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Tip Sheet

How Many Local Realtors Do You Know? and More Tips for June

For a more connected network, scratch some backs in the realty business.

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MARKETING

Here’s Looking at You

A great idea from the archives of dailyoptician.com (usually a worthier use of 15 minutes of downtime than awkwardfamilyphotos.com): send reminder postcards personalized with a picture of the doctor “so they don’t immediately discard it as junk mail,” writes Susan Halstead, owner of Family Vision Care Center in Saratoga Springs, NY. The cards are sent one month before the appointment and followed by emails and texts.

Management

Build a Strong Bench 

Like a sports team making a run for the playoffs, you always need a deep pool of staff, or what Dr. Son Nguyen calls a “manpower bench.” Nguyen, along with Dr. Stan Yang, has built one of the fastest growing vision practices in the Bakersfield, CA, area. “We’ve had growing pains. Being understaffed is the best way to let important things fall through the cracks, burn out your staff and make those patients you worked so hard in attracting mad,” says the co-owner of Bakersfield Eye Care Optometric Center.

networking

Prime Property

Some of the best local businesspeople to do a little mutual backscratching with are real estate agents. They know what parts of the community are seeing growth, can facilitate introductions to potential new customers moving into your neighborhood (think welcome packages), and can give you the lowdown on the local property market. With such thoughts in mind, the innovative ECPs at Roadrunner Eyecare in Albuquerque, NM, did an interview for the website of local realtor newmexicohomes.com that made both look good.

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Highlight Local Links 

Keeping it local. That’s the theme at Family Vision Care in Alma, GA, where patients are rewarded for their loyalty with gift cards to local coffee shops or boutiques, and baskets of locally crafted scented soaps. “We’re a local business and we thrive on our local patients,” says owner Dr. Blake Hutto. “Patients appreciate the special gesture and we almost always have another patient referred in from something so simple as a kind gift,” says Hutto.

management

Pursuit of Freedom

Something to remember for those of you who are breaking in new employees this month: It’s easier to give employees autonomy and freedom than it is to take it away. So, clearly state directions, expectations and oversight when employees are new to their jobs. Then, let autonomy and flexibility be an earned right of their performance, says Bob Nelson in 365 Ways to Manage Better.

marketing

Stay Focused

Keep your advertising focused. Take Coca-Cola, for instance. The company owns nearly 80 different brands of soft drinks, but they’ve never run an advertisement for all of them with a catch-all claim like “Bubbly, sugar-based liquids in a variety of different tastes for all your thirst needs.” If you have three important things that you absolutely have to say … well, then just buy three ads, says Luke Sullivan in Hey Whipple, Squeeze This.

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Since launching in 2014, INVISION has won 21 international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact INVISION's editors at editor@invisionmag.com.

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Tip Sheet

What’s the Title of Your Autobiography? And More Tips for April

Plus who doesn’t like a party? Especially when the ‘gifts’ are positive reviews for you business.

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planning Be an Idea Machine

Write down 10 ideas a day. “Do it for six straight months and see what happens. It actually turns into a super power,” says serial entrepreneur and author James Altucher. To collect his ideas, Altucher buys 1,000 waiter’s pads at a time from restaurant supplies websites (10 cents a pad). “They’re great for meetings because I have to keep concise lists, and they’re always good conversation starters.”

marketingThrow a Party

What month was your company born? Throw a birthday party and ask your customers to bring “gifts” of testimonials that you can use in your marketing. Including such third-party recommendations on your website and in your ads is one of the best ways around to convince others that your store is, indeed, the best place to shop, says Entrepreneur magazine’s Idea Site For Business.

managementThe Power of Perspective

When somebody gets down over a minor setback, ask them something in the vein of, “So that’s what you’re going to title your autobiography? I Had a Slice of Pizza and Spent the Rest of My Life as a Fat Blob?” And while sarcasm can motivate, best if you follow up with, “Hell no, you get back on track the next day as if nothing happened.” Our thanks to the Reddit diet community.

operationsDon’t Make It Weirder

Sign seen on the door of a store in Vulcan, Alberta: “No soliciting. Seriously, don’t make it weirder.”  Hat tip to Sarini Fine Jewellery for telling it in a tone that would warm the heart of Dr. Spock.

managementWhat Can I Do for You?

Once a month, make it a practice to individually ask each of your employees “What one thing can I do better for you?” After listening to and acknowledging the employee’s ideas, then tell them the one thing that they can do better for you that month. This helps build better communication, and keep both of you focused on continuous improvement, says Bob Nelson in 1001 Ways to Energize Employees.

salesNumbers Game

If quickly working out percentages, such as a 4% discount on a $75 item, trips you up, keep this hack in mind: It’s often easier to flip the sum, i.e. 75% of 4 (for which the answer is — and even we got this — 3!) 18% of 50, 14% of $300 (50% of $18, 300% of $14) … it’s a doddle, right?

communityShare the Ride

April brings us Earth Day (April 22), and if you’d like to do your bit to encourage a more sustainable way of living, take your cue from McCulley Optix Gallery in Fargo, ND, which gives credits to people who show a receipt for ride-share expenses to get to their office.

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Ask INVISION

How to Attract Top Salespeople and More Questions for April

Also, how to structure their compensation to remain competitive.

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We have a very young-looking salesperson who worries people don’t take her seriously. We’ve styled her in planos but what more can we do to make her look more professional?

“Professionalism is really about projecting confidence,” says Anne Sowden, managing director of image consultancy Here’s Looking at You. “And confidence is reflected in clothing and body language. As a general guideline, dark colors — black, navy and charcoal — convey authority.

A jacket automatically makes someone appear more professional. Pair it with a light-colored blouse (conservative neckline), knee-length skirt and she’ll look professional but approachable. And ensure the clothing fits properly, is not wrinkled and she will feel comfortable in it.

“If you’re comfortable, you’ll automatically be more confident,” Sowden notes.

When it comes to greeting customers, remind her of Mom’s dictum: Stand up straight and don’t slouch. “This will indicate that confidence and approachability. Add to that eye contact and most importantly, a smile and she’ll make a dynamite first impression,” Sowden says.

I have an employee at my high-end eyewear store who makes $16 an hour and commission based on gross profit. She earns close to $60,000 a year but feels underpaid and that paying commission on gross profit is contrary to the industry standard. How can I convince her she has it pretty good?

She does indeed have it pretty good, says industry consultant Andrea Hill, owner of Hill Management Group, noting that her hourly rate is almost 50 percent higher than the average for retail sales people of $11.50 and even more than the average of $15 paid by very high-end luxury retailers.

As for the commission, Hill says you are very much on the right track and your employee will probably have to get used to it wherever she decides to work; “wise” businesses are increasingly moving away from a commission based on the retail price to a portion of the gross margin. “In this way, sales professionals are challenged to balance the need to get the highest price possible with the need to close the sale,” Hill says.

“When commissions are paid out on total sales only, then it becomes very easy for the salesperson to sacrifice profits for the easy close,” she says.

While exposure to such numbers should mollify your associate, what you really want to do is excite her about the potential of earning as much as $100,000 a year — which is what top luxury salespeople make — although that requires building a “strong book” of customers through active networking, clienteling and prospecting work.

Keep in mind, however, that even the most generous commission rate won’t help if you’re not on top of your game, meaning advertising intelligently, keeping up with changing retail trends, providing the right technology for how consumers today want to shop, and maintaining an exciting inventory that reflects current tastes, says Hill.

“If the retail business owner does not ensure that they are running a strong merchandising and marketing operation, then even the best sales person in the world will not be able to turn the promise of commission into actual earnings.”

I still can’t get my head around kelvins and color temperatures. Can you help?

It probably helps to think of the original theoretical model that underlies the index — that of a black metal radiator, whose color changes as it is heated, from black to orange to red to blue to white hot.

Similar to Celsius and Fahrenheit, the Kelvin scale marks different degrees of thermodynamic temperature, but it is the association with color change that makes it useful as a way to designate light bulbs.

Where it gets confusing is how at the lower end of the scale, from 2000K to 3000K, the light produced is called “warm white” and ranges from orange to yellow-white in appearance. Meanwhile, color temperatures further up the scale, between 3100K and 4500K, are referred to as “cool white” but the bulbs are emitting a brighter, hotter light.

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Ask INVISION

What the Law Says About Retailers Who Say They’re Selling at ‘Wholesale’ Prices and More Questions for March

Unless it’s true, it might be a criminal offense in your state.

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How can I improve the open rates on my email marketing bulletins?

A few years ago, MailChimp.com did a survey of some 40 million promotional emails and found that those with the highest open rates (from 67 to an amazing 80 percent) were the ones that were — surprise, surprise — the least promotional. Typically, they had subject lines that told the recipient what was inside (they didn’t confuse e-bulletins with promotions or vice versa), they used the company’s name in the subject line, and had straightforward subject lines — they weren’t too “salesy” or pushy (this also helps you avoid spam trigger words). Most email providers will allow you to write subject lines of up to 60 characters but you should try to keep it short and to the point, between 30 and 40 characters and no more than five to eight words.

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Constant Contact, another service provider, recommends you state a clear benefit to opening the email. Email messages that have an “exclusive” offer in the subject line, such as “Private event” or “For select customers only,” can generate an additional 24 percent open rate, according to its studies. Of course, you don’t want to be too dry. Your content should be as friendly as possible. Open with the recipient’s name, use a tone that reflects your personality and end with your signature line. Most important, give them something they want. If they’ve opted in and you are responding to their interests, you too might be able to get super-high open rates.

One of the questions I always get, and hate, is “Do you have to charge sales tax?” How should I answer this?

Here’s a simple way to defuse this sneaky discount ploy. Look at the customer directly, smile, and say, “Actually, I don’t charge sales tax. I collect it.” They’ll get the point. And while everybody wants the best deal possible, they’ll probably trust you more for it. Because if you’d cheat on your taxes, why should a customer or patient trust you to take care of their vision?

My store seems like a reality TV show: unnecessary drama. Addressing it only seems to add fuel to the fire. Is there a way to bring it under control?

You’re not alone. After profitability concerns, this is the No. 1 headache of business owners, says business coach Lauren Owen. Drama and discord create stress and hurt productivity. There is no quick fix but there are a number of things you can do, starting with regular meetings. “Scheduled, well-run meetings are essential to clear communication and team building and addressing potential conflicts,” says Owen, adding that such meetings are conspicuously absent at stores with drama issues.

Other steps include confronting your drama queens, addressing your underperformers (there is often a hidden cost in the resentment they cause), performing a cost-benefit analysis on your high performance/maintenance employees (sometimes they just suck all the energy out of a store), and finally taking a good look at yourself. “Some people actually like drama, despite what they say,” Owen says. “If you were really honest with yourself you might understand that the drama is satisfying some need of yours. Attention? Power? Control? Do you avoid all conflict, even healthy conflict, at all costs?” And are you giving your staff a clear sense of purpose — that eyewear is about something much bigger than business?

My practice has never grown the way I had hoped … or hired for. To keep going, I feel we need to downsize. How can I do it without destroying staff morale?

Layoffs are tough. You can’t have high productivity without good morale, and you can’t have good morale unless people have confidence that the company has a future and that the business is going to treat them fairly if things get worse. Employees need to know that you respect and value their contributions and don’t just view them as a resource.

Sometimes, however, you have no choice but to order layoffs. In that case, remember three rules.

1. Do them all at once. Dragging things out will destroy morale.
2. It’s better to cut too much than to cut too little.
3. Make sure all remaining employees understand that what you’re doing is saving their jobs.

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