BIDISHA RUDRA is executive director at Essilor IDD Managed Care, Dallas, Texas.
Optical Lab Products (OLP) interviews Bidisha Rudra, executive director, Essilor IDD Managed Care Labs
OLP: What’s the strategy behind Essilor’s Independent Distribution Division?
BIDISHA RUDRA: Essilor of America manufactures and distributes optical lenses in the U.S. We offer progressive, no-glare and ophthalmic lenses; soft contact lenses; and optical supplies, coatings and sun protection glasses to eyecare practitioners in the U.S.
Within Essilor of America, we operate an optical laboratory network, Essilor Labs of America (ELOA) with more than 128 optical laboratories across the nation, which serves eyecare practitioners in the U.S. In addition, ELOA offers education and training programs and business management support services.
Besides our fully owned lab network, we have a separate division called IDD, which is the Independent Distribution Division. This independent division was formed in 2004 and led by Bob Colucci, president of IDD. IDD is dedicated to growing the market by providing technologically advanced products and services to independent labs.
We have relationships with approximately 379 labs that run independently in the U.S. Of those, 105 are Varilux distributors that have a contractual agreement with us, which enables them to sell our entire premium branded products, such as Varilux, Crizal, Definity and Xperio UV.
We have approximately 80 Crizal distributors who have a contractual agreement to sell our premium Crizal branded products only. Our goal is to partner with the independent laboratories, leveraging their unique and individual strengths with Essilor’s premium brands to grow the premium lens categories.
OLP: What are the criteria for becoming an IDD lab?
RUDRA: Any wholesale laboratory that wants to sell our products can become an IDD lab. They must have a sound financial standing as an organization. They have to agree with the pricing that we offer. They also should not have any retail outlet associated with them.
OLP: Does the number of labs change, or has it been pretty much the same labs for years?
RUDRA: The number has been quite constant for the last few years. We lose a few independent labs because of acquisition by either Essilor or by other manufacturers. But we also see new independent labs emerging in the market. However, the very viable, financially solvent, strong independent labs are here to stay, and even though we may lose a couple or so labs a year, we also gain a few new ones. Hence, the overall number of labs has remained constant for the last several years.
OLP: Are there any new initiatives; what changes are in store for IDD labs?
RUDRA: Being a very customer-centric organization, we are always trying to understand the pulse of the customer and what they need. With the changing needs of consumers, we’re working closely with our customers with a strong B2B2C model. Consumer needs are changing, and adjusting to the changes in their lifestyles. Hence, our customer (labs) needs are also changing. To be more competitive and have a stronger foothold in the marketplace, we are trying to empower our customers at IDD Labs with the right products, right tools and the right messaging. So we are offering not only technologically advanced products, but we are also offering sales and technical support. We have a dedicated technical services team that provides on-site technical support, extended technology installation support, as well as training to drive lab efficiency.
We have also developed a new app for the sales forces of our IDD labs called “EyeSell.” It’s a new tool used for applying game mechanics to non-game contexts in order to boost engagement and successful end-results. When it comes to sales success, it depends on the reps’ behaviors. Behaviors drive activity, and that is why we developed this app. This app has been developed to give the reps training to prepare them for sales activity and then reward them for conducting activity that drives business. Many of our customers have signed onto this program and are already witnessing strong sales and profitable growth.
OLP: What other benefits, such as marketing assistance, do you provide to IDD labs?
RUDRA: Yes, in terms of marketing, we provide several programs. Essilor is proud to invest in the national consumer advertising and marketing campaigns. To our IDD customers, we provide marketing/analytical support with ECP segmentation, customer service initiatives, trend analysis and consultation to retain existing accounts and gain new accounts. We regularly offer in-office merchandising, product detailing and positioning support, demonstration tools and kits, and a library of literature and white papers on our products and clinical evidence on their superiority.
We also announced at our national sales meeting in Colorado Springs that we will be back this year with another consumer incentive program, the Power of Vision, which offers rebates to consumers. But this time we have also introduced a 0% financing option for the purchase.
In terms of educational support, we have an online platform called “EyeTrain.com,” which is an online portal. There are courses on how to dispense our products, understand the benefits of our products, how to develop an elevator speech to sell our products, how to maximize profitability, how to overcome the hurdle of the price barrier that might be in a consumer’s mind and more. We provide this training opportunity exclusively to our IDD customers.
OLP: What has been your personal background in the field?
RUDRA: I joined Essilor in 2006. I’ve been with Essilor 11 years now and have worn different hats within the organization. I joined Essilor to lead the market research and data analytics team. I was in the financial sector before joining the optical industry. I managed the data analytics team for about seven years, and then I got an amazing opportunity to go as an expatriate to Singapore. I was there for roughly two years on the corporate strategy team, reporting into Essilor International. I collaborated with our Asian subsidiaries in developing five-year growth plans. At the end of the assignment, I came back to Dallas and joined as the marketing director for IDD, supporting Bob Colucci.
Last year, when Steve Mills, RVP for managed care lab sales retired, I was offered the opportunity to take over his position. I’m very happy and honored to be entrusted with this role and new responsibility. Our IDD business is divided into two big parts – Wholesale Lab Sales, which is headed by Shon Bjornberg, and Managed Care Lab Sales, which is now my responsibility. We have great partnerships with key managed vision care labs, and they are an integral part of our IDD sales. So, to be involved in this business and add value to the organization is a big opportunity for me.
I’m really privileged to be a part of this family. Eleven years ago, I had received a cold call from a recruiter from Essilor, and I said, “Essilor, what’s Essilor? I have not heard about Essilor.” And then I did some research and realized that they’re the number one ophthalmic lens leader in the market, and I was so impressed.
Of course, now Essilor is no longer an unknown entity for consumers due to our continued investment in national campaigns and advertising in the last few years.
Since I joined Essilor, I’ve never looked back. I find that the vision industry as a whole is a very well-knit family. Once you join, you become a part of the extended family; you end up knowing everybody here.
OLP: When you were marketing director for the IDD group, what kind of marketing did you do?
RUDRA: The Leaders Challenge and Eye Train are funded by the marketing department. We provide the tools and the ammunition to our business partners to launch products. Last year, when we launched Eyezen, we worked with one of our customers on a program called Customer Segmentation. We helped them divide the market into the Millennials and the Baby Boomers so they would know which segment to go after. Instead of trying to throw the dart in the dark, we developed a more tailored, customized approach toward the customer segments. So that’s something we did, providing a personalized marketing plan based on analytical insights and specific needs of the lab’s business. We also provided customized promotions to help the lab stand out from the competition and maximize profitability.
OLP: What else would you like OLP’s readers to know about Essilor and the IDD division?
RUDRA: We are very fortunate to have a strong and sustainable relationship with the IDD lab partners. It’s always a win-win situation for both of us. We’re enriched with good partnerships, and our labs help us sell our premium products and services. As I mentioned earlier, we not only provide them with products; we also provide services in how to sell those products and offer continuous technological support to our labs. Very few other manufacturers are providing their customers with this kind of support. If an independent lab becomes our partner, they are assured of seamless end-to-end support for our products and services to better support their customers, who then provide best-in-class products and services to the patients with eyecare needs. With our advertising campaigns and exclusive in-office promotions, we help drive patients into practices, ensuring patient loyalty and empowering long-term growth.