By Troy Patterson

Vision Canada 2016 brought together a tight group of optical professionals to network, educate and put faces to the names they deal with so regularly online, or over the phone.

The Nov. 4-6, 2016 event brought in many attendees from across Canada to the Airport Marriott Hotel for the annual convention & trade show, hosted by the Opticians Association of Canada, which alternates between a venue in the East and West each year.

Friday night of the event the OAC hosted the 5th annual ‘Students Meet Students’ Mixer for all students enrolled in an accredited Optical Training Program.

Students enjoyed musical entertainment, cocktails and appetizers in a fun and relaxed atmosphere. They also had a chance to meet students and faculty from other Optical Training Programs, representatives from the provincial and national Optician Associations and experts in the field of Opticianry.

Vision Canada’s two-day line-up of educational presentations and workshops were aimed towards professional development of Opticians. The presentations and workshops at Vision Canada are fully accredited across Canada, helping attendees meet their CE and professional development requirements.

Presenters like optical consultant Jackie O’Keefe, gave educational presentations, with her focus on opticians crafting their sales strategies around their customer needs.

O’Keefe said promoting multiple types of glasses for professionals, from truckers to office workers, to targeting age demographics ranging from millennials to baby boomers, would allow opticians to demonstrate the variety of lenses that are available to aid patients. It would also provide business opportunities to educate patients and expand what they provide, from computer glasses, to driving,

“It’s all based on the answers they give about who they are and what they like to do,” O’Keefe said, adding much of this information is given freely just by speaking with patients about their needs, their lives and what they need from eyewear. “Find our what is their passion. Listen to what they are telling you, because it will matter.”

When participants weren’t attending presentations and workshops, the trade show showcased many exhibitors from across the country, as well as the event’s centrepiece Virtual Reality demonstrations, which provided both entertainment, as well as an opportunity for opticians to see the potential for future use in their practices.

“We’ve always looked for ways to show off our lenses and technology, so we’re trying to give our retailers and suppliers some ways they can show consumers what we’re dealing with,” said Grant Larsen, president of Digital Eyecare Professional (ECP), who was happy to show off the variety of Virtual Reality (VR) demonstrations that were available as a trade show highlight, as well as at the Essilor booth. “You can get them to really feel what it’s like to try out progressive lenses.”

The ‘Nautilus’ headset by Essilor was one of the virtual reality products showcased at their booth, across from the other VR demonstrations, which will give both optical retailers and others how to experience various lens styles and products, “without actually trying them on.”

“You can also see it’s tremendously fun and immersive,” he said. “It might be a year ahead of its time, but you’re going to start to see retailers use this not only on their websites, but demonstrating products in-store. That’s how they’re going to compete with online companies, because they’re already using this technology.”

The trade show exhibit also provides attendees with networking opportunities, fun events and give-aways. By offering opportunities to meet and greet, socialize and share information, attendees are able to both expand their professional contacts and develop lasting relationships with other companies.

“It’s important for us to be here because we get to meet our members – they’re just not a voice on the telephone,” said Stephanie Martin of The Optical Group, adding that she heard a lot of good stories from members who visited their booth. “When they see us at these shows, it puts the group into perspective for them. And for new members taking part for the education portion, they get information from us if they’re going to open their individual store.”

Dreamcatcher Eyewear‘s general manager Eathan Kim said his company is fairly new to the market, and visitors showed a great deal of interest in their circle frames, and other styles the Toronto-based company had to offer.

“Canada is a country made of entrepreneurs,” said Kim. “Our biggest industry in numbers is micro-businesses and we’re definitely a part of that in a sense. We want to do that, so while we’re pursuing our dreams, hopefully with the success that follows we can also inspire other youths and Canadians to pursue their dreams as well, and work with the Optical Association in building on that momentum.”

Karen Ouellette of Digital ECP said people enjoyed the show, the seminars and appreciate the suppliers coming out to support them.

“It gives us exposure to the opticians,” Ouellette said. “Some of them aren’t aware what their choices are in the marketplace. So it gives us a chance to meet with them and explain our services and how we can help them grow as a business.”

It was also a chance for many people to meet the people representing a variety of eyewear styles and options in an intimate setting, where they had time to chat and share stories.

“People are really amazed by the styles and everything and like the show in general,” Stephane Lemieux of Audace Eyewear. “I did make great contacts, so I’m very happy.”

“It’s a pleasure to be here in Toronto, meeting buyers and reps,” said Sarah El Harar, designer of Willow Mae Eyewear of Montreal. “We’re a line for petite women, we do colourful, trendy, eclectic, acetate frames and based in Montreal.”

Meetings of the Opticians Council of Canada, National Association of Canadian Optician Regulators, Canadian Association of Optical Educators and the Opticians Association of Canada all took place in conjunction with Vision Canada.

Representatives from all across Canada meet face-to-face in one place to discuss relevant issues affecting of our profession.

Elaine Grisdale, head of professional services and international development for the Association of Dispensing British Opticians shared her knowledge with many at the conference, with a message for opticians to be reactive, and change their scope of practice to adapt to the growing needs in the optical field.

“There are best practices we both can share,” Grisdale said.

Low vision within the Canadian population will see rapid expansion in the coming years, she said, along with an increased need for opticians qualified to work with patients. Grisdale said as the Baby Boomer generation continues to age, low vision needs will follow the boom they caused in sectors like bifocals and other vision services.

Grisdale said the OAC annual general meeting made note of the focus on low vision services in the coming years, which she’s also communicating to opticians in her travels.

“You need to start to look at what going happen in the future and start taking action now to be able to cope with demand in a few years time,” Grisdale said, adding it’s a generational change that the industry must respond to. “You’re going to need more low vision services. It’s a bit of a niche at the moment, everybody does it in their training and feels confident because they don’t see a lot of patients during their career. But now it’s going to really explode.”

Macular degeneration, vision aids, diabetic-linked vision loss are just a few of the conditions opticians should expect to see an increase in. Opticians can also look at pediatric dispensing, contact lenses, and other niche services to help them stay competitive in the changing markets.

“People will need to change focus, maybe specialize more, differentiate to get ahead in the game now,” she said. “What we’ve seen in the UK is the chains have a stranglehold at the bottom of the market, while independents and small groups need to specialize to prevent being squeezed out. The chains are going to erode into the middle ground.”

Specialist services will also be in higher demand to compete with the lower-cost chain services, as well as the increasing pressure from online markets.

For more information on the Opticians Association of Canada, visit www.opticians.ca

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