Michael Block: Meet the Challenge

Competitive advice from Michael Block

It’s time to think big and prosper
in the changing vision care marketplace.

This article originally appeared in the February 2016 edition of INVISION.

Eyecare and eyewear providers have seen big changes in the competitive landscape over the past few years, and more are on the horizon. CVS has begun offering vision services in the Baltimore-Washington area in partnership with VSP. The companies bill it as a learning experience, but we can assume this indicates that once CVS has the correct formula for success, it will expand its optical presence across the nation to its many thousands of stores.

Walgreens is probably not far behind. And let’s not forget about Costco, Sam’s Club, Walmart and a host of other discount retail outlets, not to mention the ever-expanding realm of online retail eyewear choices.

It all seems very discouraging. The good news is, many of these players will be competing among themselves for a specific customer and patient base. Fortunately, most people still view eyecare as a professional service and prefer to buy their eyewear and get their eye exams in an independent professional setting. But clearly, things change and we can’t assume we’ll always have this loyalty. We need to earn it. So let’s think about what is required to not only survive, but thrive in today’s environment.

First, remember the old adage: “location, location, location.” It’s important that your practice is in a convenient, easy-to-see-and-reach section of your community. Relocating can be a pain, but lack of business brings much bigger hardships!

In my opinion, the biggest advantage that CVS and others have over you is convenience. These outlets are typically open until 9 p.m. or later on weekdays with Saturday and Sunday hours. Maybe it’s time to team up with a nearby colleague in a shared location that offers flexible hours. For example, maybe you could work alternating shifts such as 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and 1 to 9 p.m. weekdays (as well as some weekend hours) to serve patients who might go to a pharmacy or mall because hours there are a better fit to when they’re off work or able to run errands. As a byproduct, shared expenses may create greater profitability.

Your office and store must be up-to-date and have true eye appeal. Remember, we are selling professional services and fashion in our dispensaries, and customers expect retail shops of all kinds to be modern, well designed and very clean.

No matter how you feel about him as a presidential candidate, take a lesson from Donald Trump and become a self-promoter. Gone are the days when we could open an eyecare practice or optical shop and assume that people will come. We must be proactive. Become active in civic organizations. Talk with the media about eyecare topics and eyewear trends. Team up with local apparel shops and beauty salons for fashion shows. And as often as you can, skip the online shopping and support other local merchants and professionals.

Make sure that your staff is incentivized to do the same. Reward them for bringing new patients to your office, and be sure they have great training in how to offer the latest frames fashions and lens technologies. Finally, make it easy for people to get the eyecare and eyewear they need by offering something like CareCredit, which can provide patients with an interest-free option to pay for their glasses over 12 or 24 months. Research has shown that CareCredit cardholders typically spend 30 percent more for their eyewear and are 50 percent more likely to purchase a second set of eyewear.

These are challenging times, but in challenging times the strong always survive. So look at your marketplace. Talk with other local ECPs. Access your staff’s wisdom and ideas. You have what it takes to survive and thrive.

Michael Block is president of Block Business Group, which has been helping independent eyecare professionals with their purchasing and practice management needs since 1983. Learn more at blockbg.com.