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John Marvin

Merchandising Means the Difference Between Mediocre and Money-Making

Stocking your optical is not just “decorating”.

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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.

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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 practiceprinciples.net blog. You can email him at jdmarvin@tso.com.

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John Marvin

Why Do So Many ECPs Ignore the Power of Personal Touch?

Remember: your convenience is never as important as investing personally in relationships.

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IN THIS TIME OF digital communication it’s easy to lose sight of one of the most important aspects of interaction — the personal touch.

In a month when stores are filled with expressions of affection, would those of us in a serious relationship send a digital Valentine’s Day card? (If you don’t understand the problem with this, let me save you some heartache, don’t do it.) There are occasions when only something personal will connect in a way that matters.

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For years there has been a push to move practice owners into the digital age with websites, Facebook pages, and Instagram accounts. Practices have discarded traditional recall cards and embraced digital patient communication platforms. Now with preprogramed software, thousands of emails and text messages can be sent to communicate with patients.

I love this new digital age and all it gives us the ability to do. However, now and again, I am reminded of the power of the personal touch. I’ve recently had two experiences that emphasized this.

The first occurred with my wife. We decided to plan a long weekend to celebrate her birthday where we could enjoy some sun and sand. While by the resort pool, her phone rang. She didn’t recognize the number, but decided to answer it anyway. I watched as her curiosity turned into a smile. She said, “Thank you, thank you very much, that means a lot to me,” then hung up. She told me it was her eye doctor just calling to wish her a happy birthday.

You should know that my wife is two, maybe three, years past due in her annual eye exam, but that didn’t matter. Calling his patients on their birthday is important to him. He could have his digital communication program automatically send out a birthday email, but it just isn’t the same. It’s the time and commitment that lets his patients know he cares. It tells his patients that they have a relationship to him, not just a file or a spot on his schedule.

The second is when I recently purchased some eyewear from one of our network doctors. I was told they would be ready for pick up in about a week and they would notify me when it was ready. About five days later, they left a voicemail letting me know I could pick them up when it was convenient. Up to this point, the experience was pretty conventional. However, what happened next is impressive.

A couple of days after picking up the glasses, I received a handwritten thank you from the young lady who dispensed them. It was personal and even contained a comment regarding a topic we had casually discussed. Wow! I was impressed. Then a few days later, the doctor called to make sure I was pleased with the product and service. A phone call from the doctor after a handwritten thank you note from the optician, after a personal call to let me know my eyewear was ready? That is impressive.

All of that could have been automated — it would have been far more convenient for them and, arguably for me — but, in this instance, convenience is not as important as investing personally in the relationship. There is power in the personal touch.

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John Marvin

Sometimes Pulling the Goalie is the Best Decision to Make

Three examples of when and how you should go on the offensive.

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MALCOLM GLADWELL IS ONE of my favorite authors. You may be familiar with his best-selling books David and Goliath, The Outliers, Blink and The Tipping Point.

In a recent episode of his podcast Revisionist History, Gladwell discusses his only rule for living: Pull the Goalie.

Hockey fans will know the meaning of this term. In some instances, a hockey coach may “pull the goalie” during a game to provide a sixth attacker and create an offensive advantage. However, when a coach chooses to do this, and under what circumstances, is controversial since it can make them defensively vulnerable.

It’s an allegory for the science of decision making. Deciding when to act or not act is something ECPs do all the time. And, as in hockey, those decisions can be second guessed and criticized by others.

I want to highlight three examples of when a business owner should decide to “pull the goalie” to create an advantage.

Hiring staff. If you are like most, you are constantly trying to determine if you have enough staff, should hire more, or let someone go. There are countless opinions about this. Most owners, like hockey coaches, are conservative in their decisions. If we think five staff members is the right number, we may try to operate with four. It is, after all, less expensive. We tell ourselves, “I would rather have four excellent people and pay them well than five who are mediocre.” But then one of our four all-stars leaves. Now we have three all-stars having a difficult time delivering the quality of service and care we expect. Everyone is frustrated, so we decide to hire someone. The first person with any optical or optometry background is hired whether or not they are the best fit. Now if we had pulled the goalie early and hired a fifth person, we could still have delivered the high level of service and taken the time to interview and hire an additional person. It is a dangerous cycle. The staff is shorthanded, which frustrates everyone and the result is a greater risk of additional turnover.

Correcting a problem. Reluctance to do so is the result of three stages:

1) Denial, where we attempt to convince ourselves we don’t have a problem. We rationalize, justify and procrastinate. Like in hockey, we tell ourselves, “We are only down one goal, we can still win.” The longer we stay in this state the worse our problems become.

2) Attempting to minimize the effect of the problem, since it is less disruptive than doing what is necessary to solve it. We move a difficult person into another position, we attempt to work out the delivery issues with the supplier to avoid changing vendors. We spend a lot of energy trying to avoid making a decision.

3) Accepting reality and recognizing we should have pulled the goalie early and avoided the problem all together.

Embracing innovation. Too many ECPs are waiting out the clock and hoping for the best. They believe that somehow, someway, all of the competition, innovation, changes in reimbursement, and demanding consumers will just go away. It will go back to the way “it used to be.” This is a dangerous place to find yourself. The competition just gets stronger. What used to be a secure and predictable practice begins to lose ground. Other services and providers are offering more and charging less. The industry itself is fighting to stay relevant. The best advice when you find yourself in this situation is to pull the goalie early and go on the offensive. Attend meetings, conferences, visit innovators, learn about the consumer. Fight to grow, build and win.

The good news is that many won’t and that gives you the advantage.

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John Marvin

This Simple Addition to Your Daily Routine Can Make You a Better Manager

Keeping a journal is easier today than ever before.

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EVERY DAY of your practice you create a health record of the patients you examine and prescribe for. You meticulously make note of not only refraction results but also pathology or potential pathology that might be indicated by the patient’s family history.

Can you imagine if you did not keep these records? Besides not being eligible for third-party payments, each time you examined the patient, you’d be starting over. What quality of care would you be providing if your attitude was, “I really don’t need to write anything down. I can keep it in my head.” Sounds ridiculous, right?

The reality is: This is an important part of building a practice that provides quality care — keeping meticulous records of each patient visit. Here is my question: Then how do we think we can manage our practice without the same attention to note-taking or using the same approach to building our practice?

As an owner/operator optometrist, you wear two hats, one as a qualified health care practitioner and the other as the business owner and manager. Currently you are probably keeping very good records and taking excellent notes as the OD but my guess is that you are trying to perform the other responsibility by just keeping everything memorized. I don’t know about you, but I learned long ago that you can’t trust your success to your memory. We learned that in high school. Then why do we not think this is a bad idea for ensuring our success as owners and managers of our business?

Keeping a journal is easier today than ever before. There are countless smartphone applications that enable you to dictate your thoughts and interactions with employees and vendors. I use an application called Evernote. I find it easy to use and keep an ongoing record of daily notes related to my professional responsibilities. I have also set up a separate personal journal, which I use to record thoughts, ideas, notes from books I read, etc. I consider this my personal health record.

There are a number of different approaches: Some like pen and paper, others prefer a combination of digital and analog. The method matters less than the consistency of writing down the notes and building the record. If you commit to doing this for 90 days, you’ll see how it can help you be more productive and provide you with a base of information on which to make good decisions. In my case, it’s helped me be a better professional, husband and father.

This is a perfect time of year to start creating your personal health record. To start, simply decide before you go home each evening (or better, throughout the day whenever you have a few minutes), to jot down your thoughts as the business owner and manager. Plan time each week to reflect back on your notes, and plan the upcoming week building on the record you’ve created. You will be amazed at what you’ve learned and recorded in one year’s time.

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