Total back-to-school spending for both K-12 and college students amounted to approximately $80 billion in the U.S. last year, and parents are opening their wallets earlier every year. We know, it seems like the kids just started summer camp, but according to a 2016 survey by the National Retail Federation, the average family with children in grades K-12 completed almost half their shopping by early August.

But our own survey of the back-to-school landscape shows that independent optometry practices are welcoming the new school year with a characteristic mix of flair, ingenuity and community concern. Whether it’s by airing your creative side on Facebook or Pinterest, getting teachers on board, welcoming college freshmen to town, plonking signs out front or baking cakes, it’s the season that seems to bring out the best in you.  


Above: Kids have some fun with frames at a recent back-to-school event. Inset: EyeShop Optical’s Lollipop Tree. A patient pulls a lollipop, and the color of the base determines their discount, ranging from 20 to 100 percent.

No Activity Left Behind
EYESHOP OPTICAL CENTER, LEWIS CENTER, OH

For EyeShop Optical Center, which sponsors a Little League Team and a Toys for Tots program, a back-to-school campaign is just doing what comes naturally, but with even more energy. “We have a trunk show with a blend of kids/tweens frames,” says owner Dr. Cynthia Sayers. “We do kid-friendly food and raffle off prizes such as non-prescription sunglasses and gift cards to kid-friendly places.” Particular thought is given to struggling families, with past packages aimed at those with multiple kids. 


Tapping That Competitive Spirit
EYE DESIGNS OF WESTCHESTER, SCARSDALE, NY

Sponsoring a contest can have multiple advantages, rewarding you with a robust database (via questions on an entry form), serious word-of-mouth, and more engagement with your social media audience. Eye Designs of Westchester came up with a memorable back-to-school contest a few years ago, and they didn’t skimp. Store manager Harris Decker says, “Our most successful back-to-school program was a contest with a local paper asking kids [to write] the best ‘How I Broke My Glasses’ story. The winner was published in the paper and received a PlayStation!”


College Colors
URBAN OPTICS, SAN LUIS OBISPO, CA

As befits a practice in the “Best College Town in America” (according to College Rank), Urban Optics makes a point of reaching out to nearby Cal Poly. “College kids appreciate discounts! We do fun, eye-catching back to school window displays with Cal Poly colors,” says owner Dr. Dave Schultz. 

Orientation is an opportunity to turn freshmen into new customers. “During welcome week, we have passed out Urban Optics material and vouchers,” says store manager Hanna Schultz. But this isn’t a “starving student” vibe. Collections include Alain Mikli and Garrett Leight. “Garrett actually worked at Urban Optics as an optician when he was attending Cal Poly! This always gets students excited,” adds Hanna.


Dr. Ebrahim at the Ogle Elementary Health Fair in McKinney, TX, in April.

Constant Learning
DVISION EYECARE, ALLEN, TX

Getting to know DVision Eyecare feels a bit like going back to school — in a good way. Scanning its Facebook posts, a visitor can view a round of Jeopardy featuring the category “Eye Health,” link to groups like Grade 10 Potassium, #PreventionisBetterThanCure, and learn how to identify their dominant eye. The feel is kid-friendly; there’s even a link to eBook Howard and the Amazing Eye Exam.
          DVision sponsors school-wide events. “I’ve been a part of my boys’ school PTA, so extending the partnership was a natural choice,” says owner Dr. Amina Ebrahim.” She’s become a familiar figure at school health fairs and events in the area. “We have co-sponsored a Tae Kwon Do tournament, fun run and a school anniversary celebration where we raffled off sunglasses.”


Go to the Experts
SALEM OPTICAL, WINSTON-SALEM, NC

Salem Optical’s Pamela Miller had a back-to-school “ah-ha!” moment recently. There’s a neglected pool of experts out there who spend all day every day with students. They’re called teachers. It was time to put “talking with schoolteachers” front and center. “My goal was to attend 3-5 elementary schools and share the deals we have for children’s eyeglasses.” 


The lawn sign out front of Buena Vista Optical

Old School Signs
BuENA VISTA OPTICAL CHICAGO, IL

Lawn signs are all about leads. “The results, as far as revenue, are great. We get parents inquiring about glasses (from the lawn sign) almost every day. We put it out late August and keep it out until late September,” says Buena Vista Optical owner Diana Sims. “We’ve had signs saying: ‘School Started: Is your student ready? Are their glasses current? Make an appointment today.’” 

A few lawn-sign no-no’s: lack of distinctiveness; saying too much; swapping it out too frequently; or being just plain low-quality. If they’re smart, smart-looking, and stubbornly on-message, they’ll work for you.


This article originally appeared in the July-August 2017 edition of INVISION.

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