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8 Ways to Grow Your Contact Lens Business

It's time to claim your share of this potential-filled market.

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Think of contact lens sales as a slumbering giant just waiting for a wake-up call from your business. There’s definitely room for growth. Industry experts say that eyecare pros perform 75 percent of eye exams in the U.S., but get only 50 percent of contact lens sales. You can blame the usual suspects, Internet vendors and big-box retailers. But advances in technology, specialty niches and even standardized pricing from the manufacturers all have the potential to boost your contact lens sales. Here are eight ways you can build a more profitable contact lens business.

EXPAND THE PATIENT POOL

“The English language has a filthy word I try to avoid using: ‘can’t,’” says

Dr. Blake Hutto of Family Vision Care in Alma, GA. He frequently found himself telling some patients that, due to their complex prescription needs, he couldn’t fit them in a contact lens. But that’s all changed now due to hybrid lenses, which Hutto says have become an important niche and a significant practice builder.

A year ago, Hutto began prescribing SynergEyes’ Duette Progressive. “I’ve had great success with it,” he says. About 100 of his patients now wear it and find their vision is better than what they have with eyeglasses. “SynergEyes’ Duette Progressive has grown our contact lens population and happy patient number very quickly,” he adds. (Like many contact lens manufacturers, SynergEyes has a doctor-finder feature on its website.)

A hybrid lens can last six months. When patients return for a refill, Hutto examines their eyes to make sure there’s no power change before he reorders the hybrid lens through his SynergEyes consultant. “We tell patients these lenses are custom made with their prescription and contour of the eye,” he says. “It’s all about comfort first and then their vision. It pays to offer something different.”

MAKE IT EASY FOR PATIENTS

Internet contact lens sellers and big-box vendors have stolen sales by stocking a huge variety of lenses and shipping to patients’ homes or offices. You can do this, too. Take it from Dr. Ted McElroy of Vision Source-Tifton in Tifton, GA, who says over half his contact lens patients have an annual supply shipped to their homes — and who has seen annual supply sales rise as the office has moved to keeping more types of contact lenses in-house, including monthly multifocals.

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McElroy says he finds it easier for patients to say “yes” to buying annual supplies if they see the office stocks them. Because his office prescribes only daily disposables and monthly replacements, “we know what contact lenses to keep in stock,” he explains. If lenses are not in stock, he offers to ship them directly to the patient’s home within three to five days.

“We do really well selling yearly supplies,” says Dr. Cynthia Sayers of EyeShop Optical Center, Lewis Center, OH. “We always start with the cost of the year supply minus their insurance allowance. We also discuss all rebates with our patients and offer them free shipping to their homes.” EyeShop also gives annualsupply patients a coupon for 30 percent off non-prescription sunglasses.

CUSTOM-DESIGN LENSES

To stand out from the crowd, Dr. Greg Gemoules of Coppell Family Eyecare/ LaserFit Vision in Coppell, TX, designs his own scleral lenses. “It is unusual for an optometrist to design his own contacts,” he says, and he wishes more ODs did it. “I was driven in this direction because there were still issues that no other lenses could address for my patients.”

Many optometrists have begun using corneal reshaping, myopia control and other contact lens specialties as a way to grow their practices. An annual meeting focused on the field, Vision by Design, is set April 6-10 in Scottsdale, AZ. See orthokmeeting.com for details and resources, and read about another doctor who’s been successfully building his business in this area for 30 years at invmag.us/orthok.

OFFER THEM COLORS

Success with contact lens sales comes down to talking to your reps to learn what’s new, says Tuli Santiago, office manager, buyer and stylist at Dr. Dawn Arnold’s practice in Union, NJ. “A lot of people cringe when they see their reps walk in, but we embrace them. We sit down with them to listen and learn. We use all the products they give us. I find they take care of us.”

As an example, Santiago tells of a visit last year from their Alcon rep, who encouraged Santiago to take a few trial samples of Air Optix Colors. The rep explained that the lens comes in nine colors with the same fitting process as clear lenses. Since the doctor does not need to refit the patient, Santiago began to encourage patients who already had clear Air Optix to take a trial color sample to match their complexion. “The package was cute,” she said. “The color lens came with a mirror inside. I suggested they take the free package home and try it on.”

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It worked: In the eight months since Dr. Arnold’s office offered the trial samples, business in color contacts has increased by 15 percent to 20 percent. “They like the color, fit and feel,” Santiago says. “Patients call in a few weeks later after their checkup and order these color lenses.” A growing niche product available from several major manufacturers, colored contact lenses also appeal to people who don’t need prescription contacts but who like the idea of highlighting or changing their eye color.

PROMOTE DAILY LENSES

Daily disposables can be a boon for patient compliance, comfort and convenience. More ODs are moving patients to daily lenses for these reasons, but they’re more expensive. Still, once patients get over the sticker shock of the price, they’re apt to buy into them.

“We’ve been converting everyone to a daily lens,” Santiago says. “The more you have, the more you use. Dailies are just healthier and there is no solution involved, so that saves patients money. Patients just feel more comfortable and secure in dailies.” Santiago also encourages patients to use rebates from their reps to save money on a purchase of a yearly supply. This way, patients also know when their annual eye exam is due. “Once we say, if you buy a year’s supply, you get X amount of money back, that seals the deal,” she says.

Family Vision Care is another business that has done well with dailies. One tip: Give patients fewer options so they don’t get overwhelmed by choices. Hutto says that about 80 percent of his patients do well with a handful of choices from the Ciba/Alcon family or Fresh Day from CooperVision.

WIN THE PRICE WAR

Want to see your contact lens sales quadruple? Try a tactic developed by Daniel Amyx, owner of Hillmoor Optical in Port St. Lucie, FL, who devised a price grid for contact lenses that shows patients how they save by shopping with their local optician.

The grid is broken up top to bottom into the type of lens: clear, sphere, daily, toric, color and multifocal. From left to right, there are prices from online, discount and retail chain stores. “We then set our prices one dollar or a few cents less than their prices,” Amyx says.

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Before going on the grid, Amyx let a partnering optometrist set the prices, and they were fairly high. “Once we separated from the optometrist, we re-evaluated contacts and we decided on this method,” Amyx explains. “We show patients that not only are we cheaper, we can provide trial lenses in cases of emergency. So many people think 1-800 Contacts is cheap. They are not. We keep a lot of patients this way.”

Robert McBeath, retail manager at Edina Eye Physicians and Surgeons in Edina, MN, says talking with patients about the overall economy of daily disposables and annual supplies can also boost sales on the spot — and standardized pricing from the manufacturers has helped, too.

KEEP PRESBYOPES IN CONTACTS

Many people wear contact lenses for years, but drop out once presbyopia sets in, complaining of declines in comfort and clarity. “But I think one reason so many presbyopes drop out of contacts is that doctors are too terrified to prescribe and fit them,” McElroy says. “They think fitting them will require a lot of time and care.”

The reality is that if ECPs follow prescribing and fitting instructions for modern multifocal contacts, they can expect better success, McElroy says. Lack of comfort is the No. 1 reason patients drop out of wearing contacts, whether they are presbyopic or not. Chalk up yet another reason to prescribe daily contacts. “Dailies are just more comfortable lenses, they don’t dry out and they don’t undergo the stresses monthly lenses do,” McElroy says.

HELP PEOPLE ORDER ONLINE

These days, many people expect to be able to order everything online, and that includes contacts. Some ECPs use platforms like YourLens.com to offer e-commerce. Lens Ferry, a new mobile platform from CooperVision, is another tool aiming to make it easy for people to reorder contact lenses from their ECP by replying to a text or email reminder.

According to Shaun Schooley, vice president of the Lens Ferry Group, only 18 percent of ECPs have some kind of e-commerce capability, even though it’s what consumers expect. The Lens Ferry system syncs with practice management software and basically works like this: Once a patient has an eye exam, the office staff puts the Rx into the Lens Ferry system. If a patient wears a monthly contact, the system will automatically send the patient a message in a month’s time by text and email. About 100 practices have signed up.

All manufacturers’ lenses can be bought on Lens Ferry, and people can pay by credit card or PayPal. People can choose to order a few boxes or sign up for a recurring monthly charge for an annual supply. ECPs set their own prices and use their own distributors. Lens Ferry processes the order, charges the payment, creates a shipping record and sends the lenses via the ECP’s distributor.

“It’s a seamless opportunity for ECPs who simply don’t have the ability to do all this logistical stuff themselves,” says Dean Butler, a consultant with Lens Ferry. “We want to help them retain customers and regain customers who went elsewhere.

Since launching in 2014, INVISION has won 23 international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact INVISION's editors at editor@invisionmag.com.

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Here’s How Eyecare Pros Are Spending Their Advertising Budgets

The pie is getting sliced ever more finely.

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IN INVISION’S FIRST annual Big Survey, we asked more than 500 ECPs which medium accounts for the biggest chunk of their ad and marketing spending. Print is still on top, but the marketing budget pie is getting sliced ever more finely — and nearly 1 in 5 ECPs claim to be passing on the plate all together.

Which gets the largest portion of your marketing budget?

Print
13%
Community events (including sponsorships)
12%
Direct mail
10%
Other social media marketing
8%
Paid search (PPC, Google Ads, etc.)
7%
Facebook
7%
Email marketing
7%
Radio
5%
SEO
5%
Television
2%
Billboards
2%
Other
3%
Don’t advertise
19%

 

Looking at the above results, it’s seems likely the 19 percent of ECPs who said they don’t advertise are relying on word of mouth to sustain their business. Still, it appears to pay to be more active: 25 percent of the ECPs who told the Big Survey the last two years had been their worst ever also don’t advertise. That compares to just 14 percent of those who said those years had been their best ever. Also worth considering: In a separate question, we asked ECPs to name the most significant thing they were doing to drive sales five years ago that they’ve stopped doing. The top answer? You guessed it—advertising in traditional media. Check out the survey to see how your spending fits in to this complex picture.

The 2019 Big Survey was conducted from August to October and attracted responses from more than 500 American ECPs. Look out for the full results in the November/December issue of INVISION.

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Best of Eyecare

The Big Survey 2019 – The Basics

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THE BIG SURVEY 2019

Who is the American ECP? How does he or she do business? What are the main challenges they face? Our inaugural Big Survey set out to find the answers and 505 owners and managers of American vision businesses answered our call. Here are the results.

The Basics

We find it’s always best to start at the beginning … the basic stuff that makes up so much of your business’ identity. The Who, What, How and Where are all here; we’ll get into the fun stuff — like how much and what’s selling ­— later on.

1. Need to swing on chandeliers? Head to Missouri: 60 percent of stores have these fixtures.
2. They don’t take kindly to strangers asking questions in South Dakota. It, along with Louisiana and New Mexico, were the only states not to be represented in our survey.
3. Michigan ECPs are some of the hardest working in the industry: 25 percent work more than 50 hours a week.
4. Eyewear trend capital? That might just be New York where 21 percent of ECPs thought of themselves as being primarily in the fashion business (as opposed to health or retail), the highest level in the land.
5. Move over Austin. Connecticut was tops for self-declared weirdness with ECPs there giving themselves an average score of 8.2 out of 10 on our oddball scale.
6. Ohio ECPs have been listening to our sales experts – 44 percent use role-playing in training staff.
7. Florida had the most male owners and managers in our survey at 76 percent. Washington state had the most female owners at 86 percent.
8. Is there something in the water in the Midwest? ECPs in a band of states from Illinois to Ohio to Missouri were the happiest vision professionals (along with their cousins in NJ), with half or more (50-57%) ranking themselves 9 or higher out of 10 for professional satisfaction.
9. North Carolina vision businesses have among the highest turnover rates in the country, with 72 percent saying their staff stay less than 4 years.
10. Californian ECPs were the least likely to own their places of business with 82 percent renting. Must have been those pesky legal limitations…
11. Kansans were most likely to be open on Sunday with one in four stores and practices open on this traditional “rest” day.

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1. How many locations does your business have?

One
74%
Two
13%
Three to five
8%
Six or more
5%

2. Please indicate the type of location that houses your store:

Free-standing building
43%
A strip mall
22%
Business park or office building
16%
Downtown storefront
9%
Lifestyle center
3%
In a hospital/medical wing/health center
3%
The Internet
1%
Mobile practice
1%
A mall
1%
Other
2%

3. Do you own or rent your business property?

Own
39%
Rent
62%
NA (For online and mobile only businesses)
2%
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4. How well are things going in your business this year?

COMMENT: As our heat map shows, there’s very little to be blue about for an ECP right now. Note that white indicates states with statistically invalid responses. Figures in parentheses represent the number of survey responses.

5. How would you describe the market where your store is located?

Large city
15%
Medium-sized city (250,000-1 million people)
24%
Small city (25,000 to 250,000)
29%
Country town (up to 25,000)
13%
Resort area
1%
Other
1%

6. How long has your business been in operation?

COMMENT: Businesses that have been in operation for 11-20 years seem to be this survey’s sweet spot. Not only did they slightly edge out other lengths of time in business, as seen above, but those in business for that long also reported the highest proportion of revenue between $500K-$1.5M (50%).
Wondering what the rest of this group’s demos looked like? Well, 59 percent classified themselves as a private practice with a strong focus on retail, 49 percent were in the South and 39 percent operated out of a freestanding building in a small city or suburb. Forty-five percent of owners in business for that long reported salaries over $100,000 and, best of all, the majority reported their satisfaction with their professional life at an 8 or higher (66%).

7. Which description of your business do you most closely identify with?

Hospital or VA setting
1%
Medical model private practice, no retail
1%
Medical model private practice, small dispensarybuilding
22%
Private practice, strong focus on retail
53%
Corporate optometry location
3%
Eyewear boutique, employed or leased OD
10%
Eyewear boutique, no OD
9%
Mobile optician
1%

8. How big is your (main) location?

Less than 500 sq. ft.
4%
500-999 sq. ft.
10%
1,000-1,499 sq. ft.
24%
1,500-1,999 sq. ft.
17%
2,000-2,499 sq. ft.
15%
2,500-2,999 sq. ft.
11%
3,000-3,999 sq. ft.
8%
4,000-5,000 sq. ft.
6%
More than 5,000 sq. ft.
5%

9. Check the paid services you offer:

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Best of Eyecare

25 ECPs Share Their Elevator Pitches

25 ECPs put who they are and what they do for a living in a sentence or two… or three.

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OK… You’ve slipped into the elevator just as the doors are closing. The woman on your left is wearing poorly fitting frames that are totally wrong for her. The gentleman to your right is squinting as he tries to find the button for his floor. You sense a golden opportunity, but the floors are already ticking by. You’ve got until those doors open again to tell these potential clients what you do and how you can help them. It’s time to dust off your “elevator pitch.” Our Brain Squad members are rarely at a loss for a few well-chosen words, so we asked them their best pitches. Here’s what they had to say to those future customers and patients on the subject of… you.

Hi, My name is Diana Canto Sims. I am an eyeball doctor turned eyewear designer for the diverse and the bold. What do you do? — Diana Sims, Buena Vista Optical, Chicago, IL

We help you create a look that is as unique as you are. — Doreen Erbe, Snyder Eye Group, Ship Bottom, NJ

I create complete custom eyewear by hand in Glenview. This includes the frames as well as the lenses. — Kevin Count, Prentice Lab, Glenview, IL

I am the owner and doctor at an eyecare office focused on pampering our patients.  — Nytarsha Thomas, OD, Visionelle Eyecare, Zionsville, IN

I can easily knock 10 years off your look and I promise people will notice! — Jennifer Leuzzi, Mill Creek Optical, Dansville, NY

We sell unique eyewear from all over the world.” (Then give a few specific examples of exotic materials. However, never oversell or seem pushy. Just plant the seed!!!)”  — Scott Keating, OD, Vision Trends, Dover, OH

You know the eyes are the windows to the soul right? Sometimes the windows cannot see; I help with that. I am an optometrist.” — Selina McGee, OD, Precision Vision, Edmond, OK

I refine one of your five senses. I give you vision and insight into your health, with a twist of style, all while having a good time in the process. — Cynthia Sayers, OD, EyeShop Optical Center, Lewis Center, OH

I explain that I run a practice for an eye doctor and that our goal is to make sure each patient sees well and is educated on the products and materials we wear ourselves. — Amy Pelak, Proview Eyecare Optometry, Corona, CA

I help people love their new eyewear, and owning 31 pairs of glasses and sunwear, I know I can find the right pair for you. — Kathy Maren Comb EyeCare & Eyewear, Western Springs, IL

I talk about the unique things our practice offers like sensory and vision therapy. We carry a variety of frames for the whole family. From durable kids, to the fun and funky for mom and dad. We’re not your average eye doctor.” Heather Nagucki, Brodie Optometry, Perrysburg, OH

I compliment someone on their glasses. I may ask them where they got them and always say something nice about their doctor or optician. I know everyone in town after 50 years in Sacramento. If the patient discusses a bad experience then I drop a business card.”  — Texas L. Smith, OD, Dr. Texas L. Smith & Associates, Citrus Heights, CA

I help people see and look better.  — Jason Stamper Eye Care Pavilion, Davenport, IA

I tell them I try not to look like an optometrist! — Dave Schultz, OD, Urban Optics, San Luis Obispo, CA

When I meet people I always try to tell them I’m like a pharmacist for your eyeglasses. — Bob Schmittou, New Eyes Optical, Wyandotte, MI

I’m an optician. Once the eye doctor is done with you I will help you with any optical needs whether glasses or contacts. Basically, I make you look good! — Scott Felten, Fox Valley Family Eye Care, Little Chute, WI

We get to help people see to their fullest potential. It’s the best job in the world! — Caitlin Bruno, Binyon Vision Center, Bellingham, WA

I’m like a pharmacist. I fill the prescription written by the doctor. But in Michigan, your optician doesn’t have to have a license the way your pharmacist does. That’s why there are so many people walking around in ugly glasses that can’t see.  — Dave Goodrich, Goodrich Optical, Lansing, MI

I bend light for a living. — Jon LaShorne, Kirkpatrick Eye Care, Madison, IN

I frame the windows to your soul with beauty. — Frances Ann Layton, Eye Associates of South Georgia, Valdosta, GA

I have no elevator pitch. I just let people know why I love doing what I do.” — Pablo E. Mercado, Mount Vernon Eyecare, Dunwoody, GA

Nice glasses! I bet they cost you a fortune. I’m an optician. Here’s my card. Next time you’re in the market for a new pair, give me a call and I’ll save you money.” — Mitchell Kaufman, Marine Park Family Vision, Brooklyn, NY

Everyone knows what a pharmacist does … so I equate my career as a licensed optician to that. I take a prescription from a doctor and I interpret that prescription. I advise and educate the patient on how to use the prescription written. I generate a product from that prescription and then dispense that prescription as a piece of medical equipment.”  — William Chancellor, Eye Can See Eyewear, McDonough, GA

We help people see the important things in life.” — John Marvin, Texas State Optical Inc., Houston, TX

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