A new eyewear line is a big hit, but the frame rep is creating conflict
This article originally appeared in the November-December 2015 edition of INVISION.
It was early evening at Rouillard Vision Partners in Syracuse, NY, and the optical showroom was jammed.
“Have you tried on frames from the new Fareen line?” Doug gestured across the showroom floor at a bright, attractive eyewear display, and led a shopper to its mirror. “The prices are fantastic, and they also look great if you want to make them sunglasses!”
Just then Dr. Rouillard rounded the corner. When she saw Doug, her face got hot and her stomach dropped. She curtly stepped between Doug and the shopper and said, “Excuse me, ma’am, I need to speak with Doug for a moment.” They stepped quickly into an empty exam room.
“Doug, I have asked you before not to speak to my patients,” said Dr. Rouillard. “I know as our Fareen frame rep, you have sales skills and product knowledge. But you are not an employee and you don’t know company protocol.”
The rep took a defensive posture. “Leah asked me to come in,” he said. “I was rebuilding the board, and I thought I could help make a sale. Won’t happen again.” Doug grinned, a charming if disingenuous gesture. He left quickly.
Doug offered a great new line with exclusivity in the Syracuse area. After four short months, Fareen occupied 15 percent of the board space and accounted for 20 percent of non-economy frame sales. Doug recognized the impact he had, and his ego was fueled with the positive response — both from Fareen execs and the opticians at Rouillard Vision Partners. No frame rep had ever put so much energy into their practice.
After the last patient had left, Dr. Rouillard met with Leah to discuss her concerns.
“Leah, I’m not happy Doug was working with a patient today. He told me you asked him to come in,” said Dr. Rouillard.
“Not really,” Leah replied. “Last week a few of us were out after work for a drink and Doug showed up. I think one of the opticians has a crush on him, and she texted to say where we were. Anyway, I casually mentioned the Fareen board was looking tired. I definitely didn’t say, ‘Please show up on our late night when the office is the busiest.’”
“If it happens again, I need you to be the optical manager and ask him to leave. That message shouldn’t come from me,” said Dr. Rouillard.
“Well, it is kind of nice when he’s here. He always brings snacks or promo items for the opticians, and he’s a great salesman. I notice the other staff watching him and picking up skills. It’s like free CE,” Leah said.
“We have a strict policy not to accept spiffs. It isn’t fair to the non-optical staff,” said Dr. Rouillard.
“I really think the little treats motivate the opticians to sell,” replied Leah, though she knew it was a losing battle. She decided not to mention that Doug paid the group’s bar tab.
“As the optical manager, I expect you to motivate your team — without Doug’s help,” Dr. Rouillard replied.
But she was dubious Leah was up to the task of setting boundaries with Doug. Over the next few weeks, whenever Dr. Rouillard saw Doug in the office, she directed Leah to shoo him out. When he brought in presents for the opticians, she confiscated them, reminding everyone of the office rules. Doug started complaining to Leah and the other opticians that Dr. Rouillard hated him.
One day, Leah had news for Dr. Rouillard. “Doug is setting up other local offices with Fareen frames,” she said. “We will no longer be the exclusive provider in Syracuse.”
Dr. Rouillard was livid. Leah said, “I think his feelings are just hurt. He says you hate him.”
“He’s doing this out of spite?” Dr. Rouillard asked. “Unbelievable.”
THE BIG QUESTIONS
1. Is Doug’s relationship with this practice professional? Why or why not?
2. How could Leah have functioned better as liaison between her employer and a frame rep?
3. What might Dr. Rouillard do differently to maintain office policy while keeping the peace?
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