Two independent practices – one in Melbourne, the other in Brisbane – have a shared appreciation for Tokai Optical’s attention to detail that doesn’t go unnoticed by their patients.
Starting her career as an optical dispenser while studying orthoptics, Ms Lucille Gergis transitioned into optometry, opening a greenfield boutique practice in the heart of High Street Armadale’s premier shopping precinct in Melbourne’s leafy east in April this year.
“I’ve been in the industry for about 20 years. I’ve worked in both corporate and independent practices and done a lot of fly-in, fly-out, regional and rural. I always had at the back of my mind to open my own practice that focuses on quality rather than quantity – I’m not interested in volume – and COVID was the catalyst for me to open my practice, Eye St.,” she says.
Despite housing some of the world ‘s most exclusive eyewear designers, it’s quality and attention to detail, that sets Gergis and Eye St. apart.
“Whether it be frames or lenses, we really do focus on quality. We find out where products are made, rather than just selling brands. I’m not selling luxury; I’m providing quality products and service.”
To meet her quality standards, Gergis invested her time in researching frame and lens manufacturers, and consulted industry colleagues.
“I spoke to a couple of other independent practice owners, and we were discussing what do you do for patients who have really high prescriptions or someone who comes in and says, ‘I want the best of the best’. They introduced me to Tokai Optical and once I physically saw their products, that was it. They have the thinnest lenses in the world and even their most basic lenses are superior. It’s just the most incredible quality,” she says.
“We’re not just providing Tokai because it’s a premium lens – the price difference from that to another company isn’t significant. We’re offering the best that we can without impacting the purse strings for our patients and ourselves.”
For Gergis, one of the most valued characteristics of Tokai lenses is its Eternal Skin Coat, which protects the skin around the eyes from UV and near-infrared, the latter reaching deeply into the true skin and causing aging effects such as wrinkles and sagging of the skin.
“It is one among a number of products Tokai has that we’re excited about offering to our patients. Another is the Lutina material, which is capable of blocking 100% of UV light and about 94% of blue light. We offer that as standard on all our Tokai-made lenses,” she says.
“We’ve got a lot of people wanting particular tints on their lenses: not their sunglasses, but optical frames, and Tokai do an incredible job with their tints, which are in fashion currently.”
In addition to consistently high product quality, Gergis can’t fault the service she and her team receive from Tokai’s Australian base.
“If I ever have an issue, I can call my local rep or the lab in Queensland and they don’t stop until it’s resolved. If it’s something they can’t do, they’ll contact Japan and I’ll get an answer. If it means they have to come to me, they will. I’ve had their reps come and help us out with customers before,” she says.
“Their support is very personalised, you do get to know everyone. If I have a question about a particular patient and I’m not sure which lens to prescribe, they’ll make recommendations and ensure we get it right. It’s almost like the patient is their customer.”
Philosophy deeply rooted in the Tokai culture
Established in 1939, the Japanese lens maker is steeped in more than 80 years of history, and, as the general manager of Tokai Optical Australia explains, the Japanese philosophy ‘Kodawari’ is deeply rooted in Tokai’s culture.
“A relentless pursuit of perfection, attention to detail, and meticulous craftsmanship are the minimum requirements if you want to be great. The term for such devotion is known as Kodawari,” Mr Justin Chiang says.
“The philosophy is reflected in the Tokai management principle, including displaying uniqueness in product development, customer-first policy, participation in management by all employees, and environmental policies.”
As a subsidiary, Tokai Optical Australia has been living up to the philosophy that its Japan headquarters exemplifies.
“Without any manufacturing in Australia, we focus on personalised customer support and individualised fitting. From placing the orders to the package for shipment, we look at the detail to ensure our customer experience with Tokai,” Chiang says.
“For example, for each order we receive, we calculate lens thickness and check the frame curve before proceeding with the order and advise our customers if there’s a better option within the parameters they request. At Tokai Optical Australia, we take special care with each fitting to ensure the finished quality matches Tokai standards.
“We believe many small changes in detail make our world and lives better; this is how we see quality and details.” Chiang says Tokai’s customer-first policy means all its activities are carried out with the aim of growing together with its customers. “
We understand the importance of growing with our customers in the industry as a whole. The development of online resources for education is in place and updated continuously. We also share our inspiration with customers through product innovation or daily customer support.”
Chiang adds that Tokai considers the durability of its multicoating to be essential. Regardless of the lens design and material, the coatings must be strong to handle daily life and be long-lasting, he says.
“With such a concept, Tokai Optical developed multicoatings that are not only scratch resistant but also made to weather wear and tear. As a result, we are able to produce some of the most durable multicoatings on the market.”
Tokai also lays claim to developing the thinnest lens material, 1.76 in refractive index, and its patented ‘slice thin’ technology can reduce the thickness of plus prescriptions to provide customers with thinner and lighter lenses.
But the company’s attention to detail in its products doesn’t end there.
“All our lens material has maximum protection against ultraviolet – and even against high energy violet (400-420nm) – to ensure all Tokai lens wearers receive the best protection possible. Free-form technology to enhance visual clarity and minimise peripheral distortion is the basic feature in all Tokai lens designs too,” Chiang says.
A pursuit of perfection is also incorporated in the company’s environmental policies, which is striving to achieve a target of making its Tokyo factory a zero-emission facility.
“A zero-emission facility is a factory where 100% of all industrial waste and general non-industrial waste, such as burnable trash and raw garbage, discharged by the factory is recycled into resources,” Chiang says.
“At Tokai’s factory, cooking oil used in the canteen is recycled and turned into biodiesel, and excess lens material is recycled and turned into charcoal for generating energy. Our target of domestic discharge averaged out per employee is 50g per day, and the results over the past year were 9.7g per day.”
Quality products underpinned by service
An initial inquiry from a patient about Tokai Optical lenses a few years ago prompted the team at Eyecatch Optical in Brisbane to seek more information about the Japanese-made lenses.
It wasn’t until owner optometrist Ms Sonia Shin and optical dispenser Ms Euny Mitchell saw the lenses in-person at O=MEGA in Melbourne that they realised what they were missing, and began placing orders with the lab in Brisbane.
“We prescribe a lot of Tokai’s Lutina material and their multifocal lenses, and customer feedback is amazing. The team are very professional, they share extensive product information and help with troubleshooting – that’s part of the reason why we order Tokai lenses,” Mitchell says.
She describes the company’s level of service as among the best in terms of troubleshooting and the product itself as excellent; two factors that motivate Eyecatch Optical to recommend Tokai lenses to customers.
“They know the product and what is – or isn’t – working with the lenses. We talk about dispensing skills, we talk about the patient’s lifestyle and we come up with the best solution. That’s what makes working with Tokai a great experience, from an optical dispenser’s perspective,” Mitchell says.
Eyecatch Optical also prescribes a lot of Tokai’s CCP absorption lenses – which can suppress 380 to 500 nm blue wavelength – for patients who have had glaucoma, cataract and LASIK surgeries.
For Mitchell, as part of the dispensing team, it’s the education and training that Tokai provides which prove invaluable.
“Justin [Chiang] comes to our practice and teaches us about their products, so our dispensing team get to know their catalogue of products better and then we can make informed recommendations to our customers. I think that works really well,” she says.
Ultimately it’s Tokai’s detail-orientated approach to business and making sure that the optometry practice and dispensers have all the relevant information they need.
“A lot of dispensers working in a practice have a lot of stress that a lens is not covered by warranty if there are any issues. We hardly ever have any issues but when it happens, Tokai have excellent warranties. We feel very comfortable recommending them,” Mitchell says.