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John Marvin

Merchandising Means the Difference Between Mediocre and Money-Making

Stocking your optical is not just “decorating”.




Merchandising Means the Difference Between Mediocre and Money-Making

AN OFTEN-NEGLECTED part of an optometry practice is the optical dispensary. How to operate a financially successful retail dispensary is barely addressed in optometry schools and continuing education offered for doctors at major meetings devoted to clinical topics far outnumbers courses about effective retail management. I believe optometrists should practice at the highest level of their legal authority but I also think they should understand that ours is both a clinical and a retail profession.

A high-performance, retail dispensary can generate hundreds of thousands of dollars per year and set your practice apart from competition. Rarely can patients discern a qualitative difference in the clinic experience you provide but they have well-defined expectations of the optical retail experience. So, I want to address one area that is critical to retail success: Merchandising.

Effective dispensary merchandising is often misunderstood and usually lacking in optometry practices. It is thought of as “decorating.” Real merchandising is about making it easy for your customers to purchase through positioning of premium or promoted product. It is about helping customers navigate your frame inventory and keeping from being overwhelmed. Overwhelmed customers don’t purchase … they leave.

It starts with frame selection and display. Optical dispensaries that are well merchandised carry 800 frames divided into 20 brands. That’s right, 40 SKUs of each brand. Retail merchandising is all about selection and brand statement. It is easier for a customer to purchase when you’ve offered varied and strong brand statements.

Displays should be clean, uncluttered and designed to clearly feature the brand. Today’s retail environments emphasize a “less is more” approach to display. Your optical shouldn’t have a warehouse feel to it because you are trying to display more frames than you need. Keep in mind that the visual experience customers have at your location is something they don’t get when ordering online, therefore it needs to be enjoyable and visually appealing.

The most successful offices re-stock their inventory on an RX basis instead of a stock basis. Meaning, the frame on the board never leaves the board. The frame is ordered when it is sold from the display. This has important benefits. First, your best-selling frames are always on display to be sold again and again. This is referred to as “turning” the inventory. Second, this better manages your cash flow since you are paying for purchased frames each week versus once every six to eight weeks when the frame representative visits your office. And third, your dispensary is always well stocked and ready for customers. When representatives visit, they will review the frames with the most turns and exchange out those that haven’t. This will continually optimize the appeal of your frame inventory.


Selecting the brands you carry is a key part of merchandising your dispensary. Brands that are chosen should be aligned with the household incomes of your market and in consideration of your primary competition. If you live in a middle-income area, then the majority of frames should retail in the $129 to $219 range. You can carry premium frames that sell for over $299 but these should be a small percentage of your total inventory. You need to visit other practices in your area and learn the brands they are carrying and how they are displayed. Be sure to select comparable brands instead and learn about popular brands that are not being carried by most of the competition.

An effective pricing strategy and trained sales people are also important to your retail success, but how you merchandise the dispensary is fundamental to people’s first impression of your office.

John D. Marvin has more than 25 years of experience in the ophthalmic and optometric practice industry. He is the president of Texas State Optical and writes about marketing, management and education at the blog. You can email him at


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