Vision Expo West is an exhibition that is well-renowned in the optical industry and has been running for a number of years, and this year did not disappoint.
With over 5000 fashion and luxury brands on display, combined with more than 320 hours of education, thousands of optometrists, dispensing opticians, practice managers, frame buyers and other optical professionals flocked from all over the world to attend this year’s show, which took place at Sands Expo Centre in Las Vegas (13–16 September).
As head of marketing and communications at Louis Stone Optical, I attended Vision Expo West for the first time and was excited not only by the brands on display, but also by how busy the event was and the wealth of talks, panel discussions and personalities that attended.
At the Women’s Wear Daily (WWD) Facebook Live Panel: The Eyewear Effect, WWD editor, Brandy Joy Smith, was joined by industry experts to discuss the developments of the ever-changing optical market.
Sitting on the panel, CEO and co-founder of State Optical, Scott Harris Shapiro, said: “Vision Expo is all about new and exciting ideas, different companies are also here to show off new eyewear technologies. The things we see here are on a whole new level.”
A particular piece of technology that stood out to me on day one was the Gear VR – powered by Oculus. On display on the Marchon stand, visitors were able to demo the slick set of virtual reality goggles, enabling them to get a feel for how, for example, their practice could look with a re-fit, simply with the aid of a laptop and iPhone.
A hidden gem on the walkway leading me towards the exit was the Opticwash, an impressive piece of machinery that essentially cleaned my Louis Stone ‘Icy’ spectacles in two minutes, carwash style.
"I also noticed the appearance of crystal frames throughout the show; a rumoured, soon-to-be favourite in the optical industry"
On trend spectacles
On the topic of the latest spectacle trends, West Groupe’s Beverly Suliteanu, shared: “What I’m really excited about, after what seems like forever for retro acetate, is starting to see increased popularity in metals.”
“We are starting to notice a resurgence of metal frames and we will see a little bit more individuality in people’s eyewear as a result I am sure,” she added.
A number of designer brands at the show seemed to have already caught onto this trend, including Nine West and Chloe.
I also noticed the appearance of crystal frames throughout the show; a rumoured, soon-to-be favourite in the optical industry.
Speaking to Mr Shapiro, the CEO noted that ‘storytelling’ is becoming important for customers as they make an increased effort to find out the steps that have been taken to produce the spectacles that they are wearing.
CEO of De Rigo REM, Mike Hundert, reiterated this message, explaining the importance of retailers having the ability to tell customers such stories. “Communicate the assets,” he told me.
For Ms Suliteanu, there has also been a notable move away from fashion brands and towards more independent eyewear brands.
In terms of insider info on everyday frames, Transitions Optical’s Rose Harris confirmed that the brand was actively working on tapping into “influencers” to help enhance its image going forward.
During the four-day trade show, eyewear designers, Coco and Breezy, gave a stimulating talk about this season’s trends, with particular emphasis on social media, which is a keen pursuit of mine, both personally and in a professional capacity for Louis Stone.
They have found that social media is incredibly useful for market research, as well as to help establish brand identity.
Aside from the trends presentations, I also happened upon a number of other fascinating talks and seminars. A wealth of optical professionals of all ages gathered for a Google Partners talk on Better ways to market your business.
An astounding fact that stood out for me during this talk was that in the US there has been an 186% growth year-on-year of the search term ‘Eye Doctors near me.’ Imagine what that could mean in the UK?
On the Thursday night, I attended Vision Expo’s Young Professional’s Cocktail Reception where myself and around 100 other under 35s gathered to discuss the goings on at the conference.
A Canadian optometrist and practice owner told me how he had found the clinical seminars particularly useful, and that combined with the exhibition, he’d found the whole trip really helpful for this reason.
During the evening, I also met the owners of Eye Candy Creations, an innovative company based in Georgia, US that works on the product placement of spectacles in films and with celebrities – sometimes it takes one to experience these shows to realise the broad range of companies that exist within the optical industry.
Vision Expo West allowed me to observe what a vivacious industry that optics is, not only through the trends, panel talks, discussions and the people, but through the buzz that you can’t help but feel vibrating through the trade show floor – I walked away proud to be a part of that.