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America's Finest

9 Things We Learned How To Do From America’s Finest Optical Retailers This Year

Winners and finalists of INVISION’s ‘America’s Finest Optical Retailers’ competition share their creative ideas.

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HERE’S A SELECTION of management, sales, eyecare, marketing and other business ideas successfully implemented by winners and finalists of our ‘America’s Finest Optical Retailers’ contest, as profiled in our pages this year.

How to Hold On to Your Staff in a Pandemic

Nicholas J. Garn

Nicholas J. Garn

When COVID hit, Nicholas J. Garn, OD, owner of Zionsville Eyecare in Zionsville, IN, decided he would pay all non-doctor staff their full wages as long as possible. To remain viable under the new conditions, Zionsville Eyecare established itself as a regional hub for eye emergencies. The practice adapted quickly, launching online CL sales options and partnering with a telehealth platform. “We shifted to a philosophy of only buying goods with cash on hand,” says Garn. “We paid all credit card balances weekly… We really analyzed third-party vision plans and their impact on the practice.” It’s a policy that has been continued; the practice now only accepts two.

How to Make a Trunk Show Memorable

One of the many things that sets Eye Roc Eyewear in St. Louis, MO apart is a lively and creative approach to marketing based in community engagement. “When we have trunk shows, we will have a DJ or some musician come in to play,” says manager Jason Little. “We really make it a fun place to visit. We will set up a bar with food and snacks while the customer shops. I have had live bands play. One summer we hooked up with the hotel down the street and got to set up tables and sold sunglasses poolside.”

Eye Roc Eyewear

Eye Roc Eyewear

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How to Make Your Customers Feel Appreciated

When they set about designing their new showroom, the team at Oculus Eyewear in San Marcos, TX knew they wanted to create a space in which customers would be truly engaged and feel appreciated. To that end, they built a styling island in the optical showroom. There’s also a custom repair bar that offers built-in areas for magnetic pads, lens cleaner and Kimwipes. Customers can sit on the other side of the bar and enjoy a cup of coffee while they wait for their repairs to be completed. The Oculus coffee bar, which includes phone charging stations, gives clients a spot to talk shop — or just talk — over a coffee or latte. During an appointment (this was standard even before COVID), an optician sits with a client to discover what their needs are based on prescription, personality, daily activities and what their current collection looks like. Every new client goes home with a set of amazing swag, and Oculus mails a handwritten, custom-wax-stamp-sealed thank you card to every client — old and new — post-purchase.

Oculus Eyewear

Oculus Eyewear

How to Use Social Media to Create a Community

The tailored digital presence at Oxford Eyes in Orlando, FL is extensive, starting with Facebook. To enhance relationships between her clients and the industry experts behind the frame lines her boutique sells, owner Verbelee Nielsen-Swanson created the Oxford Eyes Insiders page on Facebook, which she describes as an “exclusive community of eyewear enthusiasts.” Several eyewear brand reps have joined the group including those from Blackfin, Lindberg and Lafont. The store is also active on Twitter, Instagram, Vimeo and its blog. In Oxford Eyes’ first year of business, it forged relationships with major social accounts that have since turned into clients and advocates, including local influencers, bloggers, stylists, businesses and city government officials. As an example of its ability to forge relationships with eyewear players, Maui Jim asked to use Oxford Eyes’ social media photo on its website and high-profile brands regularly share Oxford Eyes’ social posts. Nielsen-Swanson credits local PR agency, SIX The Agency, with developing its social media presence.

Oxford Eyes

How to Keep Old Stock Moving

In addition to its Minnetonka location and the original store in the Rosedale Center in Roseville, Minnesota’s Huxley Optical launched a third location as a discount outlet for frames at the Twin Cities Premium Outlets in Eagan in April this year with the sole purpose of moving last-season inventory at attractive prices, mostly on a buy one, get one free basis. “These frames are still in great shape and in style but keeping constant movement of our stock allows us to bring in the latest trends and move towards stocking up on our own private label frames,” explains communications specialist Sophie Dolan.

Huxley Optical

Huxley Optical

How to Foster Team Spirit

As a way to keep staff motivated, Milwaukee Eye Care in Milwaukee, WI introduced “Practice Bucks” to its all-staff meetings. Each staff member gets $30 a quarter (20 x $1 and 2 x $5) to give to fellow staff members in any department as a “thank you” for a job well done, helping out, going above and beyond, patient satisfaction— whatever the case may be. These Practice Bucks get redeemed for cash before the end of the year, and you cannot issue them to yourself. “We hope this helps foster even more team spirit during these challenging times,” says marketing and business development coordinator Amanda Fisher.

Milwaukee Eye Care

Milwaukee Eye Care

How to Invest in Your Employees

Owner Dr. Andrew Bradbury’s primary focus at A Proper View in Winston-Salem, NC has always been on his team. “They are the backbone of our business. Without taking great care of them, it’s impossible to take exceptional care of our patients.” As such, he supports them by covering certification and continuing education costs 100 percent, and offering a monthly health insurance stipend, paid time off and a retirement plan the business matches up to 3 percent.

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A Proper View

A Proper View

How to Use Frame Displays to Enhance Customer Interactions

The space at SOMA Optical in Boston, MA is devoid of frame racks, POP or any of the other usual suspects. Every now and then, somebody strolls in thinking they’re in an art gallery. “We really love using negative space to draw emphasis to the individual frame or collection,” says co-owner Christos Karabelas. Many of SOMA’s carefully curated collections are stored and displayed in repurposed map drawers. As Jan Ennis of Ennco Display Group, one of the judges of INVISION’s America’s Finest Optical Retailers competition, observed: “I found the use of blueprint cabinets to be a clever system to display frames. With the personal interaction that is required for frame selections and fittings, the opportunity exists for a great interaction.” Says Christos, “It was important to us that our shop not feel like your typical optical.”

SOMA Optical

SOMA Optical

How to Lift Your Customer Service to the Next Level

“Our great customer experience comes from our Magic Moments meetings,” explains Dr. Nytarsha Thomas, owner of Visionelle Eyecare in Zionsville, IN. “Just because we’re a medical practice doesn’t mean we should be sterile. Incorporating Disney’s touch point philosophy allows us to embrace our staff’s creativity. We list every patient touch point —from the first phone call to the post-visit goodbye — and find ways to make them extraordinary. Then, we implement the really great ideas.”

Visionelle Eyecare

Visionelle Eyecare

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 [email protected]

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