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This Mississippi Pediatric Vision Therapy Practice Couldn’t Find a Toy Store to Refer Patients To … So They Opened Their Own

Now they’ve got the therapeutic tools they need — and they have a heck of a lot of fun!

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DR. MEGAN LOTT has been in pediatric optometry for 15 years — the past five at her own practice, Belle Vue Specialty Eye Care in Hattiesburg, MS. Of her decision to leave a successful primary care practice to open a pediatric/vision therapy office she recalls, “There wasn’t one in Mississippi and I saw a great need, especially after providing vision therapy to my own child.” For a practice that uses a lot of games as “rewards” for therapeutic patients, however, there was just one problem: the town didn’t have a toy store.

THE IDEA

Toys and games make great therapeutic tools, as many work on visual perception and can be played with friends and family. “I got tired of saying, ‘See if you can find it online.’ So we stock many of the games that we use,” says Lott.

Having a 7-year-old of her own was another incentive: “We go to a lot of birthday parties. I hate taking toys and gifts that I wouldn’t want my child to receive. You know: the ones that make noise, never get touched after being opened, etc. So I wanted to provide toys to the community.”

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THE EXECUTION

After Belle Vue built a new office in 2019, they found themselves with some extra room. “We needed to repurpose that space, so a toy store it was!” says Lott, who appointed her 7-year-old son purchasing manager when Eye Love Toys opened in the fall of 2020. “He lets us know what games are fun, what to not stock again.” The team tries to keep the games and toys as educational and fun as possible, and to stock items that can’t be found in “big box” stores.

The store can be accessed from either the optical office or an exterior door. Kids and parents browse while waiting for their appointment, a sibling, or while dilating. Staff find it’s convenient to keep children entertained in the toy store while discussing treatment options with parents.

Offerings include sensory toys, as well as some light-up blocks that were developed in Mississippi, allowing Belle Vue to support a local business. “These are great for babies and children needing sensory stimulation. We make [game] recommendations to parents … once we determine their visual needs.”

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Eye Love Toys also gets foot traffic from the orthodontic office next door.

The toy store is active on Instagram and Facebook (@eyelovetoys) but doesn’t sell online. Lott has assigned a staff member to oversee the store, post regularly to IG and organize weekly sales. “We try to keep the toy store and office separate on social media so as not to confuse customers and patients. Being the only vision therapy provider in the area, many people do not know what that is, and honestly many people still do not know we exist, even after five years! So the toy store is our way to educate people that we do pediatric eyecare.”

THE REWARDS

Lott says the biggest reward has been sheer fun. “Our patients and staff have enjoyed it tremendously. We opened in the fall and said it would just be a pop-up toy shop for the holidays. But we had so much fun with it we decided, why not just keep it open?” The staff all enjoy helping kids pick out toys for themselves after cooperating during an eye exam — “Yeah, it’s a great motivation” and just showing kids what’s new in the store. The primary goal was never a huge financial gain, says Lott. “It is honestly more for the enjoyment of being ‘the cool doctor with a toy store’ than anything. My kid loves being our ‘buyer’ and it’s been a lot of fun for our office. Everyone is really enjoying it.”

Do It Yourself: Open a Pop-Up Toy Store in Your Optical

  • FOCUS. “We see mostly kids. So we opened a toy store with games good for visual development,” says Lott.
  • START SMALL. “We placed a few items within our optical. It was such a hit we expanded it into available space.”
  • FILL A NEED. Hattiesburg had no specialty toy store before Eye Love Toys.
  • CROSS PROMOTE. Belle Vue holds contests in the office for a gift certificate to the toy store.
  • FILL TIME. Patients are encouraged to browse while waiting for their appointment.
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After years covering some of the farther flung corners of the world of business journalism, Heath has more recently focused on covering the efforts of independent eyecare professionals to negotiate a fast-changing industry landscape. Contact him at [email protected]

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