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6 Businesses Whose Holiday Decorations Make Customers Say Wow

You don’t have to spend a pile to create a shopping experience that will keep customers coming back year-round.

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IF CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE IS the key to setting your business apart, the value of a holiday makeover should be obvious. The National Retail Federation expects Nov./Dec. sales (excluding cars, gas and restaurants) to grow between 3.6 and 4 percent from last year to $678.75 billion-$682 billion, with most of the growth in November. And no, it’s not all online: Most shoppers over 35 still do most of their spending in stores … and some of the most successful are decorated for the holidays. Increasingly, decorations are springing up in late September. This month we highlight a few standouts that show you don’t have to spend a pile to create a shopping experience that will keep customers coming back year-round. 

EyeShop Optical Center Lewis Center, OH

Folks in Lewis Center, OH now expect something fun from EyeShop Optical Center in autumn. “We pick a theme and incorporate it into our displays, capped off with our Halloween party,” says owner Cynthia Sayers, OD. “We serve food, and everyone dresses up.” (Think Minions, ’80s, villains…). But serious fun takes planning. “We plan for about a month so we can focus on the details. (It helps to have an art major on staff!) We tie in our ads and sales.” Customers also love the Ugly Sweater Christmas party and a “sparkle and shine” day that Sayers describes as an “explosion of Christmas glitter.”


 
EyeStyles Optical and Boutique Oakdale, MN

EyeStyles Optical and Boutique in Oakdale, MN, makes up for a limited holiday decoration budget with sheer creative ingenuity. In falls past, owner Nikki Griffin has done some beautiful work staging frames on floral displays. Right now, the optical sports a huge pair of glasses covered in leaves inviting people to “fall” in love with her eyewear. Griffin sees amazing results on a shoestring. “I have been doing elaborate displays for years. The cost ranges from zero to $100.” The “Fall in Love” display was cut out of foamcore and covered in dollar store leaves. Total cost: About $30. “I found the inspiration on Pinterest and did it as a family. We projected the eyeglass shape onto the board and cut it out; the kids had a blast gluing leaves. I added little rings and bits of chain to hang each tier. The signage is funfoam and sharpie!”


Vision Health Institute Orlando, FL

This is a practice that goes into the holidays with the bar high. For owners Drs. Mark and Karen Perry, holiday displays are about maintaining standards and integrating decorations into a design scheme that’s short on red and green. The solution? A White Christmas in Florida! “We do it ourselves,” Mark says. It takes several hours, with an outlay of around $1,500. The standout feature? “The trees. We put up two white trees … we also have matching foot-and-a-half-high nutcrackers. They’re blue, purple, pink, and really stand out. Patients point them out every time they come through.”


Rockford Family Eyecare ROCKFORD, MI

In Rockford, MI, passersby admiring Rockford Family Eyecare’s holiday displays could be forgiven for assuming they’re looking at the work of a pro. But it’s strictly DIY for Theodore Sees, OD, and crew. “With a lot of creativity and Pinterest ideas we create backdrops.” Rockford has an annual charity scarecrow-making event. “We made three, threw out bales of straw, added ‘Guitar Hero’ instruments and created the Rockford Family Eyecare band: ‘Eye Problems.’” Total cost: $30. “It was a fun staff bonding event. But the straw; it was a bit of a mess!”


Vision Associates GIRARD, PA

It’s the little holiday rituals or talismans, however goofy or grudgingly performed, that are what make your holidays unique. At Vision Associates in Girard, PA, this spirit is embodied in a standing eyeball. We’ll let Rick Rickgauer explain: “Doc, when she was in optometry school, received the standing eyeball as a gift from a classmate for Christmas. We have used it every Halloween and it gets great responses from children. Of course, it helps that it’s filled with candy, but it’s the oddity of the display that captures the most attention.” For more traditional fare, there are seasonal quilts hanging on the walls — made by the doc’s mom.

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Mill Creek Optical Dansville, NY

A little community coordination goes a long way. In Dansville, NY, the chamber of commerce is happy to oblige, and Mill Creek Optical is in the thick of it. With two big windows, “We’re no Bloomingdales, but we do pretend!” says owner Jennifer Leuzzi. “Last year, in line with the chamber’s theme (red & green and gingerbread), we had one window set as a kitchen making gingerbread men, including a cookbook with reading glasses laying on it. … This year it’s Winter Wonderland and we’ll have windows full of snow, polar bears and rabbits, and sparkle!”

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

Ways ECPs Are Benefiting from Short Intro Videos for Their Practices

Practice introduction videos have multiple benefits, and these days they’re a cinch to produce.

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Introducing yourself to potential patients and customers, eliminating the element of surprise for first-timers, and boosting your SEO and Google rankings: Producing a professional-looking intro video for your practice has multiple benefits and doesn’t have to bust your marketing budget. Check out this handful of practices that have embraced multimedia.

Precision Vision

Edmund, OK

Precision Vision in Edmund, OK, designed their video to help patients get to know the practice before coming in. “The video was structured to try and eliminate surprises,” says owner Dr. Selina McGee. It plays on the website and her Facebook page, boosting SEO across channels and driving traffic to the practice. McGee hired a videographer to shoot and edit the video for about $800. “I wanted it to look completely professional.” McGee’s main goal was boosting SEO, but now that she’s got the video up and running she concedes she could probably do an even better job of getting patients to see it. She’s also come to realize it has other potential benefits. “Customers always want to see the real you, so create something authentic that shows your personality,” she advises. “Have fun with it. Remember, your patients and customers can’t buy YOU down the street.”

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Spanish Oaks Eyecare

Cedar Park, TX

Spanish Oaks Eyecare’s video involved some luck. It was professionally done. “However,” says owner Dr. Dina Miller, “we were approached by [a crew] wanting to use our waiting area for a film. So in exchange they offered to do it at no charge.” The video walks the audience through Spanish Oaks’ office, with both exterior and interior shots, before showing Miller examining a patient and reviewing their optomap results. It ends with the patient in the optical working with her optician Bob. “During that part, we let people know how we’re different than most opticals and why ­— we carry only independent frame lines.” The video, whose main goal Miller says is to introduce Spanish Oaks to potential patients and customers, is posted on Facebook. “It’s a great way to … make yourself ‘real’ and familiar.”
She advises other ECPs to make sure the video features actual staff. “That’s one of the most important parts; making it personable. I was tempted to have someone else sit in for me but at the end of the day, I knew that would really take away from the video and its purpose.” And don’t be afraid to edit: Miller opted for voice overs, as they had felt uncomfortable speaking to camera, and added captions for things she wanted the audience to know (for example, the fact that her optician is one of just two people with an active American Board of Opticianry Advanced certification in her part of Texas). “Also,” she advises, “consider having parts where you and possibly your main staff talk to the camera about what’s important to you, what sets you apart from others — not the generic ‘We have the best customer service/patient care,’ etc.”

Ziegler Leffingwell Eyecare

New Berlin, WI

According to Dr. Dave Ziegler, Ziegler Leffingwell Eyecare hit on the idea of making an intro video as a way of giving “strong visual exposure of what it is like to be in our office.” And they found a striking way to do just that, hiring a real estate photographer to use a drone, which opens the video hovering outside the front of the office, then enters through the front door and flies throughout the office. “This flight path through the office is the way our patients experience our office during a typical eye exam,” he says. The video boasts a script written by Ziegler himself; he hired a professional to do the voice over for maximum impact. He felt it was important that the video should be less than a minute long; it’s now posted to the practice’s website, one among many features that he says win their website routine praise. Asked whether the time and expense that went into making the video were worth it, he replies that more than that, “it is necessary” for any practice, in his view.

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Dr. Bladh OD

Diamond Bar, CA

The folks at Dr. Bladh OD, a Diamond Bar, CA practice, understand the power of videos to increase a business’s Google ranking by boosting the amount of content that links back to its website. They signed up with a company called Promo! that allows them to make multiple 15-second videos. “The [Promo!] site has a ton of content with professional videos to use.” Once you edit it, the video is yours to keep. So the video is professionally done, but everything added to it is DIY.
“Video marketing gets so much more traction than pictures or boring blog posts,” reports Josh Bladh. The videos are similar, but each has its own emphasis. Most feature music and a few lines of text to get people’s attention. “Search engines are putting more emphasis on video content so this seemed like the best option to get our foothold with video before paying for anything professional,” he says.
The videos are posted to Facebook and Instagram. “We will add videos to blog posts on our website where relevant.”
In the practice’s experience, consumers typically need six to eight touch points before they’ll call and commit to an exam. So, using videos to boost these contact points for the service’s relatively low monthly fee makes sense. Bladh warns ECPs to do their homework before signing up for such a service, however, as some companies will give you a hard time if you attempt to use any unused video credits after letting your subscription lapse.

Anthony Aiden Opticians

New York, NY

Anthony Aiden Opticians went for a more adult approach in their video, a 30-second short about … a misunderstanding. It may seem like male fantasy, but optician Anthony Gaggi swears it’s based on reality. “My sister’s friend was a stylist; she was working alone one night and…” Well, we don’t want to spoil it; suffice it to say whether you find it hilarious, titillating or offensive, there’s no denying it conveys the store’s edgy, fashion-conscious style. “My goal,” Gaggi says, “was to bring a high-quality fashion video to my website.” The video is also displayed in the store’s windows. A friend who works in TV offered his services for free; Gaggi says clients love it.

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5 Eyecare Businesses That Prove That the Way to Clients’ Hearts is Through Their Stomachs

For these businesses, delicious tastes and smells are a selling point.

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IT SHOULD BE SELF-EVIDENT, but “experts” can dash off a list of reasons why offering delicious baked goods to your customers can be good for business. Sure, it sounds a little …well, sexist frankly … but the Journal of Consumer Research once reported that women were more likely to make impulsive decisions when exposed to “appetitive stimulants” such as the smell of chocolate chip cookies.

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Less scientifically, perhaps, a California jewelry store owner once told our sister publication, INSTORE, that “nine out of 10” people who stopped by for the express purpose of sampling his wife’s legendary lemon pie ended up buying something. Then there’s the argument that free food and drink makes customers feel obligated to buy something because, after all, you’ve just improved their day. And if you’re hosting an event, freebies can at least give participants a reason to stick it out to the bitter (or bittersweet?) end.

But all this doesn’t even touch on the staff-bonding boost to be had from getting employees to whip up — and show off — goodies of their own. It’s clearly a way to add the personal touch and further differentiate yourself from your local big box. But truth be told, bringing in baked goods doesn’t have to be part of an elaborate strategy or cross-promotion; it can simply be an honest, generous, down-home way to connect with staff and customers as human beings, no strings attached … and regardless of gender.


Eye Candy
Delafield and Mequon, WI

The name is Eye Candy, and they don’t disappoint. Owner/optician Paula Hornbeck makes a priority of organizing baked goods and sweets for trunk shows and other special events. “It’s always a hit,” she says. “Who doesn’t like cake!” Melissa, one of Eye Candy’s opticians, loves to bake cupcakes and will often whip up a fun flavor for a trunk show. For the store’s birthday party each year, Hornbeck orders up a custom cake from a local baker. Staff are allowed to tuck in, “Just not when they’re busy with customers.” Eye Candy’s offerings tend to be event-driven; for that reason, flavors and styles are usually seasonal. And they’re always free. Health warnings and lawsuit fears are not really Hornbeck’s style: “Big eye roll,” she yawns. “No. I believe in personal responsibility. If you have a diet restriction then ask what’s in the treats or don’t have any.” Her advice to ECPs sitting on the gingerbread fence: Take the plunge… and “Have fun with it!”

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EyeShop Optical
Columbus, OH

Every Friday is Dessert Friday at EyeShop Optical. Patients like it so much many of them schedule their appointments on the day. Owner Dr. Cynthia Sayers started the tradition because at her daughter’s preschool every Friday was Cookie Friday. She found that parents — who on other days just picked up their kids and took off were hanging out around the cookies on Friday, and more willing to engage with other parents. “If it could work at a daycare, surely it could work at an optometry office.” Sayers does the baking herself. “It’s one of my hobbies, so it’s enjoyable for me. I typically bake cupcakes, but it can be cookies or other treats depending on the occasion or mood. I will take requests from patients and yes, the employees often partake.” The biggest request she gets are for her s’more cups (chocolate chip cookie cup with a ROLO inside, and toasted marshmallows and chocolate on top). No strings attached here; the cupcakes are put out for any and all to eat (though kids are told to ask permission from a parent). “Baking is relaxing for me and … a way to bring the homey feeling I try to create into my business,” says Sayers.


Discerning Eye
Iowa City, IA

Raising the bar on free, home-cooked treats is Joni Schrup, owner of Discerning Eye in Iowa City, IA, who personally bakes something for her patients every single day, ranging from cookies, bars and shortbread to ginger snaps and candied bacon. “Customers are always asking for my recipes and we keep copies handy at our front desk.” Located in the heart of a college town, Discerning Eye has 20,000 starving University of Iowa students and workers traipsing hungrily past her doors daily. So she got cooking. “We offer cookies or bars or homemade snacks every day.” When she spoke with us there was a plate of chocolate shortbread cookies and ginger snaps on the counter. “The all-time favorite is candied bacon, which I only make in December.”

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Edina Eye
Edina, MN

Once, Edina Eye in Edina, MN, had a greeter in the office, one of whose tasks was to pour coffee and hand out cookies. Times change, greeters move on. But when Edina’s treat-dispenser left, staff noticed that while the snacks hadn’t generated a lot of comment when plentiful, once they were no more, employees heard about it. “Patients missed it,” recalls retail operations manager Bob McBeath. “Now we do it once a month or so sometimes around an event,” McBeath says. “Usually one of the managers picks them up. We do not take requests.” The munchies are free: “No strings attached, although we ask that parents help the kids.” To ECPs worried about litigation or other forms of blowback in an era of fat shaming, gluten-free diets and anti-junk food ordinances, McBeath says simply: “Buy it, put up an ingredient poster.” Something weird he’s noticed about offering free goodies, though: “Patients act like they’re stealing them.”


Urban Optics
San Luis Obispo, CA

If you happen to find yourself in California’s Central Coast region, check the sea breeze for a whiff of cinnamon and follow your nose into San Luis Obispo’s Urban Optics for an eye exam and a treat; the practice buys them from a favorite bakery and hands them out to customers and patients. “We stock the office with baked goods most commonly on Saturdays, our most leisurely day,” as owner Dr. Dave Schultz puts it. “We use Black Horse Espresso and Bakery; our favorite caffeine stop. Our go-to items are Bear Claws; they fill the office with the smell of cinnamon.” Obligingly — and rather sensibly —these are cut into individual claws for ease of scoffing. Over the years, Schultz and his team have discerned various eating patterns among their grateful — if rather particular — patrons. Schultz breaks it down thus: “There’s the guy who mauls and devours every claw in sight; the mom who’s trying to control her child’s sugar intake; the vegetarian who won’t eat bear; the old lady who secretly wraps several in a napkin to take home for dinner…. oh yeah, and the PETA members who wants us to serve Pear Claws!”

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9 ECPs Share What Adding an In-House Lab Has Meant to Them

So much for the cons: When it comes to the pros, we decided to ask around.

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THE PROS AND CONS of having an in-house lab depend on where you’re standing. Where some ECPs see an expensive headache —  which someone else can handle anyway — others see a money-saving customer-winner that’s actually a lot of fun. The size and shape of your market, your personal and professional priorities, your comfort with gadgetry and the age of your business all factor in. As should recent changes in the industry, in particular the nature of distribution, evolving lens technologies and shifting consumer behaviors. If you’re a one-woman or –man operation, it’s probably not for you. Some folks have plenty of manpower but find that having a lab makes employee management a little bit too complicated. For others, it’s a case of “let labs be labs, let opticals sell eyewear.” So much for the cons: When it comes to the pros, we decided to ask around. Here’s what ECPs with successful in-house labs had to tell us.

Sonoma Eyeworks Santa Rosa, Ca

Cindy Harmon at Sonoma Eyeworks in Santa Rosa, CA boils the pluses of having an in-office lab down to three things: It allows you to provide exceptional customer service; it differentiates you from other practices; and it serves as a business builder. Her full-time manager, Wayne Wilmsen, has greater quality control on one-of-a-kind frames, custom drill mounts, and “does so much more than just edge lenses,” she says. As an extra bonus, “Our lab is somewhat visible, so it allows customers to witness the complexity of fabricating eyewear. It’s very easy to discount the reasons for investing in laboratory technology and the additional staffing. We’ve always felt it is one of the silent partners in our success.”


D’ambrosio Eye Care Lancaster, Ma

“I love it,” says Jocelyn Mylott of the in-house lab at D’Ambrosio Eye Care in Lancaster, MA. “I wish more managed care would allow us to edge in-house; saves so much time for the patient.” Quality is a key factor in in-house edging at D’Ambrosio, which now has five locations but made the decision to set up a lab with the launch of the third office. The sheer volume of orders warranted the move, Mylott says, given the cost of edging, shipping the frames back and forth and time lost during that process. “Per job it’s cost effective to edge in-house and you save the job turn time two or three days. Money and time make it worthwhile,” she says. Other advantages include the stock lens costs, which are lower. Considering the cost of digital progressive lenses nowadays, any cost saving you can squeeze out on single vision is to be grabbed, she says. “We can also use our stock lenses to provide promotions to patients at a more affordable price.” The lab now serves as a central ordering hub, with a courier driving between the five locations. All orders originate from the opticians. Those that D’Ambrosio’s lab can handle are taken care of in-house. Orders that need to be sent out are submitted by the lab staff, which reduces employee errors. “All product is drop-shipped to the lab, centralizing receiving and invoicing. We also offer patients who cannot be without their frame an option to wait for their order while we finish their new lenses.”


Cherry Optometry Chelsea, Mi

“I love my Santinelli!” confesses Paula Koch, OD, at Cherry Optometry in Chelsea, MI. She decided to get an edger to increase turnaround on jobs, and quickly discovered that edging is not only satisfying and fun, but lends a personal dimension to the transaction. “Patients love glasses done quickly — I think of it as ‘Amazon Prime’ for eyeglasses. And they like the personal attention they get with me making their glasses.” When a patient comes in with a broken frame, there’s something deeply satisfying for us both about being able to cut them into another frame right then and there. “Talk about a ‘WOW!’ Patients are thrilled.” Koch’s Santinelli rep, Jaysun Barr, invited her to join the Opening Eyes program, which provides exams and makes glasses for Special Olympians. Her son comes in to help cut the lenses for the program. “It’s a little thing but it allows me to keep my kids involved in the business.” 


Alberta Eye Care Portland, Or

The motivation for Alberta Eye Care’s purchase of an edger (they now have one in both offices) was long-term cost savings. By buying stock lenses in bulk, explains co-owner James Armstrong, they saw significant savings on their cost of goods, allowing them to offer competitive pricing and faster turnaround. But a second benefit emerged: quality control. Armstrong finds that jobs edged by his opticians have fewer errors than those from an outside lab. Lastly, “Without our lab, we would not be able to afford to continue working with children in the Oregon Medicaid program.” Alberta stocks Trivex and 1.67 with AR, which Armstrong says saves money and reduces delays related to lab edging.


Dr. Bladh, OD Diamond Bar, Ca

Far from being a cool option, at Dr. Bladh OD in Diamond Bar, CA, a lab is viewed as a necessity. They’ve had their edger for nearly 20 years, and repeat patients know their Rx is usually in stock. The original aim was to provide quicker turnaround time; in the beginning they were lucky if their lab could get glasses back in two weeks. “Back in the day,” says Josh Bladh, “edgers required patterns, if anybody remembers that. We purchased a patternless edger when they came out and it changed our lives… we were able to have the job done in less than a week and when retail chains started to say glasses in an hour or less, it wasn’t a novel idea for our patients.” Bladh summarizes the main benefits as differentiation from non-lab practices and “being able to under-promise and over-deliver” -— staff tell patients their glasses will be ready in 7-10 working days, just in case, “But we know full well that if the lens is in stock we might be able to have that job done in less than an hour. We love exceeding patient expectations!” The practice only stocks CR-39 and Polycarbonate single vision lenses. They stock slightly higher powers than “normal” parameters, but anything with Transitions or AR coating they order. Those typically only take a couple days to get in, and the office usually has someone who knows how to cut lenses in five days a week. “A lot of our second pair $99 special deals get cut before the nice expensive pair because they’re just looking for a basic pair as a backup.” 


EYEcare Plus antioch, tn

When Kevin Schmidt, OD, launched his practice, he provided most of the glasses out of his own lab. That changed after a while, but with recent industry developments bringing a higher percentage of antireflective coating and new digital designs requiring even more outside lab use, “I had to decide again to be in the lab business. Financially it has increased my AR percentage to numbers I never thought possible.” Schmidt has been able to add digital design, while still providing it as an upgrade to pay for the new equipment. “Turnaround time is unbelievable and patients are even happy occasionally with the great service,” he jokes. Running a seven-location practice, he’s taken some extra tech on board, using a robotic edger to return lenses to the other six locations; they only have to be inserted into the frame. “Schneider Box AR coating and two digital generators in a practice our size is unique, and sputter mirror coating has enabled us to do almost any Rx in house,” he says.


Optical Alternatives Milford, Ct

Optical Alternatives in Milford, CT, has edged in-house since it opened, says Dorothy Reynolds. They stock single vision with AR and find that being able to tell customers they can have their glasses that day helps make a sale. And there’s a feel-good factor in being able to provide single vision lenses if someone has broken their glasses, especially when in Milford visiting family. “It allows patients to use their own frame without having to give that frame up for a week,” she points out. Besides which, “It gives children a thrill, and some adults too, to see their glasses lenses being ‘made.”


Casa De Oro Eyecare Spring Valley, Ca

Jeff Grosekemper recalls how the doctor at Casa De Oro Eyecare in Spring Valley, CA, wanted to install edging equipment to save money; they found many insurance companies would let them do in-house edging — mostly single vision but some were OK with multifocals too. “Uncuts cost less in the long run — less labor cost so the equipment will pay for itself over time, and then create profit.” Grosekemper can cut stock lenses in-house in 15 minutes, which appeals to patients. Also, uncut lens orders arrive quicker, which allows him to cut down overall wait time by a few days. “Plus, I know it will be done right the first time,” he says with a laugh. As for the lab itself: “Love it. Gives me something different to do. We’re a small office so I do pretesting, sales, dispensing, repairs, billing, etc. It’s fun to escape to the lab and make lenses. Having the in-house lab lets patients know that we are fully equipped to handle little emergencies and everyday problems that come with wearing glasses.”


Eye Can See Eyewear Mcdonough, Ga

Being able to provide badly needed in-house finishing-lab services to the two small communities it serves is a huge advantage for Eye Can See Eyewear in McDonough, GA, says practice manager William Chancellor. So much so, in fact, that they have one at each location. “We can say, ‘I can have those glasses ready for you today.’ The surprise that we have that ability is a great value in itself!” The cost reduction of not having to use an outside lab keeps a lot of money in house and that is passed on to the employees. Eye Can See carries a good assortment of power ranges in single vision CR39 and single vision Polycarbonate with AR. “Ninety-plus percent of our orders are edged in-house, saving our practice thousands of dollars a year in edging fees. It truly warms our hearts to see a child be able to receive glasses for the first time the same day and say our name…Eye Can See!” says Chancellor.

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