Practice management advice from John Marvin

Don’t shy from competition. Use it to find greater success.

This article originally appeared in the April 2015 edition of INVISION.


Is eyecare a competitive business these days? You know it is! I recently talked with a young optometrist who questioned whether she wanted to start her own practice because, in her mind, her market is already “saturated with competition.” She views competition as something to fear, and she’s not alone.

The truth is that competition can make us better. It’s all about your attitude — or, as famous retail pioneer James Cash (J.C.) Penney once said, “A merchant who approaches business with the idea of serving the public well has nothing to fear from the competition.” Celine Dion puts it this way: “I’m not in competition with anybody but myself. My goal is to beat my last performance.”

Here are six things you can do to create an edge over your competition, serve your patients well and always “beat your last performance.”

1 Provide “Wow” service. Optical dispensing is a service business. Today’s dispensary patients expect superior treatment as a service standard, not the exception. “‘Wow” service requires prompt, courteous and personal attention from staff with highly specialized people skills. Yet research shows that vision care customers usually aren’t impressed enough to recommend the business to friends or family. What this means is if you make the effort to impress your patients, you’ll definitely have an edge over the competition — since, sadly, most offices don’t even make the effort.

2 Give extraordinary guarantees. An extension to superior service is offering above-and-beyond guarantees, both verbally and in writing. So give patients 100 percent satisfaction on all products and services purchased in the dispensary. Make it a rule, not an exception. One of the most powerful testimonials your practice can receive is when someone takes you up on your extraordinary guarantee and you deliver without hesitation, creating a story that will be told again and again.

3 Start a mystery shopper program. To keep patient satisfaction and sales levels at their highest, use credentialed experts to phone and visit the dispensary under assumed identities. They can assess service and sales levels and provide recommendations. Managers should be sure all staff know about this program. Use it as part of your practice’s overall quality assurance and continuous quality improvement effort.

4 Price for profits. Whether you’re working within the expanding scope of managed vision care plans or attracting self-pay customers (or both), pricing products and services by formula doesn’t work. Instead, pricing must be structured on perceived value and profit predictability: a margin established by the practice to account for all the costs associated with products, services, operating expenses and required profit.

5 Sell multiple pairs. Here’s the area where eyecare practices stand to gain the most. All patients can benefit from an extra pair of eyeglasses for sports, hobbies, reading, sunwear or evening wear — or simply in case they lose their main pair. Always ask questions to help identify reasons for a second (or third) pair. Your patients will recognize that you are thinking of them and their needs. It is one thing to say you care for your patients; it’s another to demonstrate it through communication.

6 Educate your staff. So you’ve made changes in how your office runs. Be sure your staff is up to speed on all systems related to the dispensary, including sales, pricing, quality assurance, fabrication and collections. The fastest, most diplomatic way to develop these systems is to use experts who specialize in these services. Vendors can be a generous resource for staff training and education, and consultants are standing by to help, too.

Make competition your inspiration to create a world-class eyecare business. You’ll soon see your patients start spreading the good news about the excellent experience and products you provide.

With more than 25 years of experience in the ophthalmic and optometric practice industry, JOHN D. MARVIN writes about marketing, management and education at the practiceprinciples.net blog. He is president of Texas State Optical, a member-owned cooperative of 120 independent, professional optometry practices. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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