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15 Ways to become the go-to business for anyone who has kids

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When Melissa McCulley was practicing optometry in downtown Minneapolis, she noticed a number of cool, funky eyewear shops peppering the Twin Cities area.

In her hometown of Fargo, ND, however, tradition and the status quo ruled. Many of the city’s eyecare providers were solid professionals, but there was nothing dynamic or contemporary about their practices.

“I’d hear stories of people driving from Fargo to Minneapolis some 250 miles away to get glasses,” McCulley says. “It was a light-bulb moment for me.”

In 2006, McCulley returned to Fargo and launched McCulley Optix Gallery in the city’s burgeoning south end. An area ripe with new home developments, modern schools and a swelling population, McCulley immediately targeted children and families, confi dent she could more easily land new customers rather than dislodge rooted adult customers from their familiar routines.

McCulley created a kid-friendly offi ce featuring a miniature table, children’s toys and a television, touted the benefi ts of a full-fl % $edged eye exam over the basic school vision screening and began off ering vision therapy to children, something she could easily accommodate as her upstart business worked to build its clientele.

“All of this established us as a place where kids were welcome and cared for,” McCulley  says.

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A decade later, McCulley Optix Gallery is thriving. Fargo’s go-to destination for kids’ eyewear, the shop continues to reap the benefi ts of McCulley’s calculated, decade-old bet on children and families.

“The beauty of taking care of children is that when parents come to check out our offi ce, we have an opportunity to become the eyecare provider for their entire family,” McCulley says. “That piece has been a major part of our overall success.”

Earning family business, however, is far from a case of “build it and they will come.” Parents demand trust and patience, quality and value, convenience and care, safety and selection for their children as well as themselves. Here’s how eyecare shops across the country are accomplishing just that.

Connect with Other Pediatric Providers

1 By and large, Dr. Nathan Bonilla-Warford of Bright Eyes Kids in Tampa, FL, says pediatricians are not “super comfortable” talking about vision, so Bonilla-Warford makes outreach a priority.

Throughout the year, he spends one-on-one time with local pediatricians and their staff members, providing lunch and in-service training. These visits, he says, allow him to answer questions and demonstrate how he and his team practice evidence-based care. Furthermore, Bonilla-Warford can scope out the pediatric office himself and identify key decision-makers.

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Almost immediately following one of these visits, Bonilla-Warford says, referred patients appear at Bright Eyes Kids.

“And once these doctors have one or two patients they’ve referred leave happy, referring us just becomes the norm and that makes a giant impact on our practice,” says Bonilla-Warford, who does similar meet-and-greets with occupational therapists, physical therapists, educational specialists and other youthservicing professionals. “It takes a lot of coordination and activity, but we really only need to do it once to have a big impact.”

Get to Know the School Personel

2 In Holland, MI, Beth Cassar of Complete Eye Health and Contact Lens Center has reached out to local school nurses and hand-delivered eyecare kits featuring a small screwwith driver, miniature screws, cleaners, cases and contact lens solution that help nurses troubleshoot minor problems. This gesture has helped Complete Eye Health build sturdy relationships with the school nurses, whom Cassar calls key influencers within their respective communities. The nurses will often send kids to the shop who are in significant need and, in some cases, have even called to make appointments.

Dr. Nathan Bonilla-Warford of Bright Eyes Kids Tampa works with local pediatricians and other youth-serving professionals to drive kids through his door.

Lambaria Eye & Optical in Davison, MI, meanwhile, connects with counselors at nine area schools. Lambaria provides each counselor 10 vouchers for a free eye exam and free glasses. Counselors can then distribute the vouchers to students screwwith vision needs, particularly those without the means to purchase glasses.

Spotlight Family-friendly Service

3 While word of mouth drives much of the traffic into Lambaria’s State Road storefront, the office actively markets its kid-friendly vibe on back-toschool billboards, print advertisements, email blasts and social media, including YouTube videos. “We are not afraid to mention that we’re a kid-friendly practice because we know that everyone knows someone who has kids,” Lambaria office manager Alissa McKinstry says. In Tampa, meanwhile, the mere name Bright Eyes Kids leaves no doubt as to the shop’s target clientele and its sensibilities. “The name alone absolutely makes a difference,” Bonilla-Warford says.

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Capture Mom

4 Lambaria Eye and Optical places an emphasis on targeting 30- to 45-yearold women, driven in large part by a boutique-style office that offers a chic, contemporary counter rather than the more traditional offices in town. After all, the first step in earning family business, McKinstry contends, is appealing to mom. “When you earn mom’s business, she’ll trust you to see others in her family as well,” McKinstry says.

Be Un-clinical

5 From the dentist to the doctor and, yes, even the eyecare shop, children, and even adults, can be turned off by overly clinical experiences. At McCulley Optix, McCulley dials down the traditional sterile feel. She ditches the white lab coat, talks directly to children and will even turn on a movie in the exam room. “It’s the exact opposite of a clinical experience and that helps put the patients at ease,” McCulley says. Similarly, Bonilla-Warford rejects the clinical vibe at Bright Eyes Kids. As children are often nervous and unsure at the start of an appointment, Bonilla-Warford prioritizes jokes and games before clinical work. He also employs a “no-drama drops system.” Bonilla- Warford first lets kids decide if they want their eyes open or shut for eye drops. He then distracts them by talking about the movie Up, a poster of which is tacked to the exam room’s ceiling. “It makes kids much more comfortable and relaxed, which is also a way to get better clinical information,” Bonilla-Warford says.

Promote Specialty Services

6 During her first year in business, McCulley had a few parents ask about children’s vision therapy. She accommodated those early requests and continues to do so. Today, McCulley Optix is one of only two stores in 114,000-resident Fargo offering the service and McCulley says the specialty continues to attract patients and bolster her shop’s reputation as a pediatricfriendly office. Bonilla-Warford says offering services such as vision therapy and orthokeratology distinguishes his office from a technological and credibility standpoint. “When people see the specialty services, they see the long-term comprehensive plan of care we offer and are incentivized to come back,” he says.

Favor Forgiveness

7 When Tammy Heldt arrived as the new manager at Aardvark Eyewear, a dispensary business inside the Chicago- based pediatric ophthalmology practice of Dr. Lawrence Kaufman, shifting the warranty service was among her first actions. She ditched the shop’s longstanding warranty that covered only defects and instituted one that honored more general wear and tear. Thereafter, she altered the shop’s purchasing habits to favor inventory from manufacturers with a demonstrated track record of offering quality, well-fitting frames and standing behind their product. “With kids eyewear, in particular, forgiving warranties are critical,” Heldt says.

Give Parents a Look

8 At Complete Eye Health, Dr. Kevin Cassar often invites parents to sit in the exam chair. He will then blur their vision to help them understand what their child sees. “This helps parents explicitly understand what their child is facing,” says Beth Cassar, adding that the exercise also prevents parents from feeling sold on potentially unnecessary interventions or products. “We want and need the trust of our patients and that is something you earn over time with education and honesty.”

Speak Kids’ Language

9 The father of two children, Bonilla-Warford knows lots of kids love Legos, which is why he invites kids to trade Lego figurines with him during their visits to Bright Eyes Kids. It’s a stealthy way to show kids that the business speaks their language. “It’s a totally easy and simple way to make their visit fun and memorable,” Bonilla-Warford says. Find a few things the kids in your area respond to — be it Minecraft, Pokemon, Shopkins, Matchbox or football and baseball cards — and offer it up as a reward for an exam well done. In no time, they will be begging their parents to take them back to your practice.

Custom Accomodations

10 In an effort to provide a better fit, Heldt adds custom comfort cables to many of the children’s frames she sells. Parents subsequently rave about how well the glasses stay on their child and Heldt consistently fields referrals from parents who have learned about the custom comfort cables from parents of current or past Aardvark patients. “This has been big in driving new business our way,” says Heldt, adding that fit is more critical with children than adults given the younger set’s general activity level. “Six months in the life of children’s frames is like six years to adults.”

Offer Convenience

11 At Complete Eye Health, the Cassars bunch family appointments together, a risky move, but one Beth Cassar says families with multiple bespectacled individuals love. The office will book parents and siblings together and take the entire family to the exam room at the same time. This means parents make only one trip to the office, there is less wait time between appointments and kids aren’t left unattended in the waiting room. “It’s easy and convenient for [families] and makes the patient experience better,” Cassar says, adding that her team “uber-confirms” the appointments with text, email and phone reminders to limit no-shows.

InfantSEE allows Dr. Melissa McCulley to introduce her practice and staff to new families.

Leverage Infantsee

12 InfantSEE, an 11-year-old public health program managed by the American Optometric Association Foundation, allows children between 6 and 12 months to receive a free infant eye assessment from participating eyecare providers. McCulley Optix has been a member of the InfantSEE program for much of the shop’s 10-year existence, and McCulley calls InfantSEE a no-hassle way to connect with families, proactively address any vision needs and get parents and kids acquainted with her shop. The typical first appointment, McCulley says, is a five- to 10-minute vision screening in which McCulley checks the health development of the eye. She explains to parents what she is assessing, when they might return and spotlights different services her shop offers, such as vision therapy and treatment of eye diseases like pink eye. “InfantSEE is a free opportunity for the family to meet me, interact with our staff and see our office, and it has definitely helped us establish ongoing relationships,” McCulley says.

No Excuse Replacement

13 Forgiveness is divine as well at Lambaria Eye and Optical. The 4-year-old shop offers children under 10 a no-excuse replacement once in the first year. Initially an offer limited to particular frames, the offer now applies to all of Lambaria’s youth eyewear selection. “This takes the pressure off parents as well as kids,” says McKinstry, who has used the program herself to replace her own 5-year-old daughter’s glasses.

McKinstry says only about 10 percent of qualifying patients ever need the replacement, and many of those instances are covered under a manufacturer’s warranty. “The risk versus reward is wonderful for us and parents appreciate that they don’t have to pay extra for a warranty,” says McKinstry, adding that the opportunity to build a longterm relationship “more than pays” for any replacement costs.

Keep the Pediatricians in the Loop

14 Whenever a child visits Bright Eyes Kids for an eye exam, staff ask parents for permission to send a simple one-page evaluation report — on Bright Eyes letterhead — to the child’s pediatrician. Parents value that their pediatrician is kept in the loop, while doctors generally appreciate the clinical communication as well.

“It’s a more passive marketing tool, but one that’s proven very effective,” Bonilla-Warford says. “It opens everybody’s eyes to what we do.”

Carry a Wild Selection

15 Over the last decade, Aardvark’s inventory has grown from about 300 frames to nearly 1,000, including frames Heldt has designed exclusively for the shop and a handful of select partners. Having such an expansive selection with price points ranging from $75 to $280 enables Heldt to find numerous frames that offer the precise fit she wants at styles and price points patients can appreciate. “For any patient, I’m going to have about 25 great fitting frames because of our deep inventory,” she says.

Heldt notes, however, that wide selection alone isn’t enough to drive repeat business and fuel a shop’s bottom line. “Selection draws people in, but it’s the quality of the fit that keeps them coming back,” she says.

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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