Robert Bell: Why Are Glasses So Expensive?

advice from optical sales consultant Robert Bell

How this question launched a new selling system for ECPs

This article originally appeared in the January 2015 edition of INVISION.

Here’s the true story that led me to create an effective selling system specifically for doctors and opticians. Next month, look for the first article in a seven-part series, “The Science of Selling,” in which you’ll discover that selling isn’t what you think it is.

As I boarded a flight some years ago, I noticed my seatmate was a nicely dressed gentleman in his early 60s ... penny loafers, khaki pants, white button-down shirt, blue blazer. The only thing that was a bit off were the “frumpy” glasses he wore on top of his head while he read his paper.

We eventually engaged in conversation. “What do you do?” he asked.

“I’m in the eyecare business.”

He lit up! Like he caught the culprit, he demanded, “Why are eyeglasses so expensive?”


Now, keep in mind I grew up on the manufacturing side of the frame and lens business. I could’ve told him, step by step, the impressive design and fabrication stages these products go through. However, if I had, would he have listened beyond the first five seconds? Though I would’ve been “right,” he would have perceived it as someone trying to justify the “outrageous” expense of his glasses. So, I went in the opposite direction. I started asking questions.

“May I see your glasses?” He handed them to me. High myope, single vision, no AR, zyl frame (from a company I knew well).

“You bought these about two years ago?”

“Yes, how’d you know?”

“Because I do. And you paid, what, about $175?”

“Yeah, how’d you know?”

“Because I do. And you think $175, two years ago for these glasses, was too expensive?”


Telling is the
antithesis to
successful selling.
Personally, I
really didn’t tell
him a thing!

“OK. Tell ya what, as a representative of my industry, I feel awful that you feel you’ve been ripped off.” I slapped down $500 on his tray table. “I’m going to buy your glasses from you for $500.”

“Sure, what’s the catch?”

“Well, there are two conditions. First, you cannot see any eyecare professional for two years.”

“OK.” (Scary, right?)

“Second, you cannot wear glasses, contact lenses, reading glasses, sunglasses ... anything that would enhance your vision...” With alarm, he exclaimed: “Are you crazy?? I’m blind without these things!!”

“And?” I gently held his gaze.

Chuckling, he said, “I guess they weren’t that expensive after all.”

“What else?”

“What do you mean?”

“I dunno. Do you ever misplace them?”


“Happen often?”

“All the time.”

“Bother you?”

“It’s a pain in the ass!”

“What do you think you should do about that?”

Laughing, he said, “Maybe I should get a backup pair?”

“If that’s what you think is best.”

There’s more to the story as I led him in the direction of multifocals and sunglasses. How? I kept asking questions based on his anger and “pain.” (His pain wasn’t the cost of glasses; it very rarely is!)

I referred him to an OD where he ended up buying three pairs of glasses. Folks, this was on an airplane, and it took me less than five minutes to get him to see the worth of his eyewear and vision.

But what stuck with me was when he asked, “How come no one at my eye doctor’s office ever told me this?”

The fact is, they just may have told him all of this and more. But telling is the antithesis to successful selling. Personally, I really didn’t tell him a thing! I just asked him a series of strategic questions in which he had the answers and I didn’t. Once he heard himself respond, only then did he have the right information to move forward.

ROBERT BELL believes in “uncommon sense,” inside-out thinking and challenging the status quo of traditional selling methods. He is the founder of EyeCoach and created The EyeCoach Selling System specifically for ECPs. In addition, he is co-director for Project Homeless Connect-Vision Volunteers in San Francisco. For more information, email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .