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6 ECPs Who See the Power of Cooperating With Local Businesses

Being an independent operator doesn’t mean you have to cede economy of scale entirely to the big guys.

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Whether it’s two stores promoting each other to existing clients, or an intricate, integrated media co-branding effort, teaming up on marketing can turbocharge your creativity, online visibility, and leads, while maximizing your spend. With the right partner, it adds a dimension to your brand. We’d all like to believe working together comes naturally on Main St., but a survey by Small Biz Survival found a lack of cooperation was among the main concerns of businesses in small towns and rural areas. Being an independent operator doesn’t mean you have to cede economy of scale entirely to the big guys. Here are some of the most interesting ways optical retailers are pooling resources and leveraging shared local connections to market their wares.

Invision Optometry
San Diego, CA

Some local tie-ups just go better together than others, sort of like the smell of coffee and the early morning hours. One of the ways Invision Optometry in San Diego, CA, supports small businesses and nonprofits in its community is by using its coffee bar to highlight local roasters. “Our patients and customers are then introduced to nearby brands with every cappuccino and latte we serve,” says owner Michael Kling, OD. New roasters are featured every few months and their products are highlighted through Invision’s social media channels.


Goodrich Optical
Lansing, MI

A while ago, Goodrich Optical was approached by a local bridal dress shop about joining a wedding planner event. Dave Goodrich pounced. “The bride wants a perfect wedding. But she’ll wear a pair of old glasses with green nose pad cheese and scratched lenses rather than spend the money.” To blushing brides about to stumble down the aisle he says: “You’ll spend hundreds on shoes that will be covered by your dress. Your glasses will be immortalized in pictures. Which do you spend the money on?” Put it that way, “the glasses sell themselves. And don’t forget the anti-reflection coating…”


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Springfield Family Vision
Springfield, MO 

Turntables, tacos and a trunk show: You can’t go wrong! The common element at Springfield Family Vision’s June promotional event was independence: “Independent frame lines, lenses from our independent lab, and local food and music,” says co-owner Katie McElvaine, OD. A local radio station broadcast from the site as customers munched on free Mexican from local restaurant the Taco Co. and checked out eyewear by Von Arkel Switzerland, Vinyl Factory and Red Bull SPECT. “The locals love food, so we thought we’d celebrate our trunk show with some food that would also have a draw. It worked! We had free tacos while everyone shopped to the music.”


Precision Vision
Edmond, OK

Tagging, friending, re-tweeting: basically, social media is a referral system. As a business owner, it’s not just about scoring “Likes” … the act of liking itself has currency, one that gains value the more targeted it is. Precision Vision owner Selina McGee, OD, knows the value of having well-chosen local businesses as online friends. “We try to support our neighbors. Mostly it’s through social media. We have flowers delivered and use them to highlight our frames on social media. We tag the florist. We serve wine with savings cards that tell where it came from.” For McGee it’s part good business, part community spirit. “We hire a face painter for the kiddos, we support her and vice versa. And we partner with local charities, donating a portion of frame proceeds to UR Special, which provides kids with back-to-school clothing.”


Vision Trends
Dover, OH 

When Scott Keating, OD, opened his new optometry office six years ago, he stocked it with unique frames from all over the world. But who was going to buy them? He followed a hunch: “A friend owned a unique day spa/beauty salon. He had an established customer base I hoped to tap into. We agreed to run cross promotions. At Christmas, I set up a display with Tiffany sunglasses on his welcome desk. We held a drawing to win them and a massage. You had to like my Facebook page to enter and he blasted his large Fcebook following with info about Vision Trends.” The move was a turning point for Keating’s business. “I went from 90 followers to about 850 followers in one week.” Keating wasn’t done. He put the top salesman at a men’s store across town in dressy but unique styles for free, in exchange for referrals. “To this day, he is still a walking model for me.”


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Mill Creek Optical
Dansville, NY

For proof that local chambers are still relevant to commerce today, head to Dansville, NY, where the marketing committee, under Mill Creek Optical owner Jennifer Leuzzi, is a joint-promotion factory. First Friday events are popular, and not just with humans. For Oktoberfest, “We served local mustards and I brought in my goats.” On Farm Day, farmers came on tractors and a Dairy Princess brought cheese. “Recently, we created a fairy door trail, placing 10 fairy doors at local businesses: You had to match the door to the business on a map.” Leuzzi’s efforts have brought many new faces through her own door. “It brings in people who’ve never stopped in before.”

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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When You’re Passionate About Eye Care, the Right Technology Matters

Lisa Genovese, O.D., strives to give her patients the very best. At Insight Eye Care’s multiple locations, Dr. Genovese provides optimal care for her patients using the Reichert® Phoroptor® VRx Digital Refraction System. In this second Practice Profile Video from Reichert’s “Passionate About Eye Care” series, take a closer look and see how this eye care professional achieved a better work-life balance with equipment that’s designed and engineered in the U.S.A.

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Benchmarks

These 6 Practices Found Ways to Get Patients to Buy Annual Contact Lens Supplies

Have you tried these ideas for boosting sales?

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THE MEDICAL BENEFITS alone — avoiding the hazards that come with stretching out the supply or otherwise abusing the lenses — should be enough to sell most CL patients on the advantages of an annual supply. Or failing that, just the convenience of not having to re-order. If only the business of optometry were so simple. Alas, getting patients to do what’s best for their vision seems to require sweetening the deal. Here’s how six ECPs entice patients to sign up for contact lens deals — or otherwise make CL sales work for them.

Shoreline Eyecare
Shoreline, WA

Erika Tydor, OD, at Shoreline Eyecare says BoomContacts.com has helped her practice, describing it as a “flexible, real-time tool that can be used in-store as a tablet or on-screen, and can also be sent to customers by text or email for follow-up.” BoomContacts simplifies product information, allowing the user to toggle comparisons of order types, between monthly and annual sales, or between products, and shows a clear quote for purchase. Customers can pay through text or email. Tydor says the system’s strength lies in giving patients a visual breakdown of the cost. “I believe it has kept patients that would have gone elsewhere in the house, so I see it as moneymaker,” she says.

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Lifetime Eyecare
Jenison, MI

Lifetime Eyecare has had success offering half off plano sunglasses with a year supply of contacts. Optical manager Tiffany Firer says CLs are moneymakers when you consider the whole experience. “CL wearers tend to come in more for their yearly exams and many still purchase backup glasses.” She says belonging to Vision Source gives the practice access to “some amazing contact lenses at a great price point.” She urges ECPs thinking of trying their own offer to remember the culture of their practice and that how you message the offer does a lot for how patients approach the discount.

Dr. Texas L. Smith & Associates
Citrus Heights, CA

In addition to applying manufacturers’ rebates for a year’s supply, Dr. Texas Smith finds CLs allow him to offer the kind of service that generates great word of mouth. He puts together a Vacation Kit of one-day contacts for travelers and offers kid athletes daily lenses as spares. “This is full service eyecare, and may generate a positive Yelp review,” he says. And here’s a free tip: “During an exam on a high hyperope or presbyope, I always offer to put on a pair of contacts so the patient can see the frame they will pick out for their new Rx. Sometimes that yields a new CL patient.”

Insights Eyecare
Manhattan, KS

In a twist on the usual “discounted or free frames with an annual supply of CLs” model, Insights Eyecare offers a 20 percent discount on contacts when purchasing a fully loaded pair of glasses. The goal is to give patients the incentive to purchase from an office rather than a grey market retailer. Says Lindsey Pulford: “They know their contacts are supplied and stored in a safe environment while also supporting a local business. If they purchase the glasses — this is also with no insurance involved — then we are making the total profit on the glasses. And let’s face it, every CL wearer should own a pair of glasses.” Pulford says she notices that presbyopes are the most likely to show interest. “They are a bit older, understand the value of backup glasses more, and know they may not always want to wear the CL.”

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Monson Eyecare Center
Owatonna, MN

Kim Hilgers at Monson Eyecare Center says patients have responded well to the MyACUVUE subscription program through Vistakon. Patients with a valid CL prescription can sign up for monthly free delivery and are charged monthly as well, which makes an annual supply easier to afford. The program works with insurance benefits, but the practice sets pricing and is not charged for participating. “Compliance of contact lens wearing schedule seems to directly increase with purchase of an annual supply, so it’s a win-win,” says Hilgers, adding that the program has made the competitive team at Monson more aware of the need to get patients into an annual supply right away. “One of our clinics increased annual supplies by 7 percent. That may not sound like much, but our capture rate for all contact lens orders was nearly 80 percent last year.”

Thomas Vision Clinic
Leesville, LA

Thomas Vision Clinic has learned there’s more profit to be made in offering free inexpensive products than offering a dollar amount off a year supply. An annual supply of contacts now gets patients a free pair of non-branded sunglasses, a contact lens case, manufacturer’s rebate and 20 percent off back-up glasses and/or designer sunglasses. “We noticed a pretty big increase in the number of contact lens Rxs walking, and had to come up with a game plan to keep them in the office,” says Jessica Gattis, adding that VSP patients are the most likely to take them up on it. Thomas Vision also lets patients know that should they lose or tear a lens, they will replace it. “They actually seem more impressed by this than the free sunglasses,” jokes Gattis.

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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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