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6 Back-to-School Marketing Campaigns Worth Studying

Independent practices welcome school year with flair, ingenuity and community spirit.

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TOTAL BACK-TO-SCHOOL spending for both K-12 and college students amounted to approximately $80 billion in the U.S. last year, and parents are opening their wallets earlier every year. We know, it seems like the kids just started summer camp, but according to a 2016 survey by the National Retail Federation, the average family with children in grades K-12 completed almost half their shopping by early August.

But our own survey of the back-to-school landscape shows that independent optometry practices are welcoming the new school year with a characteristic mix of flair, ingenuity and community concern. Whether it’s by airing your creative side on Facebook or Pinterest, getting teachers on board, welcoming college freshmen to town, plonking signs out front or baking cakes, it’s the season that seems to bring out the best in you.

Above: Kids have some fun with frames at a recent back-to-school event. Inset: EyeShop Optical’s Lollipop Tree. A patient pulls a lollipop, and the color of the base determines their discount, ranging from 20 to 100 percent.

No Activity Left Behind
EYESHOP OPTICAL CENTER, LEWIS CENTER, OH

For EyeShop Optical Center, which sponsors a Little League Team and a Toys for Tots program, a back-to-school campaign is just doing what comes naturally, but with even more energy. “We have a trunk show with a blend of kids/tweens frames,” says owner Dr. Cynthia Sayers. “We do kid-friendly food and raffle off prizes such as non-prescription sunglasses and gift cards to kid-friendly places.” Particular thought is given to struggling families, with past packages aimed at those with multiple kids.

Tapping That Competitive Spirit
EYE DESIGNS OF WESTCHESTER, SCARSDALE, NY

Sponsoring a contest can have multiple advantages, rewarding you with a robust database (via questions on an entry form), serious word-of-mouth, and more engagement with your social media audience. Eye Designs of Westchester came up with a memorable back-to-school contest a few years ago, and they didn’t skimp. Store manager Harris Decker says, “Our most successful back-to-school program was a contest with a local paper asking kids [to write] the best ‘How I Broke My Glasses’ story. The winner was published in the paper and received a PlayStation!”

College Colors
URBAN OPTICS, SAN LUIS OBISPO, CA

As befits a practice in the “Best College Town in America” (according to College Rank), Urban Optics makes a point of reaching out to nearby Cal Poly. “College kids appreciate discounts! We do fun, eye-catching back to school window displays with Cal Poly colors,” says owner Dr. Dave Schultz.

Orientation is an opportunity to turn freshmen into new customers. “During welcome week, we have passed out Urban Optics material and vouchers,” says store manager Hanna Schultz. But this isn’t a “starving student” vibe. Collections include Alain Mikli and Garrett Leight. “Garrett actually worked at Urban Optics as an optician when he was attending Cal Poly! This always gets students excited,” adds Hanna.

Constant LearningDVISION EYECARE, ALLEN, TX

Dr. Ebrahim at the Ogle Elementary Health Fair in McKinney, TX, in April.

Getting to know DVision Eyecare feels a bit like going back to school — in a good way. Scanning its Facebook posts, a visitor can view a round of Jeopardy featuring the category “Eye Health,” link to groups like Grade 10 Potassium, #PreventionisBetterThanCure, and learn how to identify their dominant eye. The feel is kid-friendly; there’s even a link to eBook Howard and the Amazing Eye Exam.
DVision sponsors school-wide events. “I’ve been a part of my boys’ school PTA, so extending the partnership was a natural choice,” says owner Dr. Amina Ebrahim.” She’s become a familiar figure at school health fairs and events in the area. “We have co-sponsored a Tae Kwon Do tournament, fun run and a school anniversary celebration where we raffled off sunglasses.”

Go to the Experts
SALEM OPTICAL, WINSTON-SALEM, NC

Salem Optical’s Pamela Miller had a back-to-school “ah-ha!” moment recently. There’s a neglected pool of experts out there who spend all day every day with students. They’re called teachers. It was time to put “talking with schoolteachers” front and center. “My goal was to attend 3-5 elementary schools and share the deals we have for children’s eyeglasses.”

Old School Signs
BuENA VISTA OPTICAL CHICAGO, IL

The lawn sign out front of Buena Vista Optical

Lawn signs are all about leads. “The results, as far as revenue, are great. We get parents inquiring about glasses (from the lawn sign) almost every day. We put it out late August and keep it out until late September,” says Buena Vista Optical owner Diana Sims. “We’ve had signs saying: ‘School Started: Is your student ready? Are their glasses current? Make an appointment today.’”

A few lawn-sign no-no’s: lack of distinctiveness; saying too much; swapping it out too frequently; or being just plain low-quality. If they’re smart, smart-looking, and stubbornly on-message, they’ll work for you.

After years covering some of the farther flung corners of the world of business journalism, Heath has more recently focused on covering the efforts of independent eyecare professionals to negotiate a fast-changing industry landscape. Contact him at heath@smartworkmedia.com.

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Benchmarks

Harnessing the Power of the Selfie to Boost Social Media Engagement, Drive Foot Traffic … and Have Fun

These five practices added an extra dimension to the optical experience and became genuine destinations.

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ONE OF THE defining characteristics of our modern retail world is that no purchase or experience, whether it’s buying sneakers or sitting down to a gourmet burrito, is really complete until it’s been photographed and posted to social media. iPads are even showing up in clothing store changing rooms. Like it or not, people are going to bring cameras into your store; the question is how to take control of that experience. Selfie walls or stations are a great way of doing this; they grow your social media following, increase customer engagement, drive foot traffic and boost your store’s fun quotient. There are sophisticated options out there—fully integrated systems for retailers, like Halo by Simple Booth, or The Digital Booth’s rental services, which are great for events—but you can get results using a smartphone and a colorfully branded sliver of free wall space in your optical. These five practices show us how it’s done.

Falls City Eye Care
Louisville, KY

Falls City Eye Care boasts two features that get customers taking snapshots of themselves. One is their trusty Polaroid camera—patients and friends are urged to snap a couple of photos, post one on a cork board in the optical and take the other home. The other is a 12-foot sculpture of a pair of frames in the front yard made especially for owners Dr. Michael and Theresa Martorana by a local artist. Falls City Eyecare now sees a steady stream of small groups and individuals stopping by to take selfies with the giant specs. City ordinances prevent them from labeling the sculpture, but customers usually find ways of slipping in a store-related hashtag themselves, Theresa says. “We were easy to walk right by on a busy fun street. Once the sculpture was created and painted, we became a destination.”

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Eye Love Optometry
Pinole, CA

EYE LOVE OPTOMETRY’s iPad-based selfie photo station allows photos to be taken and sent to smartphones and e-mail or shared on social media. Branded galleries can be made public, while owner Park L. Hsieh, OD and his team are sent marketing reports to track performance. Patients are given a “Selfie Card” that says, “We love that you love EYE LOVE OPTOMETRY! This is a ‘SELFIE CARD,’ so share your photos of your new eyewear with friends on INSTAGRAM/FACEBOOK.” The station uses Simple Booth’s Halo software, which makes the service fully customizable. “The appearance of the selfies taken are all consistent and in line with our desired brand,” says Hsieh. The sharing function leads to re-engagement long after the experience is over, he adds. “It’s a wonderful word-of-mouth marketing tool, which I think is invaluable.”

Eye Candy
Delafield and Mequon, WI

Eye Candy has smartly branded, professional-looking selfie stations at both of its locations in the Milwaukee area. The stations themselves are alcoves bound by three floor-to-ceiling walls, each covered in custom vinyl wallpaper with the Eye Candy logo. Owner Paula Hornbeck says her original inspiration for the design was the photo wall at the Oscars. When customers pick up their new eyewear, staff ask if they can take a picture for the store’s social media. “Some are shy and decline,” says Hornbeck, “but most are flattered and we encourage them to show us their personality. They take a seat on the stool provided and we take candid shots of them rocking their new look with our iPad. Some are silly, but they always look like they’re happy and having fun.” Family members are invited to join in the photo session. The images are used on Eye Candy’s Facebook and Instagram accounts. Hornbeck says the selfie stations are a definite plus for the business. “Friends and family will go on our FB and IG to see their loved one’s new look and hopefully get excited about coming in to get their own.”

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The Eyeglass Lass
New London, CT

What became The Eyeglass Lass’s selfie wall wasn’t originally designed for that purpose. Owner Siobhan Burns wanted to do something with the wall, which is visible from the street. “Local artist Rob Guess covered the wall with funky, graffiti-style eyes. The next day I asked someone to pose in front of it for their ‘glamour shot’ and boom: the selfie/eyeball wall was born.” It’s a low-tech affair. Says Burns: “This one woman show uses portrait mode on her phone!” Simple as it is, the feature “has turned into something great; people recognize frames from posts on social media, and ask if they can have their picture taken before I get a chance to ask them,” Burns says. “If we only see airbrushed models with frames superimposed on their faces, we don’t stop and think, ‘Oh yeah—I could wear that!” Besides which, “It’s another special thing that will stick out to your clientele that wraps up the individual experience they’ve had working with you.”

Optical Connection
Studio City, CA

Armen and Rita Kanberian at Optical Connection had an empty wall they didn’t know what to do with. They decided they wanted an area dedicated to fun. “We imported this beautiful patterned wallpaper from the U.K. and custom ordered our neon light hashtag, #wellframed. This has been such a great hit with clients, especially during our fun trunk shows and events,” says Rita, adding that the feature is now a firm customer favorite. “Having a place to have fun and see yourself try on different frames is what we love… We had a client who bought a dress with glasses and came in just to take pictures.”

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Benchmarks

How 6 ECPs Designed, and Use, Their Business Cards

Even in a digital era, they find them to be an essential business tool.

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THE HUMBLE BUSINESS CARD is the great survivor of our tech-driven retail world. They have few rivals when it comes to making a memorable first impression; handed to departing customers they become little ambassadors for your uniqueness — and a great vehicle for impromptu incentives. They’ll be around as long as folks have pockets. But people don’t hold on to cards as long as they used to, so it’s important to make them memorable … There are many reasons that 27 million of them continue to be printed every day. We do urge you to spare a thought for the planet though and choose an eco-friendly option, of which there are many. (To name two, Rhode Island-based Moo makes cards out of cotton from T-shirt remnants, and Botanical Paperworks of Canada produces “plantable” cards made from seed paper.) We asked six ECPs to flash their cards and share with us how they use them.

Optical Oasis
Jupiter, FL

Julie Uram’s parents met an artist during a trip to Key West and happened to mention their daughter was opening an optical with a thatched roof and sand-covered floor. He designed her a card there and then. She hands them out both inside the store and out, and occasionally recruits relatives for the task. She has given cards to doctors who practice in town; on the back of these she stamps a $50 coupon. She believes customers that take them do hand them on: “I do ask customers how they found me and they will tell me from either a customer, a doctor, or Google.”

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Kenneth D. Boltz, OD
Dublin, OH

When Dr. Ken Boltz was setting up his new office in 2016, he needed a card with the new location and number in a hurry. He designed it himself, figuring he’d call a professional later. But his chart-inspired card went down so well, he kept it. “I keep cards with me at all times, as do all my staff. Each of us has a goal to hand out at least five each week.” They occasionally place a label on the back offering a complimentary retinal scan (value $39) with an expiration date. “This seems to stimulate those new contacts to call and make an appointment sooner rather than later,” he says.

Socialite Vision
Palm Beach Gardens, FL

Dr. Adam Ramsey sees his cards as an extension of his office, and spares no expense. He recently worked with a designer through numerous revisions “until the shine on the copper lettering was just right.” Given their ability to attract new clients, he advises, “don’t go low cost — go high quality.” He carries his cards everywhere and keeps a stash in his car. He also mails them to businesses from which he would like to receive referrals, including MDs without opticals and opticians without ODs. Not only does Ramsey ask staff to carry them, he even bought them fancy cardholders. “You need to instill that pride in them with their own cards. It’s their office too!” he says.

MacPherson Opticians
Arlington, VA

Kate Giroux worked with a designer to come up with MacPherson’s logo. She has them made for herself and staff, and they all carry them. She will use them to note a discount for customers who need an incentive to come in. Giroux adds that all of her referring doctors use her cards on her behalf when patients ask where they should have their eyeglasses fit and fabricated. “I have even had a few chain optical stores ask for my cards when those opticians cannot fit anything over a + or – 6D power lens or deal with complex compounded prism jobs.”

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Hudson River Eye Care
White Plains, NY

It pays to have a graphic artist in the family — Dr. Larah Alami’s cousin came up with Hudson River’s wordmark and card design. “We have our cards displayed in dispensers, but don’t use them much outside the business,” she says. Doctors and opticians all have named cards, but not support staff. The practice prints up separate cards for discounts on suns with a CL purchase, but hands out a large number of business cards to people stopping in who need to call for appointments. “I don’t think it’s possible to operate without them,” Alami says. “It’s probably one of the first things we did when we opened.”

Goodrich Optical
Lansing, MI

Owner Dave Goodrich’s self-designed cards are mostly intended for use outside the store, including by staff. “I give them to people I meet, I use them for ID at other businesses. I’ve left them with a tip after good service at a restaurant.” When it comes to incentive write-ins, he tends to leave that for his “repair” cards, which allow folks to put money spent on a solder or repair toward new glasses. “I know we get five to 10-plus customers a year from a business or repair card,” he says. “I consider them a marketing tool rather than advertising since they are usually given to people asking about our services.”

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Benchmarks

We Asked ECPs Which Famous Names Bought Their Eyewear

And boy did they get to bragging….

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FOOTBALL ICONS, RECLUSIVE troubadours, presidential candidates, Hollywood A-listers, and childhood heroes: We asked our readers to indulge in a little shameless bragging and tell us about some of the famous faces that have propped up their eyewear.

Rick Rickgauer, Vision Associates
Girard, PA

“The day Gene Hackman stopped in I happened to be off,” recalls Rick Rickgauer of the day the bona fide Hollywood legend strolled into a LensCrafters in Tuscon, AZ. (Rickgauer has since moved on to Vision Associates in Girard, PA.) “My lab manager called me to tell me Mr. Hackman was in the store. ‘If I drive all the way down there and you’re lying to me,’ I told him, ‘I’ll $#@* you over good.’ So, I hopped in my car and drove the 30 minutes to work. And there he was, all 6’4” of him in all his star quality. I’ve seen Gene Hackman in more movies than I can count. I don’t know what I expected of him, at the time, but he was the most mild-mannered person. Totally oblivious that he was a major motion picture star.” But it was baseball legend Ken Griffey Sr. that left Rickgauer nearly speechless. “I was a bumbling idiot. In the mid-’70s I was a huge Cincinnati Reds fan when they were known as the Big Red Machine, winning multiple World Series along the way. Ken G was a big cog in that machine. His son, Ken Griffey Jr. was all the rage. One of the best players ever to play the game. I proceeded to tell Ken G that, to me, he was the original Ken Griffey, not his famous son.” In retrospect, Rickgauer wonders if it would’ve been better if he had been speechless. “To this day, I still feel like an idiot for saying that.”

Nancy Revis, Uber Optics
Petaluma, CA

Nancy Revis, owner of Uber Optics in Petaluma, CA, had heard that singer/songwriter, actor, and one of her personal heroes, Tom Waits, a resident of neighboring Occidental, was often spotted in her town. “Why was he not coming into my shop?” she asked herself. “I have the cool eyewear and he has cool taste! Tom Waits always has cool eyewear on!”

Then about seven months ago, Revis and staff members Jess and Elizabeth were having what they thought was a regular workday. “Elizabeth was closing a sale at the computer desk and in walks a woman, a younger woman — her daughter — and Tom Waits! I instantly started sweating. It was actually happening — Tom Waits was walking into my store. Everything seemed to slow down and I started to sweat.” Revis managed to get a greeting out, and “Tom went right over to the sitting area and just chilled out. He was watching me help his wife and giving feedback. Nodding only. He looked so cool. Crazy huge grey curly hair. I offered him water but he declined. He sat there and grabbed a Rolling Stone. I mean… Tom Waits was sitting in my store and reading a Rolling Stone. Jess hadn’t seen that he was in the shop because she was checking in jobs. I walked to the back and all I said was… ‘Oh my God! Oh, my God! Oh, my God!’ and then walked back out. She came out and her facial expression said, ‘HOLY S**T!’ His wife loved cat eyes and so do I … so, I ended up selling her an Oliver Peoples that I wear… the Marienella in black.”

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Musicians seem drawn to Uber. Revis recalls John McCrea, of the band Cake, as being “so super cool. I asked if he would model for me but he didn’t want to. But, I was so stoked that he bought glasses from me. He was hilarious and sweet.” And she has struck up something of a friendship with actor and pioneering punk rocker John Doe of the band X. “He became my customer the moment I opened because Pat with Moscot was his friend… he sent him a pair of glasses and I was the liaison. He let me take his photo wearing Moscot on a few occasions. Just recently he was in town performing with the Psychedelic Furs and swung in to say hi. He fell in love with a pair of sunglasses and modeled them for me. I told him to let me take his photo wearing the sunglasses that he loved… He sent me a pic of himself in NYC wearing the Moscot sunglasses.”

Other memorable Uber clients include Oscar-winning movie sound designer Chris Boyes, songwriter George Merrill and the actress Jane Levy (and her mom).

William Chancellor, Eye Can See Eyewear
McDonough, GA

As an Army veteran, William Chancellor says it was a personal pleasure to sit down and dispense to Herman Cain, the former presidential candidate from the Atlanta area, who has a history of offering praise and support for the military. (The experience took place at Chancellor’s previous office, DePoe Eye Center, which has several Georgia locations. He is now the practice manager and licensed optician for Eye Can See Eyewear in McDonough.) “Having the pleasure of meeting him in person was a wonderful experience. He was very humble and authentic. Who can’t appreciate his quote, ‘Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.’” Chancellor recalls dispensing Silhouette Eyewear to Cain. “I would listen to his syndicated talk show daily and supported him in his bid for the White House in 2012.”

Julie Uram, Optical Oasis
Jupiter, FL

Jupiter, FL, is home to a disproportionately high population of sports pros. Not surprising, then, that Julie Uram often looks up to find former football players stooping to squeeze through her doors. “Well, it seems as though I have many retired football players or coaches [coming in]: Joe Namath, Ron Wolf and Dan Henning. Funny story about Joe Namath, the other day a customer recognized him and asked if he would speak to his brother on the phone. Joe did and told him when he was in the area they should get together! Then the guy was all excited, and Joe said, ‘Oh, I was really just kidding…’ It was quite a funny moment.”

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Tom Brillante, OD, Decatur Eye Care
Decatur, GA

The Atlanta area now rivals Southern California as a center of the U.S. film industry. So much so that these days you’re as well positioned in the Peach State as on Rodeo Drive for superhero sightings. Ask Dr. Tom Brillante of Decatur Eye Care in Decatur, GA — or at least ask his employees. He spotted Cress Williams of The CW’s Black Lightning. “I didn’t know who he was, but the rest of my staff did. Such a nice guy! For a superhero, I expected him to be a lot more arrogant. Maybe his other super power is humility.” Kevin Bacon and Billy Bob Thornton filmed a part of their indie film Jayne Mansfield’s Car right downstairs in the courtyard. Most recently — and most personally thrilling for unashamed retro-soft rock fan Brillante — was his brush with Peter Olson, one of the lead singers for “the greatest ’70s/’80s cover band of all time — Yacht Rock Revue. Definitely check them out, they tour the country throughout the year and I’ve probably seen them about 10 times now,” Brillante says.

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