The UK optical sector’s broadest and longest running exhibition returns to the NEC Birmingham next month.

It marks four decades at the cutting edge of spectacle frames, lenses, contact lenses, equipment and optical services.

The show, first held in London in 1978, has changed beyond recognition in recent years, but stayed true to its ethos of ‘by the sector, for the sector’.

Now regularly staged in Birmingham, the busy exhibition hall and its surrounding conference represents a meeting of minds for eye care professionals, manufacturers, laboratories, suppliers and distributors, professional bodies and educators.

Since 1917, Optrafair organisers the Federation of Manufacturing Opticians has been involved in all aspects of manufacturing, importing and wholesaling of products and services for the UK ophthalmic industry.

Leadership in high quality manufacturing optics has always been at the heart of The FMO, and never more so than the present day, as it combines with MA Exhibitions to bring you Optrafair every single year.

FMO chairman Andy Yorke says: ‘There’s always something new emerging out there and Optrafair is the best possible place to keep up to date with what’s trending in the world of frames, how lens technology is ever evolving and how science is allowing us to gain an even greater understanding of the human eye.’

Several new show features will capture the imagination of visitors to NEC Birmingham this year, on the weekend of April 14-16. Those wishing to attend can combine their stay with a seat at the Optician Awards – being held at the adjacent Birmingham Metropole Hotel on April 14.

Back by popular demand at Optrafair are the CET Theatre, ABDO CET Theatre, and after their successful inauguration at last year’s show, the Business Theatre and FMO Networking Bar.

Meanwhile, there are four brand new features for 2018, the dedicated BCLA Contact Lens Hub, a fully choreographed Catwalk, audiology zone and the Independents’ Lounge – a networking space dedicated to independents.

Step into the lounge

The Independents’ Lounge will give practitioners the chance to share innovative ideas. Sponsored by the National Eyecare Group (NEG), the lounge will host one-to-one sessions with industry experts, together with a range of speakers and exhibitors.

Phil Mullins, director of business development at the NEG, says: ‘Independents are the life and soul of the profession and this is a chance for us and Optrafair to show how much they are valued by giving them a dedicated space to call their own.

‘I’ve been involved in the industry since 1988. Back then, 80 or 90 per cent of the market was independents, now it’s around 20 per cent. We need to do more to help them thrive.

FMO chairman Andy Yorke and chief executive Bryony Pawinska open last year’s Optrafair

‘Independents offer something different. Whether it’s different designs, unusual prescriptions or innovative thinking, independents provide an alternative and the lounge is a place where they can come together to share ideas.

‘There isn’t a rivalry between independents, they want to work together. The lounge allows them to do that.’

Hub of activity

A new BCLA contact lens hub, at this year’s show, will provide delegates with a one-stop shop for all queries about how they can get the most out of contact lenses.

Experts from the BCLA will be on hand to answer questions about how contact lenses and dry eye management can revolutionise high street practices.

Working with the BCLA partners Alcon and CooperVision, a series of peer-review CET sessions will also be held on key subjects such as ocular surface health and dry eye, and fitting children – including myopia management.

BCLA president Keith Tempany says: ‘Optrafair gives us an opportunity to reach a huge audience and help people get more confident on the subject of contact lenses, getting them up to date with the very latest research and technology. We will be there at the CL Hub to answer any questions and give people the information they need to make a real difference in everyday practice.’

Strike a pose

Perhaps the most striking addition to this year’s Optrafair will be the introduction of a Fashion Catwalk. This will showcase latest eyewear trends, with a programme of professionally choreographed catwalk shows during the three days featuring the hottest brands and frames from leading suppliers.

Organisers plan to create a buzz at the heart of the show and educate attendees in trend forecasting, purchasing advice and how to tailor the correct style to their customers.

Yorke adds: ‘We have to remember that from a customer viewpoint we are a fashion industry too. That blend of science and fashion appeals to me and I enjoy discovering new looks and seeing what’s trending.

‘The frames and the lenses are unquestionably the shop window of our industry and the instruments and machines are what keeps it all ticking along behind the scenes.’

Meanwhile, Optrafair’s 40th will not be the only anniversary at this year’s event. International Eyewear is 30 years old in 2018 and will be celebrating in style at Optrafair, with a party, birthday cake and a series of special promotions.

International Eyewear marketing manager Olivia Young says: ‘International Eyewear has a close working relationship with Optrafair and as a company we have exhibited at the show for as long as we can remember, so as you can imagine we share a lot of history.

‘Optrafair has been uniting the optical profession for 40 years and provides International Eyewear with the perfect platform to showcase our brands and products. The show is a one-stop shop for customers to get everything eye and optical-related under one roof.’

Hear more at Optrafair

Looking beyond vision care, eye care professionals interested in expanding into audiology can also gain access to hearing industry experts at this year’s Optrafair.

A specialist area dedicated to audiology will be available at the event, giving practice owners the opportunity to discover how partnering could expand their portfolio and provide a ‘one-stop shop’ for eyes and ears.

Audiology specialists who have already confirmed their place as exhibitors at Optrafair include Amplifon, Bloom Hearing Specialists, Hidden Hearing, the National Community Hearing Association, Rayovac and Starkey Hearing Technologies.

Amplifon marketing and event co-ordinator Caroline Luther says: ‘We will be at Optrafair to start relationships with opticians who would like to offer their customers help with their hearing.

‘If you have a room in your branch that could be used one day a week by one of our audiologists to test hearing and fit hearing aids then please come and talk to us at Optrafair about how we can work together.’

Education at Optrafair

Uniting education and technology

Together with a full schedule of seminars, lectures and talks at the main CET, Business and ABDO Theatres, there will also be an abundance of on-stand CET at the show.

The latest lens and equipment technology will be on show at the event, with many familiar faces ready to reveal their latest products.

While there are too many exhibitors to mention, each will be adopting a strong ‘try before you buy’ ethos at their designated stand.

Exhibiting over three stands, Topcon will showcase its latest OCT technology, imaging and refraction systems as well as offer a dedicated Topcon University area.

‘Topcon have advanced technology solutions, which are designed to help you focus on your patients by providing them with the best care and enable you to run your business more smoothly,’ says Graham Trevor, director of sales at Topcon GB. ‘So if you are starting from scratch or simply in need of updating your practice equipment, then you cannot afford not to visit Topcon at Optrafair this year.’

This years’s event boasts four new features to capture the imagination

Haag Streit UK, meanwhile, says it plans to place a huge emphasis on education during the event, with hands-on demos and informal training. Three education sessions will be held at the ‘HS-UK Hub’, each worth two CET points.

Sharon Mills, marketing manager at Haag Streit UK, says: ‘As a company we have been going to Optrafair since the very start, it’s a big event for us and our biggest in terms of generating sales.

‘This year the emphasis is very much on education. We’ve identified a real need for it and have produced a number of learning materials to allow eye care professionals to get the most out of our products.

Meanwhile, supplier Optos is looking forward to showcasing its Daytona Plus device at this year’s Optrafair. A range of ‘meet the expert’ sessions will take place, giving delegates an opportunity to hear from optometrists and practice managers who will give their advice on how to maximise the technology and use it in an everyday setting.’

Optrafair provides many opportunities for networking with other professionals and sector experts

Ebru Hamilton, international marketing manager for Optos, adds: ‘Optrafair is always a key event for us. It has an exceptional reputation and it’s one of our busiest weekends of the year. The show brings together a wide range of exhibitors and delegates and you know the people there are there to buy. Everyone we speak to is a potential customer.’

BIB Instruments will also use a new stand design to showcase its range of instrumentation, hosting lectures on glaucoma and dry eye courtesy of specialist optometrist David Fleischmann.

A wealth of other instrument companies, including Birmingham Optical, Carleton, Grafton Optical, Hanson Instruments, Heidelberg Engineering, Keeler, Mainline Instruments and Zeiss will also be presenting their latest technologies.

Deep discussions at Optrafair

Myers La Roche, a leading firm of management and marketing consultants, says Optrafair provides the opportunity to discuss ways of increasing turnover and profits and also look at options for the sale and purchase of optical practices.

Myers La Roche consultant Liz Calcutt adds: ‘We’re very much looking forward to meeting up with some familiar faces at Optrafair, as well as meeting potential new clients looking for help with either growing their business or potentially starting to look at the next chapter in their lives.

‘Having strong relationships with our clients is essential and we enjoy working closely with them, really getting to understand their business from the inside out to determine what works best for them.

‘Optrafair gives us the opportunity to discuss in depth the options available to practice owners. Very often we find that people undersell themselves so, with our knowledge of the market and by having our finger on the pulse when it comes to values, we can really make a difference.’

Optrafair will take place between April 14 and 16 at the NEC Birmingham. For more information, and to register for the event, visit www.optrafair.co.uk/register