Close to the Eye Care Practitioner and a Difficult Launch Decision

One particularity of the ophthalmic business is the fact, that the product is not sold directly to the end user but to the dispenser, i.e.  to the optician or more generally to the eye care practitioner (ECP, in the US, for example, spectacle lenses are also sold by optometrists and ophthalmologists). The optician fits the lens in the frame in the correct physiological- optical position in front of the eyes. To support the optician’s work, the product  development department was also in charge to prepare the technical devices for the correct prescription and adaptation of a new lens type and to write the marketing brochures explaining the lenses and providing the optician with the arguments to sell the product to the wearer. This was an extraordinary experience obliging me to analyze and understand  the market situation and to define together with the sales and marketing people the market positioning of the  product. To this end I was in continuous and close contact with opticians and their professional associations. There were two associations in Germany at that time, the ZVA an organization defining and representing the professional goals and the WVAO developing the scientific technical expertise. Almost every week I held a lecture for one of the regional groups of the WVAO about the various products Rodenstock was developing and selling. For me more important than the lecture was the opportunity to meet the opticians afterwards with a glass of wine.  So I learned much about the needs of our customers, their concerns and their way of thinking. This experience was extremely helpful for my future occupation in marketing. As a result of this intense lecture activity I was nominated extraordinary member by the WVAO, not evident for a non- optician.

A major topic of these evening lectures was the introduction of Progressiv R, explaining its characteristics and its advantages for the optician’s work and for the comfort of the wearer. Before its launch we encountered however an unexpected problem. The new CNC manufacturing process of the progressive surface was ready to build up the stock for the launch, when one of the experts of the development department discovered a tiny systematic cosmetic irregularity in the polished surface, the “ Anschnitt”.  It was caused by the first stroke of the grinding process and was still visible after the polishing . Visible for the experienced eye of the expert who had to assess customer claims using rather sophisticated evaluation conditions. Nobody of the test wearers had criticized this irregularity. The launch program was fixed, the marketing package was ready, a launch postponement meant loss of market share and turnover. The pressure from the sales people was very high. The manufacturing  organization and its quality experts considered the “Anschnitt” as acceptable, insisting that in the tests nobody had noticed the irregularity.

In recent past  Rodenstock’s spectacle lens development resources had been grouped together in the department Physiological Optics under my responsibility. As the technical experts in contact with the client we now had to approve the launch.  After a thorough discussion with Günther Guilino and the R&D quality experts we decided that as a challenger on the market we could not accept the risk and asked manufacturing to eliminate the problem before we would launch. We had some nasty discussions with the production people, but when we finally launched, at a delay of some months, we had a top quality product, ready to attack the  market leader Varilux . The new lens was a big success on the market and for some years Progressiv R was number 2 in the global PPL market share ranking.