Life as an Optical Dispenser

Over my years in this industry I’ve found that most Optical Dispensers (Opticians) ‘fell’ into this job – I’m sure that there are some people out there that planned it, but the majority of us had no idea that we would end up in this profession until it happened. And I for one wouldn’t change it for anything.

My Story

My own start was quite simple. I had finished VCE and still wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I lived in a small rural town and had taken on a part time job at a Newsagency until I ‘figured it out’. After about 6 months of retail, I knew I needed more, so applied for two jobs; one at a Real Estate Agency, and the other at our local Optometrist. I want to be very clear about this – I had absolutely NO connection or idea what happened at either of these businesses at this point. My family didn’t own our house, and no one had ever had glasses in my family either.img_9940

Two weeks later I had secured interviews for both, on the same day, 30 mins apart. The day was HOT – 43 degrees from memory. I went to the Real estate interview first, and it went well. After that, I had a three block walk to the Optometrist where the second interview was being held. I walked quickly in the heat, and as I was early, thought I’d have 10 mins or so to compose myself before going through. I was wrong. They were also running early, and took me in straight away.

Their first question was ‘how has your day been’? My answer? ‘Bloody HOT’.

Oh. My. Goodness. But it worked. That one line of being myself, showing that I was ‘real’ and relatable broke the ice and led to a fantastic and fun interview, which ended with a job offer on the spot. If I had have known that I was speaking the THE legendary Kevin Paisley himself that day, things may have gone a very different way, but I’m glad they didn’t.

The Reality

Working as an Optical Dispenser is not even close to what most people think it is. You have to be energetic, a problem solver, have a naturally caring nature, technically savvy, hands on, curious, love fashion, on top of trends, good with stock management….it’s a role unlike any other. However, because of the roles complex nature it is so much more rewarding than most other jobs. You actually make a difference to people’s lives at the end of the day, you solve their problems, help them with sight, assist in emergencies, help grow someone’s confidence, get to be a style consultant, and believe me, there is nothing quite like seeing a child’s eyes light up when they try on their first pair of glasses and see the world as it is. Priceless.

img_7694So, what is an ‘Optical Dispenser’?

There are so many answers to this question it drives me absolutely crazy. I’m going to start this by explaining what it meant when I started, back in 2002. Back then, an Optical Dispenser- also an Optical Mechanic- was trained, and qualified to a National Standard. I did my qualification through RMIT University in Melbourne and it covered everything from the Science of the eye, Science of light and reflection/refraction, lens materials, basic Optometry and terminology, Retail, Sales, Practice management, How to repair glasses, make frames, hand edge (grind) lenses into a frame, lens tinting…..I could go on forever. This course was not brand or store specific – it was Industry specific. I was proud to be called a qualified Optical Dispenser and Mechanic.

These days things are different. It is not essential that you have this qualification to work in a similar position in an Optical practice. People can come from anywhere, be trained by someone they work with and then refer to themselves as an Optical Dispenser. This isn’t the place to say what’s right or wrong etc but I think consumers have the right to know when they are being assisted by someone that is qualified in their field, or not. There is a huge difference, and I know I’d sure like to know. This change started about the time that a certain very large budget chain of eyewear stores opened in Australia approximately 15 years ago. Due to their need for a lot of staff on the floor, they created their own ‘training’ package and that became acceptable. The problem being, that because this training was internal, it was not regulated and only taught employees what the company needed them to know to sell THEIR products. Over the years I have worked with a fair few people who started out with one of these courses, walking into a role in an Independent Practice thinking that they knew what they were doing. Most of them looked extremely shell-shocked by the end of the day and confused about what they had been led to believe about the industry. It really is a big world out there.

Don’t get me wrong, I know there are fully qualified Dispensers working at some of these chains as well, assisting new starters and sharing their experiences and knowledge, which is great. But that doesn’t mean working in one chain store with minimal industry exposure is going to set a person up as the equivalent of a qualified Dispenser/Mechanic.

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A very general idea of what an Optical Dispenser actually does

Lets take a quick look at the day-to-day role of an Optical Dispenser in Australia. Most of us start the day by getting into work early to make sure the store is looking amazing, review the patients for the day ahead, and ensure all equipment is ready for the Optometrist. We do reception roles like banking, dealing with Medicare, Health Funds and Institutions along with customer bookings, payments and repairs. When a patient comes out of an Eye exam, we discuss with them the results from the Optometrist and make sure they understand the recommendations, as well as making sure it will cover their needs. We help with frame and lens selection which can take anywhere from 5 mins up to 5 days or longer in some cases. We do repairs on the spot. We quote for bigger technical repairs and organise couriers. We liaise with the lens manufacturers about stock, lens quality issues, and prescriptions. We discuss outcomes with the Optometrists to make sure the recommendations and outcomes are the best for every single patient. We assist with health issues and emergencies which can be anything from detached retinas, foreign objects stuck in the eye, stuck contact lenses- you name it, we’ve seen it! We help with Sunglass selection for prescription, or sports performance, and spend hours helping families select a child’s first pair of glasses, especially if they are special needs or do not like the idea of wearing them!img_0368

Believe me, this is an extremely short list. Every time I read this, I come up with another 3-4 things we do on a daily basis, but I can’t write them all or we’ll be here for days! So on top of all of this, we get to be an ear for a lonely senior, a shoulder to cry on for someone that has nowhere else to turn. We – especially females- cop a lot of comments about being a ‘receptionist’, and asking where the ‘male boss’ is by generations that don’t know any different.

What it really means to be an Optical Dispenser

And through all of this we smile. We take a few deep breathes (in my case, eat chocolate) and get back out there with a spring in our step ready to help the next person. Why you ask? Because we are making an actual difference to these people’s lives. We are helping them with our most important sense. We love our job because we cover so many areas it is never boring. We are always learning about new technologies and developments in Eye care and health. We are excited by positive outcomes of solutions we create for our customers and surgeries that improve a patient’s vision. We get excited when we see a frame rep with new models of eyewear that we can show our customers, and can’t wait to call people when their glasses are ready so they can show them off.

It’s not an easy job, but I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing. This qualification has led me to many different opportunities over the years including fashion events, Sales repping, International work and experiences, training, meeting some amazing life-long friends and helping me wake up with a purpose every single day.

The Australian Optical Industry is evolving

What our industry needs now is new blood. We need new go-getters with a passion and drive to exceed where others won’t even think of looking. We need people that want to help people and make a difference to the elite athlete, the 70 year old with cataracts and your next door neighbour who just started school. We are the ones that get to have fun with our customers and build long term relationships. I often get asked why I haven’t gone into Optometry and I always answer the same – that I’d miss having fun out on the floor with my customers! The best people in this role can read customers well and quickly and adapt themselves to any situation. They have an interest in constant learning and an eye for fashion.

img_7518Independent Optometry practices are always looking for that next special person to bring into our industry. Independent Optometry practices are the best places to learn because you will be shown the knowledge based on the Industry, not just a brand. They have time to invest in you and genuinely want you to enjoy your work. They care for their customers and staff like family, as this role does take a lot of you into it, but you also get a lot out. If you’re interested in seeing what this role entails, drop into your local Independent practice and ask if you can make a time to talk to them about it.

Sometimes we have to read, be told or run accidently into something to see that it’s a path worth pursuing. Let me tell you that if you’re still reading this now and are looking for a change, THIS IS YOUR SIGN 😉

PS I was offered the Role at the Real Estate agency as well, but luckily I followed my gut instinct and went into the Optical Industry. And I have never looked back.

Em xox

The Eyewear Girl: Australian Eyewear Advocate

Say the word ‘Influencer’ and you get a very mixed reaction from almost every audience. The most well known type of influencer is a fashion or travel influencer, who you see sharing stunning pictures every day in the world’s most exotic places, and wearing the latest fashion trends and making their pages look like a dream. Generally, Influencers are given products or services to promote on their social media pages. The more followers, comments and likes they get on each post raises their profile to online marketers, making them more attractive to companies wanting to promote their products. It’s kind of like a popularity contest; those with the most unique profiles or have something unique to offer do really well. Influencers make their money by the amount of business they create around the products or services they are promoting. For example, clicking a link from a bloggers page to a product website, using a discount code form an influencers page when you purchase something, following a brand on the recommendation of an influencer etc. These are all traceable KPI’s for an influencer paid by the companies that own the product or service and some have made a fantastic living out of it over time.

This is very much not me.

 

The Eyewear Girl only started in Jan 2019, so I’m still in the building stage – however things are going so much better than I expected it won’t be long before I’m aiming for even bigger platforms. But ‘influencer’? Not sure it sits that well with me, I feel like more of an ‘Advocate’, but the term influencer is hot right now and internationally, people know what you mean. So, let’s get real. A lot of people over the last month have asked me what I actually do. I am just a normal person working a full time job to pay the bills. That being said, I  LOVE the industry and am obsessed with eyewear so my passion runs a lot deeper than a ‘job’; It’s part of who I am.

So, why become an  ‘Influencer’?

Anyone in the Optical Industry knows the last 5-10 years have been incredibly tough for the Independent practice. Many have closed, many fight to stay open, others have been forced to hone in on their niche and refused to be pushed around. Not only have optical chains have taken over our shopping strips, our shopping centres, and a percentage of our independent stores, but also the advertising marketplace Australia wide. Possibly the hardest thing over this time period for Independent practice owners is that the end consumer generally has no idea what has been happening to our industry and what effect it has on them.

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Our Independent practices have had their values questioned, quality products branded as ‘over priced’, and professional identity stolen. Any one of these things could be a tough blow on any business, but all three together is an absolute nightmare.

With the mass media introduction of ‘packages’, ‘designer brands’ and ‘premium lenses’ being advertised EVERYWHERE for AUD$199 or similar, it’s ridiculous to think that the end consumer wouldn’t take notice. And so they should: that is a massive price difference from the premium lens and frame package you would get at an independent practice. WE know why – the customer doesn’t.

Those of us in stores have been forced to explain to our customers the difference in quality, that the words ‘designer brands’ have a lot of different meanings and that premium lenses at each business can mean something completely different. Some customers are happy to ask, listen and take on board the discussion seriously. A large amount of them nod their heads, but are thinking to themselves ‘ this is just an overpriced business trying to rip me off’. The newer generations go online and don’t even hesitate; they are more likely to go with what they like the look and price of without being too concerned about where the product comes from. This is what shopping in 2019 is. (PS sorry for the generalisations, but, you see my point.)

So, what does the Independent practice need to do to stay afloat? They need to know their identity and stick to it unapologetically. They need to sell value rather than brands, service over gimmicks and create relationships rather than the sale of one pair of glasses.

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I realised just how bad the situation was when my own friends and family were spending large amounts of money on eyewear but had absolutely no idea what they had just paid for. I found quotes for lenses with all kinds of extras including Multicoats, Photochromic material, High index materials and the like NOT split out on the quote – customers are being told that this one price (including everything- whether they want it or not) is what is ‘recommended’ for them. Over a 6 month period of investigating this, I found that a lot of these quotes were not from Independents, but unfortunately, SOME were.

Have we as an overall industry given up caring? Are we under-trained? Have we lost the ability to put customer care first? Whatever it is, our customers deserve better. They deserve to know what their options are. To be given thorough and correct information about their vision needs. They deserve to know exactly what they are paying for and why.

THIS is why I started The Eyewear Girl.

I wanted to build a platform for shoppers to see what options they actually have when it comes to eyewear. I wanted to elevate the independent practice again by highlighting the quality and value in good quality products and services. I wanted to build a space where consumers can be inspired to ask whatever questions they have about eyewear, or anything in optics where they know they will get a completely honest and unbiased answer.

And I am so happy to say it has worked. In The Eyewear Girls short lifetime I have created a platform where consumers and dispensers alike are learning about each other. People are wanting to learn more and are reaching out to understand our industry. Consumers are gaining confidence in loving eyewear and appreciating value in quality products over budget ‘fast-fashion’ chain stores. Don’t get me wrong, I actually believe there is a need for both at some level, but the public has a right to make an educated decision on what THEY value in their eyecare.

Across all of my platforms which include Instagram, Facebook and my website, my main goals are these:

–          To show off the beautiful products we have available in our country.

–          Explain and educate value in quality products, service and pricing.

–          To be an independent advocate for the Independent Eyewear Industry.

I value quality eyecare and eyewear because I have seen the differences from both sides of the coin. From the front of stores, to marketing and wholesale, I can explain the whole story. I educate by using my own images, tips, trends tech info, blogs, stories and full articles covering everything a consumer could want to know. And it’s fun! I love creating excitement and energy around anything that promotes good health.

I’m working with wholesalers to showcase their products to a wider audience. This gives their brand more recognition and exposure. I’m also working with practices to upskill their staff on high-end sales, dispensing lenses, relationships with customers and negotiating negative feedback. But, possibly the most important thing I’m doing is being a neutral face for the end consumer to be inspired, learn, ask questions and re-gain confidence in the independent practice.

The more exposure I get to brands and products, events, stores and the world of optics in general, the more detailed my information and platform can be and the more we all learn how best to move this industry forward. I am constantly looking for brands and wholesalers to work with. In the very near future I will be available for store VIP events as a ‘style consultant’ which will add another level to these promotions. I’m always interested in public speaking and corporate events and will be moving into training opportunities moving forward.

How can you help?

–          If you’re a wholesaler reach out – let’s talk.

–          If you’re a store, send me a message about your particular issues and eyewear needs, whatever they are.

–          If you’re a customer, be open and willing to learn and give honest feedback.

Because this is essentially an online business, engagement really matters. Every single like, comment, follow and share makes a huge difference to the exposure I get worldwide at the end of the day. So please share and tag as much as you like! If you’re ever not sure how, just shoot me a message.

So what does being an ‘influencer’ actually mean? It’s different for every person. I just want to share my love and passion for beautiful eyewear, and hopefully inspire consumers and dispensers alike to get excited about the options and opportunities out there in the Optical world.

The Eyewear Girl x

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World Eyewear Day

June 6th is World Eyewear Day. I’m not exactly sure when this started, but I think it’s a significant day that shows how far we have come in recognising Eyewear and Eyecare around the world.

Glasses are no longer seen as a negative requirement. In 2019 glasses are as much of a fashion statement as they are a health requirement, and many people choose to have more than one pair not out of necessity, but out of fashion.

Designers are pushing the boundaries with new material combinations, embellishments and techniques and each day more people are recognising that many of these designers are in fact artists: there are frame manufacturer’s, but there are also true artistic designers. This is where the passion is growing and I think its fantastic that they are starting to get the recognition they deserve.

Lenses, lens materials, designs and quality have also come quite a long way over the last 10 years, and now there are a whole catalogue of options for wearers so their purchases can be completely customised for whatever lifestyle requirements they have. No more adjusting your lifestyle for your lenses 😉

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So how is it that in this time of emergence and appreciation for details, quality and artistic flair, that the independent optometry practices are still fighting to stand their ground against the corporate eyewear machines?

I believe it comes down to awareness and education. Firstly for all of those that work in the industry, and then also our end consumers.

Speaking specifically Australia now, we have seen a shift in businesses hiring people into their business as ‘sales people’ rather than Optical dispensers over the last couple of years. If your business is struggling financially this might make sense up front, but in the long term you’re setting yourself up for a tough time as your staff struggle to explain to your customers the benefits of an independent practice over the corporate big brand named products.

Putting an emphasis on the amount of knowledge you require of your staff from the beginning will only help them grasp the importance of the role and if you have the correct people in your team, they will love the technical side of the job and finding there is always something new to learn and pass onto their customers. If your business is focused on health care, you will hire dispensers. If you are focused on retail, you will most likely have sales staff and end up fighting a battle that is almost impossible to win.

The more we educate the public on what their options are, the better its going to be for our independent practices.

Too many glasses wearers don’t actually know what they have paid for.When I did a little investigative groundwork, a lot of the sales staff couldn’t explain to me correctly either.

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For example, I went in with a friend of mine when she wanted to purchase new glasses and deliberately kept my identity as ‘a friend’. She was your typical customer: this was her 2nd pair of glasses, had an idea of what she wanted in terms of frames and didn’t want to spend a fortune as these would be a spare pair for the shed and were guaranteed to get thrown around outside quite a bit.

Long story short, the sales assistant

– didn’t ask my friend what she wanted in a frame but started to show her ones SHE liked

– went on to give her a quote without discussing lens options.

Is trues that my friend has an extremely basic SV Stock RX, but there was no discussion on what they would be used for, if she required high index, photochromic etc. The quote included a Multicoat which was not explained at all as they went through the costs. When I questioned why the lenses were $90 more than we were quoted last week, she said it was for the Multicoat. When I asked what that was, she replied a coating to help the vision that the Optometrist recommended….which I went on to say was quite weird as my friend had her eyes examined elsewhere and had brought her prescription in. That made things a little awkward !

My point is that this isn’t an isolated incident. On a daily basis I hear of far too many instances of customers being over-quoted, under-explained and not listened to at all. And, most of the time, these instances are occurring at the big corporates and chains.

THIS is what is making it difficult for independent practices, as the general public are quick to assume that we are all the same. Clearly, we are not. But how would they know? If we keep quite, they will just go online to avoid spending too much money on something they don’t want anyway.

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So, this World Eyewear Day, lets focus on the independent practices that value true Eyecare. That value their customers and appreciate that customising each individual experience is true care, and the dollar value will come if the service is right.

World eyewear day is about showing there are those of us out here that have the consumers best interests at heart, and that want out dispensers to have the best training and exposure to the industry as possible.

The eyewear industry isn’t going anywhere – people will always need glasses. Its the way we help them understand what they are purchasing that is going to give us longevity in our businesses.

So Today, and everyday, make your voice heard. Show that you care and that we are ‘not all the same’. Put value on your staff and your products. Remember that passion is contagious – they way you communicate your services and your products to your customers is the way they will learn about who you are.

M.