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DIFFERENTIATE… OR DIE. In this era of insane competition for vision care, it’s as simple as that. But standing apart isn’t as daunting a task as it may seem. It all starts with you. Whether you work in a Main Street storefront or a strip mall, whether you’re affiliated with a chain or you’re fiercely independent, you can make your business one of a kind. We asked the INVISION Brain Squad what they’re doing to set their businesses apart. We looked at dozens of eyecare pros’ social media feeds, as well as past issues of INVISION. We found a whole lot of inspiration to share with you here. Always remember: These ideas are just starting points. By putting your own unique personality (and that of your team members) into play — and we do mean play! — you’ll instantly make your eyecare business more memorable.

1 YOUR JOIE DE VIVRE

Every day is a good day at European Optical in Laguna Beach, CA, where Astrid Chitamun (above, left) started working alongside her father, master optician Udo Stoeckmann, as a teen. Today, she continues the family business with the help of Elizabeth Mendizibal and Colleen Hannegan, and they all clearly know how to have a good time.

2 YOUR BLOG

Dr. Andy Howard of La Follette Eye Clinic in LaFollette, TN, has a robust blog with posts on everything from vision to overall health to the rare planetary alignment that happened this winter. This is no boilerplate blog: Howard wrote one post while sitting in a hospital waiting for a friend who was having triplebypass heart surgery, using the opportunity to talk about how personal health habits can make or break our future. Each post gets extra mileage on the practice’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds.

3 YOUR PARTIES

At least once a year, think about doing something grand like Urban Optiks in San Diego, where the 2015 America’s Finest finalist throws a Raise Your Glasses gala at a swanky lounge.

4 YOUR BRANDING

The name Medford Optical doesn’t immediately help people know the specialty of Dana Cohen’s Massachusetts shop, but its URL — kidsoptical.com — makes it clear, as does the “We Love Kids” sign in his front window. (Cohen also snagged the Massachusetts toll-free number, 1-800-OPTICIAN). In Florida, Daniel Amyx owns both Hillmoor Optical and Treasure Coast Optical. “We wanted to tie them together with a single website, which would also save us time and money as well,” he says. Amyx and his wife, Lara, occasionally drive to Key West to recharge their batteries, both personally and professionally. It was during one of those trips, margaritas in hand, that they came up with the perfect URL: myfavoriteoptical.com. Let that be a lesson to you. Get away for a weekend more often.

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5 YOUR POP-UPS

Gosgosha Optique in Los Angeles, CA, had a pop-up shop with a neighboring plant shop just before Christmas last year. Says owner Julia Gogosha, it was part of ongoing crosspromotions “to feature people who are knowledgable in their own fields that complement our own.”

6 YOUR ABOUT US PAGE

This too-often-neglected website page is actually the perfect online showcase for sharing your staff’s personality. For example, we love how at optixgallery. com, each staff member of McCulley Optix Gallery shares a favorite frozen yogurt flavor and toppings — yes, even in Fargo, even in winter! — as well as how they like to spend a rainy day. At eyeshopoptical. com, Dr. Cynthia Sayers confesses her love for 1980s rocker Bryan Adams.

7 YOUR NAME

It’s one of the first decisions you make when you go into business, or when you re-brand, and it’s one of the best ways to capture your personality and target market. Some of our favorites include Eye Candy (we know of at least three indie shops in the U.S. with this name, including those in Delafield, WI; McMurray, PA; and Westlake, OH); Glasses Menagerie in Minneapolis, MN; Silver Lining Opticians in New York, NY; and Goo Goo Goggles in Victoria, BC, Canada.

8 YOUR HISTORY

If you’ve been in business more than a few decades, your shop’s history is one worth sharing: in displays on your walls, on your social media feeds and on your website. A great example of this: the website for Jackson Davenport Vision Center in Charleston, SC, where a multimedia “Our History” page recounts highlights like having the first African American optician in South Carolina on staff and surviving Hurricane Hugo in 1989.

9 YOUR PETS

A friendly animal is one way to make people feel welcome at your business. At Eye Impact in Houston, TX, Chloe, a dog rescued by Dr. Gary Nguyen, serves as an ambassador to the neighborhood, where everyone seems to have at least one dog. If it’s not feasible to have a dog, consider a fish tank like they have at Eye-C-You Optometry in Riverside, CA.

10 YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY

What is the single best way to make a better impression on would-be patients and customers? Hire a professional photographer to get great photos of your business and your staff. If a photo shoot isn’t in the budget, maybe you can barter an eye exam, frames and lens package to your favorite local newspaper photographer. (Trust us. Talented but modestly paid photojournalists would love a deal like that.)

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11 YOUR GOOD MANNERS

Clients of Ulla Eyewear in Madison, WI, get showered with thanks, including a custom-made card featuring caricatures of the staff and a box of handmade confections from Infusion Chocolates, a neighbor in the Hilldale Shopping Center. At Eye Candy in Delafield, WI, people get M&Ms imprinted with the business’s name.

12 YOUR WINDOWS

Modern Eye of Philadelphia, PA, has mastered the art of window displays that make passers-by do a double take, often featuring the business’ signature eyeball people. Last spring, the window of Modern Eye’s University City shop featured three putti frolicking amid flowers. At Christmas, Santa and Mrs. Claus were the star attractions. (See a video at invmag.us/modeye.)

13 YOUR ARTWORK

In Portland, OR, an art curator stops by each month to put new paintings on Optik PDX’s walls in time for second Thursday art walks. At Oakland Vision Optometry in Oakland, CA, Dr. Tanya Gill curates everything from display backdrops to works by local artists.

14 YOUR PURPLE COW

This is Seth Godin’s term for something that makes your business remarkable. He came up with it after his family went on vacation in France and saw “hundreds of storybook cows grazing in lovely pastures right next to the road. For dozens of kilometers, we all gazed out the window, marveling at the beauty. Then, within a few minutes, we started ignoring the cows.” This article is full of purple cows, but if you’d like to read more from Godin on how to identify yours, see invmag.us/purple.

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15 YOUR GREEN SCREEN

Eye Candy Optical in Westlake, OH, makes every customer a rock star with portraits taken in front of a green screen, then posted on the shop’s Facebook feed with the motto, “Be who you want to be at Eye Candy Optical.”

16 YOUR DECOR

Elle Tatum of Elle’s Island Spectacle has a French fling going at her Bainbridge Island, WA, shop. The Parisian vintage vibe includes a red chandelier and an over-the-top bejeweled tutu atop a three-tiered marble table.

17 YOUR FAMILY

Dr. Ted McElroy of Vision Source-Tifton in Tifton, GA, tells how he once bought “infotainment” software for the exam room to help patients pass the time while they waited for him. But he couldn’t get around to loading it and finally just put in a thumb drive of family pictures. Patients immediately started asking, “Are those your kids?” or “Where did you go on that trip where the mountains are?” or “I see you’ve been to Disney. When did you go last?” Adds McElroy, “I knew the infotainment software was not getting a renewal. I now have guests who regularly ask about my family when I see them in our small town, and they tell whoever is around them about the pictures they saw on my computer while in the exam room. My good friend and idol, Dr. April Jasper of West Palm Peach, FL, says you will always get more connection to people you take care of if they see who you are outside the office than what you can do for them while you’re in your office. She puts pictures of her family everywhere and gets the same results.”

18 YOUR MOTTO

Dr. Tanya Gill of Oakland Vision Center Optometry in Oakland, CA, says the shop’s motto, We Love Eyes, “is not just a cute phrase to sell glasses” or win the 2015 America’s Finest Optical Retailers competition. It’s a bold declaration of intent — not to mention great branding — that appears everywhere from the business’s front window to the inner temples of the shop’s private-label frames to a line of natural eyecare products the entrepreneurial Gill launched in 2015. Oh yes, it’s a hashtag on more than 1,800 Instagram posts, too.

19 YOUR BEACH

OK, not everyone can pull this one off, but there’s a sandy floor at Optical Oasis in Jupiter, FL. In fact, the whole place looks like the beach-town optical shop it is, with a waterfall, a tiki hut to house the sunglasses and more. “I wanted my shop to be memorable and unique,” says owner Julie Uram. “It’s cozy and casual. My mom and I did feng shui in the shop, and I bless it regularly. Only good chi at Optical Oasis.”

20 YOUR MASCOT

Who is that blue man climbing out the window of Blink Eye Care and Eye Wear in Charlotte, NC? “That is Mr. Big, our practice mascot,” says Dr. Charlene Henderson, who found a similar character for a store in Serbia while researching designs for the business’s cold opening in 2009. She contacted the designer and found a local sign maker to manufacture the characters. “We like to think we have an optical that steps outside of the box, just like Mr. Big,” Henderson says. “He is bright, fun and marches to his own beat.” The character also pops up everywhere from Blink’s website to displays throughout the shop.

21 YOUR LAB

A lab is a lab is a lab — unless you’re in one of the nation’s largest shopping malls and you put a window into your lab so everyone walking by can see just how finely tuned Rx eyewear actually gets made. That’s what they’ve done at Vitra Eyewear in Costa Mesa, CA. Read more about this new shop in our Best of the Best story on page 72.

22 YOUR FACEBOOK PAGE

Facebook remains the top dog among social media sites, and it’s an increasingly important way people search for businesses, too. Some eyecare businesses even use Facebook as their main home online, bypassing a website for a public Facebook page, like that of Park Slope Eye (parkslopeeye.com), which forwards to Facebook. There, people can book an exam, learn about Ortho-K, or even see listings for upcoming local events via shared posts from neighborhood news site Park Slope Stoop.

23 YOUR GREEN CRED

Maybe you walk or ride your bike to work. Maybe you’ve created a line of Earth-friendly eyewear, like Optik PDX did with five OH three, made of wood from the old stadium bleachers at Lewis and Clark College. Whatever you’re doing to make every day Earth Day, let people know about it.

24 YOUR GOOGLE ID

“When I started working here, every time I logged onto the practice email account, Google would harass me to choose a photo for the account,” says Leslie Boyd, practice manager of Village Eye Care Optometry in Raleigh, NC. She finally relented and made the photo a high fashion model with some really cool frames. But Dr. Chris Bateman didn’t like it and said he didn’t want people to think he was a woman, so Boyd changed the pic to a male model with cool frames on. “Dr. Bateman said that was misleading and he didn’t want the patients to be disappointed when they found out he didn’t really look like that. He told me to change it to ‘George Clooney or something,’ so people would know it obviously wasn’t him,” Boyd recalls. So next, Boyd picked a Groucho Marxstyle glasses and nose. It took the doctor a while to notice, “and I had completely forgotten about it when one day I heard him yelling from his office, ‘Leslie! That is not George Clooney!’ He told me to change it back, but here we are a year and a half later and it’s still up there.” And email recipients smile every time they see it.

25 YOUR GIVEAWAYS

At Eyes on Fremont in Seattle, WA, winner of the 2014 America’s Finest competition, they have all sorts of unusual and fun giveaways you don’t see at the typical optical shop, from free pins dispensed from a bubble gum-style vending machine to stickers , beer koozies and snapback caps, all bearing the shop’s “Fight Evil” motto.

26 YOUR PASSIONS

“I am a hobby photographer, so I decorated the office with my own photographs,” says Dr. Selina McGee of Precision Vision in Edmond and Midwest City, OK. “I am a Master Gardener and love fresh flowers, so we have a fresh delivery every Monday from a local florist (who is our patient, too) to start our week off brightly. I like farmhouse, eclectic, shabby chic decor so there are no frame boards in our office, only white bright floating shelves.”

27 YOUR CURB APPEAL

Erker’s Fine Eyewear’s flagship location in downtown St. Louis has red awnings you can see from way down the street. Artsee Eyewear in Manhattan’s Battery Park City has streetside windows that draw passers-by into the store’s chic interior.

28 YOUR THEME SONG

Says Julie Uram of Optical Oasis in Jupiter, FL, “I advertise on my hometown radio station. It’s not a big station, so the cost is not like a big station.” Customers come in all the time to tell Uram they heard her ad, “which I do the voiceover for. It’s really fun. And at the end of my ad, the song Midnight at the Oasis plays, which fits perfect because my shop is called Optical Oasis.”

29 YOUR SNACKS

Aim for a mix of savory and sweet, like they do at Lynn Valley Optometry in North Vancouver, BC. Fresh fruit and bottled water (or an eco-friendly water cooler) help people make healthy choices, too. But don’t forget: Everyone needs a little indulgence once in a while. So every Friday is “Dessert Friday” at EyeShop Optical Center in Ohio. “No store-bought treats here. Home-baked goods by the doc herself,” says Dr. Cynthia Sayers. And at Specs Around Town in Bloomington, IL, trays of truffles greeted customers for a pre-Valentine’s Tour de Chocolat fashion, music and art event.

30 YOUR LIVING ROOM

With a sofa from Restoration Hardware, midcentury-look leather chairs from Crate & Barrel and a one-ofa- kind rug from the Dallas Design District, Glass Optical in Dallas, TX, exudes a lounge-like vibe. Forget the waiting room; it’s time to give your patients and customers a place to relax and socialize. (The shop hosted its grand opening party with a neighbor, Spinster Records.)

31 YOUR SPA

At EyeBar in Houston, TX, Dr. Sheena Garner offers complimentary makeup sessions with every eye exam, along with eyebrow waxing, lash and brow extensions, and other pampering pluses. (See our America’s Finest feature on page 74.)

32 YOUR MOBILE BILLBOARD

Medford Optical in Massachusetts drives new business its way with a Honda Element colorfully shrink-wrapped to spotlight the shop’s focus on children. And because owner Dana Cohen is usually in his shop fitting glasses all day, the vehicle actually belongs to an art therapist friend who spends his work hours driving to and from appointments all over town.

33 YOUR GOOD SCENTS

At Lynn Valley Optometry in North Vancouver, BC, light citrus aromas from an essential oils nebulizer have replaced a scent machine. Your customers with allergies will thank you for going natural.

34 YOUR NETWORKING

Make yourself an inescapable presence in your community. “I do a lot of outside activities away from the business to keep our name out there,” says Kathy Maren of Combs EyeCare and EyeWear in Western Springs, IL. You’ll see her everywhere from the local Lions Club (always a great choice for ECPs, with its sight-saving programs) to volunteering at a women’s shelter, staying active in the local business association and serving on the board of a nonprofit.

35 YOUR DISPLAYS

Santa Fe Optical (below) had fun with Vinylize, the eyewear made from recycled records. We also love what super-creative optician Tamara Walker does with the displays at Eyepolis in Homestead, PA, using everything from family photos to antique fair finds to showcase the shop’s offbeat frames.

36 YOUR BARISTAS

In St. Paul, MN, Northwest Opticians shares its prime downtown corner location with a branch of the locally popular Dunn Bros. Coffee chain. People can grab their favorite coffee beverage, then browse the frame offerings seven days a week.

37 YOUR AIRSTREAM

Alissa Fields of Eye Spy Optical in Chicago, IL, owns an Airstream trailer. Of course, its name is Iris. Better yet, the trailer has its own hashtag for Instagram, #iristheairstream.

38 YOUR MOBILE DISPENSARY

Andes Optical is located several miles from the center of action in Knoxville, TN, so owner Faith Andes McDaniel decided to outfit a red Mini Cooper as a mobile eyewear showroom. Will Taylor of Eye 2 Eye Contact in Detroit, MI, also works out of his vehicle, noting, “I go to clients’ homes, place of business and coffee shops to meet up with them.”

39 YOUR DJ

Patients at the Union, NJ, office of Dr. Dawn Arnold are always asking office manager Tuli Santiago what music they’re hearing. It’s actually DJ Tuli, who builds sets based on the people who are on the schedule that day. “They are super happy when I just email them the link to a set and they can enjoy it at home,” she adds.

40 YOUR INSTAGRAM

The popular social media site is a great way to show your business’s personality. With its photocentric and largely ad-free layout, people enjoy scrolling through their Instagram feeds, and it’s an excellent place to highlight everything from happy customers with their glasses to the amazing hors d’oeuvres you’ve just put out for your trunk show.

41 YOUR TIARAS

Every Tuesday is Tiara Tuesday at Eyepolis in Homestead, PA. The tradition began since the shop is usually slower that day, when Dr. Viki Christopoulos is often in surgery. “It lightens everything up,” says Michelle Singer, who started the tradition — and who will show you her tiara on a day other than Tuesday, too, if you ask nicely.

42 YOUR HOLIDAY SPIRIT

Every December, Jeff Grosekemper at Casa de Oro Eyecare in Spring Valley, CA, brings out Santa and his team of Hush Puppies. Grosekemper explains that in the late 1990s, Kenmark was looking for the best store display for Christmas, so Kenmark rep Mark Argusa and his wife, Robin, made the sleigh team and Grosekemper featured it at the office where he worked at the time. “Every year, I bring out the team and the patients love it and bring family members by just to see the team,” Grosekemper says, adding that the 2015 display had special meaning since Argusa had passed away last year. “I’ve been offered money for the pups but won’t give them up. They’re one of a kind.”

43 YOUR SPECIAL EVENTS

“We like to do events with our patients,” says Tuli Santiago at Dr. Dawn Arnold’s office. Last year, a team of 10 people signed up for a mud run. A country line-dancing event was another hit.

44 YOUR LIBATIONS

On an everyday basis, you want to offer a selection of beverages to show customers you care, whether it’s water, herbal tea or — perhaps for a happy hour on the evening you stay open — a glass of wine. Special events call for an extra-special beverage, like the “Eye Can See Clearly Now Cosmo” custom cocktail that Urban Optiks offered at its Raise Your Glasses fundraising gala in San Diego, CA, or the beer from a local German-style brewery that they had on draft for the 10th anniversary Oktoberfest celebration at Look + See Eye Care in Minneapolis, MN.

45 YOUR VOICEMAIL GREETING

Scott Ginsberg, aka The Nametag Guy, suggests asking a specific question as part of the message — for example, “What’s your favorite pizza topping?” It encourages people to leave a response, and it definitely sets you apart.

46 YOUR MUSIC

At Whitaker Eye Works in Wayne, PA, they have in-store guitar lessons and a regular 4 o’clock dance party with funky music. “Stacey and I — and sometimes customers — boogie,” says Steve Whitaker. “Never forget to boogie.”

47 YOUR CLEANING CLOTH

With its tie-dye swirls, the cleaning cloth at Eyes & Optics in Las Vegas perfectly captures the shop’s rock ’n’ roll vibe, while doing double duty as a handy eyewear accessory and a reminder to clients of where they got their groovy glasses.

48 YOUR TREND SAVVINESS

At Wood Vision Clinic in Parkersburg and Iowa Falls, IA, they’re always on the alert for great interactive campaigns. In February, for example, they held a “So you think you can color?” contest to capitalize on the adult coloring craze. Here’s the beauty part: People had to come in to the office to pick up their coloring sheet.

49 YOUR ACCOLADES

If you’ve got ’em, flaunt ’em. Whether it’s a local “Best of” honor or placing in INVISION’s annual America’s Finest Optical Retailers contest, don’t keep your honors to yourself. LaFollette Eye Clinic in Tennessee had a big America’s Finest logo made for its front door. Art of Optiks in Wayzata, MN, celebrates its 2015 America’s Finest showing on a beautifully designed website. And Sonoma Eyeworks in Santa Rosa, CA, has an entire web page full of the local and national recognition it has seen.

50 YOUR FLOWERS

Optik PDX in Portland, OR, regularly gets fresh flower deliveries from Emerald Petals, a nearby eco-florist on Mississippi Avenue.

Julie Fanselow was the original editor-in-chief of INVISION magazine and now contributes to the publication.

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Cover Stories

How Eyecare Businesses Can Win the Hearts and Minds of Their Customers

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Loyal customers — not the ones who choose you because you’re the closest optical, or in the building they work in; we mean the ones who cross town to see you, the ones who are genuinely loyal — bring immense benefits. To name just a few, they reduce the cost of every sale, they tolerate price increases and the odd gaffe by a new employee, and perhaps most importantly in the eyecare business: they generate referrals. But how do you win these mythical creatures over? We asked ECPs about some of the more creative ideas they’ve come up with for winning the undying love of their customers.

COMMUNITY VIBE

The business district in Decatur, GA, holds an annual wine crawl through about 30 businesses, and Decatur Eye Care wasn’t about to let their customers miss out. Held in early March, all the businesses open their doors on the weekends, and put out appetizers and quality wines. “It’s a great way to introduce new people to your business and meet current patients in a more relaxed environment,” shared owner, Tom Brillante, OD. Similarly, Avenue Vision in Golden, CO, decided that instead of the traditional frame show, they’d collaborate with area artists and craft breweries. According to Becky Furuta, the result is “an event with a local vibe and a lot of cross-marketing. It’s an easy way to tap into other parts of the community with whom you don’t normally do business, and to bring a local focus to the business.” Who wouldn’t be back?

COLD, HARD CREDIT

Of course, nothing inspires loyalty quite like a reward in the hand. Far be it from us to encourage the pursuit of instant gratification, but an analysis of 20 brands by digital agency Hawkeye found that the most popular loyalty programs have one thing in common: “customer experience [i.e., the reward] is delivered close to the actual purchase.” That’s what Ames Eye Care in Ames, IA, discovered when they started their referral program, which according to Susan Ames has brought them many new patients. “When a patient refers a new patient and that patient has their exam, both patients can choose either a $50.00 credit in office toward glasses or contacts, or they can receive a $25.00 Amazon gift card,” says Ames.

APP AND AWAY

Precision Vision’s Loyalty App.

One of the more interesting trends among ECPs who are serious about locking in customer loyalty is developing a reward program app. Buena Vista Optical in Chicago, IL, asks patients to sign up with their phone number. Every dollar invested in their vision, and every patient referred gets them points they can cash in for their next eyewear purchase. “We have already used it for two-and-a-half years and we feel this app has definitely kept our patients loyal,” says co-owner Diana Canto-Sims.

Precision Vision Edmond in Edmond, OK, has an app with a loyalty program that’s still in its infancy, but owner Selina McGee, OD, is confident it will become a key channel for making meaningful connections with patients and customers. “One aspect that I’m really excited about are the loyalty points that can be tracked with it,” says McGee. “We can reward our patients for investing in their health and education, as well as save them a few dollars along the way.”

Having your own app can allow you to get really creative with marketing: the goal is to get people to register. (Domino’s famously awards pizza points to anyone who uploads a picture of themselves eating pizza—even if it’s a competitor’s. Of course, you have to register to upload.) According to The Manifest tech blog, nearly half of small businesses it surveyed spent less than $25,000 on theirs. There are various ways to go about it: DIY app builders, hiring outside developers and relying on tech savvy staff are the most common options.

SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO

ECPs who believe “discount” is a dirty word, look away now. But while you’re doing that, those flex dollars will be flowing somewhere else. Just ask Robert McBeath, retail operations manager at Edina Eye in Edina, MN, which runs half off all in-stock frames December through January. McBeath has been doing year-end frame sales for a long time, turning those inventory dollars into cash the practice can distribute, rather than pay taxes on. “We stop buying frames in October and run the sale as an inventory reduction sale with reduced prices only on in-stock merchandise. That saves the ‘see-a-different color’ dilemma. We put up posters in the office, add the promotion to the website, push it on Facebook and sometimes an e-blast,” he says. The Dec. 1-Jan. 31 timeframe catches year-end and New Year flexible spending money. Patients have come to expect it and many contribute to their FSA knowing that if they over-contribute they can always use the money for eyewear. “I have a few that routinely come in at the end of the year to use up their flexible spending. It does keep patients coming back,” McBeath confirms.

Edina Eye’s clients aren’t the only ones waiting for the year-end season. Mark Perry, OD, co-owner of Vision Health Institute in Orlando, FL, reports that their end-of-year frame sale —50 percent off, held on a Friday and Saturday — has been going strong for 10 years now “and it gets larger every year.”

YOUR VERY OWN RABBIT HOLE

At Vision Solutions in Lamar, MO, they call it “top-of-mind awareness.” All their marketing, according to Bryan Hartgrave, is coordinated to optimize this awareness of the practice, and targeted specifically to people living in the communities it serves. One of the best ways it’s found to do this is to implement a social media blitz several times a year, and they’ve also worked on geo-targeting their offices on search engines. “We maintain a daily social media presence with a balance of fun and educational content highlighting different themes throughout the year,” says Hartgrave. They do a frame show twice a year, and social media is a significant part of promoting it and other events and initiatives.

Coming full circle, Diana Canto-Sims at Buena Vista Optical mentions that she’s had good results with Facebook Live, which they do twice a month. She says the practice gets quite a bit of traction with more than 7,000 impressions per video and over 1,000 people reached. “We love this because it is free and 100 percent organic. Some of our videos get up to 40 shares. As a result of our Facebook Lives we usually get two or three bookings per video, not to mention more followers, likes and engagements,” she says. “Our Facebook page has over 4,000 followers. People feel they already know our staff before they come in because they have seen them on Facebook Live and we are very relatable.”

REWARD VIPs

Let’s face it: All customers are not created equal. The truth is, it pays to identify your best customers and do something special for them. Central Texas Eye Center in San Marcos, TX, have moved away from traditional trunk shows to focus on VIP private events every few months. “Our really good customers absolutely love that we close the store for them and make things personal,” says Leah Johnson. Once a VIP show is scheduled, invitations are emailed to all of CTEC’s clients. “The invitations clearly say ‘VIP event; you’re invited! Appointments are required to attend.’ If someone is interested in one-on-one attention, in a party like setting, they will respond and schedule their event appointment. These types of guests really appreciate that we close the doors to the public for the show,” says Johnson.

CTEC experiences better sales at VIP events over trunk shows, because people are committed to purchasing instead of being there to look.
“We weren’t afraid of losing money by closing the doors, and found out these are really profitable events,” she says.

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Cover Stories

Get Your Mojo Back

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Burnout. According to retail consultant Vince Rath, it starts “when we experience the world in a way that doesn’t align with our expectations,” leaving us feeling that we’ve lost control of our lives.

Whatever the factors involved in your particular case of burnout — and it affects everyone sooner or later — the basic solution will always lie in making some kind of conscious change. And even if you’re still loving every day at work, don’t wait till you’re tapped out; implement one or all of these fixes now, whether it’s to recharge your mojo, or to just keep things copacetic…

HELP OTHERS

Researchers call it the “helper’s high.” Donating your time or volunteering can release dopamine, the feel-good chemical that causes the sensation you get when you eat chocolate. According to Psychology Today, “Brain scans show a surge of dopamine when we give or volunteer our time.” Annette Prevaux-Matejko of The Visionary in Allen Park, MI, makes time to “donate services and materials to someone who is down on their luck. Making a real difference in someone’s life makes me feel better about everything.”

CHANGE IT UP IN THE OFFICE

Melody Wilding, a performance coach and human behavior professor at CUNY Hunter College in New York, identifies “under-challenge burnout” as one of the three main types (the others being “overload burnout” and “neglect burnout”). What does Jeff Grosekemper at Casa De Oro Eyecare in Spring Valley, CA, do to ward off boredom or crankiness when it threatens? “I switch jobs with my co-worker. Right now I’m pre-testing and she is selling.” Caitlin Wicka at San Juan Eye Center in Montrose, CO, tried a different approach.

“Getting more involved with training and with patient interactions helps with burnout,” she says. “Seeing the positive feedback on social media really helps me.” If you’re an administrator, ask your boss if there’s a task you can be assigned occasionally out front. Nikki Griffin, owner of EyeStyles Boutique in Oakdale, MN, gets back out on the sales floor to “do my thing. I get all my energy from fitting an amazing pair of eyewear and lifestyle dispensing. The administration side of owning is a soul suck.”

Son Nguyen, OD, recalls a radical change in the optical that shook things up at Bakersfield

Eye Care Optometric Center in Bakersfield, CA: “Adding mostly independent frame brands to our practice. Our opticians were skeptical at first about eliminating some of the biggest name brands in our business, but, as a result, we’ve been told it has made them fall in love with their jobs all over again.” Mark Perry, OD, of Vision Health Institute in Orlando, FL, finds renewal by trying “to focus on some new and different aspect of optometry.” This has included accepting externs from two different optometry schools into his clinic.

CHANGE IT UP OUTSIDE THE OFFICE

Paula Hornbeck at Eye Candy & Eye Candy Kids in Delafield, WI sums up her revitalization strategy in one word: “Silmo!” Similarly, William Chancellor of Eye Can See Eyewear in McDonough, GA, tells us that, “Trade shows rejuvenate me. Attending Vision Expo West was a big exciting show that made the heart fonder!” Learning something new is another popular way for ECPs to find their second wind. Christine Howard at Attleboro Vision Care in Attleboro, MA, says, “Networking and attending conferences always ‘refills my cup’ when I’m feeling drained.” Sometimes, just nosing around another optical will do the trick. BJ Chambers at Carrera Optical, in McQueeney, TX, will occasionally visit a competitor, “and then I feel better about myself.”

GET CREATIVE

Burnout isn’t always a function of too much work. Repetitive or unstimulating work can land you in the same psychological territory as doing too much — feeling numb. “I’ve found coming up with a new project or marketing campaign to be rejuvenating,” shares Carissa Dunphy at Duvall Advanced Family Eyecare in Duvall, WA. “It brings the excitement [back] into what we are working on and it’s great for workplace morale.”

GET IN SHAPE

Jeff Migdow, MD, an integrative physician in Lenox, MA, told the Everyday Health blog in a recent posting that even a few minutes of physical movement serves as a powerful stress reducer, forcing us to breathe deeper and helping us “feel more like ourselves.” You don’t have to wait for the weekend or even until you get home: “Burnout is usually a sign that your work and your life outside the office are no longer in balance,” says Becky Furuta of Avenue Vision in Golden, CO. “I have always made sure to plan an hour in the middle of every workday to go for a run or a ride. I come back happier, more productive, and feeling good about where I am.” Robert M Easton, Jr, OD, in Oakland Park, FL is surely the gold standard bearer among ECPs in this category: “I do kickboxing, bodyworks, walk on the beach and weight lifting to lift the stress,” he tells us.

DECOMPRESS

We think of electronic devices as stress inducers, but your phone just might be your ticket to peace of mind. “I meditate and practice mindfulness daily, sometimes at work, using the Calm iPhone app,” says Vlad Cordero at Focus Eye Care in Hackensack, NJ. Sometimes burnout can edge into something more serious. A 2015 University of California study suggests that nearly half of all people who start a company say they have struggled with some form of mental illness. Don’t be afraid to get outside help. Tom Brillante, OD, of Decatur Eye Care in Decatur, GA, champions his “Regular visits to my therapist. Can’t recommend it highly enough.”

Billy Isgett at Eyecare of Florence in Florence, SC, shared what works for him: “Prayer.”

AND IF THOSE DON’T WORK…

Jen Heller reminds of us another sure-fire way to get your mojo going: “I read INVISION! It gets me excited about frames, fashion, new developments.” Sorry, we had to. But okay, she has more: “I’m also rejuvenated by just sitting and entering claims payment, or reconciling the books. Somehow looking at all the details of everything we do calms me down when I’m stressed, and reminds me that we’re superstars on a daily basis.”

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21 Tips for Motivating Your Team

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Behavioral researcher and author Alfie Kohn likes to tell a joke that many small business owners can no doubt relate to:

An elderly man who lives near a school is regularly harassed by a group of students. So, one day he approaches them with a deal: He’ll give each one a dollar if they’ll all return the next day and yell insults at him at a pre-ordained time. They do so eagerly and receive the money as promised. But the old man also tells them he will only be able to pay them 25 cents the next time. More or less still happy to be paid, the children are there again the next afternoon to taunt him, whereupon the old man explains that, henceforth, the daily reward for hurling abuse at him will be one cent. “A penny?” The kids are highly offended. For such a pathetic amount of money it’s not worth the effort. Forget it, they say, and never bother him again.

Like all good jokes, there’s more than a little truth in Kohn’s tale. Humans just don’t behave in seemingly rational ways, never more so than when it comes to money and the energy they are willing to exchange for it. Rewards work in some cases, but in others, they seem to not only deter quality work but bring out people’s worst sides.

The things that we humans tend to pursue with the most care and deepest motivation — like preparing dinner for a family reunion, coaching a Little League team, building a treehouse or running a marathon — are things that are challenging and complex and sometimes even painful. This suggests the things that motivate us — and which sustain peak performance — are things like a sense of achievement, progress, the welfare of others, what other people think of us — the intrinsic stuff. It also implies sustained performance is a result of people acting because they choose to — not because they feel they have to.

The final thing to appreciate about motivation is that it flows and morphs. Sometimes a surprise slice of free pizza will get the best out of an employee. Other times it is a heartfelt one-on-one talk. To unlock every employee’s fullest potential, you will have to experiment — every day and every week. In the following pages, we present a few ideas to help you on your way in this most vital and often mystifying field.

TWEEK TWEEK

1 Success in guiding employee behavior happens in the thousands of daily interactions and decisions between you and your staff. “Great managing is about release, not transformation,” says Marcus Buckingham, an author, talent expert and founder of The Marcus Buckingham Company, a strengths-based management organization. “It’s about constantly tweaking your environment so that the unique contribution, the unique needs, and the unique style of each employee can be given free rein. Your success as a manager will depend almost entirely on your ability to do this.”

KNOW THE RIGHT TRIGGERS

2 “As a rule, money tends to be a poor motivator. You have to look deeper if you want to understand what motivates people. Leadership is not about imposing your will on others, it has more to do with understanding people,” says Dr. Steve Vargo, a business consultant with IDOC and author of Eye on Leadership, An Optometrist’s Game Plan For Creating A Motivated and Empowered Team. Buckingham concurs: “A manager’s most precious resource is time, and managers know that the most effective way to invest their time is to identify exactly how each employee is different and then to figure out how best to incorporate those enduring idiosyncrasies and how to translate them into outstanding performance.”

FOCUS ON SMALL WINS

3 The psychology of motivation has moved away from the big goal approach in recent years and much more toward the idea of small wins. Indeed, Teresa Amabile’s research at Harvard has found that the most motivating thing is “any” progress in meaningful work. Says Dan Ariely, professor of psychology and behavioral economics at the Fuqua School of Business: “The question for your staff should be, ‘Can I do one small thing to get better today?’ And the answer to that question is always, ‘Yeah, I’m sure I can.’”

HIT RECORD

4 Logging certain aspects of your life can be a surprisingly powerful practice — not because there’s much value in the record you create, but because the very act of recording exerts an interesting psychological effect. Get staff to spend a couple of days recording their time use in detail, productivity experts advise, and they’re likely to find themselves using it more efficiently. The first observation is likely the discovery that they are frittering away many hours.

DITCH DEBBIE DOWNER

5 The Protestant work ethic basically equates labor with discomfort and looks darkly at levity in the workplace. But there is little in the way of science to support it as an approach to doing good work. Indeed, berating oneself for not working harder runs contrary to establishing a mood that gets things done. A fun environment, on the other hand, promotes innovation, healthy risk-taking, good morale and improved social connections.

LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE


6 Promote positivity, says Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, explaining that an optimistic mindset boosts intelligence, creativity and energy levels. “In fact, we’ve found that every single business outcome improves. Your brain at positive is 31 percent more productive than your brain at negative, neutral or stressed, and 37 percent better at sales,” he says on his widely-viewed TED talk. Much of the reason has to do with a better ability to deal with challenges and setbacks. But just how to do it? Achor recommends meditation, gratitude lists, more exercise and acts of kindness like sending a 2-minute “thank you” email every morning.

GIVE THEM A MAP

7 In 1965, Howard Leventhal, a psychologist at Yale, wanted to see if he could scare students into getting a tetanus vaccination (still rare then) with a presentation of lurid images of patients struck by the disease. The students were duly alarmed — but not enough to get vaccinated. Leventhal found there was one intervention that made a difference, prompting 28 percent of students to get a shot, compared with 3 percent of the others. It was a campus map, showing how to get to the clinic and the hours it was open. Subsequent research has underlined the remarkable power of such step-by-step plans. Got something you want your staff to do? Give them a figurative baby-step map to get it done.

STRUCTURE MATTERS

8 In Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations, Dan Ariely cites the case of different European countries’ success in getting their citizens to sign up to be organ donors on their drivers’ licenses. The disparity is huge and much of it comes down to a simple tweak in form design. In countries where people have to actively opt out, the willingness to donate is much higher. “It’s not because it’s easy. It’s not because it’s trivial. It’s not because we don’t care. It’s the opposite,” Ariely says of the study’s findings. “And because we have no idea what to do (in such a case), we just pick whatever it was that was chosen for us.” Design a work place where the default option is work, and people will be productive.

HARNESS TECHNOLOGY

9 There’s no shortage of apps to help your staff boost their productivity and stay motivated. One of our favorites is stickK (stickk.com), a free goal-setting platform created by behavioral economists at Yale University. Make a resolution and then if you don’t follow through, a pre-agreed amount of money will be sent to an organization you really detest. You then decide what’s worse, getting to work on time 20 times in a month or handing your cash over to Bernie or Donald or whoever else gets your hackles up. Another, HassleMe.co.uk, will remind you by email about anything you want, but does so at unpredictable intervals so that your brain can’t easily adapt to ignoring the prodding.

FLATTER PEOPLE

10 One of the most predictable and poignant (or pathetic, depending on your viewpoint) things about humans is our need to bathe in the warm glow of a compliment. Our brains light up even when we know the flattery is insincere. Think then of the power of a sincere compliment. Be on the lookout for chances to praise your team members.

GO EASY ON MEETINGS

11 For the most part, people want to work; they gripe when things like meetings stop them from doing so. Indeed, a 2006 study showed there’s only one group of people who say meetings enhance their wellbeing — those who also score low on “accomplishment striving.” In other words, people who enjoy meetings are those who don’t like getting things done. The key question for distinguishing a worthwhile meeting from a worthless one seems to be this: is it a “status-report” meeting so employees can tell each other things? If so, handle it with email or paper. That leaves much fewer “good” meetings, whose value lies in the meeting of minds, for example, a well-run brainstorming session.

PLAY PAVLOV

12 One of the reasons slot machines are so addictive is the unique power of “intermittent variable rewards.” As Pavlov showed with his dog, random rewards are more motivating than predictable ones. Make a bonus guaranteed, and it loses its power to motivate. Give employees a perk out of the blue, such as free lunch instead.

WHO MOVED MY CHEESY QUOTE?

13 The power of words tends to be fleeting, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to harness their uplifting power. Whether it’s on the notice board, a store Pinterest page, or the fridge door, look for places to adhere words of wisdom. Update regularly.

ACKNOWLEDGE PEOPLE

14 “Acknowledgment is a kind of human magic,” Ariely says. Indeed, some neuroscientists go as far as to say we need attention almost as desperately as we need food and warmth. Studies suggest that almost 50 percent of people who leave jobs quit because they feel underappreciated. Therefore, simply acknowledging a team member’s contribution can go a long way in making them feel appreciated and motivated.

TOSS BAD APPLES

15 Recent research says there’s something behind the bad apples theory: If a toxic worker sat next to a nontoxic worker, the toxic worker’s influence won out, with proximity increasing the probability that one of them would be terminated by 27 percent. Firing someone is, of course, a last resort measure. But if you have provided training, counseling and patience and the person evidently does not have the inclination to be there, it’s time for you to go your separate ways. And there’s also the sobering impact it has on other staff; firing the least productive employee serves to show staff that their jobs are not sacred.

MIND YOUR Ps AND Qs

16 In her book, The Gratitude Diaries, Janice Kaplan cites a recent survey of American workers:

81 percent of respondents said that they’d be willing to work harder for an appreciative boss.

70 percent said they’d feel better about themselves and their efforts if their boss thanked them more regularly.

And yet, gratitude at the workplace appears to be a pretty rare thing, with just 10 percent of the survey respondents saying they were regularly thanked. Want a more motivated staff? Be more generous with the thank-yous.

CLARITY OF EXPECTATIONS

17 Define excellence vividly and quantitatively. “Paint a picture for your most talented employees of what excellence looks like. Keep everyone pushing and pushing toward the right-hand edge of the bell curve,” says Buckingham.

FOSTER TEAM SPIRIT

18 Kind words and deeds count when it comes to motivating colleagues. According to research by Dan Ariely, complimentary remarks and pizza outpaced cash bonuses as ways to encourage workers to put forth more effort and show greater productivity. The results mirrored previous research by the London School of Economics and Political Science showing that people will work harder if they believe their work is appreciated.

MEET ONE-ON-ONE

19 Don’t assume employees know that you think they’re doing well or poorly. You have to tell them. According to Gallup research, employees whose managers hold regular meetings with them are almost three times as likely to be engaged as employees whose managers do not. “To get the best coaching outcomes, always have your 1-on-1’s on your employee’s turf not yours. In your office the truth hides,” says Buckingham, who recommends you spend at least 10 minutes with each employee each week, asking them just two questions: What are your priorities? How can I help?”

INVEST IN YOUR BEST

20 Spend the most time with your best people. Talent is the multiplier, says Buckingham. The more energy and attention you invest in it, the greater the yield. In one example from First, Break All the Rules, they studied great employees in data entry roles. Initially, they found that top performers were 50 percent better than average. However, after investing in them, they were nearly 10X better than average. “Ever get bogged down trying to squeeze passable work out of a bad employee? How did it feel?” he asks.

Spend the most time with your best people. Talent is the multiplier, says Buckingham. The more energy and attention you invest in it, the greater the yield. In one example from First, Break All the Rules, they studied great employees in data entry roles. Initially, they found that top performers were 50 percent better than average. However, after investing in them, they were nearly 10X better than average. “Ever get bogged down trying to squeeze passable work out of a bad employee? How did it feel?” he asks.

SHORTEN YOUR YEAR

21 Consultants Brian Moran and Michael Lennington aren’t big believers in the value of a year, at least when it comes to setting goals. A year’s too big to get your head around, they argue in their book The 12-Week Year, and there’s too much unpredictability involved in planning for 10 or 11 months in the future. Besides, it’s awful for motivation: the New Year surge of enthusiasm fades rapidly, while the feeling of racing to the finish line — that extra burst psychologists call the “goal looms larger effect” — doesn’t kick in until autumn. In its place, they advocate dividing your year into quarters, and to think of each 12 weeks as a stand-alone “year” — a stretch long enough to make significant progress on a few fronts, yet short enough to stay focused.

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