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Consistent but Subtle Branding Lets the Eyewear Shine for this Columbus, OH, Start-Up

Understated but consistent marketing allows the eyewear to shine at this Ohio start-up.

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A BRAND IS NOTHING without a solid business,” cautions Dr. Craig Miller, an optometrist and CEO of Twenty Brands, which consults on branding with optometry businesses in the Columbus, OH, area. Completing the thought, he adds “and a business is nothing without a solid brand.”

Twenty Brands’ latest client, The Optical. Co in Columbus, is off to a flying start when it comes to satisfying the latter half of this equation. The optical start-up, launched just last year, is mindful that consistency is a core fundamental in branding. The overall look, according to Miller, was “strategically crafted for simplicity’s sake,” and there is an undeniable adherence to clean design throughout the physical store, its marketing materials and online presence. Branding elements are applied on buttons, wall signage, image-heavy advertising and marketing materials, business cards and elsewhere.

“Red is our color of choice. It’s our logo color and key elements color, but is found very sparsely throughout the store. This allows anything with ‘The Optical. Co’ to stand out, and not just blend in. The use of choice fonts and color provides consistency with our branding and marketing, but it doesn’t overshadow the core product that we’re selling, our eyewear,” Miller says. 

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The simplicity and light touch allows the focus to remain on The Optical. Co’s high quality brands and, according to Miller, serves to enhance the “stories behind the brands that make it all possible. We tell that story through our marketing. Regardless of how we get the message out, we focus on very visual copy. We prefer marketing images that are creative and catch your eye. Keep it simple, to the point, and showcase our brand. We’re very lucky to have eyewear partners that share this same creative eye, so we are able to utilize a lot of their product images in our marketing as well.”

Miller advises independent ECPs looking for a brand revamp to keep things simple and subtle, tap into their core message and deliver it creatively and consistently. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. “When in doubt, reach out to the experts and find a partner that is as dedicated as you are in helping build your brand,” he says.

Easy on the Eye

The Optical. Co strives for a ‘creative and eyecatching’ look.


 
Telling Tales

Consultant Dr. Craig Miller says effective branding lets the eyewear’s story emerge.

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Seeing Red

The color is used to allow anything bearing the store’s name to stand out.


Keep it Simple

Subtlety goes a long way, advises Miller.

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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Best of the Best

At Black Optical It Literally Pays for Staff to Travel and Stay Healthy

Owner Gary Black knows what work-life balance looks like—and how to achieve it for his team.

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AS AN EMPLOYER, one of Gary Black’s chief goals at his three Black Optical locations in Tulsa, Oklahoma City and Dallas is to eliminate — or at least reduce — the cost of living a healthy lifestyle, because, “We all know that when you feel great, you perform great.” Several years ago Black Optical implemented its wellness reimbursement program for employees.

THE IDEA

As Black sees it, the challenge for the small optical owner isn’t about “holding on” to talent. In part that’s because he doesn’t think that’s a realistic option for millennial employees, but it also reflects his view that the goal should be to develop — not merely retain — staff. “We want to develop people, while they help develop our brand. We hire with the intent that the candidate will be with us for the long haul, but we also realize this is not a reality for this generation.

Talented individuals want to explore opportunities, and gain experience in multiple fields.” With that in mind Black has set about creating opportunities for his staff to continue learning and to stay healthy.

THE EXECUTION

Gary Black

As Black was putting together the wellness reimbursement program a few years ago, he realized he needed a way to accommodate a staff member who enjoyed team sports, yet had no desire to set foot in a gym. So each member of the Black Optical team receives a $150 quarterly wellness reimbursement to use any way they see fit, whether it’s a gym membership, massage, holistic treatments, yoga classes, skydiving, or a 200-mile bike race entry fee. Says Black, “At the end of the day, I didn’t want to dictate what health and wellness means to our team. I also didn’t want anyone to feel left out by only offering one option.”

Team members are also offered a travel reimbursement every three years, which Black says, “eliminates lack of extra money as a barrier to explore and recharge our batteries.” An education reimbursement is in the works as well.

Black also offers more traditional benefits, including 401k with employer match, FSA accounts, and health/dental insurance coverage at $350 for singles and $500 for families. Staff are covered by a company-paid life insurance policy, and get 18 days of paid time off annually, which bumps up to 24 days after the third year.

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In order to receive the wellness reimbursement benefit, team members are required to complete a form quarterly. “It only takes about five minutes,” says Black, “but it does enable the team to shoulder some of the responsibilities.”

THE REWARDS

Black describes the main reward as “a happy team that feels appreciated and looks forward to contributing to the overall success of Black Optical.” He admits to demanding a lot from his team, and one of the main goals of his wellness program is to give them the time and money to disconnect when they need to, in a way that benefits them. “There’s this quote by Anne Lamott that has become my mantra lately: ‘Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few moments, including you.’ Needless to say, we work hard, though we encourage our team to step away as well.” Black encourages his team to put the money they save away for a rainy day. “As great of a place as Black Optical is to build a career,” he says, “the life goal is to eventually retire from this place.”

Do It Yourself: In-House Wellness Program

  • BE RECEPTIVE. “Listen to your team,” advises Black. “Get curious; discover what ensures their happiness and sense of security.”
  • MUTUAL BENEFIT. Staff get two pairs of free frames/lenses a year, plus unlimited pairs at 50% off for themselves and family. “We want as many frames on faces as possible, including our team.”
  • CALL IN THE PROS. Vendors like WellSteps and Sonic Boom can set up a wellness program for your business, but go with someone reputable — it’s a huge industry now and there are plenty of quacks around.
  • PHONE IT IN. Consider encouraging your staff to make use of the many wellness apps now available, such as Down Dog for yoga instruction or the mediation app Insight Timer.
  • HEADS TOGETHER. Business consultant Susan Steinbrecher recommends setting up a Wellness Committee to develop ideas and take responsibility for monitoring stress levels and causes in the office.

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America's Finest

This North Carolina Practice Greets Patients with a Beer, a Song and a Wag of the Tail

Simple word of mouth has kept them growing since day one.

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Swell Vision Center, Leland, NC

OWNER: Craig Scibal, OD; URL:swellvisioncenter.com; FOUNDED: 2016; ARCHITECT AND DESIGN FIRMS: BMH Architects, Bryan Humphrey Designs, Ken Hardy, Jonathan Pratt; EMPLOYEES: 2 full-time, 1 part-time; AREA: 2,100 sq. ft.; TOP BRANDS: Todd Rogers, Moscot, OGI, Seraphin, Maui Jim; FACEBOOK: facebook.com/swellvisioncenter; INSTAGRAM: instagram.com/swellvisioncenter; BUILDOUT COST: $300,000


Owner Dr. Craig Scibal’s favorite patient is one that ‘comes in with their dog, has a beer and gets to know the practice while receiving exceptional eyecare and listening to great music.’

H AVE YOU EVER asked yourself who your favorite type of patient is? Or is that the sort of question small business owners are no longer allowed to permit themselves? Dr. Craig Scibal, owner of Swell Vision Center in Leland, NC, has no such qualms. “My favorite patient is one that comes in with their dog, has a beer, gets to know us while receiving exceptional eyecare and listening to great music, and then leaves excited to tell their friends about their experience.”

Clearly, here’s a practice that knows who and what it is, something its clientele — described by Scibal as “mostly newly retired happy folks from the Northeast,” seem to appreciate. Scibal and his team have pulled off that rare feat of delivering top-level patient care and eyewear while remaining true to themselves.

Swell Vision Center opened its doors cold one April day in 2016 in Leland, a small town west of Wilmington. Their first patient walked in around 11 a.m. and asked if they were open. “Admittedly shocked that somebody came in, my staff member and I were slightly speechless and stumbled upon the word ‘yes.’ Since that day, Swell has continued to grow, with most of our advertising and marketing being word of mouth.”

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In high school, Scibal worked for the private practice his dad owned for about 25 years in Morehead City, NC. He later worked at Elite Vision Care, a private practice in League City, TX, while attending optometry school in Houston.

“I knew that I wanted to be in Leland, NC, based on the growth it had seen,” says Scibal. Thanks to the huge influx of retirees southeastern North Carolina has seen in recent years, Brunswick has been the fastest growing county in the state since 2015. “The area really only had one other place for eyecare, so I figured I’d try to get in early before it became too saturated.”

Swell has made a point of offering all the latest technology and frame lines, carrying mostly independent eyewear brands that are unique to the area. “We’ve tried to shy away from having eyewear that can be purchased everywhere around town and I think patients enjoy it. Not only do patients appreciate it, but staff really appreciate it when they can tell you’re invested in the practice, so it’s a win-win.”

Dr. Scibal knew he wanted to be located in Leland, NC, based on the growth the town has seen in recent years, largely thanks to retirees.

According to Scibal, the office was designed so that somebody would come in and feel at home — not at a doctor’s office. Using a lot of neutral colors, polished concrete, metal and brick, the office design relays a relaxed and professional atmosphere. The office is split into a front half consisting of a reception desk/area and optical boutique, and a back half consisting of the pretest/exam/and contact lens area. The two are separated by frosted glass barn doors that create a modern feel with a comfortable, homey twist. Candles and oil diffusers enhance the olfactory experience.

Visiting Swell is a bit like calling on that one friend who puts you to shame by being such a thoughtful host. The idea, Scibal says, is that from the moment a patient calls the practice, they start to wonder if they are even talking to a doctor’s office. “With questions like, ‘What would you like to drink upon your arrival — water/beer/wine/soda/tea/coffee?’ to ‘Are you cool with dogs?’ to ‘What kind of music do you like?’ the patient realizes this isn’t just another office.

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Little does the patient know, every answer they give is written down and studied by the staff prior to their arrival.” When they turn up, their favorite drinks and music are waiting for them. (See Five Cool Things on page 71).

The personable approach carries over to Swell’s online presence. Says Scibal, “I think your website should be quick, clean, and informative. For a lot of people, it is the first impression they’ll get of your establishment and brand.” Swell’s site incorporates professional images of the office, logos of the eyewear, and information on the staff and the doctor. “So in that sense, I see our website as all three.” Possibly due to the demographic, Scibal doesn’t see social media as much of a sales channel or foot traffic driver, posting once every few weeks or so, mostly highlighting a new frame line, staff introduction post, or a funny optometry meme.

“I am nothing without my staff,” admits Scibal. The first interaction with Swell Vision Center is typically with the thick British accent of the receptionist, Helen. “She truly defines customer service and makes every single person feel comfortable and feeling like they want a ‘cup o’ tea.’ Both of the opticians/technicians are cross-trained and can float amongst the office performing any task as needed. Both are genuinely excited about eyewear and typically rub off their excitement on patients.”

PHOTO GALLERY (13 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About Swell Vision Center

1. PARTY TIME. Every time Swell gets another 100 5-star Google reviews, they throw a staff party, ranging from axe throwing to Topgolf.

2. TUNE IN. Upon entering the exam room, patients hear the music they requested during their appointment call, streaming at 50 percent volume so they hear it immediately, then a bit lower once the exam gets underway.

3. LOCAL BREWS. Swell is constantly rotating its craft beer selection with local breweries. With the craft beer industry booming in the area, it adds local flavor to the experience.

4. SLICE OF LIFE. Every year, Swell sponsors the photo booth at the local Children’s Museum. The event, called ‘Pizza Putt,’ converts the entire museum into a putt-putt course and brings in local pizza vendors and breweries.

5. GOODIES. Swell has custom Freakers (drink covers seen on Shark Tank), custom socks, and T-shirts/hoodies/polos for giving away to loyal patients.

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

  • Swell’s personal touch and welcoming approach to eyecare and eyewear shine through in their hospitality and how they take care of their customers. Stirling Barrett, KREWE, New Orleans, LA
  • Love the story — something so genuine and simple about the honesty and less-is-more approach. Leigh and Todd Rogers Berberian, Todd Rogers Eyewear, Andover, MA
  • This is a great example of independent optometry and the personalized service that is so critical for differentiation and success. Great cabinetry, and love the little personal service touchpoints. The attention to detail in regard to customers’ preferred beverages and music is a nice touch, as are the craft beer offerings supporting local business. The content on their digital platforms contains a nice balance and shows off the warm personality of the business. Beverly Suliteanu, Westgroupe, Ville St-Laurent, Québec, Canada

 

Fine Story

One of the most important members of the team at Swell is Horatio (full name Horatio Fizkin Scibal), a “very well-behaved, found in a trash can, beautiful rescue dog who is the official greeter,” according to Scibal. He greets each patient at the entrance, follows them through pre-testing and the exam (he has a bed next to the exam chair), and helps them pick out eyewear. Since the day Scibal rescued Horatio in 2014, “he has been the most gentle and loyal dog I’ve ever known.” When a new patient calls to set up an appointment they are always asked if they mind having a “sweet pup named Horatio” roaming the office at their appointment. “In 3.5 years of being open, we’ve probably had less than 10 patients say they’d prefer him not to be there,” says Scibal. Horatio features prominently in marketing material, and behind the front desk there’s even a painted portrait of him at the phoropter getting his eyes checked.

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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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