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This month’s bird

The Hairy Woodpecker

Optics: A Pain in the Neck?

BY HANK WEBER | Contributing Editor

No pain, no gain? No Way!

"MY HUSBAND WANTS TO BUY ME GOOD BINOCULARS" Janet confided "but binoculars are so heavy and always hurt. In fact, they are a real pain in the neck." Janet is a petite, attractive woman but her complaint is common even among large, burly men.

Binoculars can be a real pain in the neck. Literally. After an hour of birding with binoculars dangling from your neck, it gets sore. You feel a dull pain. Shoulders ache. Your binoculars feel like an anchor hanging around your neck. Sudden jolts and jarring pain shoots through your neck whenever you stoop under a limb or jump from rock to rock.

The problem isn't that binoculars are too heavy. Most weigh significantly less than two pounds. Normally you would not consider that heavy. The pain occurs because the neck straps supplied with binoculars are often inadequate. Typically the strap is a thin, stiff strip, less than one-half inch wide. Sometimes it is no more than a thick cord. Sometimes it is rigid hard plastic. 

This simple neck strap may seem unimportant but it is a key factor in neck pain. The full weight of the binoculars is transmitted through this thin strip directly into your neck. In technical terms the pressure per square inch is high. And it is continuous. It seems even higher when you bend under a branch or scramble over a rocky stream.

Binoculars bounce and sway cutting deeper into your neck. No wonder it hurts. 

Every customer problem (or pain) represents a potential sales opportunity. You can convert this pain into a high-ticket optics sale, or at the least, generate an accessory sale.

Compact Solution
As a first step introduce your customer to smaller, lighter-weight binoculars such as compact (e.g., 8 x 24) or mid-size (8 x 32) models. Since they are smaller than traditional full size (8 x 40) models, compact binoculars also weigh substantially less. Often less than half as much. Less weight means less strain on your neck, and you don't have to forego a good image. High-end compact models produce brilliant, sharp images, often a better image than the one produced by lower quality full size models. Bigger is not always better.

As an added feature, I always point out that smaller size and lighter weight allow you to easily slip them into a purse or pocket, making them ideal for taking to the theater or a sporting event. Women in particular seem to love that benefit.

Replacement Solution
If your customer still prefers full size binoculars, you'll need another solution for eliminating the pain in the neck. That can be as simple as selling them a new neck strap. Factory-supplied straps that come with new binoculars are often too narrow. A wider strap, one at least twice as wide as the original strap, distributes the binoculars' weight over twice the surface area reducing the intensity of the strain at each spot around the neck. Switching from a strap that is one-half inch in width to one that is two inches wide, reduces the pressure per square inch on your neck by 75%. A three inch wide strap reduces the pressure even more.
Observe professional photographers or paparazzi who often have several large cameras with long, heavy lenses draped around their neck. There may be 5-10 pounds of camera equipment hanging around their necks all day. You'd expect neck pain to be an occupational hazard. But it isn't. You will notice they don't use thin camera straps. They all use wide neck straps, often 3 or 4 inches wide. Learn from these pros to help your customer.

In addition to increasing the width, some strap manufacturers add additional padding or cushioning resulting in a thicker, softer strap. This further minimizes strain. The type of material used also affects the impact on your neck. Straps may be constructed from soft woven fibers or from thick, soft neoprene or foam-rubber type material. These materials not only spread the weight but also cushion the impact by stretching slightly. Now, when you duck under a limb and gravity tugs at your binoculars, instead of cutting into your neck, the strap stretches slightly, absorbing much of the impact. The result is less shock to the neck. 

The standard color of factory supplied straps tends to be basic black. Replacement straps, however, are available in a variety of colors. This offers another benefit; brighter colors make your binoculars somewhat easier to find on a car seat filled with other equipment, articles of clothing, maps and snacks.

Harness Solution

An even better solution to the neck pain issue is to use a strapping system or harness instead of a traditional loop neck strap. A harness completely eliminates all weight from your neck, transferring it instead to your stronger, wider shoulders.  In principal, a harness consists of four straps rather than a single loop. None of the four straps goes across your neck. Two go over your shoulders and two go under your arms. They meet in an X-type configuration in the middle of your back. Your binoculars attach in the front. This design is surprisingly effective. Binoculars feel significantly lighter, with absolutely no strain on the neck. As an added benefit the harness holds your binoculars close to your chest. It prevents all swinging and swaying of your binoculars even if you are running or bending over. In rugged areas where you are hopping from rock to rock, the reduction of binocular bounce is a definite plus.

Unlike a traditional neck strap, you don't put on a harness by lifting it over your head. Instead, you slip into it like a vest. There is no chance of knocking off your hat or eyeglasses or even messing your hair. Harnesses are becoming more common for birding and they really work. 

In summary, when you are faced with a pain in the neck customer, don't despair.  Turn their pain into your gain and their problem into a sales opportunity. Sell compact binoculars and/or a replacement neck strap or harness.