Think of contact lens sales as a slumbering giant just waiting for a wake-up call from your business. There’s definitely room for growth. Industry experts say that eyecare pros perform 75 percent of eye exams in the U.S., but get only 50 percent of contact lens sales. You can blame the usual suspects, Internet vendors and big-box retailers. But advances in technology, specialty niches and even standardized pricing from the manufacturers all have the potential to boost your contact lens sales. Here are eight ways you can build a more profitable contact lens business.
“The English language has a filthy word I try to avoid using: ‘can’t,’” says Dr. Blake Hutto of Family Vision Care in Alma, GA. He frequently found himself telling some patients that, due to their complex prescription needs, he couldn’t fit them in a contact lens. But that’s all changed now due to hybrid lenses, which Hutto says have become an important niche and a significant practice builder.
A year ago, Hutto began prescribing SynergEyes’ Duette Progressive. “I’ve had great success with it,” he says. About 100 of his patients now wear it and find their vision is better than what they have with eyeglasses. “SynergEyes’ Duette Progressive has grown our contact lens population and happy patient number very quickly,” he adds. (Like many contact lens manufacturers, SynergEyes has a doctor-finder feature on its website.)
A hybrid lens can last six months. When patients return for a refill, Hutto examines their eyes to make sure there’s no power change before he reorders the hybrid lens through his SynergEyes consultant. “We tell patients these lenses are custom made with their prescription and contour of the eye,” he says. “It’s all about comfort first and then their vision. It pays to offer something different.”
MAKE IT EASY
Internet contact lens sellers and big-box vendors have stolen sales by stocking a huge variety of lenses and shipping to patients’ homes or offices. You can do this, too. Take it from Dr. Ted McElroy of Vision Source-Tifton in Tifton, GA, who says over half his contact lens patients have an annual supply shipped to their homes — and who has seen annual supply sales rise as the office has moved to keeping more types of contact lenses in-house, including monthly multifocals.
McElroy says he finds it easier for patients to say “yes” to buying annual supplies if they see the office stocks them. Because his office prescribes only daily disposables and monthly replacements, “we know what contact lenses to keep in stock,” he explains. If lenses are not in stock, he offers to ship them directly to the patient’s home within three to five days.
“We do really well selling yearly supplies,” says Dr. Cynthia Sayers of EyeShop Optical Center, Lewis Center, OH. “We always start with the cost of the year supply minus their insurance allowance. We also discuss all rebates with our patients and offer them free shipping to their homes.” EyeShop also gives annualsupply patients a coupon for 30 percent off non-prescription sunglasses.
To stand out from the crowd, Dr. Greg Gemoules of Coppell Family Eyecare/ LaserFit Vision in Coppell, TX, designs his own scleral lenses. “It is unusual for an optometrist to design his own contacts,” he says, and he wishes more ODs did it. “I was driven in this direction because there were still issues that no other lenses could address for my patients.”
Many optometrists have begun using corneal reshaping, myopia control and other contact lens specialties as a way to grow their practices. An annual meeting focused on the field, Vision by Design, is set April 6-10 in Scottsdale, AZ. See orthokmeeting.com for details and resources, and read about another doctor who’s been successfully building his business in this area for 30 years at invmag.us/orthok.
Success with contact lens sales comes down to talking to your reps to learn what’s new, says Tuli Santiago, office manager, buyer and stylist at Dr. Dawn Arnold’s practice in Union, NJ. “A lot of people cringe when they see their reps walk in, but we embrace them. We sit down with them to listen and learn. We use all the products they give us. I find they take care of us.”
As an example, Santiago tells of a visit last year from their Alcon rep, who encouraged Santiago to take a few trial samples of Air Optix Colors. The rep explained that the lens comes in nine colors with the same fitting process as clear lenses. Since the doctor does not need to refit the patient, Santiago began to encourage patients who already had clear Air Optix to take a trial color sample to match their complexion. “The package was cute,” she said. “The color lens came with a mirror inside. I suggested they take the free package home and try it on.”
It worked: In the eight months since Dr. Arnold’s office offered the trial samples, business in color contacts has increased by 15 percent to 20 percent. “They like the color, fit and feel,” Santiago says. “Patients call in a few weeks later after their checkup and order these color lenses.” A growing niche product available from several major manufacturers, colored contact lenses also appeal to people who don’t need prescription contacts but who like the idea of highlighting or changing their eye color.
Daily disposables can be a boon for patient compliance, comfort and convenience. More ODs are moving patients to daily lenses for these reasons, but they’re more expensive. Still, once patients get over the sticker shock of the price, they’re apt to buy into them.
“We’ve been converting everyone to a daily lens,” Santiago says. “The more you have, the more you use. Dailies are just healthier and there is no solution involved, so that saves patients money. Patients just feel more comfortable and secure in dailies.” Santiago also encourages patients to use rebates from their reps to save money on a purchase of a yearly supply. This way, patients also know when their annual eye exam is due. “Once we say, if you buy a year’s supply, you get X amount of money back, that seals the deal,” she says.
Family Vision Care is another business that has done well with dailies. One tip: Give patients fewer options so they don’t get overwhelmed by choices. Hutto says that about 80 percent of his patients do well with a handful of choices from the Ciba/Alcon family or Fresh Day from CooperVision.
Want to see your contact lens sales quadruple? Try a tactic developed by Daniel Amyx, owner of Hillmoor Optical in Port St. Lucie, FL, who devised a price grid for contact lenses that shows patients how they save by shopping with their local optician.
The grid is broken up top to bottom into the type of lens: clear, sphere, daily, toric, color and multifocal. From left to right, there are prices from online, discount and retail chain stores. “We then set our prices one dollar or a few cents less than their prices,” Amyx says.
Before going on the grid, Amyx let a partnering optometrist set the prices, and they were fairly high. “Once we separated from the optometrist, we re-evaluated contacts and we decided on this method,” Amyx explains. “We show patients that not only are we cheaper, we can provide trial lenses in cases of emergency. So many people think 1-800 Contacts is cheap. They are not. We keep a lot of patients this way.”
Robert McBeath, retail manager at Edina Eye Physicians and Surgeons in Edina, MN, says talking with patients about the overall economy of daily disposables and annual supplies can also boost sales on the spot — and standardized pricing from the manufacturers has helped, too.
Many people wear contact lenses for years, but drop out once presbyopia sets in, complaining of declines in comfort and clarity. “But I think one reason so many presbyopes drop out of contacts is that doctors are too terrified to prescribe and fit them,” McElroy says. “They think fitting them will require a lot of time and care.”
The reality is that if ECPs follow prescribing and fitting instructions for modern multifocal contacts, they can expect better success, McElroy says. Lack of comfort is the No. 1 reason patients drop out of wearing contacts, whether they are presbyopic or not. Chalk up yet another reason to prescribe daily contacts. “Dailies are just more comfortable lenses, they don’t dry out and they don’t undergo the stresses monthly lenses do,” McElroy says.
These days, many people expect to be able to order everything online, and that includes contacts. Some ECPs use platforms like YourLens.com to offer e-commerce. Lens Ferry, a new mobile platform from CooperVision, is another tool aiming to make it easy for people to reorder contact lenses from their ECP by replying to a text or email reminder.
According to Shaun Schooley, vice president of the Lens Ferry Group, only 18 percent of ECPs have some kind of e-commerce capability, even though it’s what consumers expect. The Lens Ferry system syncs with practice management software and basically works like this: Once a patient has an eye exam, the office staff puts the Rx into the Lens Ferry system. If a patient wears a monthly contact, the system will automatically send the patient a message in a month’s time by text and email. About 100 practices have signed up.
All manufacturers’ lenses can be bought on Lens Ferry, and people can pay by credit card or PayPal. People can choose to order a few boxes or sign up for a recurring monthly charge for an annual supply. ECPs set their own prices and use their own distributors. Lens Ferry processes the order, charges the payment, creates a shipping record and sends the lenses via the ECP’s distributor.
“It’s a seamless opportunity for ECPs who simply don’t have the ability to do all this logistical stuff themselves,” says Dean Butler, a consultant with Lens Ferry. “We want to help them retain customers and regain customers who went elsewhere.