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Make the Best Use of a Great Resource: Your Fellow ECPs

A Texas OD’s study group helps eyecare business owners ‘get outside the bubble of their own practice.’

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Dr. Carrie Alfieri thinks of her practice as being on a 20- to 40-year journey.

TO SUCCEED, IN PRACTICE, it is much easier to operate with help from outside sources,” says Carrie Alfieri, OD, founder and CEO of Pinnacle Eye Associates in McKinney, TX. “It’s too hard to operate in a vacuum.” It was this realization that led Dr. Alfieri to get involved in M2M (member to member) meetings sanctioned by PERC+IVA, an alliance of the Professional Eyecare Resource Co-Operative and Infinity Vision Alliance, two nationwide group purchasing organizations comprising independent eyecare practices. As the leader of a group that hosts M2Ms, her official title is Key Advisor (KA) for PERC+IVA. There are about 25 KAs around the U.S. “Think of it as a study group with a facilitator,” Alfieri says.

THE IDEA The M2M format was supplied by PERC+IVA’s leadership, but the study group concept is not new and has been around for over 50 years. “The problem with many study groups,” Alfieri says, is that “either they have very limited access — invitation only — or can be very expensive as you have to join a group or hire a consultant.” The beauty of the PERC+IVA meetings is that they are free to any member.
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“I like to look at my practice as a 20 to 40-year journey,” she says. “We all have different needs depending where we are on that time line. The idea is that there are plenty of patients around, we want to help each other by sharing not only best practices or processes that work, but also things that we have tried and failed. We can all learn from each other and no one is an expert in all areas. That’s the beauty of an M2M meeting: We can all learn how to do something better.” The basic goals are to help drive change, accelerate learning and aid implementation.

THE EXECUTION The main role of the KA is to lead a facilitated discussion that revolves around a central theme. Optometric technology, patient care, the business side, medical developments and many more topics are all ripe for discussion. “I like to think of it as doing a deep dive into a process and helping to connect the dots. It is almost like thinking out loud with a group and using a framework. The framework is the foundation, but the attendees add the details to really make the process shine and excel,” says Alfieri, whose qualifications to be leading such a group are solid: Pinnacle Eye Associates was recognized as a 2018 Best Practice for excellence in eyecare and advancing the industry by CooperVision.
Each KA group is autonomous. PERC+IVA allows any owner, be they an OD, MD or optician, to participate. Each KA creates a “safe” meeting environment that encourages mutual assistance and sharing. The KA can poll the attendees for the upcoming meeting and allow office managers or opticians to attend depending on the topic. On the other hand, if it is felt that the presence of staff might stifle an open and free discussion on a specific topic, that meeting may be limited to owners only. The group sends out invites to all local members and Alfieri often sends out some personal emails. Her group meets quarterly.

THE REWARDS As a group, Alfieri says she and her colleagues strive to challenge the status quo and work together to make their practices more efficient, profitable, technologically advanced, and superior in customer service. In-office, she points out, doctors are not often exposed to new products, technologies, or new or different processes of operating. “The study group allows doctors to get outside the bubble of their own practice and push their office to do better, achieve more, and stay ahead of current trends, ultimately giving patients the best care.” The first step, she says, is simply making the commitment to get involved. “You will be amazed at what you can learn and accomplish.”

Do It Yourself

  • GO YOUR OWN WAY. Not a PERC+IVA member? Network with ODs or owners at your state association and suggest starting your own group.
  • FOLLOW THE LEADER. Appoint a facilitator who can keep each meeting focused on a central theme. It’s easier said than done in a group setting.
  • MIX IT UP. Alfieri says her KA group was put together “with diversity in mind.” Members are from all walks of life and own various models of business.
  • GET A ROOM. Organize a dedicated venue that’s distraction-free. Alfieri’s group meets “in a room that has four walls and a door for privacy.”
  • RE-CAP. Consider a quick “review” at the conclusion of the session to lock in on what was discussed.

After years covering some of the farther flung corners of the world of business journalism, Heath has more recently focused on covering the efforts of independent eyecare professionals to negotiate a fast-changing industry landscape. Contact him at heath@smartworkmedia.com.

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Best of the Best

A Norcal Practice Took A Trunk Show and Turned It Into an Annual Message of Thanks to Its Patients

Take a trunk show and turn it into a message of thanks to your customers.

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ARENA EYE CARE OPTOMETRY in Sacramento, CA, wanted to put on an event that would bring customers, staff and industry reps together, with emphasis on saying ‘thanks’ to patients. So, they took that industry stalwart, the trunk show, and put their own spin on it. They’ve been holding their annual Patient Appreciation Day for seven years now, and from judging this year’s response, it’s still going strong.

THE IDEA

Dr. Shephali Patel and Dr. Krister Holmberg, owners of Arena Eye Care Optometry in Sacramento, CA, were looking for a way to present customers and patients with a more varied selection of top-tier frames than their optical ordinarily carries. Patel recalls, “We wanted a recurring event that would include a trunk show but was patient-centric.” To set their new event apart, the first step was to give it a place on the calendar: they attached a fixed date (the second Friday in March) that clients could associate with the practice over time. They paid extra attention to giveaways and other forms of personal attention to attendees. Patel points out that she didn’t coin the phrase “Patient Appreciation Day,” but the event has become a part of Arena’s brand.

THE EXECUTION

Ahead of the day, Arena sends out newsletters to patients, puts ads in a local magazine and does a weeklong Facebook ad campaign.
The core of the event is essentially a trunk show, for which some of Arena’s favorite vendors are invited. “We have two sessions,” Patel explains. “Our office hours on Friday are 9-6, so we go 9-1 and have a break for lunch and then 2-6.” The practice continues to see patients during both. “In [each of] the two sessions we might have two or three vendors. They bring in their whole collections and we rearrange our optical for them.” Patel and Holmberg try not to invite reps with lines that are natural competitors. “We wouldn’t do Nike with Oakley … We pick things that are complementary.” Arena takes particular interest in technological innovations; this year they treated customers to a preview of PogoCam, a camera made by PogoTec that attaches itself to glasses.
To keep things fresh, Patel tries to rotate her invitations to reps. “We’ll cycle them so that it’s [one invitation] every three or four years.” Staff decorate the optical themselves and offer refreshments. Several frame lines are highlighted and there are giveaways and a raffle. This year Gucci and Tom Ford reps brought in over 100 frame styles. A Tom Davies rep also attended. Other brands featured included bebe, Joseph Abboud, Oakley, Marchon NYC and Lacoste.

THE REWARD

As for the turnout, “We’ve always done well with it,” says Patel, though results are hard to predict. “The best one we’ve had was during a rainstorm … sometimes it just doesn’t make sense … but we do a good job of creating excitement and inviting people back. I think that’s the key.”
While there are practical rewards — they sell more multiples than usual that day — mostly it’s about having fun. “It is a lot of work but a lot of fun for everyone: doctors, staff and patients.”

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This Illinois Optometry Office Has a Blast Coming Up Pop With Culture Marketing

This Illinois practice was kicking around ideas for marketing sunglasses, and stumbled on a fun idea that helps staff bond.

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MIDWEST EYE OPENED the doors of their current location in Downers Grove, IL, in June 2014, but the majority of its staff had already been working together for more than a decade.

Midwest offers a valuable lesson to all ECPs in the unexpected ways that good team morale can pay off. Designing the office was a collaborative effort between owner Dr. Todd Robert and the team, who also have input into the practice’s cheeky ads and social media content based upon beloved movie posters and album covers. These memorably reference such pop culture landmarks and icons as Men in Black (“Doctors in Black”), Gilligan’s Island (“Midwest Eyeland”), Johnny Cash, Star Wars (“Sunglass Wars”), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (“Dr. Bauer’s Day Off”), Bruce Springsteen (“Framed in the U.S.A.”) and Robert Palmer’s iconic video for Addicted to Love (“Addicted to Eyes”).

“Staff-wise,” says practice manager Pam Peters, “we have a close-knit staff of family and friends and the patients feel the warmth.”

THE IDEA

The concept began during a staff brainstorming session for National Sunglass Day a few years ago. Movies seemed like a fun and obvious way to incorporate current sunglasses into sunglass-themed ad ideas. “We tried to include movies that would span a few generations, from Breakfast at Tiffany’s to Pitch Perfect,” says Peters. The practice’s first movie-based ads were produced in 2016, and the album cover parodies came out the following year. “We are still kicking around ideas for this year. [There are] a couple of albums we still want to do, or maybe [we’ll] go with a superhero theme.”

THE EXECUTION

Creating the ads is very much a joint effort by staff and doctors, all of whom participate, whether it’s coming up with ideas, providing needed materials or “modeling.”  

The process is as much a staff bonding exercise as a marketing activity. When it’s time to come up with ideas, says Peters, “This is our cup of tea! From recreating album covers to putting up a snowy backdrop and making a ‘sleigh’ for staff and patient Christmas pictures, we love to participate in our advertising projects!”

Patients appreciate being included as well, she says, by liking something online, or even bringing in items needed for the photo shoots, which have run the gamut from hats to the red convertible for the Ferris Bueller ad.

Staff take all the photos themselves, either with phones or digital cameras, and find their own (or borrow) props. The ads are created in Microsoft Publisher and saved as jpegs.

The ads themselves are used on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, and also in email promotions. Some have also been framed and displayed in the office.

REWARDS

According to Peters, four years after opening, staff still “constantly” receive compliments on the optical’s general design, and the lighter touches seem to be especially appreciated. “Our patients always comment, whether online or in person; they want us to know that they like to see the fun side of the office and they share it with friends,” she says.

Perhaps the main reward is the effect on staff, who enjoy the challenge, participation and chance to show their creativity, not to mention sharing the ads with patients, family and friends. “It’s always fun to hear patients’ reactions,” Peters says.


 PHOTO GALLERY (8 IMAGES) 

 

Do It Yourself: Pop-Culture Based Advertising

1. TEAM EFFORT. Include your staff in the creative process, says Peters. “They have great ideas!”

2. BE INCLUSIVE. Midwest Eye chooses movies and albums that span decades, appealing to multiple generations of potential customers.

3. SOCIAL MEDIA. Post your mock posters, album covers, or whatever they may be on Facebook and Instagram to boost likes, follows and engagement.

4. USE CAUTION. If your ads refer to a celebrity, there may be copyright issues. Do some research and maybe avoid the more litigious ones.

5. THINK LOCAL. Go beyond Hollywood and try using some local personalities to tap into that community spirit.

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Eye Candy and Partners Whip Up a Perfect Storm of Cross-Promotion in Pittsburgh

Eye Candy Optical shows suburban Pittsburgh the perfect storm of cross-promotion with a recent trunk show.

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THE AIM OF A TRUNK SHOW is to get new product in front of new people; the trick is getting it in front of the right new people. This is where partners come in handy. When it’s done right, a cross-promotion event is a marketing “perfect storm” that enhances your own brand while promoting those you sell to a new audience and minimizing costs. Just such an event blew into Pittsburgh, PA, when Eye Candy Optical in McMurray, a suburb of the city, hooked up with a local fashion designer and owner Dr. Monika Marczak’s favorite cigar lounge.

IDEA

The birth of this collaboration, Dr. Marczak recalls, was “very organic and very serendipitous.” Already a fan of BURN by Rocky Patel cigar lounge, she learned its newest location had opened in Pittsburgh. At around the same time, her customers had been asking when her next trunk show would be. She was determined that her next one would take her business outside of Eye Candy Optical Center. The idea appeared out of a haze of cigar smoke. “When I started to think of venues, I thought BURN would be a great place.” Marczak figured her clientele would be a good fit with the elegant place and she was banking that in exchange for bringing awareness and her client list to a newly opened business, she wouldn’t have to pay for the venue. She was right.

In keeping with the show’s intended vibe of elegant luxury, she focused her trunk show on Tom Ford. “I took this opportunity to introduce guests to the Tom Ford Genuine Horn collection. I was unable to bring the collection to my store due to its high cost, so this was my way of providing clients the opportunity to view it.”

A third element fell naturally into place: David Alan, a former Zeiss sales rep who had started his own business, David Alan Clothing. He was agreeable to combining forces; together, Marczak and Alan had an impressive guest list and “BURN welcomed us with a red carpet, valet parking and a DJ!”

THE EXECUTION

Ahead of the event, Eye Candy staff had meetings to learn everything they needed to know about the Tom Ford Horn collection. On the day of the show, Square was used for all payments. Her Tom Ford rep helped promote the event and the regional manager for Marcolin, the line’s distributor, traveled to attend.

The turnout topped 300 guests. “Four hours flew by too fast,” she says.  The invitation featured all three businesses, each of which prepared separate VIP lists; these guests were entered to win prizes that were raffled off every 30 minutes including Tom Ford sunglasses (donated by Marcolin), gift certificates for designer suits, and cigars. “I have been a business owner for 10 years,” says Marczak, “and I always feel like a superstar in the store among my patients, but that night, when I saw people having fun and dancing — and buying — I felt as if I had arrived!”

THE REWARDS

Sales exceeded Marczak’s expectations, but the event paid off in other ways. Her team had a “step-and-repeat” banner made, and were able to re-use it and the Square payment system at a women’s networking meeting in July. An additional event was planned as a result of working with BURN’s events manager. “He was so pleased at the [initial] show … he asked us if we would be involved with the Pittsburgh City Schools Back to Schools Event,” says Marczak. And on Sept. 21, Eye Candy, will style all the models at the 3rd Annual David Alan Fashion Show in support of local charities.

 

Do It Yourself: Cross-Promotion Trunk Show


1. READY TO ROLL. Marczak’s team prepared a checklist of everything they might need, whether to handle a frame adjustment or make a sale.
2. THEY’LL BE BACK. As the event was not in-house, the raffle prizes included Essilor Premium lenses so the winners would have to return to the store.
3. LET IT FLOW. “I think the fantastic music and beverages provided by BURN helped to loosen the wallets,” Marczak says.
4. WISH LIST. Marczak’s dream is a BMW with eyewear event. She plans to approach the owners of a nearby dealership later this year.
5. FOCUS. Build your show around one line that chimes with your partners and ask your rep to help promote the event.

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