Five-practice optometry business Eye Trend, based in Melbourne’s east, discusses the transformative impact of introducing ZEISS lenses as it sought a premium lens offering to elevate its portfolio.
When Ms Helen Lee, a migrant from Hong Kong, took full ownership of Melbourne’s Eye Trend in 2007, she set out to make innovation a cornerstone of the multi-site optometry business.
Established in 1989 by her optometrist brother, Lee always had an interest in Eye Trend, but became more seriously involved in 1996 when she returned to Australia from Hong Kong armed with business experience in fashion and real estate. Eleven years later she took the reins of the business and sought to learn everything she could about the true meaning of providing primary eyecare, visiting trade shows around the globe, as well as researching various optometry models here and abroad.
Lee’s determination to innovate led to her to develop a business model that placed equal importance on full-scope optometry and excellent optical dispensing, believing “one cannot survive without the other”. In 2009, her philosophy for the business led to an in-house ophthalmic lens portfolio, E-Lentes, which Lee built through her Chinese-Hong Kong business networks. Then, in 2013, the business introduced Blue Ray Control lenses at a time when blue-light filter technology was only just emerging and travelled to Taiwan to learn about incorporating orthokeratology into Eye Trend practices.
Today, Eye Trend comprises five full-scope Melbourne practices – three in the eastern suburb of Box Hill, one in Burwood East and another out west in Maribyrnong. It employs six optometrists, seven optical dispensers, as well as Lee’s daughter Ms Charlotte Ng as marketing manager.
With a predominantly Asian patient-base, Eye Trend’s optometrists care for many patients with extreme prescriptions, especially myopes (stable and progressing). When the company went through a transformative period in 2018, which involved refurbishing its flagship store at the corner of Whitehorse Rd and Station St in Box Hill, it sought an additional lens supplier to complement and elevate its existing portfolio.
“We were after a lens brand that could provide that level of premium quality, but that was reputable and focused on innovation with similar values to our own business – and that’s why we decided to partner with ZEISS,” Ng says.
Lee adds: “I was invited by the ophthalmology departments in two local district hospitals in China to open an eyecare clinic within their hospitals. Here, I gained working experience and understanding of the optical industry in China and I saw that ZEISS offered a premium standard. They invented freeform lenses and their commitment to invest in R&D suited our philosophy.”
As a result, Eye Trend has incorporated ZEISS’ most advanced lens offering ZEISS SmartLife – freeform lenses available in single vision, digital and progressive – along with ZEISS BluePro, a new technology incorporating blue light blocking properties into the lens substrate. It also offers the standard ZEISS lens portfolio including grind lenses in single vision, digital and progressive lens designs, and ZEISS PhotoFusion is popular among its customers.
Elevated patient experience
Mr Stephen Tong started his optometry career with Eye Trend 11 years ago, and today is a joint venture partner of Eye Trend Burwood Brickworks. Still a practising optometrist, he says the company’s roots are in the Asian community, but as Australian-born generations emerge, it’s broadened to serve the local communities where Eye Trend is located.
“It means we see some very high prescriptions and short-sighted patients, so we are adept with those challenging patients and that’s where ZEISS has particularly helped us with its premium lens products,” he explains.
“We regularly see -7.0 D and above, even up to -12.0 D and -15.0 D, so offering really thin, light lenses with the good optical performance had been difficult previously, especially in progressives, but with the ZEISS SmartLife portfolio we’ve seen these progressives perform really well and patients easily adapt to them. And in single vision patients have been impressed by the lens coatings; they’re easier to keep clean, harder to scratch and look better overall.”
When faced with a complex prescription, Tong has been impressed with ZEISS’ level of technical troubleshooting.
“It feels like they are trying to improve their product and ensure it’s successful in our practice. They’re hands on and send trainers to help educate our dispensers and optometrists on new products,” he says.
“We’ve also been using their software called ZEISS VISUSTORE for lens ordering, but we’ve also used it to simulate the thicknesses of the lens depending on the frame shape, measurements and prescription – it tells you exactly where the thinnest and thickest part of the lens will be. You can also model the progressives to show how the corridor is going to appear in the lens, so that’s been great for patient experience.”
Tong says Eye Trend practices already use ZEISS autorefractors and visual field devices, but intends to expand its suite, starting with the iTerminal mobile. It’s a mobile digital centration solution with easy image capturing via an iPad designed to bring flexibility and efficiency to the practice.
“You only need to take two photos of the patient, and it measures all their frame data and uploads it into their profile. So that’s going to further enhance our workflow and patient experience,” he adds.
Eye Trend managing optometrist Ms Sze Chin has worked for the firm since 2009 and has admired Lee’s quest for continual improvement. She says it was the right time to bring ZEISS lenses into the business, with patients often seeking out the brand due to its rich history and international reputation.
“While the lens portfolio is extensive, it’s easy to understand, especially for our staff who are often translating the lens benefits in Mandarin or Cantonese,” she says.
“The feedback has been positive, patients are adapting much faster than our non-premium in-house lenses, and they’ve commented on the overall lens function, clarity and coatings as outstanding features.”
With spectacles being a major source of revenue for optometry practices, Chin says access to leading ophthalmic lens technology is vital to the survival of independent businesses like Eye Trend, allowing it to differentiate, and build customer acquisition and retention.
“By providing these high-end lens technologies, patients know where to go for their eyecare needs. They also tell their friends and family that this is the practice they’ve been going to for 10 years – so they come along too,” Chin says.
“We can’t compete in the fast pace, high volume optical category, so it’s very important to ensure our existing customers have faith in us to continue providing the best lens options so they can have an optimal visual outcome and comfort.”
Ng agrees, adding that when Eye Trend practitioners discuss the benefits of the ZEISS lens designs, coatings or features it isn’t an “out of reach” proposition.
“Patients are finding it’s of real of value to them – they’re a premium brand but at the same time they are quite attainable.”
New stock lenses with freeform tech
With a prevalent Asian patient base, single vision lenses account for a significant proportion of Eye Trend’s spectacle sales. Global statistics confirm as many as 83% of spectacle lens wearers purchase single vision lenses, with that number 75% in Asia. The vast majority are sold as stock/ finished single vision (FSV) lenses.
At present, Eye Trend is providing premium single vision freeform lenses as part of the SmartLife portfolio, but Lee’s business is set to benefit from a new single vision product launching this month.
The lens is called ZEISS ClearView Finished Single Vision, which the company expects to disrupt the FSV category. ZEISS says it has identified a new way to get many attributes of complex single vision freeform lens designs into what is essentially a stock lens.
It says this is possible through a specially created freeform lens design for FSV and a new ClearForm manufacturing process that incorporates this design into the finished lens. The lens design includes point-by-point optimisation with the use of 700 free parameters across the lens. This ClearForm process adopts the latest computer numerically controlled (CNC) generators that use special diamond cutting and polishing tools to surface the complex shaped moulds for ZEISS ClearView FSV lenses.
The final lens is said to deliver, on average, a three times larger zone of excellent clear vision with more clarity from the lens centre to the periphery. In addition, the complex lens shapes allow wearers to experience this vision clarity in a flatter and thinner lens than conventional FSV lens designs.
In numbers, the company says this means ZEISS ClearView lenses will be on average 34% flatter across all prescriptions and up to 16% thinner compared to typical spherical single vision lenses.
Ng says she is excited about the prospect of premium quality optics in FSV lenses, while still offering the fast and affordable benefits of FSV lenses.
“We’re excited because we do sell a lot of single vision stock and grind lenses,” she says.
“But hearing ZEISS has developed what appears to be a freeform lens design in a single vision stock lens is interesting. I’m not sure if anyone else is doing that and to provide that to our patients is exciting. I think it’s going to elevate our ZEISS product offering even further. We’re looking forward to knowing more.”