A Day in the Life of a Mobile Optician with Sylvie Demers

        

An Interview with a Mobile Optician

Sylvie Demers,
Registered Optician,
Mobile Optician Services d’Opticien Mobile
Ottawa, Ontario

Over 20 years ago, Sylvie Demers walked into an optical store to apply for a job. She was hired on the spot and quickly moved up the ladder to become an eyewear consultant. When she first expressed interest in being an optician, she was told they were ‘a dying breed’. After leaving the field for seven years to work in customer service, she rejoined the optical world to find bilingual opticians were actually in high demand.

She decided to leave her young children behind to attend a 6-month intensive opticians course in another province. When she returned home, Sylvie became the manager for a new optical store and was able to help it become quickly profitable. Her actions did not go unnoticed and other stores headhunted her to work in the dispensary selling glasses. After job cuts, she took the plunge and started her own business as a mobile optician aiming to help people improve their sight in comfort of their homes or businesses.

In this interview, Sylvie shares what a day in her life as a mobile optician is like, how she got here, and why she loves her job.

Day in the Life of a Mobile Optician

The Essentials

What is your job description?

I am an eyecare professional who continues patient care after they see an optometrist or ophthalmologist. Typically, this means I am filling eyeglass and contact lens prescriptions to provide products that best suit the client’s needs.

What are your main tasks?

  • Recommending the best eyewear for everyone’s vision needs.
  • Continuing the sale’s process with a follow-up to ensure adaptation to their new products.
  • Providing after-sale care with routine adjustments, tune-ups, maintenance, cleaning, changing nose pads and performing minor repairs, all due to normal wear and tear.

What is your favourite task? Adjustments. I get obsessed about them! I can see a frame out of alignment on someone in the grocery store or at a family function a mile away! All I want to do is take off their glasses and straighten the frame so the person not only looks better but sees better too!

A Day in the Life of a Mobile Optician with Sylvie Demers

What is your salary?

$16 CAD per hour and up, depending on the location type.

An optician with several years experience can make over $50,000 CAD per year. Other factors to consider with the salary are the annual licensing fees from our governing bodies, opticians’ association fees, liability insurance, health, dental and travel benefits, retirement fund contributions, vacation time and sick days. Some companies will include some or all of these costs or benefits with your salary, which could make the take-home pay lesser; however, in the long term, you are ahead.

What education is required to be an optician?

Typically, a 2-year full-time college certification is required (4-year part-time programs also available), followed by supervised practicums with a licensed professional such as an optician or optometrist. Once the required hours and experience completed, students are eligible to write the national registration examinations which, if successful, allow them to practice as a Registered Optician.

What experience and other requirements are needed to be an optician?

Being comfortable talking with people is a tremendous asset; however, it is a skill that can be learned! Grade 12 maths and Grade 11 science are requirements for the training since it’s part of the fundamentals of optics.

What skills are useful for opticians? Excellent customer service including speaking clearly, being patient, and having excellent listening skills are definitely part of the job! You see people from all walks of life, so you have to be able to adapt to any situation.

What tools are used in your work?

We use several hand-held tools such as pliers, tweezers, clamps, cutters, measuring tools. There is also electrical equipment like frame warmers and a lensmeter. Helpful digital devices include a pupillometer and, more recently, tablets to obtain various precision measurements. There are also larger lab tools such as to an edger to cut down, edge, polish, bevel and drill holes in lenses. There are many other funky tools to discover: a drill press, solder clamps, dye baths and so on.

Day in the Life of an Optician with Sylvie Demers

What is it like?

What is your workplace like?

My home office is set up just the way I like with my desk and a little ‘shop’ set up in the closet with current patient trays and a filing cabinet. Plus I have packing, office, and extra optical supplies for everyday use.

My second workplace is my vehicle. In my SUV I can easily put two suitcases and 2-3 bins in the back. One suitcase has my most used tools and products, one carries frames, and the bins have various other tools, equipment, and products just in case I need them. So no matter what situations arise, I can go get them.

What are your work hours like?

I offer services from 8 AM to 10 PM, 7 days a week, to accommodate the most availabilities. Usually, appointments are booked a few days ahead, during business hours from Monday to Friday. It can also happen that I get a call for same day adjustments, repairs consultation or eyewear adaptation issues.

What is the workload like?

In a day, I can have anywhere from 1-8 appointments for individuals. Some days I go in group settings such as activities in community centres, trade shows, open house events, fundraisers, or family & friend get-togethers where I can attend up to 200 people.

A Day in the Life of a Mobile Optician

Describe a typical work day if one exists. 

I get up and check my schedule for the day, preparing the equipment and patient files I need to bring. Then I map out my driving route for the day, ensuring to leave some leeway for traffic delays, additional unforeseen eyewear issues, or same days visit calls. I always carry plenty of drinks and food for the journey. And of course, my sunglasses.

At least once a week I stop by the optical lab to drop off or pick up orders.

What makes you different from other opticians?

My office changes every day! Never a dull moment.

I get to see people relaxed, communicative, and happy. They get exactly what they need without the hassle and stress of a salesperson or having to get out of their home or business. This is especially useful for employees who need help with either assessing their adaptation to new eyewear or visual stress caused by the long-term use of Video Display Terminals.

Career Story

What is your story? How did you get here?

During my last year of high school, my biggest talent was playing saxophone and performing in a band; however, it was very clear to me that teaching music was not my thing. With limited options for me and it being tough making it in the music business, I decided to take some time off school to find other passions.

I walked in my lifelong optical store and was hired on the spot. From receptionist, to frame stylist, to eyewear consultant, I quickly learned the ropes and loved helping customers. I wanted to be an optician; however, was ill-advised that opticians were a dying breed.

Then, I left the field for 7 years and gained excellent Customer Service Representative experience and training working in a busy call centre for a large corporation. During that time I also had 2 wonderful children.

Day in the Life of an Optician

After my CSR position was outsourced overseas, I decided to give eyewear consulting a second chance. From the first day on the job, I felt like I was home! During the transition, I worked both jobs until I finally left the call centre and leaped back into what I loved best: eyeglasses.

Soon, I realized all my mentors had retired, opticianry was a stronger career choice than ever, and there was a desperate need for bilingual opticians. So, I returned to school, leaving behind my two kids, both under five years old, to attend the BC College of Optics 6-month intensive course. That’s where I purchased my first tool kit with the intention to help people in their homes as soon as I graduate.

Jumping through hoops afterward to transfer my certification to Ontario, I returned home to become a manager for a newly opened optical store. Earning 2 merits under my guidance, the new store quickly became profitable. After moving on to open another location, I was head hunted by a prominent local optometrist who owned 2 very successful clinics.

Day in the Life of an Optician

I took the plunge and merged over to optometry. There I saw more seniors and families than ever before. My love of helping the vulnerable and their busy families never dissipated. However, my place was in the dispensary, selling eyeglasses. After 5 years, cutbacks came down. It was now the time to take action!

I launched my own business as a mobile optician with the sole intention to help people in the comfort of their homes or businesses. A unique service in the Ottawa area, I started with that faithful toolkit and offered eyewear maintenance, troubleshooting and consulting. Now I’ve expanded to have an inventory of frames and provide a complete line of optical products.

What has been the biggest obstacle in your career?

The time I was told that opticians were a dying breed and will no longer be needed in the future. Only to return 7 years later with a shortage of bilingual opticians needed to fill the stores and offices, as required by our governing bodies of health care professionals.

What did you want to be when you were younger? A singer/musician. I still can’t sing; however, music is a big part of my everyday life and I am always supporting local talent.

The Big Questions

What is next for you?

Keep expanding! I envision a mobile vehicle with wheelchair accessibility, driving up to nursing homes, retirement residents, homes and businesses. I want to invite people to visit my ‘store on wheels’! All the while being available and able to bring frames in a suitcase for those who can not leave their residence.

Making clients happy as a mobile optician

What is your passion?

I come back for the people, every time! They are the reason I enjoy what I do and keep striving for their best vision. The amazing feedback I get when they are happy gives me joy. It brings me back to when I was a kid and saw better with every new pair of glasses.

What do you love most about your career?

The face my clients make when they see better with a new pair of glasses. The glow they get when the frames compliment them so well. The thankful words of appreciation after delivering a pair of glasses.

What would you change about your career?

The stigma that we are sales people. We are eyecare and eyewear professionals who have your best interests at heart. Sometimes it’s the managers and store owners who focus more on sales than the treatment of people’s visual demands, which is why clients appreciate my services.

A Day in the Life of an Optician

Advice for Future Opticians

What are useful traits for people considering your career?

Honesty, compassion, adaptability, quick thinking, resourcefulness, dependability, patience, independence. These traits are especially important in stores where you work alone for long hours.

What are useful abilities for people considering your career?

Great vision, fantastic dexterity, attention to detail, and an ability to work alone or with a team.

Advice for someone interested in being an optician?

You’ll love it! However, before enrolling in a course, spend a few days shadowing an optician to see what it’s like. You might realize a different role in the store would be a better fit for you. For instance, if you don’t like the customer interaction, but are a whiz at math, working in the lab to calculate the formulas to make the lenses might be your thing. You can also work in an optometrist office which has a different feel than an optical store.

Working with clients as a mobile optician

How will optical careers evolve in the next 5 years?

A lot more online ordering will be happening. It’s a great tool to view frames; however, nothing will replace confirming the fit for long-term comfort. In-person opticians can take accurate measurements, make adjustments, and perform repairs associated to wearing eyeglasses. It’s different than with clothes and shoes. Unfortunately, lenses are made to measure for every frame and a ‘return’ is not always possible. The profession can only continue to flourish if we offer something online retailers can’t: exceptional customer service, eyewear advice, servicing, and flexibility with affordability and variety.

Provide your top career tip.  

Be a go-getter! There are many opticians out there. Be sure to be yourself, original and better than the rest.

Always keep learning! Technology and products change quickly, so be on top of it!

Provide your top job hunting tip.

  • Always keep your ear to the ground, so to speak. Optics is a small world.
  • Love doing something everyone else dislikes (for example, complicated contact lens fittings).
  • Check with the Opticians Association of Canada. They are there to help all opticians and are always a fountain of knowledge.

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