It seems as if lately our industry has been under attack by members of the media (not the optical trade). Major newspapers and magazines, such as Forbes and the LA Times, have said that our industry is dying, online is taking over and that we are just trying to take advantage of the consumer. Of course, anyone in the industry knows that this is not true and the individuals making these statements are not well versed in the field, biased, or jumping on the proverbial bandwagon. There is a reason for this negative press and that is bad things happen quickly, and therefore fit into a news bite easier, whereas good things occur in a building process. Think about the lab you work with for example. The lab may send you 98 out of 100 jobs correctly, but you definitely remember those 2 jobs you have to remake. So, how do you deal with this skewed perception and how do you help your staff prepare for any questions they may get from the consumer.
Talk to your staff
It seems like a no brainer, but it is surprising how often we forget to have a simple conversation about what is going on in the industry. Bring the articles to their attention. Explain to them who the author is, what their role is in the industry and why they are incorrect. For example, a recent article in an economic magazine was stated that eyewear retail is going to have an extinction event in the near future. The contributing author is very intelligent, has a stellar reputation in mergers and acquisitions, and is extremely knowledgeable in computer programming and online retailing. His forecast is that brick and mortar eyewear will be replaced by online. If you look at his background, and his unconscious bias due to his comfort level, this is a reasonable assumption on his part. However, those of us who are familiar with the brick and mortar concept in optical know that it will never go away but that the model will have to shift to differentiate itself.
Don’t let the news get away from you and get broadsided by a consumer bringing the articles to your attention. Subscribe to industry publications, join societies, and visit reputable social media groups on a regular basis. If you are aware of an article beforehand you can minimize any negative impact that the opinion may have on the consumer.
The Application of Knowledge is Power
One of the legitimate criticism of many articles is that our knowledge is too easily influenced by the marketing materials that we get from vendors and suppliers. This is not unique to the eyecare field but it is something that we should each be working on. Expand upon what you get from suppliers and research journals for scientific studies, read technical publications and invest in books that explain the basics and science behind lens design so that you can understand and answer the tough questions. When the supplier is wrong, tell them. Like any of us, they too sometimes go too far in believing the hype and will respond to legitimate challenges like most adults do, with contrition and corrections.
Transparency is Key
The optical industry, like any other industry, is not perfect. Many articles, even when inaccurate or biased, does shed light on some issues that we have in our industry. Just like the lab that had the two incorrect jobs, we have incorrect ideas and practices in our field. Realize this and work to improve them. If a consumer asks you about them, acknowledge that it does occur in the field but then also explain how you are different without throwing other aspects of the industry under the bus. Remember, that while transparency is good, any overt criticism of other facets of retail may be construed as a negative reflection on you and it is best to stay as factual as possible.