Gain a Competitive "Edge"

By Oliver Lou, O.D., Cedar Park, Texas

My belief is that the sooner you can have an edger in your practice, the better. The reasons:

It meets patients’ desire for convenience. Investing in an edger for your practice can help you capitalize on the instant gratification your patients expect to receive. Though some patients may say they don’t mind waiting a week or two for their glasses, I’ve often seen them smile with surprise when we tell them their glasses will be ready in an hour or less, thanks to our in-office edger.

It helps you compete with optical retailers. In this day and age when there are more competitors than ever, whether online or retail, it is nice to offer the convenience and time advantage of being able to make glasses in an hour or less.

Also, my patients don’t have to spend time in their cars driving to multiple retailers who can’t offer them the combination of speed and service that we can.

In addition, they don’t have to wait for glasses to be shipped, particularly if they were to purchase them online. (I find many of my patients much more open to what we offer when I tell them we can finish their glasses in less than an hour.)

Having an optician with a mechanical inclination is a necessity before purchasing an edger.

It saves and makes you money. If your practice can edge four pairs of glasses a day, I estimate that you will save $120 a day (or $600 a week on an average five-day week) from external optical lab costs, including edging, polishing, tinting, mounting and shipping.

Also, if you are selling and edging that many glasses, your practice should at least sell one more pair of glasses a week, because you offer a fast turnaround time (assuming a modest $200 profit for that extra pair sold). The extra $800 a week in savings and profit equates to roughly $3,400 a month.

These estimates are on the conservative side, as my practice edges an average of 15 pairs of lenses a day. I’ve calculated that we save approximately $30 per pair of glasses that we edge ($450 a day, or about $9,000 a month). And, shipping frames to a lab and having them ship it back costs a lot more than paying for a shipment of stock lenses every two to three days.

In fact, I owned an edger on the first day of my practice and found it was so valuable that, in the eighth year of my practice, I purchased a second edger. I believe so strongly in this, that four years ago we stopped accepting any vision plan that wouldn’t allow us to at least make single vision lenses same day with our own optical lab.

While I believe you will see these benefits, you must have the following in place before purchasing an edger.

1 A skilled optician

Having an optician with a mechanical inclination is a necessity before having an edger. An optician’s salary may cost $2,500 a month. However, if an optician averages four edging jobs a day, he/she should still be available most of the day for other optician duties, such as frame styling, adjusting, dispensing, repairs and filing insurance. This means the edging portion of an optician’s time may cost you approximately $1,000 a month, which is well worth the expense. In addition, the savings associated with having an edger has also helped to cover the expenses of a lab optician.

2 Practice space

You need roughly four feet of countertop space and access to an electrical outlet. Also, if you choose an edger that requires water, you may need a four-foot space under the counter to hold a drain bucket, and have some access to a nearby sink or water supply.

3 Established cash flow

It’s nice to have at least an extra $2,000 or more before taking on this investment. I believe the investment should pay off within the first month or two, but you don’t want your cash flow to become negative before then. Obtaining a stock inventory of semi-finished lens blanks could cost anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000 but certainly can be built slowly and incrementally. Additionally, financing a $30,000 edger through five years may cost up to $600 a month. The three main costs — the edger, stock lenses and proportional optician salary — are well below the $3,400 a month savings and profit you’ll obtain. But having a little extra cash flow helps until you fully start achieving your savings and profit.

Increase your capture rate

Four years ago, my practice started making a concerted effort to let each patient know we have our own in-house optical finishing lab. We have seen our optical capture rate climb from 51% four years ago to more than 60% this year, while the national trend of optical capture rate in private practice optical dispensaries continues to inch downward.

My most tenured optician estimates that we sell one more pair of glasses a day because we can deliver same-day single vision glasses. And while we can’t generate multifocal lenses yet, we are seriously looking into that technology as well, because finishing uncut multifocal lenses can save up to a week of turnaround time.

If you own the optical part of your practice, I feel an investment into an edger is a great way to improve your practice. Many practices may be ready for an edger, and I’m certain many practice owners are not as far away as they think and can start preparing to purchase an edger. OM

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