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Robert Bell

Why Do Some ODs Think “Retail” Is a Dirty Word?

Don’t give patients a reason to go elsewhere by rejecting the idea of being a retailer.




Why Do Some ODs Think “Retail” Is a Dirty Word?

WHEN I DO a seminar for doctors who’ve been in practice for at least a year, I know my audience fairly well. That is, I know their trials and tribulations, professionally speaking. I know their experiences and what they’re up against. But, a few years ago, I was invited to speak at the Practice Management Club at the University of Berkeley School of Optometry. This was a different kind of audience because the majority of optometry students don’t have the faintest idea of the BUSINESS of “real world” optometry. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not coming down on these students, it’s just that they’re not “there” yet.

As a speaker, you have to capture the audience’s attention immediately and keep it. My challenge was to get them thinking beyond their fourth year to their lives as doctors.

Here’s what I did:

I threw some words up on the screen that were sure to get visceral reactions:

The name of the largest optical chain in the US.

The name of the most infamous online optical store.


The word “RETAIL.”

Ding, ding, ding… we have a winner!

I’ve never seen an audience, collectively, scrunch their faces like they did when “RETAIL” lit up the screen. “Problem, folks?”

A young man was squirming in his chair so badly, I thought he was about to implode. Approaching him, I asked, “Are you okay?”

“Um, no,” he replied.

“Whatever could be the matter?”


“I am going to be a doctor! Not a retailer!” he said emphatically.

I wanted to kiss this kid!

“What year are you?”

“This is my first year.”

“Ok, take out your phone and call your parents. Tell them you’re sorry but optometry school isn’t working out. But, hey, no worries. You can always go to dental school, medical school, hell, you can go to chiropractic school, if you want. But optometry school isn’t for you.”

His face contorted, “What the hell are you talking about?”


“Simply this: optometry is pretty much the only health care profession on the planet that has ‘retail’ attached to it,” I said as I take off my glasses and hold it up for all to see. “This, right here, will be a result from your exam of your patients. You will have control over it. You! There will be a door with your name on it. Behind that door will be four walls, a ceiling and a floor and everything in between will be yours! How do I know? Well hell, your name is on the door! You’re the boss! You’re the big cheese.”

The moment a patient, in your exam room, asks about the frames in your optical and you don’t know what they’re talking about (too common, if you ask me) is the moment your capture rates go south. There are too many options for purchasing eyewear. Don’t give them a reason to go elsewhere.”

I want all of you to be doctors, great doctors! In fact, I want you to be the very best optometric physicians you can be. Especially if I’M your patient! But, why can’t you be a great retailer as well? Where is it written in the curriculum of optometry schools that being a great optical retailer takes away from you being a great optometrist? Here’s what you don’t realize: if you’re not a great optical retailer, in the eyes of your patients, it chips away at your ability to be a great doctor. That’s how they think.

Something for you to ponder: does being a great eye doctor and a great optical retailer have to be mutually exclusive?



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