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Best of Eyecare

5 Eyecare Businesses Doing Big Business in Small Niches

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From athletes to non-native speakers, eyecare pros across the country are driving business performance by finding niche demographics.

 

Sometimes a clear path to capturing new business sits in plain view. A patient with limited English struggling to communicate during an appointment. A big-and-tall man seeking large frames. A basketball-crazed teen in need of prescription eyewear on the hardwood. Recognizing the needs of these patient groups and other often-underserved segments of American society and then addressing their needs with equal doses of strategy and sincerity can help an optical business earn new customers, deepen its marketplace penetration and boost financial performance.

Here are five optical businesses that discuss how they spotted a niche group and then crafted a plan to cater to that demographic in practical, profitable ways.

By Daniel P. Smith

 

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THE BIG GUYS

“We’re in an area that’s highly Scandinavian, so there are a lot of big dudes around,” says Nikki Griffin, owner of EyeStyles Optical and Boutique in Oakdale, MN.

About a year ago, one such man of larger proportions walked into EyeStyles and handed Griffin a pair of broken frames. He asked Griffin if she could score him a replacement, noting that his doctor’s office had stopped carrying larger frames. As Griffin researched options for that individual and also reflected on the local market need, it became clear that “big dudes” and their female counterparts failed to earn much legitimate attention.

“There’s nothing out there and you know there’s a market for it, so you say, ‘Why don’t we become the destination? Big guys go to big-and-tall stores for clothing, so let’s become their place for eyewear,’” Griffin says.

In February 2016, Griffin began bringing that vision to life.

She commissioned a custom-made, 4-foot display board featuring frames for men sized 58-65 and women sized 56 and up. Constructed out of pallet wood with pipe flanges holding acrylic frame rods, the merchandising display features a playful graphic of Paul Bunyan and his beloved ox, Babe. The fun, lighthearted visual pays homage to northern folklore well known in EyeStyles’ parts, but also helps the optical shop build a story around its niche efforts.

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The “Paul and Babe Board” presents 80 frame options from the likes of Etnia Barcelona, Fatheadz and Modern Optical’s B.M.E.C. line. The deep selection is a significant departure from the handful of large frames most optical shops carry and has helped EyeStyles gain marketplace traction.

“These people who need bigger frames now don’t have to settle. They can find what they need with us,” says Griffin, who is opening a new, larger EyeStyles location in Oakdale this fall in which the “Paul and Babe Board” will be featured prominently.

 


Nikki Griffin
EyeStyles Optical and Boutique, Oakdale, MN

Ramp up Your Business with the Big Guys

➜ Before Griffin invested in a single pair of big frames, she first investigated the available inventory from manufacturers and assessed the opportunity to make a full, compelling collection. “If you can’t make a collection out of it, then it’s just weak,” she says.

➜ Most “big guy” glasses are of the traditional variety, but Griffin worked to push her selection beyond convention, a mindset characterized by a number of fashion-forward looks from Etnia Barcelona. “Big guys want fashionable eyewear, too,” she says.

➜ One notable observation Griffin’s made of “big guy” customers: “This particular market isn’t big into plastic frames. They prefer metal.”

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THE UNINSURED (OR THE UNDERINSURED)

At EyeShop Optical Center, a 5-year-old operation located on the northern outskirts of Columbus, OH, Dr. Cynthia Sayers noticed an escalating number of self-pay patients and families without any vision coverage.

“It wasn’t necessarily that these patients couldn’t afford vision coverage, but rather that employers simply weren’t offering vision coverage as an option,” Sayers says.

That reality bothered Sayers, who began contemplating potential solutions capable of benefiting patients and her practice.

“Instead of losing these people, I said, ‘Let’s find a way to make it more affordable for them,’” Sayers says.

The result?

The EyeTeam, an exclusive EyeShop membership program in which patients pay an annual fee — $25 for individuals and $40 for families — in return for discounts throughout the year on contacts, glasses and exams.

“It’s kind of like our own little insurance plan,” Sayers says.

Consider an individual walking off the street into EyeShop, where a comprehensive eye exam runs $120. If that individual joins the program for $25 and then pays the discounted $60 exam rate, he or she is immediately ahead of the game $35 compared to paying out of pocket. Thereafter, the individual receives such dollar-saving benefits as: a 10 percent discount on contact lens materials; 30 percent off the individual’s first complete eyewear; and a 30 percent markdown on non-prescription sunglasses.

For families paying $40, the savings only multiply.

“That’s where the benefits of this program really kick in,” Sayers says.

Since debuting in February, Sayers says the novel membership program has helped EyeShop, which has about 5,000 individuals in its system, retain patients and drive new patient acquisition as well.

“New clients are much more likely to bite when they find out about the membership program,” Sayers says, adding that the program has also increased EyeShop’s profitability as well as the number of self-pay patients it sees. “The uninsured person is truly shopping around and the EyeTeam membership gives them a reason to visit us. When we explain what the program entails, it’s rare we have someone turn it down.”

 


Dr. Cynthia Sayers
EyeShop Optical Center, Columbus, OH

Ramp up Your Business with the Uninsured

➜ Anytime a patient — new or existing — calls EyeShop, staff tout the membership program. “We want everyone we are in contact with to be aware of the opportunity because we know just how advantageous it is and that it’s an attractive point of differentiation for our business,” Sayers says.

➜ EyeShop’s local outreach includes visiting local businesses that do not offer vision insurance and delivering EyeTeam membership program literature to spur awareness and visits.

➜ Sayers and her team remind clients that their membership benefits cover the entire year. Planting that seed, Sayers notes, sparks repeat traffic and purchases.

➜ With the EyeTeam program in place, EyeShop has been able to retain patients motivated to visit only after purchasing a Groupon deal. While Groupon-inspired visits typically result in a one-time interaction, Sayers says offering the EyeTeam membership has served an attractive bounce-back that has fueled ongoing relationships.

 

THE SPECIALTY CONTACT LENS MARKET

Within a half-mile radius of The Gardens Eye Care, Dr. Rita Ellent’s 2-year-old office in the Forest Hills neighborhood of Queens, NY, sit more than a dozen optical businesses selling eyewear and vision services.

“To say it’s competitive,” Ellent says, “is a drastic understatement.”

Differentiation is the name of the game and something Ellent has developed at The Gardens by dishing out custom-made specialty contacts.

“I saw patients coming in with all kinds of vision issues impacting their personal and professional lives, and as I saw more and more of these patients, it just clicked that this was my niche,” Ellent says.

Earlier this year, Ellent began expanding her practice deeper into specialty contact lenses, eschewing generic soft contact lenses for custom-made solutions tailor made to address a patient’s specific needs and condition.

“I compare it to a custom-made suit rather than one you buy off the rack: Everything is tailored specifically to the individual,” Ellent says, adding that the specialty contacts she has provided patients have spurred significant improvements in quality of life.

“In that way, it’s wonderful to know you’re truly making a difference,” she says.

Though these patients require significant chair time and, at times, handholding, Ellent’s efforts to address their vision problems have propelled the performance of her young practice. The patients, pleased with Ellent’s involved work after years of struggling with other contact lens modalities, have become active cheerleaders for her practice and refer new patients to her office.

“It’s been a fantastic avenue to pursue and dive into,” Ellent says, calling specialty contact lenses both financially profitable and a significant growth opportunity for The Gardens.

And as an added benefit, the specialty work has also energized Ellent professionally.

“From the clinical perspective, I’m seeing a diverse range of cases that’s keeping things interesting and broadening my knowledge,” she says.

 


Dr. Rita Ellent
The Gardens Eye Care, Queens, NY

Ramp up Your Business with the Specialty Contact Lens Market

➜ While Ellent has invested in technology to help her practice, including the recent purchase of a corneal topographer, she considers human relations central to serving patients with unique needs. “The key as a doctor is always listening to patients and understanding their needs and challenges, and this is even more true when the patients present a case that is not run of the mill,” she says.

➜ Ellent continues personally meeting with local ophthalmologists as well as cornea and retina specialists to build a referral network, which she calls “a successful strategy” thus far.

➜ For those looking to break into the specialty contact lens niche, Ellent suggests attending any industry meetings or lectures geared toward these niche markets. “Network, ask questions and use others’ experiences as a learning curve rather than relying solely on your own trial and error,” she says.

 

THE NON-ENGLISH SPEAKERS

Dr. Texas Smith proves an old doc can learn new tricks. At age 73 and in his 51st year of practice, the high-spirited Smith recently completed his second semester of conversational Spanish at Sacramento City College. Smith didn’t make the effort — two nights each week for the entire academic year — to scratch some longstanding intellectual itch, but rather to better serve patients at his namesake office in Citrus Heights, CA.

“These are my patients and if I can do things to help them feel more comfortable during their visit, then I’m going to do that,” Smith says.

In Citrus Heights, where the U.S. Census reports that one in five residents speak a language other than English at home, Smith calls returning to the classroom for conversational Spanish — the area’s dominant non-English language — a wise move, even if Spanish speakers represent fewer than 10 percent of his patient roster.

“Rarely a day goes by that I don’t encounter a Spanish-speaking patient,” he says.

Though Smith’s academic efforts have not necessarily generated a more robust bottom line for his practice or produced a flood of new patients, it has undoubtedly endeared him to the Spanish-speaking patients he does see and also served to streamline appointments.

“You’re not necessarily doing it to get more patients, but to make things more efficient, effective and comfortable for the patients you have while they are present,” he says. “When patients see I’m trying to communicate with them on their level, they become so much more relaxed and that helps everything move along better.”

Smith often jokes with his Spanish-speaking clientele that he will work on his Spanish as best he can during their appointment if they promise to work on their English as best they can.

“They appreciate my effort and it puts them at ease, which is a big part of the battle we face as doctors,” Smith says.

 


Dr. Texas Smith
Dr. Texas Smith, Citrus Heights, CA

Ramp up Your Business with Non-Native Speakers

➜ The easiest way to accommodate non-native speakers, Smith says, is to hire an employee fluent in the area’s most prominent foreign language, whether that is Spanish, Polish, Mandarin or another tongue. “People are always more comfortable speaking in their native language and if that’s something you can offer patients, they’ll certainly appreciate it and remember it,” he says.

➜ Smith suggests doctors and optical staff leverage technology to guide a non-native speaker’s appointments in a more positive, productive direction. He specifically points to Google Translate, which provides translation between English and more than 100 other languages. “At the minimum, you can pull up Google Translate on a tablet and have that by you when you’re serving non-English speakers,” Smith says.

 

THE ATHLETES

At Wilson Eye Center, a 35-year-old practice in Valdosta, GA, staff consistently noted how few bespectacled children wore eyewear during soccer, basketball and other athletic endeavors.

“Parents often thought it was good enough that their kids were in glasses at all,” Wilson Eye Center optical manager Brenda Powers says.

Given that the vast majority of kids’ eye-related injuries derive from sports — as high as 90 percent by some estimates — the Wilson team looked to reverse that prevailing philosophy and attack its most pressing obstacle: cost.

In April, Wilson staffers traveled to Vision Expo East on a mission to find more economical sports frames.

Weeks later, the 9,700-square foot office unveiled a sports-specific display featuring 18 pieces of sports eyewear from Hilco. Flanked by sports paraphernalia and photos, the merchandising display showcases different styles, colors and customization options, including the ability to personalize frames with a school name or an athlete’s jersey number.

The line extension’s May debut helped staff get comfortable with the sports-specific product throughout the summer and also generated a degree of buzz with customers before Wilson Eye Care spotlighted the sports eyewear in its annual back-to-school promotion in August. In addition to its routine discount on children’s frames and lenses during the annual fall promotion, the practice offered sports eyewear with polycarbonate lenses and scratch coating for $135.

“Introducing the sports eyewear during the back-to-school season was such a natural fit,” Powers says.

While the early response to the sports eyewear has been steady at Wilson Eye Care, Powers believes the best is yet to come, especially as leadership has marked expanding the sports eyewear business a top priority in 2017.

“There’s no doubt parents are talking about it and that awareness is growing,” Powers says. “That along with the sheer number of kids playing sports makes us really optimistic moving forward.”

 


Brenda Powers
Wilson Eye Center, Valdosta, GA

Ramp up Your Business with Athletes

➜ In the months after the sports eyewear arrived at Wilson Eye Care, staff visited team practices and also distributed fliers showcasing the new eyewear to parents, especially those heading to a sports practice. Opticians, meanwhile, pointed out the new sports eyewear during children’s visits. “There are plenty of opportunities to highlight what we offer here and we need to take advantage of those,” Powers says.

➜ Moving forward, Wilson Eye Care will place a particularly high emphasis on education, noting how sports eyewear improves vision and protects athletes. Powers and her team will specifically look to develop personal relationships with coaches and also plan to visit athletic centers like the YMCA and Boys and Girls Club to promote the value of sports eyewear with well-placed influencers.

 

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America's Finest

This Ontario OD Is Off to a Flying Start

When her hometown’s original fire hall went on the market, she knew it was time to open a business.

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EYES – Dr. Abby Jakob, Kingsville, ON, Canada

OWNER: Abby Jakob, OD; URL:abbyjakobeyes.com ; FOUNDED: 2017; ARCHITECT AND DESIGN FIRMS: Helena Ventrella Design Limited, LaSalle Millwork Patrick Michaud, Maurice Michaud; EMPLOYEES: 1 full-time, 1 part-time ; AREA: 2,100 sq. ft.; TOP BRANDS: Oliver Peoples, Kate Spade, Tiffany, Tom Ford, Swarovski; FACEBOOK: facebook.com/abbyjakobeyes; INSTAGRAM: instagram.com/abbyjakobeyes; BUILDOUT COST: $300,000


After working as an associate at a private practice and several commercial offices, Dr. Abby Jakob took the leap and opened her own practice in her hometown of Kingsville, Ontario in 2017. She hadn’t expected to make such a major move so early in her career — it had only been three years since her graduation from the Illinois College of Optometry — but when the town’s original fire hall went on the market, the choice was all but made for her. “My experience was serendipitous, as I wasn’t even searching for a location — I didn’t think I’d be starting my own practice yet — and this historic building went up for sale. It’s right on Main Street, where traffic is the busiest. I called my dad right away to come see it with me, and as soon as we both saw the potential, I put in an offer the next day,” she says. Jakob had saved a lot in her first two years of practicing, and was able to come up with a 20-percent down payment, so financing wasn’t an issue. Also, the building has one other commercial unit, and two residential units upstairs, which already had paying tenants, so that covers her mortgage each month. “I’d definitely recommend owning your building if you have the opportunity,” she says.

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After being away at school for eight years, Jakob was ready to come home to Kingsville, Canada’s southernmost town. She describes it as “small, ‘boutiquey’ … with lots of cute shops and restaurants, and I wanted my office to have that same character and charm.”

Jakob renovated the site to look bright and airy with lots of natural light, but with warming touches such as three sparkling crystal chandeliers above the optical and a barnwood wall in the front desk area. “I love the shabby chic look, so I added a touch of rustic charm” with the wall, she says.

When Kingsville, Ontario’s original fire hall went on the market, Jakob knew it was time to open her own practice.

Her main challenge was making design decisions. “I am not a natural at picturing the ‘after’ while looking at the ‘before,’” she admits. For this reason, she’s a strong advocate of getting outside help. Jakob says the first person she called after buying the building was Ohio-based optometric practice consultant Dr. Richard S. Kattouf. He helped with the design and layout of the office, and offered advice on hiring and running the business. “For anyone overwhelmed at the thought of opening a practice cold, but who knows that it’s their dream, I’d highly recommend hiring a consultant … A quote that has stuck with me is ‘You don’t know what you don’t know.’”

Jakob doesn’t target a specific clientele, but says she sees a lot of women between the ages of 20 and 40, and believes this has to do with the big role that social media plays in her advertising. “My optical caters to much more than this specific demographic, but I would say these patients are the ones that spread the word on my pretty boutique optical, and offer a lot of support on my social media platforms.”

Jakob does all her own social media. She devotes a considerable amount of time to it, posting something “cute, clever or informative” on Instagram and FB daily, something she’s quite sure has attracted many new patients. She had Cowlick Studios design her website and logo, but since then has done all of her own branding and advertising, including POP, gift certificates, thank you cards and social media posts.

Frames are merchandised as male, female or unisex, as well as by brand. Her favorites are Oliver Peoples, Maui Jim, Tom Ford, Swarovski and Kate Spade, but Jakob is interested in private label and hopes someday to design a house brand.
EYES has its own edger, and “amazing staff member Pauline makes all of our glasses in house.” The practice does not currently have an inventory of lenses, but the labs Jakob uses are quick and most jobs are done in a week or sooner.

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Jakob prides herself on keeping up with the latest technology. However, she keeps the patient’s perspective in mind when it comes to tech. “One thing I’m proud of is that patients always tell me how much they appreciate how thorough I am and that I explain everything I am doing and why.” She believes this has helped grow her practice quickly. “Patients don’t care how much you know,” Jakob says, “until they know how much you care.”

PHOTO GALLERY (19 IMAGES)

Five Cool Things About EYES – Dr. Abby Jakob

1. AWARD WINNER. Dr. Jakob received the Young Professional of the Year Award from the Windsor-Essex Regional Chamber of Commerce at the 28th Annual Business Excellence Awards in April last year.

2. BLOOMING FRIENDSHIP. Every woman who has an exam at EYES is given a flower afterward.

3. FAMILY TIES. The optical at EYES is adorned by an eyeglasses-themed table made by Jakob’s “amazing” father-in-law, with help from her “awesome” husband.

4. A GOOD SIGN. EYES’ distinctive exterior sign was made by local metal company, Bailey Inc. “Since opening, I’ve actually had several friends ask for his information and he even made a logo for another OD in Connecticut.”

5. FULL SERVICE. Jakob performs a screening OCT on all adults, and retinal photos “on any patient old enough to sit still long enough for it.”

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

  • “Patients don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care!” Hello all ECPs? Read it. Learn it. Be it!!! Congrats, Dr. Jakob, That’s the ballgame. You move to the front of the class with that one! To be just starting out, like this, tells me we have an optometric superstar retailer on our hands. Robert Bell, The Eye Coach, San Francisco, CA
  • The logo and awning have a lot of impact. Natalie Taylor, Artisan Eyewear, Meredith, NH
  • What a great little boutique practice! It has a nice, modern, fresh look to it that is very inviting. I like the energy of the owner and her eye for details in design. Jennifer Coppel, TURA, Inc., New York, NY

 

Fine Story

Jakob has some interesting ideas on the best way to use social media. “Don’t just post the usual ‘eye’ and ‘glasses’ stuff you can search for on Pinterest, that you didn’t make. Think about what’s on your mind that day and then search for clever quotes about it … Then if you want to make it your own, create it in an app like WordSwag. It doesn’t always have to be about the eyes!” Jakob says she always gets more likes when she posts a picture of herself, her staff, her pets or her patients (with their permission), “because everyone loves to get to know people, and people love supporting people. I recently got married, and so many of my patients are so supportive and interested, so for those of you that have big events going on in your life, patients love getting a glimpse into that, and I believe it makes their connection to you stronger.”

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Best of the Best

An Iowa OD Who Developed an Industry-Leading Neuro Rehab Specialty

Offering glasses just wasn’t enough.

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DR. DEANN FITZGERALD STARTED practicing optometry in Cedar Rapids, IA, in 1984. In 2006, she founded the non-profit Spanda, Inc., which combines optometry with other healthcare specialties and took her as far afield as Kenya. Soon, she decided to expand Spanda’s activities to her own community. Spanda opened Cedar Rapids Vision In Motion (CRVIM), a vision wellness and rehab clinic, in 2007. What started as a 1,600-sq. ft location with an occupational therapist and a single employee now occupies 6,000 sq. ft and employs two athletic trainers, seven therapists and two ancillary staff.

THE IDEA

A Door Opens

Vision therapy was on Fitzgerald’s radar screen from her earliest days in optometry, but it took some time for her to embrace it. “I originally went to school with the thought of providing therapy but Cedar Rapids was very medically oriented, with the University of Iowa just 20 minutes away. Which made it very difficult at first to want to do therapy.” But by the 1990s — the “decade of the brain” — she sensed a door opening.

THE EXECUTION

Bridging the Gap

Dr. DeAnn Fitzgerald

CRVIM deals with a larger variety of diagnoses and issues than we can list. The services Fitzgerald’s team have developed bridge “the gap between assessment and treatment” for patients of all ages who experience visual processing dysfunction. In other words, “It’s a brain thing,” as the practice’s mantra states. Since 2010, CRVIM has also been teaching, offering instruction to OTs, PTs, ATs and others, passing on Fitzgerald’s “Train your brain to see again” gospel.

Patients find CRVIM in a variety of ways. “We have the general practice so sometimes people come in for routine care and find out that we do other services to help with various problems.” Of course, there’s word of mouth, as well as the training conferences to which the CRVIM team are now often invited as experts. “I have patients come from a nine-state area for our services. With the training conferences, we try to collaborate with other OTs and PTs.” Among the many hats Fitzgerald wears, she is vice president of the Neuro-Optometric Rehabilitation Association (NORA), an inter-disciplinary industry group whose mission is to see that patients with physical or cognitive disabilities as a result of an acquired brain injury get full ocular health evaluation and optimum visual rehab services.
Fitzgerald doesn’t have the luxury of patterning CRVIM after anything in the industry, “because it doesn’t exist. But I look at what’s possibly working and couple it with things that work — multi layered therapy or integrated therapy for quicker recovery — so we combine vision vestibular and auditory and proprioception all together for a more intense and passive therapy that works well.”

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THE REWARDS

‘The Last Resort’

Fitzgerald finds working with neurologically challenged patients — “giving them back their life,” as she puts it — hugely rewarding, but along with the highs there are tough moments. “These patients have a lot of depression and emotional issues that you have to cut through to get them better.”
Fitzgerald established baseline testing for 1,400 metro youth football players over a period of three years. At first many parents didn’t see the need, but by year three every one of the players came in to get tested. She eventually donated seven laptops so these schools could do their own testing. The Pop Warner youth football league last year rated these schools’ testing system as the best it had seen.
It’s an anecdote that illustrates the complexity, and the importance, of CRVIM’s activities. “We do get very complex patients,” says Fitzgerald, “because sometimes we are the last resort.”

Do It Yourself: Develop a Niche Rehab Practice

  • BONE UP. Be prepared to learn on the fly. Says Fitzgerald: “Optometric education provides the avenues to do rehab, but I have logged countless hours in classes and reading … on … concussion and brain injury.”
  • LOOK AROUND. Fitzgerald advises finding someone who is doing what you want to do­—and learning. “It’s the quickest way to get where you want to go…We have a lot of doctors visit our clinic.”
  • BE USEFUL. Get into the community, says Fitzgerald, and “instead of telling people what you do — ask them what they need. Then help make it happen — often that is the ‘in’ to getting partnered with them.”
  • HIRE CAREFULLY. Fitzgerald says one of her biggest challenges has been finding staff that are competent but also compassionate.
  • PREPARE YOURSELF. Rehab can be taxing for both patient and therapist. Fitzgerald says of her patients: “They have a brain injury. We have to gently get them out of their own way so they can recover.”

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Benchmarks

When Their Tech Lets them Down, These ECPs Have Things Covered

And their patients appreciate the human touch.

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TECHNOLOGY: IN OPTOMETRIC terms it means unparalleled accuracy, speed and convenience. But real life has a way of throwing up cases that just won’t cooperate with the latest equipment. And blackouts can strike anywhere. This is an industry whose gear continually evolves, but it’s also one of accumulated knowledge and, occasionally, improvised solutions. We asked around to see what kinds of tricks opticians and ODs have up their sleeves. If the lights go out while you’re in the chair or at the dispensing table of any of these eight ECPs, you’ll be in good hands.

Carissa Dunphy, Lake Stevens Vision Clinic Lake Stevens, WA

Optician Carissa Dunphy believes it’s important to take both digital and manual measurements from every free-form progressive wearer because she sees differences in patients’ body language towards a camera/iPad versus a person doing a manual measurement. Tech doesn’t always accommodate for specifics noted by the optician, such as someone who is really tall or short, she says. “A fitter of free-form progressives should know how to measure for each position of wear (POW) value manually and should measure both ways, comparing the values and critically thinking about the right solution for that particular patient.”

Bridgett Fredrickson, Whelan Eye Care
Bemidji, MN

Low-tech solutions have a special place in the heart of a veteran administrator like Bridgett Fredrickson at Whelan Eye Care. She and her doc are probably the only ones in her office who know how to handle an exam on paper. “About once a year we have to pull out a form … while our computer software is down.” She knows of older ODs who never came to grips with electronic records, and younger docs who would stare blankly at a paper form. “Those of us [from] that bridge era have a unique perspective and appreciate the old way and the new.”

Adam Ramsey, OD,Iconic Eye Care
Palm Beach Gardens, FL

An old-fashioned technique Dr. Adam Ramsey uses regularly is trial frame refraction, which he finds spares him headaches with patients that are particular. Ramsey says it’s a “great way to move the phoropter out of the way and deal directly with the patient.” If he finds prism in the patient’s previous glasses, he will “usually skip the fancy toys and go straight to the trial frame to refract that patient. Using fixed PD trial frames gives … the best comfort.” Most patients appreciate the extra care, he says, especially when they can visualize the improvement right away.

Mike Davis, OD, Opti-Care
Eldersburg, MD

Dr. Mike Davis is nothing if not prepared. We’re confident his patients could enter his practice in a blizzard-induced blackout and come out seeing perfectly. He keeps a paper acuity chart around, along with a hand-held retinoscope and ophthalmoscope, and trial frame and lens sets. His iCare tonometer is battery powered, and with a PD stick at hand he’s “ready to roll.” The hand-held equipment Davis uses was primarily brought in to save space, but “by happy coincidence” it’s mostly battery-driven, so he’s confident he could get by for a day or so without power. “The art of hand neutralization, figuring out the prescription … with a lensometer, is helpful on house calls and nursing home visits, but mostly a good party trick.”

Marc Ullman, OD, Academy Vision
Pine Beach, NJ

“I … have inserted punctal plugs outside in the sunlight with a jeweler’s headset when the power is out,” proclaims Dr. Marc Ullman with justifiable pride. Magnification is weaker with the headset than behind the slit lamp, Ullman says, but he feels most doctors should be able to insert punctal plugs with a headset if necessary. He has most brands and sizes of collagen and silicon plugs on hand and has lately been using the six-month extended plugs more often. “Punctal occlusion generates a lot of referrals and happy patients at my office,” he says.

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Jen Heller, Pend Oreille Vision Care
Sandpoint, ID

“It may be silly,” says Jen Heller — a champion of the humble PD stick — “but I can prep a pair of glasses anywhere, anytime, with all the lights out and just a dinky little flashlight, and so can all our staff.” Some facilities might sniff at the idea as “backwards,” but Pend Oreille Vision Care still does hand-measured PDs on all orders, because they found that it was easy for rookie staff to lose track of where they’re placing a traditional pupilometer on squirmy kids, or adults with broken noses. “With a hand ruler, everyone can see exactly where that crook in the nose is — or, better yet, take a relaxed PD over the top of a patient’s previous prescription to rule out that plunging eye turn in high hyperopes.” Rulers are cheap and plentiful, and all staff are trained to take manual PDs. This way, Heller says, “patients never have to wait around because someone else is using a piece of equipment or because all dispensing tables are full. Get the needed measurement, and go!”

Pablo E. Mercado, LensCrafters
Alpharetta, GA

Alpharetta, GA-based optician Pablo Mercado told us that outside of screwdrivers and pliers, the PD stick is the one tool he cannot work without. “With it, I can forgo most of the technology at the office and still feel confident I can deliver quality eyewear.” While his workplace has a sophisticated digital system, “for some cases it is a complete dud” and Mercado reaches for the stick. It comes in especially handy when taking measurements from children. But he also uses it to measure the thickness of a frame when edging — and he’s just getting started: “I use my PD stick to show patients how a couple of millimeters can make the difference between being able to wear a particular frame or not,” and to train coworkers. He also finds it indispensable when inspecting eyewear for quality control.

Sarah Bureau, sbspecs
St. Catharines, ON, Canada

Now here’s a really old-fashioned idea: Repair, don’t replace. According to sbspecs owner Sarah Bureau, a modern mobile business based in St. Catharines, ON, Canada. “The general consensus when we, as an industry, are presented with a broken or wear-worn frame is to recommend it be replaced.” But Bureau insists that an acetate frame that has been well loved and has now turned white can be brought back to its original lustre by sanding and polishing the acetate by hand. Using a clavulus or hot fingers to replace a hinge, whether riveted or hidden, can save your client from having to replace a temple or frame front, she says, while cracked acetate rims or broken bridges can be repaired by fusing the material back together and filing and polishing by hand. These are especially valuable options for frames that are no longer in production. The approach does more than just demonstrate Bureau’s concern for the environment; giving your client the option of a repair, she says, is a great way to build a strong and long-lasting relationship with them. “Offering these services results in their confidence in you as a professional and the retention of them as a loyal client.”

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