optometrist from Dallas took great pride in this (and there were many who backed him up), until he saw the post and threatened me:
"A pair of SV (single vision) stock poly Alize cost me $34, and carry a 2 year warranty. We sell 'em all day long for $199/pair, for a profit of $165/pair. Our capture rate for AR (anti-reflective coating) is about 90%. Also stock poly non coated, cost $6/pair and sell for $109...He'll probably threaten me again for popping this in a post, but people need to see this.
Now show me the math where you can beat the $165 profit on a pair of SV (single vision) lenses. If you can, I'll still love you in the morning."
I'm sure you have access to those forums. Take a look with fresh eyes. It's despicable how some of these "professionals" view their patients -- and they're not contributing to any warm-fuzzies for your industry. Call them out. Make an example of them if this isn't the way to do things.
BARRY: Internet eyewear does not. Simple as that.
GLASSYEYES: If by excellence, you mean "overpriced", you're right. There is no appreciable difference in the glasses I've gotten online from those purchased offline apart from price (and the fact that no one lied to me telling me I needed hi-index lenses). They serve their purpose admirably. They're no worse and I certainly feel better about them than the last five pairs I bought from the mall vendors (of the Luxottica family), and doctor's office opticians. On the plus side, when my prescription did change, I was able to donate some of the old pairs and update multiple pairs at a fraction of the cost.
BARRY: The totality of the eyewear and eyecare expereience is *not* the same, just because you’ve said or decided it is so.
GLASSYEYES: I don't give two hoots about an "eyecare experience". I want to see -- and I can well at one-tenth of what you'd likely charge me.
BARRY: You may be satisfied with the eyewear equivalent of pizza or Mickey D’s, but many people, especially seniors, are not. Please don’t assume every John Q. thinks like you.
GLASSYEYES: You're fond of the McDonald's metaphor, but it's false. I don't assume everyone thinks like me, but hundreds of thousands do -- more every day. As far as seniors go, this is the market that stands to gain the most. They're more likely to be on a fixed income and the prices charged for multi-focals is dizzying. Honestly, they're the biggest growth sector in my site visitors. I get more email and phone calls from seniors than from other groups.
My wife's uncle, who had been wearing broken, five-year old bi-focals for months was able to get a new pair progressives for a fraction of the cost of the local optical store -- where he had his exam. He brought them in to have them checked at the local optical store. The optometrist and optician were both surprised at the quality and fit. It's now been over a year since he's worn taped-together, scratched glasses.
Is ordering glasses online a panacea? No, of course not, but it's worked out well for many, many people -- single-vision and increasingly multi-focal.
BARRY: In every market there are those who represent the best that can be done. I try to be one of them. I object to your charaterization that ECPs that strive for excellence are ripping off the public.
GLASSYEYES: No. You may be the most conscientious and above-board ECP on the planet, and the wares you're peddling are still very likely overpriced. At least part of that is due to the decisions you make in running your practice. True, some of it stems from the fact that you've been painted into a corner with consolidation of the market by the likes of Luxottica and Essilor, but there have to be options.
BARRY: Yes, times are changing. The problem is essentially not us ecps. It is, as you’ve discovered, the layers of monopolization from 15 years of consolodation allowed by our government. Lack of oversight breeds excess in every industry.
GLASSYEYES: There it is -- "monopoly" and "consolidation". Do something about it! Organize! Stand up to it. Contact your representatives and senators. The internet is a great equalizer. I think I'm angrier about Luxottica than you are. I've been very vocal about it -- http://suxottica.com. I do it as a consumer. You've got so much more to gain from exposing their practices for what they are.
BARRY: If you want to see another viewpoint, just seek us out. We make no secret that we’re here.
GLASSYEYES: I've talked to and conversed online with a number of ECPs. It's been inspiring.
BARRY: This current tenor of negativity about traditional eyewear delivery is upsetting to all of us. It smacks, IMHO, of what I call the "Duke" effect. Remember those lacrosse players from Duke University, who were so resoundingly tried and found guilty in the forum of early public opinion, only to have the "facts" eventually come out, and the truth be revealed. Even the DA jumped in before he had all the facts. How stupid the mob mindset appears when seen in the light of hindsight. I’m sure you don’t want to appear as having an unfair agenda.
GLASSYEYES: I definitely have an agenda, but to equate it to the Duke Lacrosse thing is silly. I've been wearing these many pairs of glasses for nearly three years now, and they work perfectly. Mob mindset? Start charging what things are worth and the world will happily beat a smiley-faced, open-walleted path to your door.
My agenda is to show people that they don't have to pay hundreds to be able to see. Another interesting fact is that people at least anecdotally appear to be more willing to get their eyesight checked yearly with the knowledge that there isn't a $300+ eyeglasses fee waiting for them at the conclusion of the exam.There are still millions willing to pay hundreds to wear the latest brand names, I'm just not one of them.
BARRY: Keep an open mind to these discussions.
GLASSYEYES: Much of what you've said here has been thoughtful. I appreciate that. I will try to keep an open mind -- I urge you to do the same.
Further apologies in the delay in getting this out. I wrote this weeks ago and the formatting got the best of me -- along with getting the three youngsters ready for another year in our fine public school system.
- At September 11, 2009 at 12:30 AM Anonymous said...
I appreciate reading both sides of the comments, and have had experiences on both sides of the fence. I have had a lifetime hatred of glasses, largely because of teasing I got as a child. About 6 months ago, I decided I would order a pair of glasses from my ECP, in conjunction with my eye exam. I explained the shape and style I wanted -- something maybe cat-eye, whimsical, playful, pink. I ended up leaving the ECP in tears. Why? Because the staff *would not show me* the glasses I wanted to see. When I pointed to a case with glasses more like I was looking for (Betsey Johnson, Koali), the staff member told me that those were "for younger girls, like the teens" and literally would not unlock the case. So I left, feeling like I was somehow doomed to ugly eyewear. That experience wasn't about giving me the kind of service Barry is talking about. It was about someone else deciding for me what glasses I was "allowed" to have.
I ended up going to several different eyewear stores before deciding on a pair I liked. And then, after I got that pair, I found *another* pair online. I actually paid more for the second pair, because it wasn't covered by the vision insurance, but it was still less than $50. If I get more pairs, I'll get them online, I expect.
As for my ECP, I'm having an ongoing problem with dry eyes -- and I'm going to another ECP for help, because mine was so difficult when I was shopping for glasses. They've lost my business, and that of my family and friends. I have to wonder if that loss of business was worth refusing to let me try on a pair of pink glasses, honestly.
- At September 11, 2009 at 10:25 AM Anonymous said...
I just want to personally thank you for your blog. My eye doctor recommended that I get two pair of glasses. I can't imagine paying $600 just to work at my desk! I bought glasses online for the first time this summer and I am well pleased! I get compliments all the time on my frames. I love to see their reaction when I tell them I got them for $60.00 with all the UV and coating included! I've worn glasses most of my life and I see absolutely no difference in the pair from Eye Masters and what I'm now wearing - except price. In fact, I've bought 3 pair cheaper than the last pair I bought from a brick and mortar store. Thanks again Glassy Eyes for the valuable information!
- At September 11, 2009 at 2:43 PM CoreyW said...
I'm reading this Consumer Digest article and, unless Barry is taken completely out of context in the article (it's totally possible), Barry is a shyster of a large magnitude.
I'm sure he'll read this and I'm sure he doesn't see it from where he's standing, but to say what he said in that article and then come after you is strange at best, hypocritical at worst.
If he sees eyecare as a fashion industry, then what problem should he have with you? The employees at Nordstrom don't all drive down the street and give shit to Target. They just let different markets be. High end fashion isn't for everyone.
Here, he's saying it's customer first and the prices are forced to reflect that to give premium care. In the CD article, he's saying it's increased sales first. He can't have it both ways.
On top of that, according to CD, his online course is sponsored by Luxottica? He doesn't have a right to complain about monopoly and consolidation then. He's a part of it in his way!
I'm all worked up now!
- At September 11, 2009 at 4:33 PM Ira said...
Welcome to my world. Also, check out the stuff still bubbling on the subject at EyeOverheard (http://eyeoverheard.wordpress.com/2009/06/04/essilor-continues-to-bring-us-mind-blowing-information-thanks-big-e/#comment-1920).
It's exhausting having to read everything three times to figure out what a couple of these guys are trying to say. I have a hell of a time just getting through the spelling and the grammar.
Trying to have intelligent discourse is like reasoning with toddlers. There is no logic to any of it and rather than argue their points, they tend to resort to name-calling and now -- masturbation references?
They're really going out of their way to paint a positive picture of their industry.
- At September 11, 2009 at 4:42 PM Ira said...
In Barry's defense, he wrote one of the better comments I've seen on the subject of online eyeglasses in April here --> http://bit.ly/rNbiw
These sites get such great reviews on-line because we ECPs have done such a lousy job paying attention to the overall negeative attitude the public nhas about eyewear altogether. John Q. simply doesn’t want it, period! He only *needs* it.
Start today by asking yourself and challenging everything you do and say that could place eyewear in a negative light. You’ll be surprised at the depth of what you’ll find. For instance: “You have such little change in your Rx, you don’t need need eyeglasses.” Ever said that? Shame on you!
Now get busy!
- At September 13, 2009 at 3:39 AM Anonymous said...
I am willing to pay a lot if I want a fashionable eyeglasses. A lot of us actually do it when we shop for a cloth. I in fact bought some $300 leather jacket a while ago. It was probably the most expensive cloth I've ever bought in my 40 year of life so far. Do I have to spend $300 every time I buy a cloth? No. there are plenty of places where I can get some pants for $20. The problem with traditional eye care industry is that they think they are selling something more than just a simple medical device. I mean "ALL" of them! That's the problem. Look at what they sell in their store. Most of their frames are actually no-name brand. But they are still over priced. $100 for a piece of plastic from China?? Come on..
I don't care what these guys are trying to argue. I will never go back to mortar and brick store for my eyeglasses. I will keep using these online stores. Why not? I get the same product for 10 times cheaper price. I would be crazy I don't do it.
The doctor does not tell me if my eye got worse or better for a new eyeglasses if I don't ask. I did not know before but now I think back now.. I realized that I've never came out of these stores without a new glasses in my hand. Why? Has my eye prescription been changing every year??? I hardly think so. Yet no one ever told me that "You don't need a new eyeglasses. Your current prescription is just fine."
Now, I just can't trust these people.
- At September 14, 2009 at 5:32 PM CoreyW said...
Exactly how I feel.
Also, at least in the world of vintage-style eyeglasses, there are plenty of amazing eyeglass companies that price their frames appropriately. I have a great pair of Shuron Ronsirs for 120 dollars, RX and all.
Independent companies like Anglo-American and Tart Optical make really amazing frames and sell them at reasonable (albeit designer-sized) prices. All three of these companies are willing to sell direct to the consumer, in a way Barry would find abhorrent but is pretty efficient, and all three stand behind their products in a way Luxottica refuses to. On top of that, in my opinion, they all make great looking frames, particularly for men.
- At September 17, 2009 at 1:52 PM Chuck said...
I've said this several times.
When I finally needed eyeglasses, I went to 3 different places. The first was a WalMart, the second was a local optician's store, and the third was a VERY high end boutique.
All 3 quotes fell within a $5 range...over $400 for a pair of SV glasses. Absurd.
Had I been able to find something for around $100, I'd never have tried the online option. Instead, I went to the big Z, and bought 2 pairs for under $25. My ophthalmologist was startled at their accuracy...they were more accurate than the locally made glasses, and were in fact a *perfect* match for my prescription.
The ECPs *should* be scared.