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offers a crash course in ‘kid-speak’ from ECPs who do it fluently.

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FEW AREAS OF EYECARE are as fulfilling as treating children, and as the links between early vision problems and developmental and learning disorders become clearer, we now know that few are as consequential. What’s more, no eyecare business that’s serious about locking in growth can afford to ignore the kids’ market, as treatments and eyewear for children continue to drive industry expansion. COVID-19 has added a whole new element to the mix, as studies confirm anecdotal reports that screen time among locked down kids has increased during the pandemic, and myopia rates among them grew markedly last year.

But if you think upping your kids game just means stocking up on scratch-resistant lenses, think again. A mom can see and feel whether or not her child’s shoes fit, but when it comes to her child’s vision, all she has to go on is their response to treatment. That’s where you come in. Parents put a premium on peace of mind when it comes to their kids’ health. And remember: there is no more valuable referral network than a community of pleased parents.

We reached out to six practices who have learned to translate the world of eyecare and eyewear into a language that kids can understand. Read on to get the benefit of their wisdom, and you might learn to see the service you are providing more fully — through the eyes of a child.

Dr. Nathan Bonilla-Warford
Bright Eyes Kids, Tampa, FL

Dr. Nathan Bonilla-Warford

Dr. Nathan Bonilla-Warford is owner of Bright Eyes and Bright Eyes Kids in Tampa, FL. He started in the eyecare field as an optician in the 1990s. While attending Illinois College of Optometry he fell in love with children’s vision and since has specialized in vision therapy, myopia control, and orthokeratology.

We Speak Kid! Dr. Bonilla-Warford and his crew at Bright Eyes Kids are a veritable ideas factory when it comes to engaging with children. Here are just a few examples:

  • The Lego Glasses Challenge. Conducted in partnership with a local Lego business that Bright Eyes Kids supports (the office is filled with Lego sculptures), kids were invited to build a pair of wearable glasses out of Lego and post a photo on Bright Eyes’ Facebook page. The winners received $50 gift cards. “The idea during the initial lockdown of the pandemic was to give children something to do that was not screen-based and at the same time remind children and parents about their vision. It turned out great!” says Bonilla-Warford. Check it out here: invisionmag.com/062101.
  • Bright Eyes Kids gets so many pediatric patients traveling in from other cities and states they set up an “If You Are From Out of Town” page listing Tampa attractions including a local zoo, aquarium, museum, water park and more (invisionmag.com/062102). They’re in the process of creating a physical version in the office for patients to pin.
Lego figures let kids get acquainted with the docs at Bright Eyes Kids.

Lego figures let kids get acquainted with the docs at Bright Eyes Kids.

We Speak Parent! Bright Eyes’ podcast — which has been on hiatus but has episodes in the pipeline — is a way for parents to research and learn more before their visit. Listen here: invisionmag.com/062103.

Test Time: “When I can gain the child’s trust and literally speak to them about how vision affects things that are important to them — sports, video games, Minecraft, YouTube, whatever — and get total buy-in from the patient,” says Bonilla-Warford, “I largely am actually indirectly speaking to mom and educating her about longer-term services that may be needed such as vision therapy or myopia control. This happens all day, every day.”

tik-tok mug

Dr. Bonilla-Warford keeps this mug around to let kids know he’s on TikTok.

#socialmedia: If you’re serious about engaging kids, sooner or later you’re going to have to get to grips with TikTok. “Although the primary messages are directed to mothers, I know that there are many, many of my pediatric patients that follow me there. So I can make silly videos for them and sometimes with them to talk about eye and vision needs. It is literally the only channel I know that directly communicates with children in a format they can understand.”

Back To School: Every year Bright Eyes Kids partners with the PTAs of several local elementary schools. “We routinely make contact with local school nurses and try to be helpful. We don’t see a return on either of these and think of it more as charity.”

Marketing Tip: Incorporating some form of educational material into your online presence is standard these days. But, cautions Bonilla-Warford, “Getting a message out there doesn’t make as much of a difference if they don’t internalize it.” A great example of how to do it right is Bright Eyes’ guide for reducing screen time for children who are/were e-learning during the pandemic, including a discussion of blue light and computer glasses and a YouTube video: invisionmag.com/062104.

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Jamie Strong
American Eyecare, Mount Pleasant, IA

Jamie Strong

Jamie Strong has been the Leader of Business Operations at American Eyecare for the past five years. Her passion for taking care of and leading her people comes second only to her love for sarcastic humor at the expense of the guys that sign her paycheck.

We Speak Kid!

  • For its “Kids Only Saturdays” during the back-to-school sales (B2SS) season last year, American Eyecare — 28 percent of whose patients are kids — provided refillable water bottles for each child (they assumed water fountains would be off limits at schools during the pandemic) and held drawings for a backpack full of school supplies at each of its offices, with fun music playing. Says operations manager Jamie Strong: “We intended to have popcorn and other fun activities, but COVID made us uncomfortable with those… We had so much fun with the event, we intend to keep it going and celebrate these kids with no restrictions on fun in the future.”
  • American Eyecare also participates in a frame design contest that vendor Europa holds for its db4k line of kids eyewear — and last year one its patients won. “We incorporated that exciting news into our sale. Winner, 12-year-old Katie, became our back-to-school mascot, helping not only brag up her win and the sale, but also the opening of our new office in Mount Pleasant.”

Test Time: On “Kids Only Saturdays,” American Eyecare specifically targeted school age children (6-18) for four hours on Saturdays only for essential eye health exams. They began incorporating it into their B2SS campaign as a result of COVID, driven by the desire to add an extra layer of protection to kids during their visit: only the child and one parent were allowed. Provided were $40 exams (no insurance), 40% off a complete pair of glasses or 50% off a complete pair with purchase of a year’s supply of contact lenses (no insurance). Says Strong, the events “add a more dynamic component to reach our target than the traditional, one ad, one pitch, one-size-fits-all approach to marketing.”

Katie, a 12-year-old patient at American Eyecare, won Europa’s frame design competition.

Katie, a 12-year-old patient at American Eyecare, won Europa’s frame design competition.

Marketing Tip: AE has raised the bar on back to school sale (B2SS) strategy: The sale takes place over a 45-day period comprising four initiatives targeted at kids on top of the base marketing pitch: a complete pair of glasses for 40% off (no insurance/discount plans allowed). “Our 2020 B2SS showed a 200 percent increase over 2019 campaign sales, for all frames sold, adults and kids — on private-pay sales,” says Strong.

Back To School: The practice strategically positions itself with local schools by providing vision screenings to ensure American Eyecare is a familiar name to kids in the community. It provides screenings to around 4,000 K-5th grade children per school year. “Establishing ourselves as the eye doctor that actively cares about the vision and health of children is a foundational relationship we establish with our young patients. Kids meet many of our staff for the first time on their turf — their school,” says Strong. “Because we consider it marketing, we can justify the staffing costs associated with having four of our people provide the vision screening in each school over a 2-4 hour period, 12-15 times per school year. It is a minimal cost, when you consider the reach of 4,000 in-person, eyeball to eyeball connections with kids.”
Dana Cohen
Medford Optical, Medford, MA

Dana Cohen

Dana Cohen is a licensed optician and has specialized in pediatric eyewear at Medford Optical for over 45 years. He has a passion for fitting kids comfortably while making it a fun experience. Dana has been partnered with Boston Children’s Hospital Ophthalmology since 2007.

WE SPEAK KID! Of the many ways owner Dana Cohen appeals to kids, perhaps the most unique is the Medford Optical Vehicle, which plies the thoroughfares of the Boston area covered in images of fun cartoon characters wearing colorful glasses and displaying the practice’s motto “We Love Kids.” “It grabs everyone’s attention, especially while parked at a stoplight. It often creates a quick conversation while rolling down the windows in traffic,” says Cohen.

TEST TIME: Getting accurate measurements for toddlers can be challenging, as they often won’t sit still. To overcome this problem while taking their pupillary distance, Cohen wears a tie with multiple bears on it and will ask them to look at the tie and find their favorite bear. As soon as they start to focus on finding the bear he takes the measurement. “The other tactic I often use is this: I ask the child to look into my eyes and ask them, ‘Do I have purple eyes?’ That immediately gets their attention and they will look at me to see if I really do have purple eyes. Again I quickly grab the measurement I need while they are focusing on my ‘purple eyes!’”

The Medford Optical Vehicle has become a stoplight conversation piece.

The Medford Optical Vehicle has become a stoplight conversation piece.

IN THE OPTICAL: Entering Medford Optical, if you’re in need of help, try looking down. “You will often find our opticians on the floor with the kids entertaining them at their own level. This is important in keeping the attention and focus on the task at hand and making it a fun experience for the child,” says Cohen. “Once the families are in the store it’s all about making the kids feel comfortable.” This extends to the frame displays, which are built low so they are on the level that a 3-year-old is able to comfortably touch the frames and have fun with the different colors. “Of course this has dramatically changed recently with the pandemic. We now have to hand the frames to the child and every frame that is tried on is put aside to be sterilized in the UV meter.”

MARKETING TIP: “Be aware that if you market a kids’ business heavily you risk the possibility that your share of the adult market may decrease. This is what happened to Medford Optical over the years… An increase in the pediatric market [and] a profound decrease in the amount of adults we were seeing for prescription eyewear.”

#SOCIALMEDIA: Cohen will often take a picture of the child upon dispensing (with the parent’s OK) and post it on Facebook. “This acts as a great way to promote your business as the family will share the picture with family and friends.”

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Danielle Crull
A Child’s Eyes, Mechanicsburg, PA

Danielle Crull

Danielle Crull, Master Optician, is owner of A Child’s Eyes in Mechanicsburg, PA, established in 2002. She has been an optician for 33 years. Danielle has authored two books addressing the vision needs of children, “Apple Patty Patches” and “Banana Bobby Gets Bifocals”. In addition, she is the meowmy to Truffles the Kitty, and her three human children are also opticians.

We Speak Kid! At A Child’s Eyes, owner Danielle Crull’s goal isn’t to sell glasses, but to create a memorable experience. And she doesn’t let pandemics stand in her way.

  • In response to COVID, A Child’s Eyes came up with the See Side Shanty, an 8×16 foot clean room facility constructed from a polycarbonate greenhouse. Crull sees one patient at a time in here. Frame selection, fitting and dispensing are all done in the Shanty, then the whole thing is cleaned with hospital grade UVC between patients, making it possible for parents and siblings to come along and be part of the experience. “It was a huge investment that really paid off,” says Crull.
  • A Child’s Eyes also runs a cleaning cloth contest every year, in which their child patients design cloths for the practice.

In The Optical: Two words, says Crull: “Fit and selection! Two sides of the same coin. When you have a huge selection you have a better opportunity to find not just an OK fit, but a perfect fit! And a ‘fit’ in every way … in the way the glasses fit on the face, how they ‘fit’ or meet the child’s specific needs and activities, how they ‘fit’ their desires, and lastly how they ‘fit’ into the family’s budget.”

A-Child's-Eyes-See-Side-Shanty

Marketing Tip: When creating ads, says Crull, be sure to use your own patients. “I have always felt they were my greatest advertisement.” Crull, who has run a successful business for 19 years without a doctor on the premises, says, “Your marketing [to parents] needs to say that you are invested in their child’s best vision.”

#SOCIALMEDIA: A Child’s Eyes hit the social media jackpot with Truffles, an adorable office cat who tries on eyewear for kids, who became a viral video sensation in late 2019 (for more on that story: invisionmag.com/062106). “Truffles reached all over the world with her message of normalizing eyewear and eyecare for children.” Crull adds that there are many parents on social media looking for information about glasses for their child. They want real experiences from other parents and they want to have knowledge for when they come to your place. “If you’re not out there being a part of the information you are missing a huge opportunity.”

Truffles models eyewear for kids and has become a viral video sensation.

Truffles models eyewear for kids and has become a viral video sensation.

BACK TO SCHOOL: Crull speaks with school nurses, local pediatricians and vision and occupational therapists, among other groups. “I also speak with and work with our local libraries. “It’s important to be creative when reaching your community. We started our Pumpkin Patch project five years ago asking families to put an eye patch on their pumpkin to help spread awareness of amblyopia in children. We brought it right to our local libraries and asked for their help in spreading the news.”

KID FAIL: “Don’t over-promise,” says Crull. “Get real with expectations. The child probably will break their frames, they certainly will likely scratch their lenses, they may feed them to the dog and they might even toss them out the car window. They just need to know you will be there for them when this happens.”
Cathy P. Doty, OD
SpecialEYES Pediatric Vision Clinic, New Bern, NC

Dr. Cathy Doty

Dr. Cathy Doty has over 28 years in optometric private practice. She has served as a trustee of the NCOS, chairman of the Better Vision Institute and chairman of the Children’s Vision Committee of North Carolina. She practices at SpecialEYES Pediatric Vision Clinic and welcomes questions, comments, and other curiosities: [email protected]

WE SPEAK KID!

  • At SpecialEYES, visually, the language of kids is being spoken before you even get inside. Patients first come across a brightly painted front door, fun welcome mat, bird houses, butterfly bushes, colorful plants and a window where children can watch birds visit the feeder and bird bath.
  • Once inside, the bright interior and furnishings make children feel right at home. “In our reception area, we have a wall-mounted touch screen gaming system along with a small table and chairs for puzzle play and blocks,” says Dr. Cathy Doty. The large exam rooms contain books, Legos and vintage toys like Etch-A-Sketch and Find Its. “Cartoons on demand help maintain fixation and calm anxious toddlers,” she says.

WE SPEAK PARENT! SpecialEYES has a Google “virtual tour” available so that parents can show their child that the office is fun. “For special needs families, this is especially important to help quell anxieties of the unfamiliar surroundings,” says Doty.

TEST TIME: There are no white coats at SpecialEYES. “Children are very observant, and they want to feel relaxed in a comfortable atmosphere,” says Doty. “I wear colorful clothing, crazy socks, and happy jewelry.” Doty advises ECPs to:

  • Respect the child’s courage and celebrate the small victories as you go through the elements of the exam.
  • Reschedule at a better time of day for the child if the exam is not progressing well, and don’t make them feel ashamed.
  • Smile a lot and say nice things about their efforts.
  • Always address screen time, myopia control (if appropriate), and eye protection for sports with both parent and child.
‘Children want to feel relaxed in a comfortable atmosphere,’ says Dr. Cathy Doty of SpecialEYES Pediatric Vision Clinic.

‘Children want to feel relaxed in a comfortable atmosphere,’ says Dr. Cathy Doty of SpecialEYES Pediatric Vision Clinic.

IN THE OPTICAL: Optical team members make attractive displays with child-accessible mirrors, cases, Ficklets, sunwear, and a variety of sports glasses. “Children like accessories just as much or more than adults do. We try to make sure we have a rainbow of colorful frames for our gallery, made in a variety of materials — rubber, zyl, metal, acetate — with a range of price points. I recommend that opticians start with a child’s favorite color and build from there. “If possible,” says Doty, “encourage patients and parents to narrow down to three choices that will make both parties happy and allow the child to make the final selection.”

MARKETING TIP: Doty’s staff does a great job of internally marketing SpecialEYES to patients. “For example, they may say, ‘I see that you began wearing glasses when you were 3 years old and had muscle surgery for an eye turn. It would be a good idea to have your child’s eyes examined at an early age since many eye conditions can be hereditary.’”

BACK TO SCHOOL: SpecialEYES has forged relationships with school nurses in their district over the years, packing “goody bags” for them at the beginning of the school year. These contain artificial tears, CL cases and saline, cleaning cloths, business cards, and a letter thanking them for all they do. Doty has also given lectures at the local community college and for various parent groups.

KID FAIL:

  • Don’t ignore the child. “Speak directly to them as much as you can and answer their questions.”
  • Don’t use baby talk with the little ones.
  • Don’t use eye drops. Make up a peds mix in a miniature spray bottle and call it “magical mist.”
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Dr. Katherine Schuetz
Little Eyes Pediatric Eye Care, Carmel, IN

Dr. Katherine Schuetz

Dr. Katherine Schuetz is in private practice as a full-time clinician, splitting time between seeing pediatric patients at a primary care pediatric practice, Little Eyes, and teens through adults at RevolutionEYES. She is a Brilliant Futures panelist for CooperVision and has specialized in pediatric optometry for over 20 years.

We Speak Kid! At Little Eyes, the office’s muted primary color palette was designed to be inviting for children — each exam room has one accent wall that coordinates with the exam chair and custom designed counters. But things get fun long before the exam lane: “We also have an awesome arcade style PacMan game in our waiting room — sorely missed by our longtime patients during the pandemic,” says Dr. Katherine Schuetz.

WE SPEAK PARENT! Be sure to tell parents their child’s exam will look nothing like an adult exam, advises Schuetz. “Once we tell them we have an office just for kids using very different techniques than an adult exam, parents see we can reliably test toddlers. Our website has videos with examples of our exams to help parents get a better feel of what their child will experience.”

TEST TIME: Techs have fun telling children who are finished being pretested to “Go find the blue room so we can go do the next fun eye tests before you meet the doctor,” or telling them how cool their eyeball pictures will look to get good cooperation for retinal imaging. “Kids cooperate far better if you tell them what’s going to happen and why you’re doing it, so make it easier on everyone by holding the 20D in front of your own eye, or trial lenses in front of yourself before performing retinoscopy,” she says. She recommends keeping fun fixation targets handy, along with videos to play on your eye chart. She also starts her exam by addressing the patient first, then asking the child if it’s OK if she asks the parent a few questions. “This tells both parents and kids that I care about what the child has to say, and that the child is my primary focus.”

A PacMan arcade game keeps kids occupied if there’s a wait at Little Eyes Pediatric Eye Care.

A PacMan arcade game keeps kids occupied if there’s a wait at Little Eyes Pediatric Eye Care.

IN THE OPTICAL: Little Eyes’ opticians know to be enthusiastic and how to choose a few frames for the child to try on to increase their excitement. For a child who’s on the shy side, they tone things down and just keep the process more calm and soothing. “The most important thing is to be able to read each child and put them at ease.”

BACK TO SCHOOL: Little Eyes’ doctors have been volunteering for school vision screenings for over a decade, so they have 15-plus school nurses that know and trust them. The practice has been able to screen typically 1,500 first graders every year, which creates an opportunity to show parents and the nurses that they don’t over-refer or over-prescribe.

KID FAIL: Don’t sacrifice your professionalism for fun. “Your office is not a playground. Sometimes parents come to our office expecting that their kids can touch everything since it’s a pediatric office. We have to be firm but kind in creating the rules to keep our equipment safe.”

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 [email protected]

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