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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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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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Benchmarks

When Their Tech Lets them Down, These ECPs Have Things Covered

And their patients appreciate the human touch.

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TECHNOLOGY: IN OPTOMETRIC terms it means unparalleled accuracy, speed and convenience. But real life has a way of throwing up cases that just won’t cooperate with the latest equipment. And blackouts can strike anywhere. This is an industry whose gear continually evolves, but it’s also one of accumulated knowledge and, occasionally, improvised solutions. We asked around to see what kinds of tricks opticians and ODs have up their sleeves. If the lights go out while you’re in the chair or at the dispensing table of any of these eight ECPs, you’ll be in good hands.

Carissa Dunphy, Lake Stevens Vision Clinic Lake Stevens, WA

Optician Carissa Dunphy believes it’s important to take both digital and manual measurements from every free-form progressive wearer because she sees differences in patients’ body language towards a camera/iPad versus a person doing a manual measurement. Tech doesn’t always accommodate for specifics noted by the optician, such as someone who is really tall or short, she says. “A fitter of free-form progressives should know how to measure for each position of wear (POW) value manually and should measure both ways, comparing the values and critically thinking about the right solution for that particular patient.”

Bridgett Fredrickson, Whelan Eye Care
Bemidji, MN

Low-tech solutions have a special place in the heart of a veteran administrator like Bridgett Fredrickson at Whelan Eye Care. She and her doc are probably the only ones in her office who know how to handle an exam on paper. “About once a year we have to pull out a form … while our computer software is down.” She knows of older ODs who never came to grips with electronic records, and younger docs who would stare blankly at a paper form. “Those of us [from] that bridge era have a unique perspective and appreciate the old way and the new.”

Adam Ramsey, OD,Iconic Eye Care
Palm Beach Gardens, FL

An old-fashioned technique Dr. Adam Ramsey uses regularly is trial frame refraction, which he finds spares him headaches with patients that are particular. Ramsey says it’s a “great way to move the phoropter out of the way and deal directly with the patient.” If he finds prism in the patient’s previous glasses, he will “usually skip the fancy toys and go straight to the trial frame to refract that patient. Using fixed PD trial frames gives … the best comfort.” Most patients appreciate the extra care, he says, especially when they can visualize the improvement right away.

Mike Davis, OD, Opti-Care
Eldersburg, MD

Dr. Mike Davis is nothing if not prepared. We’re confident his patients could enter his practice in a blizzard-induced blackout and come out seeing perfectly. He keeps a paper acuity chart around, along with a hand-held retinoscope and ophthalmoscope, and trial frame and lens sets. His iCare tonometer is battery powered, and with a PD stick at hand he’s “ready to roll.” The hand-held equipment Davis uses was primarily brought in to save space, but “by happy coincidence” it’s mostly battery-driven, so he’s confident he could get by for a day or so without power. “The art of hand neutralization, figuring out the prescription … with a lensometer, is helpful on house calls and nursing home visits, but mostly a good party trick.”

Marc Ullman, OD, Academy Vision
Pine Beach, NJ

“I … have inserted punctal plugs outside in the sunlight with a jeweler’s headset when the power is out,” proclaims Dr. Marc Ullman with justifiable pride. Magnification is weaker with the headset than behind the slit lamp, Ullman says, but he feels most doctors should be able to insert punctal plugs with a headset if necessary. He has most brands and sizes of collagen and silicon plugs on hand and has lately been using the six-month extended plugs more often. “Punctal occlusion generates a lot of referrals and happy patients at my office,” he says.

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Jen Heller, Pend Oreille Vision Care
Sandpoint, ID

“It may be silly,” says Jen Heller — a champion of the humble PD stick — “but I can prep a pair of glasses anywhere, anytime, with all the lights out and just a dinky little flashlight, and so can all our staff.” Some facilities might sniff at the idea as “backwards,” but Pend Oreille Vision Care still does hand-measured PDs on all orders, because they found that it was easy for rookie staff to lose track of where they’re placing a traditional pupilometer on squirmy kids, or adults with broken noses. “With a hand ruler, everyone can see exactly where that crook in the nose is — or, better yet, take a relaxed PD over the top of a patient’s previous prescription to rule out that plunging eye turn in high hyperopes.” Rulers are cheap and plentiful, and all staff are trained to take manual PDs. This way, Heller says, “patients never have to wait around because someone else is using a piece of equipment or because all dispensing tables are full. Get the needed measurement, and go!”

Pablo E. Mercado, LensCrafters
Alpharetta, GA

Alpharetta, GA-based optician Pablo Mercado told us that outside of screwdrivers and pliers, the PD stick is the one tool he cannot work without. “With it, I can forgo most of the technology at the office and still feel confident I can deliver quality eyewear.” While his workplace has a sophisticated digital system, “for some cases it is a complete dud” and Mercado reaches for the stick. It comes in especially handy when taking measurements from children. But he also uses it to measure the thickness of a frame when edging — and he’s just getting started: “I use my PD stick to show patients how a couple of millimeters can make the difference between being able to wear a particular frame or not,” and to train coworkers. He also finds it indispensable when inspecting eyewear for quality control.

Sarah Bureau, sbspecs
St. Catharines, ON, Canada

Now here’s a really old-fashioned idea: Repair, don’t replace. According to sbspecs owner Sarah Bureau, a modern mobile business based in St. Catharines, ON, Canada. “The general consensus when we, as an industry, are presented with a broken or wear-worn frame is to recommend it be replaced.” But Bureau insists that an acetate frame that has been well loved and has now turned white can be brought back to its original lustre by sanding and polishing the acetate by hand. Using a clavulus or hot fingers to replace a hinge, whether riveted or hidden, can save your client from having to replace a temple or frame front, she says, while cracked acetate rims or broken bridges can be repaired by fusing the material back together and filing and polishing by hand. These are especially valuable options for frames that are no longer in production. The approach does more than just demonstrate Bureau’s concern for the environment; giving your client the option of a repair, she says, is a great way to build a strong and long-lasting relationship with them. “Offering these services results in their confidence in you as a professional and the retention of them as a loyal client.”

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