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Personality Clashes and More Questions for This Month

Read the answers to some of your holiday questions.

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Our holiday events are approaching. What are the best finger foods for an in-store event?

Balancing what tastes good — usually greasy or gooey food — with what looks sophisticated and doesn’t leave crumbs around the store or sticky fingerprints over your eyewear or frame boards is a tough balancing act. But store trainer Kate Peterson thinks she’s seen the answer: small, clear plastic drink glasses. “One presentation had a small amount (about three-quarters of an inch) of ranch dressing in the bottom of the cups, along with a variety of veggie sticks (carrots, celery, bell peppers, cucumbers, squash). The glasses were all arranged on a tray, so instead of having to pick up the veggies and scoop dip onto a plate, guests simply picked up an easy-to-handle, pre-made serving, which could then be dropped into a trash bin when they were done. Peterson adds that she saw a similar but more “savory” twist on this treatment with cocktail sauce and jumbo shrimp (tails removed). Don’t want ranch dressing in your store? Try cubed cheese and seedless grapes, which are always a crowd favorite, and easy to prepare.

I need ideas on how to give my optical a quick, cheap facelift before the holiday season starts.

The problem with quick, cheap facelifts is that they look exactly that — quick and cheap. Take a hard look at your store and if you find worn fixtures splash out and get them refinished. Then focus on creating a killer (but easy-on-the-pocket) winter-themed display. Bare branches, lots of white, big candles, spray-on snow… Be bold about moving your merchandise to new locations. Try them in higher or lower positions, with new props or with more space than usual. And if you’ve got a boring wall you just don’t know what to do with, throw up another mirror. People are endlessly fascinated with themselves.

I’m thinking of opening a new retail optical outlet in what’s possibly the most crowded market in the country; there are over three dozen optical retailers here in a college town of 400,000. I feel I know this market but should I look elsewhere?

A crowded marketplace isn’t necessarily a bad sign; conversely, it may be an indicator of the huge demand for a product or service. The secret to business success isn’t finding an empty field, it’s filling a need, and that generally means a niche. Sometimes niches are created because everyone is chasing the big-ticket-buying crowd or the youth market or there are changes in fashion or technology that the existing players may have missed. The real question is whether you can do something better or differently. “Just don’t think you can do it by being the cheapest,” says marketing expert Brad Sugars. “You’re the little guy; you don’t have economies of scale. The big guys can make up in volume what they lack in margin. You can’t.”

I’m a junior member of a front office team of eight. They’re all good people but one of the older girls bugs the hell out of me. It’s purely a personality thing. What do I do?

Focus on the positives. Remind yourself of the contributions she makes. If that’s too hard then at least don’t fall into the trap of recruiting allies to your cause. Sure, it feels good to have someone confirm she’s annoying but it also makes her presence a bigger issue. Try to minimize contact and ask yourself, does she irk everyone or is there something about you that has you grimacing like this?

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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Ask INVISION

Pulling Off a Successful Event and More Questions for October

Your questions answered by our experts.

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Where can I find good local art to decorate our walls?

This is one of those areas where the reward will reflect the effort. Eisenbrei Plaza Optical in Canton, OH, was facing a similar challenge and decided to confront it with a clever campaign they called #EyesOnArt. “The talent pool of local artists in Canton is deep and our team sought them out by visiting local galleries and by reaching out to some on social media,” explained owner Mark Eisenbrei.​ The store currently has the work of four artists on display, many of which draw inspiration from the local area. The works, says Eisenbrei, have breathed fresh life into the 55-year-old business, while also underscoring its local credentials. All proceeds from any art sold go to the artist.

Re-dos have surged at our practice and it’s mostly because of doctor error. It seems like in today’s world of automation and insurance, docs have little incentive to take their time. I appreciate refractions have become more complicated but what can we do to cut down on re-dos? 

You have good cause to be worried. The typical American practice is losing nearly $10,000 in labor costs due to lab re-dos (based on 2,000 exams per year). And then there is the impact on the patient’s confidence in your practice and the morale of staff when a patient complains. These figures from Hoya show doctors account for about half the issues (slightly higher in an ophthalmology practice due to post-operative situations) with the rest generally due to fit, patient satisfaction, the lab and AR warrantees. Take-away? Yes, docs make errors, but so does everyone in this part of the business. That means everyone has to work better together to lower the rate of remakes. A good system includes checklists, increased training, and doing the proper homework (does the patient, for example, have a history of making complaints? Is this their first pair of multifocals? How big an adjustment to an RX is an old patient going to be able to adapt to?) Hoya provides a handy list of its “Top 10 Things to Do to Avoid Remakes,” find it here: invmag.us/10180.

How do I get better at verbal comebacks? 

We have a lot of fun collecting such imagined retorts for our Woulda Coulda column but there’s a reason we call it Woulda instead of Whatdya — there’s not a lot to be gained from liberally dispensing withering put-downs. As one of our Brain Squad regulars puts it, “Don’t spend a lot of time trying to think of one-liner comebacks to zing your customers with. That kinda stuff just makes you bitter.” Too true.

I still struggle with finding ways to do in-store events that will make a difference in our community. We partnered with organizations, but it just hasn’t caught the spark I wanted. Suggestions?

Events are your chance to roll out new lines, educate, and move old stock. They drive traffic and energy and get consumers in a buying mood. They make you relevant. But, of course, they are none of those things if they don’t get people excited. Kate Peterson, CEO of Performance Concepts, says first and foremost, events have to be unique and interesting. “Look for ideas that are innovative and that have not been done a hundred times by your business or others in the area.” Second step, she says, is to be sure to sort your client list carefully with a focus on the people who are most likely to have an interest in the product you’ll be promoting. “Most importantly, make it personal. The greatest successes will come from personal outreach — phone calls, emails and follow up — not from mass mailing,” she says. Note that events tied to charities or organizations only work if the store owners, management and staff are completely committed to the cause, and if the people at the head of the charity are committed to the event. “You can’t fake it or take it half way!” she warns.

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What Impression is Your Email Address Giving and More Questions for September

Get a real email address, eyeexpert@hotmail.com.

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How do I drive more word-of-mouth marketing?

Personal recommendations have always been the lifeblood of small business, but in the era of Facebook, Yelp and Google reviews, word of mouth (WOM) has taken on a different meaning and is now even more important to attract new customers and patients (studies show prospective customers attach as much credibility to an anonymous star rating as to a friend’s suggestion). It also requires a new, more tech-savvy response. Start by looking into an online review platform like Podium, Yotpo or Grade.us that centralizes the process and reaches out to customers via text messages to encourage them to leave reviews (search the phrase “online reputation management”). Of course, a larger megaphone won’t do you much good if the message is less than complimentary, so there’s still no getting away from the bedrock of WOM — excellent service. You can juice people’s experiences with your brand via community events, customer appreciation events, personal follow-ups, handwritten thank yous, and other random acts of generosity and goodwill that create delight and referrals. Keep in mind that WOM is so fluid it requires constant testing and experimenting: What stories to tell people about your store, what offers, what inside incentives will work? For example, a “Thank you for the referral” card that includes a voucher for $25 off the next purchase might work in one market. In another, giving an existing customer the opportunity to pass on the discount to a friend — or share it — may yield better results. Keep testing!

I’ve used my free email address for years and don’t really want to change it but I worry it looks unprofessional. Thoughts?

True, a lot of people don’t care, but a not insignificant portion of your customers will make a judgment of some sort. And these aren’t completely unfounded. Numerous marketing studies have found Gmail users to be predominantly younger city dwellers with more liberal views. Hotmail and AOL users are more likely to be found in the suburbs, while rural inhabitants are more likely to use Yahoo! Recently, The Times newspaper in Britain reported that a major insurer, Admiral, was quoting a higher rate to car owners who provided a Hotmail address. The firm argued some domain names were “associated with more accidents” than others, raising applicants’ risk profile. Given the way people make irrational assessments, and how important it is for an ECP to be viewed as professional and trustworthy, we’d recommend you make the change. It doesn’t cost much. For $3 a month, Gmail, for example, allows you to upgrade your account to get your own domain name.

I carry two competing sports frame brands. Now one is implying I should drop the other slightly less popular brand or it will cut off supply? Is this legal?

There are some instances when you could take such a case to court — such as when an unreasonable restraint of trade or similar antitrust violation can be established, or when a store’s ability to conduct business is damaged. But these are exceptions; the law allows a miffed vendor to cut you off cold. “In general, companies in the U.S. are free to decide when to do business and when to stop doing business with another company,” says attorney Barbara Mandell, a member of Dykema Gossett PLLC, which focuses on antitrust law.

If an employee is consistently late (usually 30 minutes), can I dock his pay? Are there legal ramifications?

From a legal standpoint, it depends on whether he is a salaried or hourly employee. If the latter, he should be punching a clock, which will automatically deduct his time. If he is salaried, you have to pay him, late or not, says Suzanne DeVries, president of Diamond Staffing Solutions, adding that you should have the issue — and the consequences — covered in your employee manual. “You may need to make some tough and important decisions,” DeVries says. “It is never a good idea to let an employee get away with such behavior. It sets a bad example for those who are always on time.”

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To Put on Hold or Send to Voicemail and More Questions for July and August

Send it to hold and promise to call back within an hour.

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We spend a lot of time training staff. How do we ensure we’re keeping them in a competitive environment?

The good news — and the bad news — about retention is that it is not all about money. A competitive salary is obviously important but employee longevity is often more about other issues like the friendships people have at work, the opportunities to grow, the challenge and satisfaction they get from their career. And sometimes it’s about the benefits. The bad news is that working out what keeps people engaged, happy and wanting to stick around can be difficult. One of the best ways to get such insights is “stay interviews,” held periodically with your most valued workers. Specifically, ask your employee: “Can you identify some of the things that could contribute to you doing the best work of your life?” or, more simply, “Please tell me why you like working here and what I can do better.” (Employment website Monster has a list of “stay” interview questions you can ask here: invmag.us/071804.) Establishing retention in a systematic way starts with your hiring process. Some people just aren’t cut out for working many years at one employer, especially a small one. They have entrepreneurial ambitions, they really are driven by money or looking out for No. 1, their families demand the benefits offered by a bigger employer — whatever. As you gain experience as an employer you’ll develop better instincts when it comes to hiring the kind of people who will stay. But it doesn’t hurt to be upfront. Tell job candidates, “This is a long-term position for the right person. If you don’t see yourself here in three years, please tell me.”

I’ve been summoned to meet an IRS auditor. Any last-minute tips?

Accept that the fresh-faced inquisitor across the desk is the boss and show him the due respect. Don’t argue if you disagree with something. If the auditor wants to disallow a deduction, state once why you don’t agree. If they’re not swayed, hold your tongue. Antagonizing an auditor will only encourage him or her to search for other areas of potential tax liability. Remember that you can plead your case with several layers of people above your auditor, and ultimately all the way to tax court if you feel you’ve been wronged. Surprisingly, most IRS auditors aren’t tax experts. Most are fairly recent graduates whose major was in an unrelated field, so don’t feel intimidated, and don’t underestimate your own tax knowledge. At the same time, while it’s not bad to be congenial, this is not a social event. You’re there to discuss only the sections of your tax return in question. The more you talk about other areas or things that you’re doing, the more likely the auditor will probe into other items.

What’s the protocol for phones when you want to take that call, but can’t grab it? Is it better to answer it and put it on hold? Or let it go to voicemail?

Pauline Blachford of Pauline Blachford Consulting, an optometric practice consultancy, prefers the latter for two reasons: The client who is being taken care of when the phone rings deserves the undivided attention of the staff member. Often, the caller that just has a “quick” question takes time. This could be frustrating for the staff person and the patient. “It also breaks the train of thought of the service provider and causes a disconnect between the two,” she adds. “I would do everything possible to take care of each client without distraction.” However, Blachford says that if you do choose to pick up and put the caller on hold, you must ask whether they consent to be put on hold. When it comes to voicemail, the greatest fear for incoming callers is that they never know when their call will be returned. Blachford recommends that the recording say something like: “Thank you for calling ABC clinic. We are presently taking care of another client. Your call is important to us; please leave your name and number and we will get back to you within the hour.”

If I join a group marketing effort, am I responsible if their advertising is misleading? What about the advertising of a brand I carry? 

Wherever your name or store is represented, you have responsibilities. If you are part of a group advertisement, adding your logo to a prepared ad or endorsing a product, you must do your homework to ensure the ad is not misleading. Know whom you’re dealing with and ensure you know where and how your name/logo are being used.

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