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This Business’s Sandwich Boards Whip Up Its Customers’ Appetites For Eyewear

Providence Optical has mastered using sandwich boards to attract passersby.

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Sandwich boards from Providence Optical

A selection of sandwich board designs from Providence Optical’s Onega Astaltsova.

THERE’S NOTHING REVOLUTIONARY about using a sandwich board outside your optical. They’re ubiquitous in front of bars, coffee shops, or any business that can afford some chalk. But like all effective advertising, it’s the singer not the song. Onega Astaltsova uses chalkboards to sing the virtues of her Providence Optical shop in Providence, RI. And it works. 

THE IDEA: “The idea to use chalkboards stemmed from a desire to create a certain feel for the business,” she says.

“I took into account the atmosphere of the street where our shop is located because I wanted our signage to harmonize with the vibe of the surrounding businesses. At the same time, it had to be something eye-catching that’s easy to spot from some distance and, of course, it had to be distinctive.”

Her sandwich boards are the kind of fun, playful optic that her clients have come to expect. 

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“It’s a sort of chain reaction from our overall aesthetic — our window displays, the interior of the shop, our product lines and our blogs.  The whole package of our communication with our clients has an inner harmony.”

THE EXECUTION: The materials are the easy part. Anyone can buy a sandwich chalkboard and chalk. Astaltsova uses real, basic chalk, not chalk paint, which is an imitation. 

“I add some soft pastels, which I collected in large quantities when students of the local school of design (Rhode Island School of Design) left them on the sidewalk after graduation. If I need to put something out just for one day and I don’t want to remove my previous work from the board yet, I use a black foam poster board, draw on it and insert it in the frame on top of the previous one.”

THE REWARDS: The idea was to use the sandwich boards to communicate with the community. It’s not so much about helping a sale, but rather creating the opportunity for a sale.

“We greet visitors by letting them know of local events, such as a dog show taking place in the area. One of the most fun boards I created was to congratulate a couple on their wedding day — our store was on the route between the church and the reception!”

Ten years into running her business, Astaltsova has used the success generated by her creative sandwich boards to start making eyewear for editorial photo shoots for apparel companies and runways in wood, acetate and 3D-printing.

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“I like going to professional trade shows to watch the growth and evolution of eyewear designers and to check out the latest technologies.”

She’s also spent the past six years writing for a professional optical publication in Russia, called Magazine (OpticMagazine).

Do It Yourself: Take Your Sandwich Board Skills to a New Level

  • Use Caran D’Ache Neocolor Crayons for a smudge-resistant, chalky look that’s removed with water. Astaltsova also recommends the Posca Paint Pen, which makes opaque lines.
  • Here is a fun project: Make your own projector! You can trace a photo of eyewear from a magazine or an image printed from your computer. Enlarge it and project it onto the board. 
  • Do a Google search for chalkboard workshops coming to your town. For example, the group Better Letters is offering a four-day workshop at the beginning of July in Minnesota.
  • You can achieve a consistent look with ready-made lettering stencils, or you can make your own. If you can’t draw, write some quotes or fun facts about optics on a board.
  • Get a few boards to give yourself enough time to work on each one. You can display one while you work on the next. That way, you can take your time, be creative and make it look just right.

Since launching in 2014, INVISION has won 21 international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact INVISION's editors at editor@invisionmag.com.

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Best of the Best

Tennessee Practice Throws Itself an Epic Birthday Party, and Created a New Tradition

A Tennessee practice shows that an epic patient-appreciation event makes for a great business-building tool.

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ANDREW AND ELIZABETH HOWARD, optometrists and co-owners of LaFollette Eye Clinic in Jacksboro, TN, pride themselves on a level of service that has patients coming in from Ohio, Texas, and Florida. As the practice’s 30th anniversary approached in October last year, they decided a one-day trunk show wouldn’t reach as many people as they wanted. An occasion like this warranted something special.

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THE IDEA

“We like to capitalize on milestones as a way to generate interest, and the 30-year milestone was a great opportunity,” Andy recalls. When it comes to event planning, ideas at LaFollette are typically generated and fleshed out in-house by the practice’s eight-person Leadership Team, which collectively boasts decades in eyecare. But, they also enjoy looking at other practices and sharing ideas with other doctors. “This event was a mixture of the two techniques. We traditionally hold one or two open houses or trunk shows a year, but we had never held a week-long celebration,” Howard says.

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THE EXECUTION

It took the team several meetings to brainstorm ideas, then organize them. Various aspects were delegated to different leads on the team. Says Andy: “Involving the team builds engagement, loyalty and morale, and helped us keep our costs down.”

A “Diamonds and Pearls” theme was chosen. According to Andy, these are not only “modern and traditional anniversary gifts, but it’s also a great song by Prince.” The celebration itself featured giveaways, prizes, a 30-percent off sale, snacks and drinks all week, activities such as face-painting for kids, cornhole, and a “photo booth” with a retro-style instant camera for patients who used ’80s-themed props or their own new glasses for digital images that were shared on social media. In addition, demonstrations were held with reps from local crafters and artists’ groups — even a Lion’s Club member who brought in leader dogs for the blind. (A donation drive was held for the Lion’s Club.)

A local artist’s association was invited to bring in artwork; these were joined on LaFollette’s walls by “storyboards” highlighting the practice’s services, including photographs going back to the ’80s. Long-time patients and ex-staff members joined the celebration, and the optical even changed the music to ’80s hits for the week.

The costs were “minimal” given the scale of the event. A giant eyeglasses balloon sculpture was the most expensive item. “We had enough cupcakes for everyone, but they were made by a team member who is a wonderful baker.” All giveaways were donated by local businesses in exchange for marketing.

THE REWARDS

The biggest surprise to Andy was how many people showed up just to wish LaFollette a happy anniversary. Sales were up during the week, but that was secondary to the goal of celebrating and thanking patients, he says. “It was more fun than we’ve had in a long time; that by itself is worth the effort.” He adds: “Now we need to begin looking for another excuse to have a week-long celebration… We had too much fun to wait 10 more years!”

PHOTO GALLERY (10 IMAGES)

Do It Yourself: Hold A 
Patient-Centered Celebration

  • ALL HANDS ON. The key, says Andy, is involving the whole team. “So many people have different talents, and an event like this allows that talent to shine.”
  • CROSS-PROMOTE. Talk to neighboring businesses and see if they’ll contribute prizes in exchange for some free marketing.
  • GO WITH A PRO. Failing to plan is planning to fail. If you don’t have the HR depth that LaFollette has, consider using a professional event planner.
  • WIDE FOCUS. To foster a sense of community, think beyond eyewear. According to Andy, the leader dog for the blind was one of the hits of the week.
  • PICK A MOTIF. Choosing a theme gives you a hook to hang activities on. Practice turning 20? Ask your stylist for “The Rachel.”

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Make the Best Use of a Great Resource: Your Fellow ECPs

A Texas OD’s study group helps eyecare business owners ‘get outside the bubble of their own practice.’

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Dr. Carrie Alfieri thinks of her practice as being on a 20- to 40-year journey.

TO SUCCEED, IN PRACTICE, it is much easier to operate with help from outside sources,” says Carrie Alfieri, OD, founder and CEO of Pinnacle Eye Associates in McKinney, TX. “It’s too hard to operate in a vacuum.” It was this realization that led Dr. Alfieri to get involved in M2M (member to member) meetings sanctioned by PERC+IVA, an alliance of the Professional Eyecare Resource Co-Operative and Infinity Vision Alliance, two nationwide group purchasing organizations comprising independent eyecare practices. As the leader of a group that hosts M2Ms, her official title is Key Advisor (KA) for PERC+IVA. There are about 25 KAs around the U.S. “Think of it as a study group with a facilitator,” Alfieri says.

THE IDEA The M2M format was supplied by PERC+IVA’s leadership, but the study group concept is not new and has been around for over 50 years. “The problem with many study groups,” Alfieri says, is that “either they have very limited access — invitation only — or can be very expensive as you have to join a group or hire a consultant.” The beauty of the PERC+IVA meetings is that they are free to any member.
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“I like to look at my practice as a 20 to 40-year journey,” she says. “We all have different needs depending where we are on that time line. The idea is that there are plenty of patients around, we want to help each other by sharing not only best practices or processes that work, but also things that we have tried and failed. We can all learn from each other and no one is an expert in all areas. That’s the beauty of an M2M meeting: We can all learn how to do something better.” The basic goals are to help drive change, accelerate learning and aid implementation.

THE EXECUTION The main role of the KA is to lead a facilitated discussion that revolves around a central theme. Optometric technology, patient care, the business side, medical developments and many more topics are all ripe for discussion. “I like to think of it as doing a deep dive into a process and helping to connect the dots. It is almost like thinking out loud with a group and using a framework. The framework is the foundation, but the attendees add the details to really make the process shine and excel,” says Alfieri, whose qualifications to be leading such a group are solid: Pinnacle Eye Associates was recognized as a 2018 Best Practice for excellence in eyecare and advancing the industry by CooperVision.
Each KA group is autonomous. PERC+IVA allows any owner, be they an OD, MD or optician, to participate. Each KA creates a “safe” meeting environment that encourages mutual assistance and sharing. The KA can poll the attendees for the upcoming meeting and allow office managers or opticians to attend depending on the topic. On the other hand, if it is felt that the presence of staff might stifle an open and free discussion on a specific topic, that meeting may be limited to owners only. The group sends out invites to all local members and Alfieri often sends out some personal emails. Her group meets quarterly.

THE REWARDS As a group, Alfieri says she and her colleagues strive to challenge the status quo and work together to make their practices more efficient, profitable, technologically advanced, and superior in customer service. In-office, she points out, doctors are not often exposed to new products, technologies, or new or different processes of operating. “The study group allows doctors to get outside the bubble of their own practice and push their office to do better, achieve more, and stay ahead of current trends, ultimately giving patients the best care.” The first step, she says, is simply making the commitment to get involved. “You will be amazed at what you can learn and accomplish.”

Do It Yourself

  • GO YOUR OWN WAY. Not a PERC+IVA member? Network with ODs or owners at your state association and suggest starting your own group.
  • FOLLOW THE LEADER. Appoint a facilitator who can keep each meeting focused on a central theme. It’s easier said than done in a group setting.
  • MIX IT UP. Alfieri says her KA group was put together “with diversity in mind.” Members are from all walks of life and own various models of business.
  • GET A ROOM. Organize a dedicated venue that’s distraction-free. Alfieri’s group meets “in a room that has four walls and a door for privacy.”
  • RE-CAP. Consider a quick “review” at the conclusion of the session to lock in on what was discussed.

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Best of the Best

A Norcal Practice Took A Trunk Show and Turned It Into an Annual Message of Thanks to Its Patients

Take a trunk show and turn it into a message of thanks to your customers.

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ARENA EYE CARE OPTOMETRY in Sacramento, CA, wanted to put on an event that would bring customers, staff and industry reps together, with emphasis on saying ‘thanks’ to patients. So, they took that industry stalwart, the trunk show, and put their own spin on it. They’ve been holding their annual Patient Appreciation Day for seven years now, and from judging this year’s response, it’s still going strong.

THE IDEA

Dr. Shephali Patel and Dr. Krister Holmberg, owners of Arena Eye Care Optometry in Sacramento, CA, were looking for a way to present customers and patients with a more varied selection of top-tier frames than their optical ordinarily carries. Patel recalls, “We wanted a recurring event that would include a trunk show but was patient-centric.” To set their new event apart, the first step was to give it a place on the calendar: they attached a fixed date (the second Friday in March) that clients could associate with the practice over time. They paid extra attention to giveaways and other forms of personal attention to attendees. Patel points out that she didn’t coin the phrase “Patient Appreciation Day,” but the event has become a part of Arena’s brand.

THE EXECUTION

Ahead of the day, Arena sends out newsletters to patients, puts ads in a local magazine and does a weeklong Facebook ad campaign.
The core of the event is essentially a trunk show, for which some of Arena’s favorite vendors are invited. “We have two sessions,” Patel explains. “Our office hours on Friday are 9-6, so we go 9-1 and have a break for lunch and then 2-6.” The practice continues to see patients during both. “In [each of] the two sessions we might have two or three vendors. They bring in their whole collections and we rearrange our optical for them.” Patel and Holmberg try not to invite reps with lines that are natural competitors. “We wouldn’t do Nike with Oakley … We pick things that are complementary.” Arena takes particular interest in technological innovations; this year they treated customers to a preview of PogoCam, a camera made by PogoTec that attaches itself to glasses.
To keep things fresh, Patel tries to rotate her invitations to reps. “We’ll cycle them so that it’s [one invitation] every three or four years.” Staff decorate the optical themselves and offer refreshments. Several frame lines are highlighted and there are giveaways and a raffle. This year Gucci and Tom Ford reps brought in over 100 frame styles. A Tom Davies rep also attended. Other brands featured included bebe, Joseph Abboud, Oakley, Marchon NYC and Lacoste.

THE REWARD

As for the turnout, “We’ve always done well with it,” says Patel, though results are hard to predict. “The best one we’ve had was during a rainstorm … sometimes it just doesn’t make sense … but we do a good job of creating excitement and inviting people back. I think that’s the key.”
While there are practical rewards — they sell more multiples than usual that day — mostly it’s about having fun. “It is a lot of work but a lot of fun for everyone: doctors, staff and patients.”

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