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HomemistoryA Bird’s-Eye View of the Land of Optics

A Bird’s-Eye View of the Land of Optics

Despite significant changes to the profession and the media predicting GFC Mk II, the optical industry looked robust and stable at ODMA – delegates bought product and were educated; exhibitors wrote books of orders; there were plenty of opportunities to network and the alcohol flowed.

The news headlines were consumed with the U.S debt crisis and how it would affect international financial markets, the Australian dollar and our super. Yet ODMA 2011, held in Darling Harbour, Sydney, on the first weekend of August, started – and finished – on an extremely positive note.

The level of enthusiasm was without doubt reassuring for every member of the profession. It confirms that while online product sales and a changing retail environment have forced practice professionals to re-consider their sales and consultation strategies, there is still room to succeed – and even flourish.

It shouldn’t be surprising… after all, vision is responsible for 75 per cent of our lasting impressions and as such, is our most valued sense. Most people will prioritise spending on eye examinations and high quality visual aids over other spending options. According to the majority of suppliers that we spoke to during ODMA, it all comes down to patient education, service differentiation and stocking the right products. Independent optometrists are recognising this and as a result, at ODMA, the orders were piling up.

The fair really is about business…

Initial data indicated 5,175 visitors (recorded as unique visitors, not multiple visits by a visitor) attended ODMA, well up on the record number of preregistrations of more than 3,500. Saturday was by far the most popular day, with 2,123 people making their way to Sydney’s Convention and Exhibition Centre in downtown Darling Harbour. Friday saw 1,577 visitors to the fair, and 1,474 people attended on Sunday. What’s more, they were spending.

“In the equipment side of the business we were flat chat. Independents were investing in equipment so they can give premium service to their patients,” commented Brad Grills, the Managing Director of Designs for Vision.

Lee Pepper, the Business Manager from Optical Manufacturers agreed, “to do well in your job, you need to have the tools… The optometrists deciding to get in and compete with new players in the marketplace are gearing themselves up to do that,” he said.

Danni Man, Marketing Communications Manager at Carl Zeiss said that high attendances at educational workshops and breakfast hosted by Zeiss confirmed optometrists’ interest in clinical aspects of the business. So too equipment sales, which she said had been strong; “A lot of people wait until ODMA because they perceive they’ll get a better price and they want to see everything under one roof.” Mr. Pepper agreed, adding “They come with their finance approved, ready to buy.”

At Satisloh the sales weren’t as immediate. However, Director Mostyn Whitehouse says previous experience has proven there is great value in attending ODMA.

“It’s after the show that we get interest, because people have seen how the machinery works, how it can be programmed, and the lenses – it’s better than a brochure. They go away and realise it’s not a bad idea to invest in their own fitting and grinding machinery. They do the numbers and come back to us,” he said.

Fashion Frenzy

For many of the established frame designers and suppliers, ODMA provides an immediate injection of orders as well as ongoing commitments for up to two years. David Wymond, from Eyes Right Optical said he’s a big fan of ODMA and has supported the event since his company started. “The value for us is getting our brands out into the market – it’s letting people that don’t know our products see them and reinforcing our relationships with people who already buy from us… a lot of optometrists say they choose their brands for the next two years at ODMA.”

For Jacque Katsieris at ProOptics, ODMA is essential to business success. She said a large percentage of this years marketing budget goes to trade shows – “it’s the only time that people come to you. If you’ve got a good presence at ODMA, it’s of great value”.

Newcomers to the industry found ODMA was an invaluable opportunity to present brands to a wide audience. Suzie Elasmar from Hawk Union started her business in January this year and has had difficulty breaking into the local market, despite her high quality, high profile brands worn by the likes of Kate Winslet and Madonna. “I’ve had optometrists who have refused to take my phone calls come up to me at ODMA because they saw pictures of my frames in mivision and now want to place orders,” she commented.

Dean Harrigan of Face Optics said ODMA had enabled him to communicate with independent optometrists and to demonstrate his company’s support of their business.

In a changing retail environment he said it’s important to promote yourself as an independent, supporting independent optometry practices. “A lot of high-end boutiques are looking for alternatives to compete without comprising (on quality). We’re supporting independent practitioners by wholesaling hand-made “Independents are investing in equipment so they can give really good service to their patients” 22 • mivision mistory products at a good price and refusing to sell or discount online.”

Alternatives for Survival

By recognising that customers still want unique, quality products at realistic prices, Mr. Harrigan’s company is providing independent practitioners with the alternative they need to survive in a difficult economic climate. It’s a strategy that many smaller frame manufacturers have adopted, and it’s resulting in a far more exciting industry.

At Colab, Managing Director Peter Smith has also recognised the strength in manufacturing beautifully designed frames with premium quality at reasonable prices. According to Mr. Smith, this is where many high-end prestige brands have failed – they’ve maintained high prices, he said, but they’ve dropped their quality.

Robert William Morris, founder and Managing Director of UK based label William Morris, identified the squeeze at the high-end of the market back in London. “William Morris is a premium brand, it’s not high-end. A lot of high-end brands are seeing their customers trade down, but (those customers) don’t want to trade down too far in terms of quality and packaging. That’s why we’re still doing well – because they’re being careful with what they’re spending but they still want quality, and fashion and design.”

John Toouli, Managing Director at Bollé, is confident that quality premium eyewear will continue to perform, despite the challenges of a tightening global market. The trick he says is to present eye wear well, engage with customers and maintain consistency.

“There’s no doubt consumers have tightened their belts, so they’re not spending as much… When times get tough people do prefer to buy quality, premium product and buy less as well. It’s a challenging time but it’s exciting. We all need to reinvent ourselves and we all need to continue to look at ways to create a competitive edge for the brand.”

Huge Exhibitor Investment

Certainly the investment made by exhibitors at ODMA, and the return of companies that stayed away last time including L’Amy and Healy, suggests that members of the profession are determined to promote themselves and succeed in spite of the global economy.

Finola Carey, CEO of ODMA, said this year’s exhibitors “pulled out all the stops. People work very hard to deliver a great show for the visitors… the investment they make is so great – some of the very large companies are spending AUD$200,000 and then they have associated costs of getting the reps along.

“A few companies have pulled away. They’re doing their own thing alongside ODMA, but really I think it’s best for everyone – exhibitors and delegates alike that we all work together – that the industry supports the industry.”

Transitions was right behind ODMA’s efforts to promote the industry. Large crowds gathered in their break-out zone throughout the afternoons to enjoy wine and canapés.

“We see ODMA as a great chance to give back to all the practices that consistently support us year after year,” said Kerry Brock, Transitions Optical Retail Marketing Executive, Australia and New Zealand.

Ms. Carey said that while a few of the larger exhibitors offered hospitality, and Maui Jim had dancers on site, most ODMA exhibitors don’t go for the glamour of international trade fairs such as Silmo and Mido. “The fair really is about business… In the past we have had entertainment in the aisles but some people got a bit tired of it. It’s very difficult to do business when there is a lot of noise going on and… we’re trying to encourage people to run more effective practices.”

“ODMA delivers to all of the independents from around Australia at the same time and it’s the one time that optometrists, dispensers and practice staff all get to come and see the latest. It’s a real boost for them.

Secret Life of a Trade Fair Tragic

Trade shows are great aren’t they?! A good way to wipe off a weekend, destroy an expensive pair of shoes, burn some money, consume copious amounts of coffee and drink at more parties than a teenager on schoolies week.

It’s a good chance to get out of our daily routine, connect with people we’ve befriended on Facebook, chatted with by email, talked to over the phone, or, guess what… maybe even met before.

We’ve all heard about sport ‘tragics’. You know, the type that goes to all the games and can recall that favourite passage of play in minute detail years after the game is won or lost.

For me, it’s not sport, but trade shows. The similarity to sport is there – the trade show is a little world of its own where reality stops for just a short space of time – but, yes, there are differences.

For all its serious intents, a trade fair like ODMA breaks down the professional barriers. Much like throwing a load of kids together in a day care centre… or a bunch of politicians into the chamber. The social norms disappear, the adrenalin starts to rush, the hospitality flows, the orders pile up and the fun begins.

Not that it’s all enjoyable. For the average trade fair ‘tragic’ there can be moments… when you’re standing on your own in the central aisle and everyone but you is engrossed in conversation… when you’re pounced on by an all too eager sales person and you can’t tell whether they’re trying to pick you up or sell their latest range… or when you’re approached with a shake of the hand, a kiss on the cheek and you know you know that face… but you’re not sure how, who or where from. Is it the supplier who saved your bacon, the company’s most important client or a distant relative?

You search frantically for the delegate’s name badge so you can pretend to know their name, but it’s swung round or been absorbed into the rolls of their belly.

But truly, those embarrassing moments are few and far between. Because in the main, when you’re an eye care trade fair tragic, there are plenty of people to hang out with – and like you, they’re all looking to break out and have a good time.

Take, for instance the corporate dinners that come attached to your typical conference program. Now there’s a chance to party! In fact, for many of us, whose lives have become more hyperopic in recent years, the number of opportunities to party – on one night alone – can be a little overwhelming, to say the least.

How to choose… Should I go to the formal dinner at a really expensive restaurant with stunning water views? Or, the spectacular harbour cruise? Do I throw caution to the wind with other delegates and try to fit in with Gen Y at a nightclub? Join the extroverts at a fantasy themed party? Or just grab a dinner with friends? Hell, why not do the lot – catch a water taxi between venues and cover all bases?

Aaah, another great trade fair, been and gone. Exhausted and content, I’ve re-entered the real world. Occasionally I still suffer the odd ODMA-trance but all-in-all, my family says I’m re-adjusting well… until next time.

And the Winners Are…

For the first time at ODMA 2011, participants were invited to enter the ODMA Awards of Excellence, aimed at rewarding the very best in fashion, creativity, innovation and technology.

More than 100 entries were received in the 12 categories, which were then reviewed by an independent judging panel.

The inaugural winners of the Awards of Excellence were:

  • Optical Frame: OGA (Model 67480 NM 000) – Eyes Right Optical
  • Sunglasses: Fritz (Model Churada) – Fritz Frames
  • Children’s Frame: Leo & Lea – Refractive Eyewear
  • Sport’s Eyewear: Bollé Sunglasses (Model Bollé Marine Collection) – Bollé
  • Lens Design: Varilux Physio 360 New Edition – Essilor
  • Lens Coating: Shamir Glacier Plus – Shamir Australia
  • Contact Lenses: Biofinity Toric – CooperVision
  • Optical Instruments: Apollo Eyecheck – Designs For Vision
  • Accessories: iMags – Optica Life Accessories
  • Workshop Tools and Equipment: Snap-off Screw – Aviva Optical
  • Product Environment (POS/Retail): ProDesign Shop In Shop Unit -Eyes Right Optical
  • Green Environment Award: Holloway Eyewear (Models: Queens and NARCS)

Best Stand Awards

Exhibitors go to extraordinary lengths to put on their best face at ODMA, and that’s recognised with the fair’s “best stand” awards.

Eyes Right Optical won the award for Best Stand over 54m2 (custom), narrowly edging out Healy Optical, Safilo Australia and L’Amy.

Eyres Optics won the Best Stand up to 54m2 (custom enhanced).
Holloway Eyewear won best presented stand in a Display Booth System, and Dolomites Vision won the Best Galleria Stand.

Loyalty Guests

Visitors to the fair aren’t overlooked when awards are handed out either. In a new initiative, ODMA has recognised visitors who have continuously supported the event, allocating them ‘Loyalty Guest’ status. Each Loyalty Guest was given a gold-coloured lapel pin but Carol Chivers, from Chivers Vision Health, was drawn to win a AUD$1,000 shopping voucher from David Jones

Excercising the Mind at ODMA Bootcamp

The inaugural ODMA Bootcamp began in spectacular style with a welcome breakfast overlooking Darling Harbour and a speech that provided both the star power of former Australian cricketer Glenn McGrath and an inspirational message.

Mr. McGrath, who spoke about his personal journey to success, was later joined by Warnie, a.k.a. Ben Price, a comic presenter with a host of impressive impersonations. Having begun as Shane Warne, he quickly morphed into a number of Australian and international Prime Ministers, before finishing off as John Cleese. Along the way, guests were entertained by ‘cameo appearances’ from Shrek, Donkey, Homer Simpson and Arnold Schwarzenegger, to name a few.

The education program itself provided ample opportunities for optometrists to develop their professional interests with practical and relevant presentations by contact lens experts, practice managers and business consultants.

J&J’s Professional Affairs Development Manager, Luke Cahill, introduced the contact lens forum describing it as “an exciting program” aimed at highlighting the professional business opportunities that come from fitting contact lenses. The forum was led by Shelly Bansal, President of the British Contact Lens Association (BCLA), which has been recognised as the world’s most active contact lens society. Mr. Bansal has recently been elected as President of the Association for the second term – the first time in British history that a President has been re-elected to the position.

In his presentation, which was part of a workshop entitled “Contact Lenses –
Global Opportunities in Local Case Studies”, Mr. Bansal outlined a unique model that he has successfully introduced to his own independent practice and urged optometrists present to follow suit. In doing so, he said, they could increase profits by more than 80 per cent and operate with a continuous revenue stream. Presentations from Kass Lewis, Margaret Lam and Phil Crossfield followed.

A second workshop, entitled “Succeeding with Torics and Multi-focals – Clinically Driven, Commercially Successful” presented by Mr. Bansal, Mimi Wong and Ms. Lewis, provided further insight into the advantages of contact lens dispensing. David Wilson presented a Basic Lens Dispensing Workshop and St. John Ambulance provided CPR training.

Other workshops focused on marketing and practice management with Andrew Wilson, Mark Overton and Faith Davey presenting “Three Pillars for a Profitable Practice” (an article summarising the content from these presentations was published in mivision’s Augustissue). Mark Fletcher presented the final workshop on Saturday afternoon entitled “Post Traumatic Growth – Is It Possible?”

All workshops presented on Day One of ODMA were repeated on Day Two, ensuring that every delegate who wished to attend could find an opportunity to do so. Ten CPD points were achievable on each day of the Bootcamp.