Notes on the development of the Vision Pilot© system

 The Vision Pilot point-of-sale system is, without a doubt, the very best software ever written to handle sales in a retail optical environment.

The software has an interesting history. Vision World, a Minnesota optical company that grew from one store to forty stores over a twenty-year period, was the first optical company to use a point of sales program. The program was written in 1979 by a former IBM software engineer. Over the years the program was continually refined to meets the needs of the company. By the early nineties, it became apparent that a new program, free from the limitations of the MS DOS environment, was needed.

A comprehensive review of all the wish list items that had been accumulated over ten years was undertaken. The ultimate goals were to create the smoothest possible interaction between optician and customer and to minimize losses through optician error, theft, or non-conformity with company policies. To achieve these goals, it was recognized early on that the program would have to be extremely user-friendly and easy to learn. This was a must because by the nineties a tight job market had resulted in much higher turnover and in a less motivated and trained staff. The program had to be very easy for new employees to master. It also had to prevent them from making costly mistakes that would result in re-makes or customer service problems. This meant that the program would have to contain extremely complex error-checking routines and would have to have built-in parameters for all products sold, including contact lenses. And all remakes, refunds, and store credits would have to be thoroughly documented.

It was recognized that it was essential to have complete doctor records as well as customer order records immediately accessible to avoid time consuming searches through paper files and to enable electronic billing of third party providers. Finally, it was considered essential that the program fully support the many discount programs and complex advertising discounts to eliminate costly errors which occur when employees are left to do calculations on their own.

A PC platform was selected because of the ready availability of inexpensive computers. Visual Basic was chosen as the programming language because of Microsoft’s commitment to it, because of its relative simplicity, and because it would be easy to find qualified software engineers if additional programming help was needed in the future.

After many months of planning the new system, implementation began. It took about 18 months for the programming staff to produce Version I. Rollout began in the spring of 1998 after extensive testing by employees from the stores. Then, as the rollout continued, frequent meetings were held to get feedback on the system. This principally involved making the program even more user-friendly and expanding its capabilities rather than debugging, for the program proved remarkably bug free. Hundreds of changes were made over the next two years.

As a result of the installation of the new program, there occurred an obvious improvement in customer service and a significant increase in productivity on the part of the company’s opticians. During 1997 and 1998, Vision World sales increased significantly, and the company passed Pearle Vision and Lens Crafters to become the number one seller of eyeglasses and contact lenses both in the Upper Midwest and in the highly competitive Twin Cities metropolitan area. Sales exceeded $30 million per year and profits were approximately 8%. This reversed an earlier trend in which Lens Crafters had moved ahead.

Bolstered by the strong sales, the company attracted several offers to buy. In the summer of 1998, the owners decided to sell the company. The program continued in use throughout 1998 and into 1999, and sales continued to mount. However, Vision World was sold a second time in the summer of 1999 to Eye Care Centers of America (ECCA) who replaced the Vision Pilot system with an older in-house system used at other ECCA locations. Soon after switching to the ECCA system, sales began to drop, employee discontent erupted in a flood of departures, and customer complaints skyrocketed. The negative effects resulting from the replacement of Vision Pilot © is a testimonial to the power and effectiveness of the Vision Pilot © software. The close to one million transactions rung up under the program are your assurance of its effective and bug-free operation.

The software engineers who developed the system have continued to improve it to produce by far the best software system available for retail optical operations and now offer it both to larger and to smaller retail optical companies.


How Can I Try Out the Vision Pilot System?


Optical companies are highly variable in their operations. In addition to differences in scale (from one store to thousands), there are enormous differences in product mix, centralization, and sourcing. Some operations are restricted to the sale of eyeglasses; others involve the sale of contact lenses or optometric services. Some operations are highly decentralized with a great deal of variation from store to store while others are highly centralized. Some operations have in-store labs, others have their own central lab(s), and others simply order lenses from outside labs. Because of these variables, customization is often an important part of the installation of a retail optical point-of-sale system. Our staff is fully prepared to work with you or your technical staff to customize the program to your particular needs.

Large optical chains with in-house software development personnel familiar with Visual0 Basic© may wish to purchase a license to use the source code. The program is well-documented, and our technical staff would be willing to work with yours to achhiev a full understanding of the program.

We offer the compiled software as part of a turnkey contract in which hardware is supplied with the program preloaded. Some customization and a generous amount of support will be provided. This mode of purchase is highly recommended to single store operations, and small to medium sized chains.  

Many companies have been burned in the past by point-of-sale systems that failed to live up to their claims. Many business owners are reluctant to change systems or even to abandon paper systems. We are so confident of the superiority and effectiveness of our system that we offer free fully functional trials for extended periods. We are also developing a “dumbed down” version for small operations that do not want or are not willing to pay for the full sale system.