Summerville is a typical suburban commuter town that has been growing slowly but steadily ever since Mario Martinez first opened the doors on Martinez Eye Care almost 20 years ago. Throughout that time, Martinez Eye Care has enjoyed a comfortable relationship with the two direct competitors in the town: Precious Sight, owned by Evelyn Brown and another small chain of practices called Fair Deal Optical. Whereas Mario rarely meets the owner of Fair Deal, he counts Evelyn as a family friend. Their kids are at school together, his wife works with Evelyn’s sister and they often meet in social situations.
Each of the three practices has established their own position in the market and generally been successful in catering for their own distinct clientele. Fair Deal Optical offers, “an honest, no-frills service, at a price you can afford.” Precious Sight at the other end of town proudly promotes a, “high quality experience, the latest technology and exclusive styles.”
Mario, who naturally gravitated to the middle ground, has never felt the need for straplines and advertising, preferring to concentrate his energy in excelling in his field as an optometrist. “People come to see me because they know me. I grew up in this town and they know what I’m about. Word of mouth is the most powerful form of advertising. Because I give a good service, my patients happily bring along their partners and their children, as well as recommending me to their friends.” This of course was true and a quick scan through Martinez Eye Care’s files would show three- and even four-generation families who have trusted Marion with their eye care for many years.
News that a new edge-of-town shopping development was to include another competitor first came to Mario’s attention via Evelyn at a dinner party. Neither felt too concerned as this was part of a major growth project for the town with the expanding population meaning that there would still plenty of customers for everyone. In fact, considering location, the type of housing and the other retailers planned, any negative impact would most likely be felt by Fair Deal Optical. Mario and Evelyn agreed they were more concerned about the loss of the greenbelt fields and about the impact on the local schools than they were for their businesses.
When the first of many leaflets to promote the “new!” and “exciting!” Summerville Vision landed on Mario’s doorstep, he read about their “modern, stylish office,” their “efficient service” and their “unique collection of styles.” The next flyer sported pictures of equipment, technicians at work plus brand logos for frames and contact lenses (some of which Mario hadn’t heard of). “Looks like a faceless conveyor belt we’ve got coming to town” he said to Evelyn when they next met. “There should be little to worry about.”
Two weeks after the “Grand Opening!” of Summerville Vision, one of Mario’s assistants approaching him over lunch. “I’ve just had Harrison Blake on the phone,” she said. “He was really unhappy and says that he wants you to remove himself, his wife, children and his parents from our mailing list! They won’t be coming back!”
Mario was stunned. The Blake family had trusted their care to him for many years. Mrs. Blake and their three children were all fairly hyperopic and he had examined them regularly, supplying her with contact lenses and caring for the development of the kids’ vision. Harrison’s parents were also regular visitors due to the ongoing monitoring of Mr. Blake senior’s macular problem. They were valued customers both financially and also in terms of job satisfaction. “What’s all this about?”
“He has been to Summerville Vision and the optometrist there told him that he had no need for the spectacles we sold him. He even told him they were the sort of strength only prescribed by people who are just interested in taking your money!”
Mario’s jaw hit the floor. He instantly pulled out Harrison Blake’s file. Though Blake had been a regular visitor to the practice with the family, Mario had only examined his eyes once, a couple of years ago. At that point, Blake was 37 years old. Normally a construction worker, he was temporarily working in the building company’s office due to a foot injury, and was suffering headaches after spending all day at the computer. Mario had prescribed a very low plus pair of spectacles he believed would resolve the complaint.
Bewildered, Mario called Evelyn that evening to share his story, only to hear that she too had received a similar call from one of her customers just a few days earlier.