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Noteworthy ways some ECPs have found to move their moldiest inventory.

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Woof … You may have loved a particular frame or collection but that was no guarantee your customers would. So, how do you offload the bad picks, the misfires, the ones that silver-tongued sales rep talked you into ordering? … Return to sender? Massive discount? Strip them for parts? Here are some of the more interesting ways your ECP peers dispose of their dogs.

BLOWOUTS, BUNDLES and BOGOS

When it comes to clearing out unsold frames, returning them is probably the most common option, but many ECPs fail to factor in the expense. As Annette Prevaux at The Visionary in Allen Park, MI, points out, “There is an expense to return frames and it is passed on to the practice… I am surprised at how little is really taught about frame buying and the cost of returns.”

Most ECPs will be familiar with options such as standing discounts (a “junk drawer”), periodic clearances, value packages and the tried-and-true BOGO (buy one, get one free), or offering a special price without warranty. Remember that offering stock as freebies or incentives tends to work best with lower-cost frames. Jocelyn Mylott at D’Ambrosio Eye Care in Lancaster, MA packages stock lenses with discounted frames to sell them off. “We use these frames to fill the board space for all the vendor back orders as we board manage,” she says. Smart move, as it fills in unsightly holes in your board and gets eyes back on this malingering product.

Accepting insurance creates additional possibilities. MK Vision Center in Forest Hills, NY, uses unsold stock as insurance-covered frames. Explains Kaleena Ma: “We usually try to sell through our unsold inventory by using them as insurance frames for the plans that give allowances for the frame.”

When it comes to using sales and discounts to clear inventory, the Vend retailing blog suggests keeping the following in mind: Try to turn sales into periodic events with a few “bells and whistles” so you’re creating new customers or building loyalty. Always use sales as a way to gather customer information, and remember to mix in a few good sellers as loss leaders.

REVERSE PSYCHOLOGY

Where some see dogs, others see gold. Dr. Selina McGee of Precision Vision in Edmond, OK, dares you to “Mark it up — way up. That way everything else looks less expensive and it’s very exclusive. If you sell one, then you cover more of your investment.” (Our hunch is this would work best with luxury frames that aren’t moving.) Doreen Erbe at Snyder Eye Group in Ship Bottom, NJ, urges you to “Make that collection into a really cool display. Everyone will think the frames are new.” This is good advice; re-merchandising can breathe surprising new life into old stock.

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STAFF CHALLENGE

Nikki Griffin, owner of EyeStyles Optical and Boutique in Oakdale, MN, offers this memorable advice: “Dogs become the ‘steak-dinner frame.’ If you sell that puppy I will buy you a steak dinner.” Interestingly, food also seems to be the prime motivator for hungry sales staff at EyeShop Optical Center in Lewis Center, OH, where, explains owner Dr. Cynthia Sayers, “If a staff member sells that dud I buy them lunch.”

DONATE TO CHARITY

Your unsold merchandise can be a force for good. Lions Club is renowned for its eyeglass-recycling programs Charitable donations entitle you to a tax write-off. For a detailed “how-to” of donating stock to charity, of “Gifts in Kind,” check out the column Gary C. Smith, president and CEO of the National Association for the Exchange of Industrial Resources, wrote for INVISION in December 2017: invisionmag.com/041903.

SWAP IT OR SELL IT ON

Their proximity to the Mexican border gives Carrera Optical in McQueeney, TX an interesting option: selling unsold frames to opticals in south Texas that see large numbers of patients from Mexico. These customers are looking for a level of quality they believe can only be found in the U.S. Says BJ Chambers, “We sell multiple frames to several shops; sometimes these opticals are on credit hold to the frame manufacturer and cannot purchase directly.”
Some vendors will buy back any competitors’ frames that aren’t selling. Europa will pay you to take back another vendors’ frames, provided you have or set up an account with them. Dr. Zachary Dirks at St. Peter and Belle Plaine Eyecare Centers, Saint Peter, MN, reports: “We have some reps we have good relationships with that will exchange product for theirs.”

And here’s a channel right under your nose you might not have thought about. Julie Uram at Optical Oasis in Jupiter, FL on occasion gives unsold frames to a friend who puts them on eBay. Remember that using online marketplaces can be time consuming, as you’ll likely have to set up pages and jump through some other hoops.

THERAPEUTIC RENTALS

Those in the therapy niche take note: Dr. Pauline Buck at Behavioral and Developmental Optometrists in Miami, FL turns non-sellers into loaners that therapy patients can take home temporarily. “Concussion patients may often benefit from yoked prism base lenses. By … creating glasses in bases up, down, left or right — as well as a few base-in for individuals with convergence insufficiency — I can rent or loan them out.” Patients sign an agreement; if the glasses are not returned, Buck bills them the full price.

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a gram OF PREVENTION…

Of course, you should always be monitoring inventory, but it’s important not to let your reps slack: “Keeping the frame rep responsible for shipping the top sellers in each frame line is one way to make sure the dogs never get dumped in the office,” counsels Leisa Lauer at Dr. H Michael Shack in Newport Beach, FL.

Since launching in 2014, INVISION has won 23 international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact INVISION's editors at editor@invisionmag.com.

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Act Now!

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There’s a chance you’ve stood here before: on the cusp of a new year, pledging to yourself that this time, things will be different. You’ll implement those best practices you’ve read in business books or heard at trade show seminars. You’ll knock your inventory into shape, bring your marketing up to date and fire up your staff. Come the end of 2020, you’ll be sitting atop a thriving business practice that will not only ensure your future is financially secure but showcase your business acumen. Only the odds suggest it’s not going to happen. Numerous surveys done over the last three decades suggest that at best you’ve got about a 30 percent chance of succeeding in implementing such change. It’s more likely that in a year, you’ll find yourself pretty much where you are now, doing things much the same way as you always have.

The inability of most businesses to effectively implement change — even when they know what needs to be done — is one of the more curious and frustrating aspects of business management. Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton, two Stanford Graduate School of Business professors, famously coined the term “the knowing-doing gap” to encapsulate the divergence between what corporate best practices and management science say managers should do, and what they actually do.

The knowing-doing gap afflicts businesses of all sizes and in all sectors. And despite increasing awareness of the issue, companies are getting no better at closing it.

Some businesses mistake talk for action; they perfect their plans and presentations, yet follow-up is feeble. Still other businesses get locked in the past, sometimes because their identities are too strong to adapt. A great many workplaces are cowed by an intolerance of mistakes that discourages feedback and paralyzes initiative. Conversely, some organizations are just too comfortable, creating a situation that no one genuinely wants to disrupt.

Many, if not most, enterprises rely on faulty yardsticks of performance, favoring financial benchmarks that are easy to track but that do not truly capture the drivers of transformation.

One thing that can torpedo even the best-laid plan is the unknowability of the future. As Mike Tyson succinctly put it, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” It’s impossible to know what lies ahead. Markets, staff, and customers don’t react the way you expect, and most change programs lack the agility to deal with the unexpected chain of events that may be set in motion.

To be sure, change is hard. It’s difficult to get other people, like your staff, to do what you want. It’s often as tough to get yourself to follow through on a commitment you’ve made on December 31. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Hollywood movies are often about change and redemption, and often the trigger is a rousing speech by a dying uncle, wounded comrade, or aging sports star. In the real world, influencing people’s behaviors requires a lot more than words. You need to make what is often perceived as undesirable desirable, you need to harness team spirit, and you need to offer rewards and make it structurally easy for the person to carry out the changes through routines and skills training. You need to hold people accountable to the new ways on a day-to-day basis, and you need to be prepared to pivot and change approaches when something is not working. Finally, you need to be ready to communicate your message over and over again.

In the pages that follow, we will provide tips and ideas to set you in motion on your year of change. There’s a good chance you will know many of them. That’s the thing about the knowing-doing gap. The secret is to invest in as many as possible, celebrate any progress that you make and keep moving forward.

22 Tips to Close the Knowing-doing Gap

1. Get Staff Buy-in

To succeed, a change strategy must, at least in part, be shaped by the people who will execute it. They are the ones doing the work, so they need to be involved from the beginning. Moreover, they are best positioned to codify experience into usable rules, which they can phrase in a language that resonates for them (creating such in-house terminology is often one of the first steps in building a successful company culture). And besides, they may actually have some good ideas to share. “Often the best strategies don’t come from the top of the organization. The frontline can be a well of ideas. New ideas pop up from the pressure of trying to solve a problem for the customer,” says Robert Simons, author of Seven Strategy Questions: A Simple Approach For Better Execution.

2. Be a Little Less Positive

Positive thinking has its place, especially when it comes to conceiving goals, but when it comes to achieving them, it can actually be a hindrance, says Dr. Gabriele Oettigen, a New York University psychology professor who has been studying the effects of positive thinking for over 20 years. “When people only think about a positive future, they’ve already attained this future in their minds, so they have little motivation to actually act on it,” Oettigen recently told The Atlantic. In her book, Rethinking Positive Thinking, she recommends a procedure called mental contrasting — that is, examine the barriers that stand in the way of us actually attaining that goal and map out detailed strategies to deal with them. “Visualizing the desired future and then imagining the obstacles can actually help us be more successful than positive thinking alone,” she says.

3. Be Outright Negative

Postmortems are useful, but even better is if you can take action before your dear project dies. Hence, the increasing popularity of pre-mortems. The process is simple: Unlike a typical critiquing session, in which project team members are asked what might go wrong, the pre-mortem operates on the assumption that it’s already over. Everything went as badly as you could have feared. Now: why? Asking the question this way, explains the psychologist Gary Klein, has an almost magical effect. It removes the pressure from those who are worried about seeming disloyal by voicing concerns; indeed, it turns things into a competition to find ever more convincing reasons for failure. “It’s a sneaky way to get people to do contrarian, devil’s-advocate thinking without encountering resistance,” Klein says. According to Klein, using prospective hindsight can improve people’s ability to predict the reasons for future outcomes by 30 percent.

4. Put Staff’s Skin in the Game

There’s another reason you want to involve your staff: When people feel the ideas were partly theirs, they have skin in the game and feel accountable for the plan’s success. It wasn’t just the boss’s idea. “People do not change their minds through being told, however open and inclusive the communication may be. It is an oft-forgotten feature of human nature that if you want to influence someone, a good start is to show they have influenced you. If you are open to others, others tend to be open to you. Influence comes through interaction,” write Alison Reynolds and David Lewis in What Philosophy Can Teach You About Being A Better Leader.

5. Identify Your WIGs

To win any war, you need to pick the right battles. In their book The 4 Disciplines Of Execution, Chris McChesney, Jim Huling and Sean Covey call these targets “WIGs”, short for Wildly Important Goals. A WIG can make all the difference, but will require you to commit a disproportionate amount of energy to it. “In determining your WIG, don’t ask ‘What’s most important?’ Instead, begin by asking ‘If every other area of our operation remained at its current level of performance, what is the one area where change would have the greatest impact?’” they write.
The truth is that it is hard to do more than two or three big things at a time, no matter how large your organization. “Saying no to things that you really want to do is the telltale sign of a good planning process,” the investor Fred Wilson recently told a recent INC founder conference.
The final benefit of a WIG is clarity. According to some studies, only 15 percent of employees at corporations actually know their organization’s most important goals — either because there are no goals, or they have too many goals. A WIG will ensure everyone is clear on what critical activities provide the greatest leverage to achieving that goal.

6. Play Planning Poker

One of the main drivers of resistance to a change program is when staff don’t feel they have been heard or the amount of additional work they may be asked to do is not acknowledged. A fun way to show you’re interested in your employees’ perspectives is Planning Poker. It goes like this: Each staff member gets a set of numbered cards and the manager describes the new task or role they will be asked to do under Program Revamp. The employees then choose the numbered card that represents the amount of effort that they believe will be required to achieve the outcome. As the cards are revealed — some with high values, others with lower values — it quickly becomes apparent who’s not on the same page. “Planning Poker sparks productive discussion and speeds up clarification of what’s expected,” says Dave Bailey, a business coach and tech entrepreneur.

7. Create Small Steps

5 Set big, ambitious goals. Just be sure to add deadlines for the small concrete steps that will get you there. In his book One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way, Robert Maurer suggests taking almost absurdly tiny steps, day after day. It enables you, in Maurer’s words, to “tiptoe past fear”: our monkey-brain, it seems, is fooled when we tell it we’re embarking only on something minuscule, and it stops putting up resistance. By making your steps too small to fail, you and your staff can make those initial, small changes on which to build a new way of working and doing business.

8. Be Clear About Everyone’s Role and Place

Gary Neilson, a consultant with Booz & Co., which over the last decade has surveyed over 1,000 companies for a strategy study, says failures can almost always be fixed by ensuring that employees truly understand what they are responsible for and who makes which decisions — and then giving them the information they need to fulfill their responsibilities. With these two building blocks in place, structural and motivational elements will follow.

9. Six-week sprints

“Agile planning” should be viewed as a series of box sprints with the objective of moving forward, testing the waters, learning, and refining the strategy based on the results, says business coach Dave Bailey, who recommends six-week stretches. Brian Moran and Michael Lennington, authors of the 12-Week Year, recommend a longer period, as the title of their book suggests. The exact number isn’t important, just so long as the stretch is long enough to allow your team to make significant progress on a key front, yet short enough to stay focused. The problem with thinking of life in annualized 365-day units is that a year’s too big to get your head around, Moran and Lennington argue, and there’s too much unpredictability involved in planning for 10 or 11 months in the future.

10. Try a brainwriting session

Traditional brainstorming sessions have a rather spotty record. This is because only one person can speak at any one time and it is easy for some personalities — and their ideas — to dominate, so few good ideas are actually generated. A new study suggests something called “asynchronous brainwriting,” whereby participants rotate between eight-minute individual writing sessions and three-minute group sessions to read over each other’s ideas. The researchers from the University of Texas at Arlington found that participants using this method thought of an idea every two minutes on average, a much higher rate than more traditional brainstorming sessions.

11. Use the Right Metrics

How should you measure progress toward your goal? According to Pfeffer and Sutton, companies with huge knowing-doing gaps tend to measure things that don’t really matter, such as hours worked, rather than overall customer satisfaction. Or lag indicators rather than lead measures. It’s the data on lead measures (for example, number of phone calls or mystery shopper scores if your goal is greater customer intimacy) that enables you to close the gap between what you know your team should do and what they are actually doing.
It’s also important not to overemphasize traditional performance such as sales, which can impair execution in another subtle but important way, says Donald Sull of the MIT Sloan School of Management. “If managers believe that hitting their numbers trumps all else, they tend to make conservative performance commitments.” Trying new things inevitably entails setbacks, and honestly discussing the challenges involved increases the odds of long-term success.

12. Don’t Substitute Talk For Action

Substituting talk for action is perhaps the most common way businesses fall into the knowing-doing gap, say Pfeffer and Sutton. Many corporate teams spend so much time creating strategies and setting goals, they don’t actually implement anything. Systems can help. One system that’s currently popular online goes by the name “No Zero Days.” The idea is simply not to let a single day pass without doing something, however tiny, towards some important project.

13. Enough Talking Already… Launch!

To overcome resistance, launch new initiatives with a lot of hoopla, following through immediately to sustain momentum, and singling out those doing good work for compliments (in addition to raising morale, it sends a message that management is watching closely.)

14. Keep a Compelling Scoreboard

People play differently when keeping score. “Great teams know, at every moment, whether or not they’re winning,” say McChesney, Huling and Covey in The 4 Disciplines of Execution.

15. Praise More

Most of us have our favorite method of trying to influence people’s behavior: pass a law, threaten a consequence, offer a training program. But it’s too simplistic. It takes a combination of personal, social and structural influences to get people to change. The first thing that needs to be done is to ensure that vital behaviors are connected to intrinsic satisfaction, such as associating what we’re doing with a sense of greater purpose (“These are our customers’ most important moments”). The second is the social environment, such as making people accountable to the team, and finally come the rewards, such as bonuses. A big part in all of this is feedback. Many managers act as if praise is a finite resource. It’s not and lack of recognition is usually the No. 1 complaint among staff.

16. Use Fear Judiciously

There’s a good chance that your desire for change is linked to the disruption going on in the marketplace, and few industries are being “disrupted” as drastically as the retail industry. Andy Grove, the former Intel chairman, liked to say that fear — fear of the competitor, fear of failure — was essential to fueling a desire to win in the marketplace. But fear is often counter-productive. In business, Pfeffer and Sutton report, managers who try to lead through fear cause paralysis more often than action. And trying to motivate yourself with fear is like screaming at a child, “Do something, dammit!” You’ll either freeze up or act in an impetuous way that makes things worse.

17. Craft Simple Rules

Ultimately, it’s detailed execution at the employee level, and not strategy, that gets things done. And execution requires rules. Rules set boundaries (as in inventory buying), assign priorities, tell you when to fold (that staffer not paying her way), and “how to” do something (as in, “Every initial interaction with a customer must end in an open-ended question.”) In Simple Rules: How To Thrive In A Complex World, Donald Sull and Kathleen Eisenhardt make the case for — as the title of their book indicates — keeping it simple. There’s just too much information in the world for a rule to address every situation. And besides, while specificity may make frontline employees’ jobs easier, too much eliminates their need to think and diminishes their sense of ownership. Most customer-facing situations in business are generic anyway and have a standard solution (or an adaptation of one). They don’t require the intervention of the boss. This has another big benefit — it frees you up to focus on the decisions that are important and move the needle. As for how to devise those Simple Rules, Sull and Eisenhardt have some simple guidelines: Users suggest the rules, data trumps opinion, and give the rules a test drive.

18. Deal with Dissent

It’s possible, and even likely, that some of your frontline employees will voice objections to your strategy. They may think the leaders have chosen the wrong approach or have decided to play in the wrong space. If this happens, listen carefully and sincerely. “Every failed strategy had people on the frontline who expressed concerns,” says Simons. It’s a manager’s job to allow bad news to bubble up to the top of the organization. Simons urges though that once those concerns have been heard and dealt with, then people need to fall into line with the agreed strategy, regardless of their opinion. For those who seem determined to play the game of “Yes, but” (offer a solution, and they’ll find a reason to reject it), the right response is to refuse to play along, because their real motive is to prove the situation is irresolvable. Break the cycle by agreeing sympathetically. Or ask: “What do you plan to do about it?” says the entrepreneur Trevor Blake in his book Three Simple Steps.

19. Take Care of the High & the Low

Humans typically don’t like change. And the two groups most resistant tend to be the lower performers and — surprisingly — high performers, says Neilson. The low performers because they fear they will struggle, and the high performers because they have found a way to succeed in the existing system, so they tend to see the problem as other people needing to get it together and be effective. As a result, change seems like unnecessary overhead that is liable to get in the way of their actual work. “Essentially, low performers need to know the ‘what’—what the expectations are in the new order of things — while high performers need the ‘why’ of the change explained,” Neilson says.

“Before you try to introduce any kind of ‘performance management’ to a team, the first step is to bring in standards, support, and accountability. Once you have that, you can clearly communicate where people need to develop, give low performers the help they need, set them up to be successful, and if it still doesn’t work out … let them go,” he writes in Results: Keep What’s Good, Fix What’s Wrong, And Unlock Great Performance.

For high performers, it will be hard, but it will be extremely effective, so take the time, he counsels. Hone your explanations on them, hear them out, and work to earn their trust. They usually wield outsize influence in the workplace. Once you have their support, other employees will quickly get on board.

20. Aim, Fire, Do

The traditional top-down approach to business strategy has been “Plan-then-Do.” The organization would invest heavily in creating a detailed plan that specified roles for all employees based on how the market was expected to react. Should the plan falter, employees would invariably be faulted for failing to execute, leading to demands that the plan be followed even more closely with ever greater micromanaging. The results were rarely pretty. An alternative approach popularized by Tom Peters and Bob Waterman in their bestseller In Search Of Excellence was a “ready-fire-aim” go-to-market strategy. This agile, test-and-learn approach, which has become the standard in Silicon Valley, is better suited to today’s volatile environment. Instead of thinking of strategy as a linear process, consider it as inherently iterative — a loop instead of a line, in which the situation is constantly reassessed: Plan, do, assess, replan, redo. “Success requires identifying the next few steps along a broadly defined strategic path and then learning and refining as you go. This approach makes execution easier and increases the odds of delivering great results,” says Michael Mankins, co-author of Time, Talent, Energy: Unleash Your Team’s Productive Power.

21. Do Retrospectives

In addition to the daily meetings, it’s important to end the six- or 12-week sprints with retrospectives, which bring together staff to gather answers to three questions:

  • What’s working well?
  • What’s not working well?
  • How can we improve?

Note that retrospectives require psychological safety that may mean cultivating a new set of skills at the top, including empathy and transparency, that build trust. Improve your process every cycle.

22. There is No Finish Line

Lurking behind most schemes for transformation is the unspoken notion that change is something you achieve, once and for all. But it doesn’t work that way because a day when everything is “sorted out” never arrives. If you continuously stare at the gap between where you are and where you think you should be, you’ll exist in a space of debilitating discouragement. Instead, observe and appreciate how far you’ve come. Sure, you aren’t where you want to be, but you aren’t where you were, either. “Treat strategy as evergreen. The best companies see strategy less as a plan and more as a direction and agenda of decisions,” says Michael Mankins in a paper titled “5 Ways the Best Companies Close the Strategy-Execution Gap” in the Harvard Business Review. Focus on getting better rather than being good, and before too long, you might find that you’re actually pretty great. Not only does this encourage you to focus on developing and acquiring new skills, it allows you to take difficulties in stride and appreciate the journey as much as the destination.

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Stealing Time

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Are you harried each day, knowing that you have more to do than fits in 24 hours? Do you find yourself wasting time through the day, constantly distracted and interrupted, wondering what you set out to accomplish in the first place?

One of the best pieces of crowd-sourcing advice by INVISION’s Brain Squad is to take a minute to put that stuff rattling around in your brain in some sort of order. “Create a schedule with strict time cutoffs … and stick to them,” says

Leisa Lauer of Dr. H. Michael Shack in Newport Beach, FL. “It is always more efficient when you balance your inside- and outside-the-office activities. There is really not very much that cannot wait until the next day.”

  • But do get those lists out of your head and onto paper. Dave Allen, the time-management guru and creator of the Getting Things Done system, estimates people keep 100 hours of distracting undone stuff in their heads. Allen advocates creating lists and then coming up with “next actions.” The danger with this is you can become so obsessed creating lists you lose focus on that important thing you wanted to devote all your energy to. Our take? Make focusing on one thing at a time your No. 1 philosophy, and use systems like Allen’s GTD to support you.
  • Also, list your to-don’ts. Jim Collins, author of Good TO Great, wonders whether you have a “stop doing” list. Think of all the harmful, unproductive behaviors you engage in … and put them on your list. Let your “stop doing” list help you focus on the things you need to do.
  • Delegate stuff that’s not mandatory for an owner to do, says Maury Kessler, OD, of Eyecare Plus Scottsdale in Scottsdale, AZ, and Ted McElroy, OD, of Vision Source Tifton in Tifton, GA, who goes so far as to say: “1. Delegate 2. Delegate 3. Repeat.”
  • Treat information consumption like an addiction. Begin by silencing those notifications to allow better productivity, says Tina Smrkovski of Reed Optical in Claremont, NH, and deleting games off your phone like Dr. Erika Tydor of Shoreline Eyecare in Shoreline, WA. Next, block time for communication. You may even consider scheduling email, social media and IM collection during limited periods of the day. If so, you could have “Open for Email” hours listed in your email signature. And try this tip from Dr. Robert M. Easton, Jr, OD, in Oakland Park, FL, to keep on top of social media: “Outside the office, I go to the gym and respond to social media posts in between sets.”
  • Pretend you’re 2, and just say ‘no’. “For the next two days, do as all good 2-year-olds do and say ‘no’ to all requests,” suggests Timothy Ferriss in The 4-Hour Workweek. “Don’t be selective. Refuse to do all things that won’t get you immediately fired.” In this case, the exercise is designed not only to eliminate things that waste time, but to get comfortable with saying “No.” “Potential questions to decline include the following: Do you have a minute? Want to see a movie tonight? Can you help me with X? ‘No’ should be your default answer to all requests. Don’t make up elaborate lies. A simple answer such as, ‘I really can’t — sorry; I’ve got too much on my plate right now’ will do as a catch-all response.” Jim Williams of Eye to Eye Optometry in Mexico, MO, agrees, “Saying NO is the most important lesson one can learn. Sometimes I feel that I say no too often, but it is a good habit to have.”
  • Force yourself to complete a task: Stress sucks, but it can be motivating, writes Kristin Wong on lifehacker.com. If you’ve ever put off a project, then miraculously finished it in record time, you can probably relate. Contrary to popular belief, stress does not make you perform better, but you can steal something useful from it. Entrepreneur Dan Martell calls this a “forcing function.” He writes: “A forcing function is any task, activity or event that forces you to take action and produce a result. A few times a week, Martell brings his laptop to a co-working space or coffee shop and leaves his power cable at home. This gives him a few hours of battery life to get stuff done. “That’s when I slam through a bunch of emails, get some serious planning done or design some new product features. There’s something magical about a three-hour forced completion work session.”
  • Chunk it. To save you a few minutes a day and take back some control, try “chunking”. This refers to completing similar types of work at the same time. For example, you’ve got calls to return or accounts to chase up: Set aside a block of time to get them all done in one focused hit. It’s a better use of your energy than bouncing randomly from one management task to another.
  • Slow down, says Nichole Montavon of Oskaloosa Vision Center in Oskaloosa, LA. “If I’m going at 150 percent, I make mistakes, then I’m spending more time fixing those mistakes.” Rick Rickgauer of Vision Associates in Girard, PA, subscribes to the same philosophy. “I take a deep breath and realize I don’t have to burn the wick at both ends … which often results in mistakes and more work to get things done.”
  • Don’t manage time, manage tasks and do the important work first. “I don’t manage time, I priority manage. If a task takes an hour, it still takes an hour. I do the tasks in the right order and allow the time to manage itself,” says Adam Ramsey, OD, Socialite Vision, Palm Beach Gardens, FL. Susan L. Spencer of Council Eye Care in Williamsville, NY, buys in to this approach too. “I prioritize everything and only focus on what must be done now!”
  • To that end, limit daily goals. From The 4-Hour Workweek, “There should never be more than two mission-critical items to complete each day. Never. It just isn’t necessary if they’re actually high impact. If you are stuck trying to decide between multiple items that all seem crucial, look at each in turn and ask yourself, “If this is the only thing I accomplish today, will I be satisfied with my day?”
  • That flies in the face of our belief that multitasking gets more accomplished … But it’s OK to combine simple activities. Like Kim Hilgers of Monson Eyecare Center, Owatonna, MN. “I love organizing frames while the patient is looking for their frame … It looks like I’m trying to find just the perfect frame for them but I’m satisfying my OCD need for organization!”
  • Practice the art of non-finishing from The 4-Hour Workweek. “Starting something doesn’t automatically justify finishing it. If you are reading an article that sucks, put it down and don’t pick it back up. If you go to a movie and it’s worse than The Men In Black reboot, get the hell out of there before more neurons die. More is not better, and stopping something is often 10 times better than finishing it.” Ivy Elaine Frederick, OD of New Castle, PA, is a fan of this approach. “Don’t feel like it all has to get done today, just do a little bit at a time and you will catch up.”
  • Cut to the chase. After hanging up, have you ever looked at the “duration of call” display and thought, “10 minutes! I really can’t afford to waste that kind of time…” If so, consider these tips from business consultant Jo Soard to improve your phone efficiency: Get to the point. If you’re the caller, say: “Paul — hi, I need two questions answered and I know you are the only person who can help me.” If you’re receiving the call, cut to the chase with the reliable: “Hi Lynn. Nice to hear from you. What can I do for you today?” And to avoid never-ending phone tag: Leave short instructive voicemails, telling the person you’re chasing the purpose of your call and what you need. That will equip them with the information they need to respond promptly.
  • When all else fails … hide. “I hide in my office and pretend I’m ‘on a call,’ shares Cynthia Sayers, OD, of EyeShop Optical Center in Lewis Center, OH.

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Cover Stories

2020 Vision

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The coming year has “eyecare” written all over it. But what changes can we expect to see in eyecare and eyewear as we enter a new year and a new decade? We asked more than 20 industry experts which major trends they expect to make themselves felt in the coming year and beyond. Their responses can make for scary reading at times — few independent ECPs leap for joy when they hear talk of “retail homogenization,” “online refraction” and “eroding margins.” But the way we see it, the real takeaway here is about silver linings and crises turned into opportunities. They say to be forewarned is to be forearmed. Check out the eight currents in the optical and optometric industry discussed in the following pages, and arm yourself for a new year—and a new era—in eyecare.

1. VERTICAL INTEGRATION

Among the industry experts INVISION spoke to for this article, the consensus is clear; the vertical integration that has been evident at all levels of the optical and optometry industry in recent years, from the Essilor/Luxottica merger to the private equity-fueled acquisition of independent practices, will only accelerate in 2020.

According to Evan Engel, vice president for sales and marketing at EyeCarePro, a digital marketing firm for eyecare businesses, “The financial incentive for the Essilors and VSPs of the world to own practices and push their products through their own practices will change the landscape, much like private pharmacies are virtually gone, replaced with CVS/Walgreens.” Mark Hinton, founder of advisory firm eYeFacilitate, puts a hard figure on the financial incentive described above by Engel, saying acquisitions can only grow as “venture capital execs will continue to show investors a 20-plus-percent gain” on acquisitions of eyecare practices.

Matt DiBlasi, president of Abyde, a HIPAA-compliance software provider, named the emergence of private equity within optometry as his top trend to watch. “It’s here and it’s here to stay,” he told us. “Will the independent OD thrive or eventually cave to the more recent trend of offloading business functions through the process of acquisition?”
The most obvious effect of this process is homogenization; as small businesses sell out to join large groups, eyecare is at risk of looking the same everywhere, something that, according to Jennifer Lyerly, OD, co-founder of Defocus Media, “weakens our chance to personally connect optometry’s message with patients.” As the current generation of eyecare’s most prominent leaders sells to private equity, she says, “We need to find and embrace new leaders in the profession who are innovating independent paths forward.”

According to business development expert Michael Karlsrud of the Karlsrud Company, the consolidation of the private ECP market will be focused on larger population areas, or where multiple office locations exist. This is significant, he says, as many frame and lens companies, along with their sales teams, are going to be at risk as decision-making and purchasing will become centralized to maximize purchasing power. “We may experience a loss of jobs in the overall market, and organizations will certainly have to regroup as their ‘A’ accounts are picked off.”

Other eyecare pundits are drawing similarly interesting conclusions. Richard Frankel, OD, of Atlantic Cape Eyecare in Wildwood, NJ, and founder of #emergingtrends on ODs on Facebook, says the acquisitions of VisionWorks by VSP, and FourEyes by Luxottica, point to “the growing segment of the eyecare market in the value-based segment as pioneered by America’s Best.” In addition, he says, “expect the VCPs [vision care plans] owned by those corporations to funnel more of their beneficiaries to them for added synergy.”

Louis Fullagar, creative director at SpexAddict, a digital marketing firm specializing in the eyewear industry, and founder of the online magazine Luxury Eyewear Forum, sees a lot of retirements on the horizon. This will in turn create a real opportunity for independents to separate themselves from the herd, he says. “I see growth in the area happening already but I think there will be more pressure to differentiate in the changing market profile over the next year. It will be ‘decision time’ for many owners to either sellout or step it up!”

Echoing this is Bart Foster, managing director of Colorado-based Sanitas Advisors, who says that while, sure, it can be a scary thing to see, the continued vertical integration of the industry can be an opportunity for those ECPs who recognize it, helping to open up space for smaller companies and niche brands.

James Armstrong of Alberta Eyecare in Portland, OR, made this bold call on an acquisition that’s barely three months old: “VSP abandons VisionWorks after massive revenue losses.”

2. TELE-OPTOMETRY HAS LANDED!

Industry observers have been warning for years that it’s just a matter of time until online refraction becomes something optometric practices will have to take seriously. Well, if our experts are to be believed, that time is upon us, with 2020, as Texas State Optical president John Marvin puts it, likely to be the year that “tele-optometry will go mainstream and be adopted by large groups.”

As far as telemedicine in general goes, Michael Kling, OD/owner at Invision Optometry in San Diego, CA, sees a familiar pattern. “It’s real and it’s coming. Not just to service the under-served, rural areas of the country, but also to meet the increasing demand for convenience and efficiency. Disruption occurs when a new market is created, first by appealing to a niche market, then by becoming mainstream. Just like we’ll soon be hailing driver-less automobiles to get to work, we’ll soon see a completely virtual healthcare delivery system emerge.” It’s an idea expressed succinctly by Peggy Gartin, founder/CEO of The Social Eye, a social media agency for optical businesses, who says that the pressure is on to make online exams a reality, “because some people just don’t want to go to the doctor.”

Foster of Sanitas Advisors not only agrees that the trend is real, he embraces it. “Telehealth — soon to be called just health — and online refractions will finally gain a foothold and enable eyecare providers to offer better access with fewer costs.

Karlsrud, while agreeing that acceptance of online exams is on the way, isn’t sold on the idea that 2020 will be the year US consumers fully buy in. “We are in the third inning of the ballgame. When online refraction becomes perfected and accepted overseas, it will be more accepted in the US. When that happens, look for the consumer to take more control of their healthcare and make decisions based on their own consumer ‘needs,’ i.e. fashion, flexibility, cost, utility measures, versus eye health and other benefits of a healthy eye exam.”

The question ECPs should be asking themselves, according to Lauretta Justin, OD, owner of Millennium Eye Center and founder of Optometry Divas in Orlando, FL, is no longer really about whether telemedicine is coming, or even how to incorporate it into their practices, but how to ensure it best serves eye health. “If we get involved and find ways to incorporate its use in our practices, I believe we can help steer it in the right direction,” she says. Lyerly takes a similar view. “We have to find a way to use it ethically or risk being left behind,” she says. “Primary care doctors are already using telemedicine to prescribe antibiotics for ‘pinkeye’ — even though we know most acute conjunctivitis is viral and doesn’t need antibiotics. Can we ethically employ telemedicine to meet the convenience our patients want, without sacrificing proper care and contributing to antibiotic resistances? If optometry can find the path forward that balances these concerns, our profession will be stronger for it. The pioneers that will bring us into the future are out there right now embracing the challenge.”

3. DECLINING ENROLLMENT, CORPORATE RECRUITMENT

One topic that our experts will be looking carefully at over the next year is the perhaps too-seldom discussed subject of the state of education for aspiring optometrists and opticians.

Sadly, Hinton expects opticianry colleges will continue to see a drop in enrollment as optical salaries present a lower income opportunity than other trades. As for ODs, graduates will flock towards corporate stores instead of private practice, says Karlsrud. “Their debt load will be very high and the risk too great not to seek the shelter of a larger organization — particularly in a market that is shifting rapidly,” he says, with the end result being less options for retiring doctors in smaller markets to have an exit strategy. “In the end, this could mean few choices for care in small markets, forcing the patients to drive to larger communities, or for the younger demographic to hit online options,” he adds.

EyeCoach’s Bell offered the glum prediction that schools and colleges of optometry “will continue to do a disservice to their students by not offering any classes in how to run/manage a profitable practice/business or making the following classes mandatory in undergraduate studies as a criteria in being accepted into optometry school: Entrepreneurship, Business Finance/Accounting, Sales & Marketing, Human Resources, Inventory Control, etc., etc., all the while as students accumulate crushing debt from their student loans which average around $200,000.” Because of this, he warns, independent optometry will see a further drop in capture rates and big box stores and online retailers will continue to see growth “as independent optometry continues its death knell.”

4. MYOPIA AND EYE HEALTH AWARENESS

An increase in myopia cases, heightened public awareness of the importance of eye exams, growing government regulations, gene therapy and more are all on our experts’ radar for 2020.

Look for eyecare practices to expand their scope of practice, predicts Foster, “speeding up new treatments and product opportunities — for example auditory, cognition, genetic testing and eye health.”

American Optometric Association president Barbara Horn, OD, says 2020 will be the year of the eye exam, thanks in no small part to AOA’s #2020EyeExam campaign to drive awareness of the importance of making a comprehensive eye exam part of every American’s annual health care routine. “We are reaching out to employers across the country, enlisting their support and commitment to foster awareness of the importance of eye health and vision care and the overall health benefits of in-person, comprehensive eye examinations,” she told INVISION.

Kristan Gross, global executive director of the Vision Impact Institute, agrees that vision health will become part of the wider public health conversation. With the release of two new reports on the state of vision around the world, the topic of vision is already being elevated to the public health stage, she says, citing the World Health Organization’s World Report on Vision, which highlights the magnitude of the problem of poor vision, and a study by Essilor International on the global scale of uncorrected poor vision. Gross also expects the link between children’s vision and learning to continue to be on the radar of policymakers, adding that in several states this conversation has already resulted in policy change when it comes to children’s vision exam policies. She predicts that more states will introduce legislation in 2020.
The topics of children’s vision and eyecare-related legislation are also on the mind of Armstrong at Alberta Eyecare, who expects the coming year to bring both growth in pediatric-specific optometry practices and new laws in almost all 50 states regulating online eye exams.

Frankel expects 2020 will show us even more evidence of optometry’s potential to integrate with mainstream medicine. “The future of optometry lies in providing professional services and integrating within the tapestry of medicine,” he says. “We are no longer going to be isolated but have the ability to coordinate with a patient’s total healthcare.”

Continuing the pediatric theme, Foster predicts that the massive increase in myopia, especially in children, will change the standard of care and open opportunities for new treatments and service models. He expects genetic testing and gene therapy will be used for early detection and diagnosis of eyecare diseases and, intriguingly, that contact lenses will be used for drug delivery.

Jaclyn Garlich, OD, founder of the 20/20 Glance weekly email for optometrists, is keeping her fingers crossed for possible FDA approval for myopia control. “Eyenovia is working on a drop called Micropine. If approved, Eyenovia will have the first microdosed treatment for progressive myopia in the US. Plus their eyedropper bottle is innovative and is designed to have better drug delivery to the eye. This could be the eyedropper of the future,” she says. Also on her radar are developments in meibography. “As the number of dry eye disease patients continues to increase, so do our diagnostic and treatment options. I think meibographers are going to become one piece of equipment primary care optometrists can’t live without,” she predicts.

 

OUR EXPERTS

 

5. THE RISE (AND RISE) OF MANAGED CARE

In a process inextricably linked to the vertical integration of the industry, managed care is taking over a large portion of the vision plan sector. None of our experts expects this to change any time soon.

You might be thinking this is one trend you can sit out as in independent. Not so, says Karlsrud. “Not only will [managed care] become closer to the consumer by completing the vertical integration of the supply chain, [it] will put pressure on independent ECPs to accept less reimbursements for customary charges and services,” he says. The result will be more patients being driven to corporate owned practices where benefits can be maximized, with the remaining independents forced to either change their business model, or move into a “cash only” practice. “Count on more direct marketing to patients to move them to online stores owned by the larger consolidators,” he says.

“The era of fee for service,” says Atlantic Cape Eyecare’s Frankel, “is drawing to a close.” With the Department of Health and Human Services having declared that 90 percent of Medicare beneficiaries be covered under programs that have quality based outcomes, MSSPs and Medicare Advantage programs are increasing in popularity. “ACOs will continue to become more popular with commercial carriers as a means to control costs. The panels that have been proven to reduce Medicare costs are being used for the commercial plans. Optometry cannot be closed out of providing medical eyecare as a result. Nor can routine eyecare be subcontracted out to VCPs.”

Foster warns ECPs that they should expect to see a dramatic shift in the control of managed vision care in the direction of employers and consumers.
Robert Bell, sales strategist and founder of EyeCoach, a sales and marketing practice, offers this frank assessment: “Optometrists will continue to bitch and moan about new policies of vision care plan companies that are only beneficial to these companies but not to the ODs who accept the plans. Yet, most ODs will not formulate any strategies to leave these plans and the profitability of their practices will continue to dwindle.”

6. THE SEARCH FOR A NEW BUSINESS MODEL GOES ON

Hand in glove with changing consumption patterns comes the eternal quest for the perfect business model. The complexity of the optical and optometric industry makes the challenge posed by online retail especially formidable for ECPs.

Louis Fullagar at SpexAddict, a social media, brand building and digital marketing company working in the eyewear industry, foresees a growth in practices getting their game on in terms of marketing, social media and branding in 2020. “There is a massive opportunity for every independent to at least take a step into that space,” he says. “We are now past the point of the blinkered approach to attracting customers. I am starting to see more practices and owners who are willing to at least try new ways and budget their marketing activity accordingly.”

The goal of such efforts, according to Kling, should be to reduce “retail friction”. “It’s important for businesses to challenge their processes of delivering goods and services, and to find ways to lessen any barrier to the consumer to complete the transaction. Any step in the purchasing process that requires cognitive hesitation creates doubt, and lessens the likelihood of the transaction being completed.” In other words, if you have to stop and think about a purchase, you’re less likely to follow through with it. “Poor customer service, delays in shipping/delivery, a poor shopping environment and poor reviews are all examples of retail friction.”

The most interesting emerging model, according to The Social Eye’s Gartin, is what she calls “DIY optical.” In her view, eyewear customers are unhappy with the price, complexity and restricted selection of the current buying experience. “This is why Warby Parker got so big. Customers are going to source their frames from wherever they can… As long as they bring those frames in to get their prescription lenses from an optometrist/optician, we should support this freedom to choose.”

Hinton at eYeFacilitate says capture from handoff to optical will continue to fall as consumers are influenced by advertised lower cost pricing. “The opportunity is to obtain lower cost, high quality progressive lenses from lab partners and stock SV lenses, both with AR included and frame included; the PAL with frame will cost the consumer between $350 and $389 depending on market saturation.” He advises ODs to write prescriptions for SV and PAL and send opticians to the low-cost providers to mystery shop the average cost of each.

In general, says Todd Berberian, owner of Todd Rogers Eyewear in Andover, MA — the winner of INVISION’s 2018 America’s Finest Optical Retailers competition — too many owners feel obliged to follow industry rules when, after all, “The rules don’t follow us. The only competition that exists should be within your practice’s own four walls; don’t worry about the choices being made by the practice across the street.”

7. CHANGING CONSUMER BEHAVIORS

What separates the future of optical retail from its past? Choice. The consumer/patient seemingly has a world of options available online. As prices stagnate and margins vanish, business owners need to adjust.

Explains Foster: “Online sales will continue to grow with new subscription models taking hold and improvements in virtual try-on technology.” The result? “Downward pressure on pricing will force margin erosion.” Karlsrud agrees, pointing out that there is already a perception in the consumer market that glasses cost as much as 10-15 times higher in a private practice versus online stores. “This will continue to drive the perception that glasses are commodities and can be bought anywhere for the price they want to pay,” he says. “We’ll see this more with the younger generations moving through our offices. The older generations will continue to pay for peace of mind and a relationship with their doctors. We’re all getting older, so now is the time to be preparing for the next generation’s expectations of price, value and convenience.”

Michael Vitale, ABOM, senior technical director at The Vision Council, stresses the opportunity this trend creates. For the discerning patient, he says, the interest you create online can be used to drive the consumer to a brick and mortar location.

“Retail bifurcation” is the term Kling from Invision Optometry uses. “We will continue to see a bifurcation in consumer behavior with, on one extreme, the low-cost-driven providers, and on the other, further expansion of luxury brands and a focus on delivering a unique experience. What will contract is the middle; that is, those that try to be all things to all people, delivering tired eyewear in uninspired environments.”

8. A WOMAN’S WORLD

Here’s an area where we at INVISION think we may even be a step ahead of our own experts. According to our “Big Survey” (check it out at invisionmag.com or in our November/December print issue) 56 percent of responding ODs were women. So while the trend of women gravitating to optometry is well and truly established, a number of the industry observers we spoke to singled it out as one that will continue to be felt in the coming years, with significant numbers of young women seeing a future for themselves in the industry.

In particular, Dr. Lauretta Justin told us to look out for an increase in the number of young women ODs going into private practice, not as solo owners but as partners or groups, which she said will increase the likelihood of success and work-life satisfaction for this new generation of ODs. She also expects an increase in the number of women ODs forming startups with innovative products, and founding companies and networks “to disrupt the status quo and usher in a new era in optometry.” Says Justin, “Many of my colleagues have already launched startup companies that are changing the way we practice. Their companies have various unique offerings such as competitive profitable frame lines, more efficient ways to order contact lenses and capital funding for optometrists by optometrists. It’s an exciting time.”

Marvin of Texas State Optical agrees: “Optometry, as a profession will grow in appeal to females who see practicing as an employment opportunity.”

MORE TRENDS TO LOOK OUT FOR…

• “Virtual reality visual field testing! A company called Virtual Field has a portable visual field tester with audio instructions in your patients’ native language. It’s a great option with a small footprint for patients that have trouble with conventional visual field testing.” Jaclyn Garlich, OD, founder 20/20Glance, Boston, MA
• “Women will continue to fight stigmas about glasses. In November, a story broke about the policies of some Japanese companies banning women from wearing glasses on the job. When poor vision and blindness affect a disproportionately larger portion of females this is clearly a problem. We predict more stories like this.” Kristan Gross, Global Executive Director, Vision Impact Institute, Dallas, TX
• “1. Metals, metals and metals. 2. Ingenuity. You don’t have to spend titanium prices to get first quality metal.” Todd Berberian, Todd Rogers, Andover, MA
• “Divas of an advanced age are starting to come into their own and they all wear glasses. Expect more silver sisters to push the boundaries of eyewear style.” Peggy Gartin, Founder & CEO The Social Eye, San Diego, CA
• “In lenses, the continued development of filters to block specific wavelengths. Be it for color blindness, HEV or enhanced color contrast. Also, developments in “freeform” designed lenses. Not just progressives but also to improve visual acuity for single vision wearers.” Michael Vitale, ABOM, Senior Technical Director & Lens Division Liaison, The Vision Council, Alexandria, VA
• “Private label contact lenses will become a sizable part of the market.” Bart Foster, Managing Director, Sanitas Advisors, Boulder, CO
• “Additive and micro manufacturing — specifically 3D printing of lenses and frames — will become mainstream. Bart Foster, Managing Director, Sanitas Advisors, Boulder, CO
• “Value-based care, a continued migration from pay-for-service to pay-for-outcomes.” Matt DiBlasi, president ABYDE, Clearwater, FL
• “Augmented and virtual reality powered smart glasses, change the way eyewear is used and worn.” Bart Foster, Managing Director, Sanitas Advisors, Boulder, CO
• “1. More gender fluidity. 2. Functional art pieces. 3. Flashbacks to fashions from popular eras.” Arian Fartash, OD, The GlamOptometrist, Orange County, CA
• “There’s a lot coming up for Think About Your Eyes. From new concepts to campaigns kicking off in conjunction with movie releases. Look out April 2020! It will be an exciting year.” Ashley Mills, CEO The Vision Council, Alexandria, VA
•  “Differentiate. Do everything different than your competition. In the optical, find frame lines that no one else has, offer speedy service or home delivery to set yourself apart. Dave Ziegler, OD, Ziegler Leffingwell Eyecare, New Berlin, WI

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