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Don't Call It Insurance

10 Practices Offering Patients an In-House Alternative to Managed Care Plans




One of the trends that has defined the eyecare industry in recent years has been a shift in visioncare costs away from employer toward the individual, which certainly impacts ECPs. The idea of discounting products or services is anathema to many providers, but let’s face it — eyecare isn’t cheap. On the other hand, many bristle at the restrictions common with accepting vision insurance plans. Is there a way to rid yourself of insurance without ridding yourself of insured patients? Or at least, finding a way to cater to both? When we asked our readers whether they had their own loyalty programs or vision plans, one of the most common replies was, “No, but I’d love hear more from those who do.” So, here is what led 10 practices to create their own membership or loyalty programs, and how they went about it.

Lavenburg Medical Group

Elkton, MD, and Newark, DE

Several years ago, Lavenburg Medical Group decided it was time to discuss their low conversion rate from clinic to optical. “The problem was those without vision care plans are subjected to higher prices than we would charge if we weren’t accepting VCPs,” recalls Gwenn Lewis, optical manager. “It’s a two-fold problem; if we don’t take the VCPs, we will lose a substantial percent of our patients to practices close by that do.” They brainstormed and came up with a plan they dubbed Healthier Vision for Life.

Members qualify for 30 percent off a complete pair of Rx glasses; 50 percent off non-Rx sunglasses (except Maui and Costa); 10 percent off contact lenses, LASIK or refractive surgery; and 10 percent off cosmetic and skin products and services. None of the discounts can be combined with any insurance, discounts or promotions. Lavenburg also offers Wells Fargo Credit with one-year interest free financing.

The practice administrator or one of the docs will call local businesses to offer the plan to employees free of charge. “We attend local health fairs and other events and offer the plan,” Lewis adds.

KEEP IN MIND: Lewis offers a time-honored tip: “We have brochures we hand out, and when the person signs up for the plan they receive a card they can carry in their wallet. The goal here is every time they look in their wallet they see our name and the discount card.”

Uber Optics

Petaluma, CA

Uber Optics implemented its loyalty plan to “preach the gospel” of great eyewear, says owner Nancy Revis. She noticed her business was developing a following of “super like-minded people” at locally based Lagunitas Brewing Co., which has over 250 employees. Staff there have VSP, but they also have health savings accounts. “We thought if we [targeted] a cool ad and idea to these companies we could get them to get their glasses with us regardless of their vision insurance plan restrictions.” One of the main benefits has been that the Lagunitas employees in turn “tell their cool friends we have great product and great service.”


Uber’s experience is a valuable lesson in the art of networking: Her main Lagunitas connection was the night-time bottler, a fellow with “an eyewear addiction and excellent taste.” Revis made postcards and walked around handing them out to employees and workers. “I like to get my (and our) faces in our ads, and not use stock photos,” she says. (Uber Optics’ home-grown marketing campaign, created by Revis and her sister Amy Koenig, is already well-known to Petaluma residents.)

Being a boutique, Uber’s plan covers frames and lenses only. People with VSP are offered a 10 percent discount on the bottom line, and Uber submits all the paperwork to VSP for the customer. “In the end,” says Revis, “it’s like a 30 percent discount being out-of-network, where in-network it ends up being about a 40-45 percent savings — but then they are limited in terms of frame selection, lens/lab selection and service.” For bigger companies with many employees, including Lagunitas, Uber came up with an offer of 20 percent off the frame and lens. Revis explains all of this fully so they understand that this is an out-of-network deal. Taking care of the paperwork makes it easy for them to purchase from Uber, she says.

Revis has her own, typically idiosyncratic take on the benefits of her plan to boosting preventive eyecare: “I guess the preventive care would be protecting them from buying ugly, cheap eyewear.”

KEEP IN MIND: Revis reminds ECPs to ensure all information exchanges made while offering such plans are HIPAA compliant.

New England Eyeworks

Keene, NH

Having decided not to accept vision insurance plans, New England Eyewear created one of its own — Tristate Vision Plan (TVSP) — so that “patients without vision insurance feel they can still come see us for their eyecare,” says owner Barton Higley, OD. The “optically weighted” plan does not cover exams, (though if a patient’s medical insurance has routine coverage the practice will bill the routine exam). Premiums cost $25 per family. Members receive a 20 percent discount on glasses, 15 percent on contact lenses, and 15 percent on the CL service fee. The discount covers everything from standard to premium lenses.

“Our online retail friends have proven the concept of patients choosing to purchase eyewear based on brand positioning … and a lot of them don’t bill vision insurances. On the patients’ side, we are saying we understand that eyecare can be expensive, so let’s extend some help. So we meet in the middle.”


KEEP IN MIND: Higley believes there is a misconception in the profession that patients choose eyecare providers based on coverage or cost. This is “absolutely not the case,” he says. “Patients seek care from you based on … perceived value.” When developing a plan, “Never stint on quality of care to be able to offer a cheaper service or product,” he says.

Metro Optics Eyewear

Bronx, NY

Metro Optics knew what they wanted out of offering their own vision plan, the “Metro Optics Vision Club” — trackable new patient acquisition via an affordable, comprehensive package. In their case, that meant an eyecare-plus-eyewear package with second-pair discounts and upgrade credits for both frames and lenses.

To promote the plan, Metro relies on online outreach (Web and social), bus shelter advertising, print advertising in local publications, health fairs, and partnering with local companies and organizations by cross-promoting on their websites, emails and social accounts and at their events.

The Vision Club is offered to local businesses and nonprofits as an alternative to an eyecare insurance plan they can include among their employee benefit offerings. Groups of 15-plus receive a slight discount on the membership rate, Bonizio says.

KEEP IN MIND: Consider allowing patients to sign up online. Metro Optics requires it. This entailed working with a developer to build a custom e-commerce website to process online membership purchases, and also a back-end database that practice personnel in the business’s multiple locations can all access, according to marketing and community relations manager Sara Bonizio.

Eye Columbus

Gahanna, OH

Eye Columbus launched its “Eye Columbus Visionary Program” to reward patients. Members gain access to exclusive promotions and events as well as discounts on glasses, sunglasses and accessories. According to owner Craig Miller, OD, the program is not intended to replace a patient’s vision care plan, but has served its purpose of allowing patients who choose not to carry vision insurance to reduce costs. Patients are introduced to the plan by an optician “if it makes sense for them to become a member,” says Miller. It offers them various ways to save money, and patients seem to appreciate it,” he adds.


KEEP IN MIND: If you’re going to start a program of your own, Miller urges you to keep your end goal in view. “I always caution ECPs about just giving discounts for discounts’ sake. Discounting can build a culture of patients expecting a handout. Try to build a program that builds patient loyalty to your business. Then find a creative way to reward that loyalty.”




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Here’s How Eyecare Pros Are Spending Their Advertising Budgets

The pie is getting sliced ever more finely.




IN INVISION’S FIRST annual Big Survey, we asked more than 500 ECPs which medium accounts for the biggest chunk of their ad and marketing spending. Print is still on top, but the marketing budget pie is getting sliced ever more finely — and nearly 1 in 5 ECPs claim to be passing on the plate all together.

Which gets the largest portion of your marketing budget?

Community events (including sponsorships)
Direct mail
Other social media marketing
Paid search (PPC, Google Ads, etc.)
Email marketing
Don’t advertise


Looking at the above results, it’s seems likely the 19 percent of ECPs who said they don’t advertise are relying on word of mouth to sustain their business. Still, it appears to pay to be more active: 25 percent of the ECPs who told the Big Survey the last two years had been their worst ever also don’t advertise. That compares to just 14 percent of those who said those years had been their best ever. Also worth considering: In a separate question, we asked ECPs to name the most significant thing they were doing to drive sales five years ago that they’ve stopped doing. The top answer? You guessed it—advertising in traditional media. Check out the survey to see how your spending fits in to this complex picture.

The 2019 Big Survey was conducted from August to October and attracted responses from more than 500 American ECPs. Look out for the full results in the November/December issue of INVISION.

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Best of Eyecare

The Big Survey 2019 – The Basics





Who is the American ECP? How does he or she do business? What are the main challenges they face? Our inaugural Big Survey set out to find the answers and 505 owners and managers of American vision businesses answered our call. Here are the results.

The Basics

We find it’s always best to start at the beginning … the basic stuff that makes up so much of your business’ identity. The Who, What, How and Where are all here; we’ll get into the fun stuff — like how much and what’s selling ­— later on.

1. Need to swing on chandeliers? Head to Missouri: 60 percent of stores have these fixtures.
2. They don’t take kindly to strangers asking questions in South Dakota. It, along with Louisiana and New Mexico, were the only states not to be represented in our survey.
3. Michigan ECPs are some of the hardest working in the industry: 25 percent work more than 50 hours a week.
4. Eyewear trend capital? That might just be New York where 21 percent of ECPs thought of themselves as being primarily in the fashion business (as opposed to health or retail), the highest level in the land.
5. Move over Austin. Connecticut was tops for self-declared weirdness with ECPs there giving themselves an average score of 8.2 out of 10 on our oddball scale.
6. Ohio ECPs have been listening to our sales experts – 44 percent use role-playing in training staff.
7. Florida had the most male owners and managers in our survey at 76 percent. Washington state had the most female owners at 86 percent.
8. Is there something in the water in the Midwest? ECPs in a band of states from Illinois to Ohio to Missouri were the happiest vision professionals (along with their cousins in NJ), with half or more (50-57%) ranking themselves 9 or higher out of 10 for professional satisfaction.
9. North Carolina vision businesses have among the highest turnover rates in the country, with 72 percent saying their staff stay less than 4 years.
10. Californian ECPs were the least likely to own their places of business with 82 percent renting. Must have been those pesky legal limitations…
11. Kansans were most likely to be open on Sunday with one in four stores and practices open on this traditional “rest” day.


1. How many locations does your business have?

Three to five
Six or more

2. Please indicate the type of location that houses your store:

Free-standing building
A strip mall
Business park or office building
Downtown storefront
Lifestyle center
In a hospital/medical wing/health center
The Internet
Mobile practice
A mall

3. Do you own or rent your business property?

NA (For online and mobile only businesses)

4. How well are things going in your business this year?

COMMENT: As our heat map shows, there’s very little to be blue about for an ECP right now. Note that white indicates states with statistically invalid responses. Figures in parentheses represent the number of survey responses.

5. How would you describe the market where your store is located?

Large city
Medium-sized city (250,000-1 million people)
Small city (25,000 to 250,000)
Country town (up to 25,000)
Resort area

6. How long has your business been in operation?

COMMENT: Businesses that have been in operation for 11-20 years seem to be this survey’s sweet spot. Not only did they slightly edge out other lengths of time in business, as seen above, but those in business for that long also reported the highest proportion of revenue between $500K-$1.5M (50%).
Wondering what the rest of this group’s demos looked like? Well, 59 percent classified themselves as a private practice with a strong focus on retail, 49 percent were in the South and 39 percent operated out of a freestanding building in a small city or suburb. Forty-five percent of owners in business for that long reported salaries over $100,000 and, best of all, the majority reported their satisfaction with their professional life at an 8 or higher (66%).

7. Which description of your business do you most closely identify with?

Hospital or VA setting
Medical model private practice, no retail
Medical model private practice, small dispensarybuilding
Private practice, strong focus on retail
Corporate optometry location
Eyewear boutique, employed or leased OD
Eyewear boutique, no OD
Mobile optician

8. How big is your (main) location?

Less than 500 sq. ft.
500-999 sq. ft.
1,000-1,499 sq. ft.
1,500-1,999 sq. ft.
2,000-2,499 sq. ft.
2,500-2,999 sq. ft.
3,000-3,999 sq. ft.
4,000-5,000 sq. ft.
More than 5,000 sq. ft.

9. Check the paid services you offer:

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Best of Eyecare

25 ECPs Share Their Elevator Pitches

25 ECPs put who they are and what they do for a living in a sentence or two… or three.




OK… You’ve slipped into the elevator just as the doors are closing. The woman on your left is wearing poorly fitting frames that are totally wrong for her. The gentleman to your right is squinting as he tries to find the button for his floor. You sense a golden opportunity, but the floors are already ticking by. You’ve got until those doors open again to tell these potential clients what you do and how you can help them. It’s time to dust off your “elevator pitch.” Our Brain Squad members are rarely at a loss for a few well-chosen words, so we asked them their best pitches. Here’s what they had to say to those future customers and patients on the subject of… you.

Hi, My name is Diana Canto Sims. I am an eyeball doctor turned eyewear designer for the diverse and the bold. What do you do? — Diana Sims, Buena Vista Optical, Chicago, IL

We help you create a look that is as unique as you are. — Doreen Erbe, Snyder Eye Group, Ship Bottom, NJ

I create complete custom eyewear by hand in Glenview. This includes the frames as well as the lenses. — Kevin Count, Prentice Lab, Glenview, IL

I am the owner and doctor at an eyecare office focused on pampering our patients.  — Nytarsha Thomas, OD, Visionelle Eyecare, Zionsville, IN

I can easily knock 10 years off your look and I promise people will notice! — Jennifer Leuzzi, Mill Creek Optical, Dansville, NY

We sell unique eyewear from all over the world.” (Then give a few specific examples of exotic materials. However, never oversell or seem pushy. Just plant the seed!!!)”  — Scott Keating, OD, Vision Trends, Dover, OH

You know the eyes are the windows to the soul right? Sometimes the windows cannot see; I help with that. I am an optometrist.” — Selina McGee, OD, Precision Vision, Edmond, OK

I refine one of your five senses. I give you vision and insight into your health, with a twist of style, all while having a good time in the process. — Cynthia Sayers, OD, EyeShop Optical Center, Lewis Center, OH

I explain that I run a practice for an eye doctor and that our goal is to make sure each patient sees well and is educated on the products and materials we wear ourselves. — Amy Pelak, Proview Eyecare Optometry, Corona, CA

I help people love their new eyewear, and owning 31 pairs of glasses and sunwear, I know I can find the right pair for you. — Kathy Maren Comb EyeCare & Eyewear, Western Springs, IL

I talk about the unique things our practice offers like sensory and vision therapy. We carry a variety of frames for the whole family. From durable kids, to the fun and funky for mom and dad. We’re not your average eye doctor.” Heather Nagucki, Brodie Optometry, Perrysburg, OH

I compliment someone on their glasses. I may ask them where they got them and always say something nice about their doctor or optician. I know everyone in town after 50 years in Sacramento. If the patient discusses a bad experience then I drop a business card.”  — Texas L. Smith, OD, Dr. Texas L. Smith & Associates, Citrus Heights, CA

I help people see and look better.  — Jason Stamper Eye Care Pavilion, Davenport, IA

I tell them I try not to look like an optometrist! — Dave Schultz, OD, Urban Optics, San Luis Obispo, CA

When I meet people I always try to tell them I’m like a pharmacist for your eyeglasses. — Bob Schmittou, New Eyes Optical, Wyandotte, MI

I’m an optician. Once the eye doctor is done with you I will help you with any optical needs whether glasses or contacts. Basically, I make you look good! — Scott Felten, Fox Valley Family Eye Care, Little Chute, WI

We get to help people see to their fullest potential. It’s the best job in the world! — Caitlin Bruno, Binyon Vision Center, Bellingham, WA

I’m like a pharmacist. I fill the prescription written by the doctor. But in Michigan, your optician doesn’t have to have a license the way your pharmacist does. That’s why there are so many people walking around in ugly glasses that can’t see.  — Dave Goodrich, Goodrich Optical, Lansing, MI

I bend light for a living. — Jon LaShorne, Kirkpatrick Eye Care, Madison, IN

I frame the windows to your soul with beauty. — Frances Ann Layton, Eye Associates of South Georgia, Valdosta, GA

I have no elevator pitch. I just let people know why I love doing what I do.” — Pablo E. Mercado, Mount Vernon Eyecare, Dunwoody, GA

Nice glasses! I bet they cost you a fortune. I’m an optician. Here’s my card. Next time you’re in the market for a new pair, give me a call and I’ll save you money.” — Mitchell Kaufman, Marine Park Family Vision, Brooklyn, NY

Everyone knows what a pharmacist does … so I equate my career as a licensed optician to that. I take a prescription from a doctor and I interpret that prescription. I advise and educate the patient on how to use the prescription written. I generate a product from that prescription and then dispense that prescription as a piece of medical equipment.”  — William Chancellor, Eye Can See Eyewear, McDonough, GA

We help people see the important things in life.” — John Marvin, Texas State Optical Inc., Houston, TX

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