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Stick With What You Know or Risk the Unknown?

Read how other eyecare businesses would handle this situation… how would yours?

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HEY LINDA, OUR favorite rep is coming in today!” Morgan exclaimed.

“Oh sweet!” Linda added, “We place huge orders when she visits, but when that brand has new styles, the frames sell even faster.”

ABOUT REAL DEAL

Real Deal scenarios are inspired by true stories but are changed to sharpen the dilemmas involved and should not be confused with real people or places. Responses are peer-sourced opinions and are not a substitute for professional legal advice. Please contact your attorney if you have any questions about an employee or customer situation in your own business.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carissa Dunphy has been working in private practice optometry since 2008 and is the founder of Optician Now (opticiannow.com). Follow Carissa on Instagram and Facebook at @opticiannow.

“No kidding, and on top of that, we restock the brand several times in between her visits!” Morgan continued, “Her line is by far our bestselling — and good for her; she only has to rep for one brand!”

“I can’t wait to see what she has — she’s coming in at noon,” Linda replied.

The rep, Hailey, arrived just before noon, with fewer bags than usual. The opticians noticed she seemed a little less chipper than typical, but greeted her, “Hailey, we can’t wait to see your new frames!”

“Good afternoon, ladies.” Hailey continued, “Today’s visit is going to be a little different.”

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Linda and Morgan looked at each other, puzzled, and followed Hailey to the break room.

“I come today bearing news — we will work together to get through this,” Hailey said. “At the end of this quarter, my company will no longer have manufacturing and distribution rights for the brand I rep.”

Both Linda and Morgan’s chins dropped. They had no words.

“I know you must have a million questions.” Hailey continued, “Here’s where things lie today — you can either sell-down your current inventory, or I can do an R.A. for your frames and you can use the credit towards bringing in a different brand. But know that warranties for this line will end at the end of this year.”

“This really sucks!” Linda said. “I know this has nothing to do with you, and I’m sorry you have to be the messenger, but what other line could we possibly bring in that would have as high of a demand as this one?!”

Hailey replied, “The company is going to reorganize the brands their reps carry, by territory. That should be happening soon, and once it does I’ll get my new line’s bags and I can bring them in for you to look at.”

“I don’t know what to say.” Linda frowned, “This is the brand. The brand that people come in for… I can’t even begin to predict our loss of sales.”

Morgan added, “Hailey, we know this was not your decision and I really hope that you get a great line to replace the one you’re losing so your income is minimally impacted. If I’m being honest, I am strongly questioning whether or not we’ll bring in whatever new line you get, or if we should open an account with the company who is getting the rights to this brand — because it has a proven track record with our patient base.”

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“You’re running a successful optical department and you have patients to cater to.” Hailey concluded, “I understand the operational decisions you need to make, but I certainly hope that we can continue to do business together. We’ve built a great relationship over the years, and you know that I am here to support you in any way I can.”

The Big Questions

  • This rep’s new line may not sell as well, but she’s a fantastic rep. How would you decide if you should bring in her new line?
  • What factors do you weigh when setting up an account with the new company? How do you proceed if they aren’t as easy to work with or the designs change under new management?
  • If you decide to no longer carry the best-selling line, how do you address this with buyers who seek it?

 

Michael H.
Mentor, OH

I am an independent, multi-line, optical sales rep and I experienced a similar situation a few years ago. It’s a difficult time for all involved. I was able to keep the majority of my accounts, as I had picked up an additional, powerful line six months before I lost my #1 line. Many customers said that our relationship was most important, as I had earned their trust and their business through years of committed, top quality service. I am very grateful for the way it turned out, as it could have been a disaster that I had no control over.

Jennifer L.
Dansville, NY

I have a few reps that I love and unfortunately their product isn’t my top seller so I don’t see them. I also have reps I can’t stand but their product is great so I do most of my ordering online from their website, avoiding them. As a business owner, I have the last say and I have to carry what sells or go under. I’ve opened several accounts with new companies and proceeded to let them go after they prove to have bad customer service or poor quality. I used tolove the Polo products when Safilo carried them… yep — I’m that old. But when it went to someone else I explained to my customers that I no longer carried them because the brand had been picked up by another company who wasn’t meeting my expectations. They understood. No patient is so dead-set on a brand name that you can’t explain the reason they should look elsewhere.

Jessica H.
Lawrence, KY

This is an unfortunate situation but I would at the very least take a look at our favorite rep’s line to see if I think we could sell what she has. However if I don’t think it’s going to do well at this location I would part ways. After all it’s just business — nothing personal. In setting up a new account I first would see what all the options are if they end up changing the line itself. Could we sell through what we have? What would a warranty look like? How easily can we get out of business with them? As far as buyers of the line, I would assure them we will get something new in that they hopefully will love just as much. If I can’t help, I will see if I can direct them where to buy the line they loved and let them know they are free to come back to see me with the frame and get lenses put in.

Amy F.
East Brunswick, NJ

Having worked in optical for almost 20 years I’ve honestly had this go both ways. I have some fantastic reps that I’ve stuck with through thick and thin who fortunately have gotten other sellable lines. There have also been fantastic reps that I had to let go of in the business world because their new lines just wouldn’t work at the practice.
Flip side, I’ve kept dealing with some truly lousy reps because their line was such a huge seller. You can’t win all the time. I always try to stay in touch with those fabulous reps though, if only in a social way!

Rick R.
Girard, PA

1. You would have to look at the new line to decide. She might be the greatest rep in the history of reps but that doesn’t sell frames.

2. Setting up with a new company would also depend on whether they are changing the design. This happened to us with a line that went from one vendor to another. We were already buying frames from that particular vendor so that was an easy transition. But they developed new styles for the line that didn’t sell nearly as well. And this line was a top seller for us. I’d buy frames from Satan if they had the old styles.

3. I’d lie and say the new vendor switched to the dark side. And I’m not kidding.

Ben T.
Miami, FL

1. For the sake of the relationship, I would bring in the best sellers of the new line and see how they do. If they don’t sell, then we don’t bring on the line. Communication with the rep is key, as we have to set boundaries between good business (and serving our patients) and maintaining our professional relationships. The rep also has to take responsibility for his or her choices in whom they choose to work for and how that can affect their professional relationships. At the end of the day, it’s the patient that makes the decision on what sells and what doesn’t.

2. If the new company isn’t easy to work with, I won’t do business with them.

3. Brands make people feel a certain way. If we no longer carry a certain line or brand that a buyer is seeking, we look for alternative styles that will deliver the same look and feel that the buyer is desiring.

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