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The bottom line—it’s what business is all about. Want to know how ECPs think they are doing financially? Well, we asked. Here you can compare revenue, owner salaries, revenue drivers and rising costs.

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28. Looking at the last two years, would you rate either of them as the “best” or “worst” ever in terms of your business’s financial performance?

Best
43%
Worst
8%
No, they weren’t particularly different from any other year
46%
We haven’t been in business for two years yet
3%
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29. In what area are you seeing costs rise the most?

Inventory
35%
Staff
34%
Equipment
9%
Advertising and marketing
7%
Rent/location
10%
Other
5%
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30. Who is your toughest competitor?

Other local independent optical businesses
20%
Corporate optometry chains
20%
Big Box stores
20%
Internet retailers
31%
Other
9%

31. The No. 1 factor driving your sales is:

32. What were your total sales last year? (If you have more than one store, please tell us the average per store.)

33. What one thing are you doing now to drive sales that you weren’t doing five years ago?

While the most-cited categories in this and the accompanying question No. 34 indicate clear trends, the presence of similar categories on both lists (packaging products, insurance, recalling, etc.) suggests that the jury is well and truly out on sales-driving methods in today’s evolving retail landscape.

Top 10 in Order:

  1. Social media & online marketing/email blasts & newsletters
  2. Pushing multiple-pair sales/packages/bundling
  3. Traditional marketing/TV/radio/billboards
  4. Focusing on website, SEO optimization, Google/Yelp reviews
  5. Focusing on independent eyewear lines
  6. Accepting insurance plans/tying incentives to insurance or self-pay
  7. Pre-appointing/shorter exams/boosting patient numbers/recalls
  8. More focused hiring/filling of key positions
  9. Doctors selling from the chair
  10. Online store/online sales of glasses; CLs

34. What one thing were you doing to drive sales five years ago that you’ve stopped doing?

Top 9 in Order:

  1. Advertising in traditional media (print, TV, radio, billboards, yellow pages)
  2. Promotions/packages/discounts/competing on price/bundling
  3. Accepting insurance/offering out of network discounts
  4. Flyers/postcard/door-to-door mailings
  5. Selling low-cost frames/poly lenses
  6. Paper/phone recalls
  7. Poor hiring choices/putting up with poor employees
  8. Trunk shows
  9. Networking/community outreach

Note: The No. 1 category was far and away the most cited, accounting for nearly 1 in 4 responses, and for nearly 3 times as many responses as the No. 2 category.

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35. What’s the most unethical thing a direct rival has done to you in the name of competition?

We all like to think of eyecare as a noble calling. But let’s face it: It’s a jungle out there, and our respondents let us know about it. Here’s a somewhat depressing roundup of the depths to which some ECPs will stoop to get ahead.

  • “Copied a review from their Yelp page and made a fake account and posted it to our page—then took a good review from our page and posted it to their page. It was so obvious…and weird!”
  • “Kept a patient after referral for emergency.”
  • “Upon my leaving his eyecare biz and starting my own optical boutique, the vengeful doctor who was my previous employer wrote an email to a patient stating that all inventory in my new shop had been embezzled by me, from him. She ran and showed it to me. She is now my faithful client, and he had to close shop and relocate to another town. Ha Ha!!”
  • “Told a frame company that my office was 30 minutes away to get the same line I carry, but they were really only eight minutes away.”
  • “We swapped store locations with a competitor. Now, when our patients show up at our old location, our rival gets them in the exam room before he tells them we are at a different location. Also, he tells them he doesn’t know where we are located, even though it used to be his old office!”
  • “Sent people to my store to view product so they can order it with their insurance at their location.”
  • “Purchased an app so that when people search for our practice, theirs comes up first.”
  • “There is a local shop known for helping patients claim their insurance benefits for the year when they haven’t purchased any eyewear for the year. They give this money to the local shop as a ‘credit’ and come back when they want to use all this ‘credit’ towards getting new eyewear. Essentially helping patients commit insurance fraud.”
  • “Lenscrafters Corporate came into my office as a secret shopper and offered my wife, who is my optician for the past 20 years, a job. Sneaky!”

36. As the business owner, what did you earn (salary + share of profit) last year?

Note: At the top end of the earnings scale were owners of a private practice with a strong focus on retail, with 20 percent of these ECPs earning more than $250,000 a year. At the other end were owners of eyewear boutiques with no OD, 58 percent of whom earned less than $75,000 a year.

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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The Big Survey: Marketing and Operations

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47. 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%

 

NOTE: There’s a saying that the only way to grow in business is to innovate or advertise. We suspect 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.

48. WWhich of the following social media/business networks do you actively use on a professional basis?

Facebook
88%
Google
50%
Instagram
46%
LinkedIn
19%
Twitter
13%
YouTube
7%
Pinterest
5%
Other
5%

49. How many in-store events (incl. trunk shows) do you hold a year?

0
46%
1–2
37%
3–4
12%
5–11
3%
12 or more
2%

50. Is your marketing mostly intended to build brand awareness or prompt an immediate action from customers?

Brand building
38%
Direct response
41%
Not sure
21%

 

NOTE: ECPs are better served by advertising that makes their business top of mind when a customer needs medical help or frames, says Wizard of Ads author Roy H Williams. Sometimes a direct response campaign is needed, but be sure “to make a highly impressive offer or you’ll be…disappointed.” Using such campaigns, be sure you aren’t simply training your market to wait for the next big sale.

51. What is your Google My Business (Review) rating?

5 stars
39%
4.5 stars
32%
4 stars
9%
3.5 stars
3%
3 stars
1%
2.5 stars
0%
2 stars
0%
1.5 stars
0%
1 star
0%
Don’t have one
16%

52. How many Google Reviews does your business have?

0
12%
1-10
24%
11-20
20%
21-30
9%
31-40
9%
41-50
6%
51-75
5%
76-100
5%
101-150
4%
151-250
3%
More than 250
3%

53. The economy is in its longest expansion ever. History says it must come to a stop sooner or later. Are you doing anything now to get ready for the next downturn?

The 5 most popular answers were:

  1. Reduce/eliminate debt
  2. Save money
  3. Streamline inventory
  4. Create budget-conscious frame/lens packages
  5. Growing/strengthening patient base

Want actual specifics? These are some respondents’ standout strategies:

  • We are fine tuning the patient experience to increase patient retention in the future.
  • Increase marketing.
  • Opening a second location in a more affluent area.
  • Reducing inventory away from giant companies that expect you to buy more than you can sell.
  • Limiting hiring and paying down debt aggressively.
  • Selling the business and retiring.
  • Praying.
  • Getting expenses under control now.
  • Trying to cut debt and increase margins without affecting quality.
  • Staying debt free.
  • Putting money into savings every month and being careful about how much we spend on frames.
  • Buying less and keeping less back stock.
  • Controlling inventory and staffing.
  • Carrying a budget frame lens package.
  • Added in-house edging to manage overhead costs and offer less expensive lenses.
  • Consolidating costs, expanding customer loyalty/dependence on private label brand to capture benefits-only and prescription-only customers.
  • Staff training to improve customer service and patient experience.
  • Building the war chest to buy when others start to fail.
  • Ensuring reserve account is at a high enough level.
  • Staying open later, making fewer purchases, consolidating buying groups, looking at services (phone, internet) to see if we can trim.
  • Creating eyeglass packages to compete with online retailers based on price then we’ll blow them away with service for a similar price.
  • Taking a hard look at our demographic and reevaluating frame brands and lens offerings so we have the proper mix and are purchasing the best way.
  • Buying extra frame and lens stock at good discounts. Also, actively asking current patients for referrals.
  • Retaining 15% of net profit for the economy downturn. I have nine months of business expenses saved.
  • Preparing to sell package deals and considering a sale to private equity.
  • Moving towards a medical model.
  • All cash buying.
  • 11% of each transaction is put away for a downturn.
  • Postponing future expansion.
  • Limiting extra inventory; reducing look alike styles.
  • Voting.
  • Building a nuclear bunker and buying lots of canned food.
  • Been selling CBD products in office for two years.
  • Direct shipping eyewear to reduce cost in office.
  • Invested in private label brands and have more flexible terms with our frame lines.
  • Offer package plans starting at $29 and up; many patients already    use this.
  • Controlling inventory. We are already seeing a much slower year this year.
  • Holding more cash.
  • Not accepting vision plans! Private pay and medical care are the most reliable in depressed economies.

54. Check the features your business has:

Customer bathroom
85%
Sofa/sitting area
66%
Satellite radio
33%
Free wifi/charging station
32%
Bar/beverage area
29%
TVs used for promotional purposes
28%
Paperless patient registration
24%
Kids’ room
23%
TV for entertainment purposes
21%
Viewing window into the lab
16%
iPads for patient or display purposes
15%
Chandeliers
10%
Selfie wall
8%
Store pet
7%
Fireplace
5%
Fish tank
4%

55. How long since you last remodeled?

1 year or less
19%
2 years
14%
3-5 years
34%
6-10 years
18%
More than 10 years
15%

 

NOTE: It’s been over 6 years since one-third of our ECPs remodeled. That’s leaving it a bit long, says Lori Estrada of Fashion Optical Displays. “The rule is to remodel/refresh every 5-7 years, but only the more progressive doctors seem to do that. A remodeled dispensary typically sees an increase of (at least) 15 percent,” she says.

56. What days is your business open?

Sunday
7%
Monday
92%
Tuesday
98%
Wednesday
96%
Thursday
98%
Friday
96%
Saturday
55%

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The Big Survey 2019 – Management and Staff

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35. What is the top staffing challenge you face?

Recruiting
33%
Keeping staff motivated
25%
Boosting productivity
18%
Retaining top talent
14%
No major staffing challenges
2%
No staff
2%
Training/education/changing billing protocols
2%
Aging staff
1%
Payroll costs/staff insurance
1%
Other
2%
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38. Which staff position is hardest to fill with qualified people?

Insurance biller
8%
Salesperson
7%
Optician
38%
Optical manager
4%
Associate OD
6%
Receptionist
13%
Scribe
1%
Tech
9%
N/A
14%

39-40. If you have full-time employees, did any quit in the last 12 months? If so, what was the reason?

41. What is the average tenure of your staff?

42. How often do you hold staff meetings?

43. Where did you find your best-ever employee?

Online advertisement
17%
Staff reference
15%
Peer/vendor reference
14%
Recruited from another optical store/inherited from ex-owner
10%
Former patient/customer (or referred by)
9%
Recruited from another retail location
5%
Ad in the paper
5%
Family/friend, or reference from family/friend
4%
Employment service
4%
Walked in/cold contact
2%
Career fair/local association/campus
2%
Previous co-worker
1%
Sign in the front window
1%
Served me as a waiter/waitress
1%
Other
1%
NA
9.36%
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44. What techniques do you use in your staff training?

Sessions with sales reps
25%
Lectures/seminars/courses/outside trainers/webinars
24%
Role playing
11%
Buddy training
10%
NA
10%
Staff trips
10%
Outside reading assignments/self-study/personal goal-setting
6%
Mystery shopping
1%
Brainstorming/lunch meetings/’bitch’ sessions
1%
One-on-one with doc or manager
1%
Case studies/scenarios
0.5%
Conventions
0.5%

45. What takes up most of your time?

Patient/customer interactions (incl. pre-testing, CL fittings, exams)
32%
Working on the sales floor
17%
MVP/insurance/EHR/billing/paperwork/general admin.
14%
Managing staff
12%
Strategizing, marketing and planning
9%
Active patient/customer development
7%
Managing boards/inventory/buying
5%
Everything: No individual task stands out
2%
Lab work
1%

*A special thanks to the respondent who replied “Taking surveys…”)

COMMENT: Digging into the findings, it seems the medical side of the industry is the most demanding in terms of staff management; optometric practices were three times more likely to report it as their top time burner than opticals with no OD. Intriguingly, owners of non-OD boutiques were far more likely to spend their time strategizing, marketing and planning; a nod to the ever-shifting shape of today’s retail world?

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46. What’s the most inappropriate or strangest thing you’ve caught an employee doing on the job?

From the sublime (“Unraveling a Bird of Paradise leaf”) to the ridiculous (“Smelling things out of habit”) to the…. even more ridiculous (“Admiring parmesan cheese”), the responses we got to this seemingly innocent question left us a little disturbed. Here’s a mildly alarming snapshot of the things that weirded our respondents out most about their employees. (What’s with all the toenail clipping….?)

The 6 Most Commonly Cited, in Descending Order:

  1. Sleeping
  2. Clipping/painting toenails
  3. Sex/self-gratification/ porn/sexting
  4. Doing drugs/drinking
  5. Applying for another job/secretly working second job on computer
  6. Stealing

Here’s a selection of some of the most memorably weird things employees have been caught doing on the job:

  • “Selling Amway”
  • “Porn in the bathroom connected via bluetooth to headphone in the lab. It was very loud….”
  • “Feeding baby bunnies she snuck in.”
  • “Putting a miniature live frog in her mouth.”
  • “We once had a (short lived) female employee who was dealing with a ‘sensitive health issue in her genital area’ place a fan in front of her chair and sit in it with her legs spread around the fan… all at the front desk!”
  • “We had an employee who was searching for a ‘Second Wife’ on CraigsList. Needless to say, that employee did not last long.”
  • “Eating snacks out of her bra while in the exam room scribing for the doctor.”
  • “They brought a blender from home and were making smoothies in the breakroom on the clock.”
  • “Making sinkers out of metal blocking material.”
  • “Telling a patient that they didn’t need glasses just as patient exited the exam room with a prescription in hand.”

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