Shifting demand and embracing opportunities
Essilor’s managing director, Tim Precious, talks to OT about changing patterns of demand, the challenges of the months ahead, and reasons for optimism
Can you tell us what makes Essilor’s products unique?What differentiates us from other manufacturers is the way we continually bring new lenses and innovations to market. We are much more than a lens manufacturer, and work directly with optical practices as a business partner to help implement growth-driving strategies that impact directly on their bottom line.
What is the latest product that you have released and why does it stand out from the crowd?
Varilux Comfort Max launched in October 2020 and is our first ever lens to be designed for postural flexibility to adjust to the wearer’s unique natural postures, not the other way around. This makes the lens ideal for emerging presbyopes and first-time varifocal wearers.
The research and development team used our LiveOptics process, which combines the latest optical research with real-life wearer testing, to design the lens. The lens works by stretching the ‘useful vision zone’ by up to 46% to help wearers see naturally without having to struggle to find the right gaze direction or the right posture.
How did the outbreak of coronavirus affect Essilor and how did the company respond?
During the pandemic, our volume of orders was a fraction of what we were typically used to seeing, but it did lead us to rethink the way we could support eye care professionals (ECPs) and to respond accordingly.
There was a significant demand for instrumentation, such as pre-screeners and phoropters and other measuring equipment that respected social distancing requirements. We made a number of key pieces of optical equipment, including the Vision-R800 phoropter and the WAM 800, available on deferred payment schemes.
In addition to this, there seems to have been a significant upswing in ECPs identifying the need to develop dry eye solutions for their patients. Our TearStim and Idra systems seem to provide solutions which can help ECPs develop new income streams.
During the pandemic, our volume of orders was a fraction of what we were typically used to seeing, but it did lead us to rethink the way we could support eye care professionals
Many ECPs took the opportunity to use any spare time for personal development and CPD. Our team worked hard to increase our current CET webinar training offerings and we collaborated with key speakers to create legal and HR sessions about HR, finance and law to help guide independents through the uncertain period and aid recovery as practices reopened.
Some planned launches were put on hold during the worst hit months. These were replaced with the relaunch of our anti-fog lens treatment, Optifog, after experiencing a high demand from ECPs needing a solution to offer to patients to prevent glasses misting under PPE.
How has demand for Essilor’s products shifted through the year?
We have certainly seen demand for products shift this year. ECPs are investing in pre-screen and testing room equipment as part of their own business continuation plans, creating a future-proof safe practice environment. The relaunch of Optifog lenses in the UK has also been embraced by both ECPs and their patients, with sales volumes growing month-on-month. Optifog is now a core part of our lens portfolio.
How has Essilor been helping to support independent practices through COVID-19 and the lockdown restrictions?
It has been a challenging time for independent High Street practices, and we have strived to continue to be the best business partner possible to them.
We remained open at all times for emergency orders so practices could rely on us to fulfil prescriptions. We also put key pieces of optical equipment on deferred payment terms because we appreciated that cash flow could have been an issue and we wanted to do everything we possibly could to help them resume business. At practice level, we created and distributed 10,000 safe practice point of sale packs which included window and floor stickers. We were also one of the first suppliers to distribute personal protective equipment (PPE) completely free of charge including slit lamp covers, masks, gowns, sanitisers and goggles.
We have developed lots of digital assets for ECPs to use to help them attract new customers to their stores. Now, more than ever, ECPs need to be visible online as well as off to capture new patients to fuel their future demand.
I’m fully convinced that with new patients accessing independent eye care professionals, they will like what they experience.
How does Essilor plan to continue supporting independent practices into 2021?
A key part of the Essilor approach has always been training to help equip ECPs. We will continue this support in 2021 with webinar training, HR, legal and financial advice delivered by our partners, by launching new products and providing helpful guides to aid conversations with patients about lenses.
The marketing team will build on efforts to drive footfall in-store with social media content plans for the ECP to implement, promotions and in-store sales aids.
We will also motivate optical staff with sales incentives, promotional activity and other similar in-store initiatives throughout the year.
What are the company’s main ambitions for the next 12 months?
We will continue to adapt to the current climate and to the needs of ECPs. We have seen that demand patterns have changed a little and if anything, independents have been seeing a new, younger demographic that needs to be nurtured over the coming periods as well as the need to continually provide the best solutions to existing patients. We are fully confident that we have the best portfolio available to meet every patient’s needs and can help develop ECPs business for their benefit in the mid to long-term.
Are there any new products in development that customers should be aware of?
We are currently finalising 2021 but it’s no secret that Stellest, our future product for myopia management, will be a major part of our portfolio in the future and we are looking forward to sharing details of our local launch plans in the future.
Looking more widely, how do you think the COVID-19 outbreak has affected the sector? What might the year ahead look like for optics?
The outbreak has had an enormous impact on the sector. We are hearing about some permanent business closures and some businesses struggling to survive financially.
The spring lockdown created a backlog of appointments, many of which are deemed essential, and many of those business that have re-opened are operating on a reduced appointment basis in order to respect health and safety and social distancing. Routine examinations are therefore being delayed and consumer confidence hasn’t recovered, so although the appointment books have been full, this could change in the coming months.
I think, however, there are also some reasons for optimism for independent ECPs. The propensity to shop locally has increased with city centres and shopping malls more challenged for footfall. I’m fully convinced that with new patients accessing independent eye care professionals, they will like what they experience. Particularly with those that have chosen to diversify their offering and embrace new technologies.
To conclude, we are quite a robust sector so I’m sure that in the main we can pull through the difficulties we are all currently experiencing, if we believe in what we are doing, and the industry pulls together.