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Article Date: 6/1/2012

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contact lenses
contact lenses

Securing the Contact Lens Sale

Five sure-fire tips to get your patients to purchase from you rather than a retailer.

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Corrie Pelc, Contributing Editor

The Internet search “purchase contact lenses” returns more than 21 million results. Type “cheap contact lenses,” and you get almost 16 million results. Something else to consider: The online sales of contact lenses and glasses was named as one of the top 10 fastest growing industries in America, according to an article on Time magazine’s website in April.1 The article revealed an average annual growth from 2002 to 2012 of 28.2% and a projected annual growth of 8.8% from 2012 to 2017. Add to these numbers the current existence of brick-and-mortar optical retailers that have been successfully dispensing contact lenses, and it’s clear that to compete today, you, the optometrist, must actively encourage your patients to buy their lenses from your practice. So, what, specifically, can you do to accomplish this?

Here, contact lens specialists provide five tips:

1 Show you’re the expert

LaMar G. Zigler, O.D., M.S., F.A.A.O., chair of the American Optometric Association’s (AOA) Contact Lens & Cornea Section, who also practices in Columbus, Ohio, says he’s been able to create both patient interest in contact lenses and capture contact lens sales by hosting contact lens open houses anytime a new technology becomes available. Patients must sign up for a limited number of time slots. Sometimes the new design is so popular, his practice holds more than one open house for it, he says.

Specifically, he says he dedicates an afternoon to newly released contact lenses and invites manufacturer representatives to present their latest products and provide patient education, while he conducts contact lens fittings. In addition, he says he holds drawings for contact lens products or fun items, such as coffee shop and restaurant gift cards.

“It’s a great atmosphere, as all the patients are in the waiting area talking about the new contact lens technology,” he details. “Sales during these open houses are very successful. It is a nice break from a normal day. It is a very upbeat atmosphere, (and) it also gets the doctors and staff up to speed quickly on fitting the new technology.”

Dr Zigler says he believes these open houses have both created new wearers and retained contact lens purchases because they show he has the inside track on the contact lens market and the skills to fit these new designs, making him the expert.

“I think sometimes, it’s just not in our nature to promote, and yet that’s so critical because you can build your practice, and the income you can receive in your practice would be very significant,” explains Edward S. Bennett, O.D., M.S.Ed, associate professor and co-chief of Contact Lens Service at the University of Missouri-St. Louis College of Optometry.

2 Train your staff

Glenda Secor, O.D., F.A.A.O., of Huntington Beach, Calif., says one of the ways she’s been able to convince her patients to purchase contact lenses from her is by providing on-going training at monthly staff meetings on the general types of lenses (torics, multifocals, etc.) available and the latest products.

In addition to staff meetings, Dr. Zigler says he sends staff to continuing education meetings on both practice management and the technicalities of contact lens designs, and he has contact lens manufacturer representatives come to his practice to discuss their products with his staff.

“There’s some really good tools out there that can help staff feel confident in educating patients on contact lenses,” says Dr. Bennett. Specifically, he cites training materials through Wink Productions (www.winkproductions.com) and the AOA’s Para-optometric Training Module.

All those interviewed say they believe this staff training has worked to keep patients from buying their lenses elsewhere because patients place a great deal of value on a knowledgeable staff.

3 Emphasize convenience

Dr. Zigler says he’s also had success in convincing his patients to buy their lenses from him by having his staff inform patients they can take care of the lens-ordering process for them and have their lenses mailed to wherever the patient desires.

“ …Rarely do our patients take their prescriptions with them because we tell them that they don’t have to do a thing, and the lenses will be ordered that day,” he explains.

Dr. Secor says she’s met her patients’ need for convenience by offering annual supplies.

“Once you educate patients about why it [purchasing an annual supply] is a good idea, they do not question it,” explains Dr. Secor. “ Every year, they come back, and say they want an annual supply.”

Rhonda S. Robinson, O.D., of Indianapolis, Ind., says offering annual supplies has enabled her to capture 80% to 90% of contact lens sales.

Stephen Cohen, O.D., of Scottsdale, Ariz. says he’s been able to prevent his patients from buying their lenses elsewhere by providing the convenience of same-day dispensing. Specifically, he says he keeps an inventory of his practice’s most commonly used lenses.

“For patients who might otherwise go out and shop the market place, we know we’re garnering some of that business merely by saying we have the lenses here today if you want to get them…” he explains.

4 Offer competitive pricing

Dr. Zigler says another method that has enabled him to capture contact lens sales is to educate patients that his practice monitors competitors’ prices regularly, so his practice can offer competitive pricing along with excellent service.

“We do not price match, however, as I think this can affect the practice’s high-quality reputation,” he says.

Dr. Robinson says she offers competitive pricing by providing her patients with a small discount on annual supply pricing.

“Utilizing manufacturers rebates, the small discount for annual supply purchases from our office, (and) their [a patient’s] vision insurance plans, at the end of the day, you can’t get your lenses cheaper anywhere else…” she says.

5 Make it personal

Dr. Zigler says making the patient encounter personal is another action that has kept contact lens sales in-house.

“Whether the patient is at your practice for contact lenses, a vision exam or a medical visit, you must treat that patient as you would a family member or friend in order to dispense eyecare products,” he says. “Patients place a lot of value on feeling genuinely cared for and taken care of, and providing this one-on-one service is what sets optometrists apart from the retailers.”

Dr. Zigler says one of the ways he goes above and beyond for his contact lens patients is by offering them a free trial pair until their new lenses arrive.

“Patient’s rarely buy lenses elsewhere because they really appreciate this personal service,” he says.

Dr. Secor says she makes the dispensing process personal by allowing the patient to return even opened boxes of lenses from their annual supply, should the patient’s prescription change midyear.

“We absolutely have that mentality that we’ll make it right no matter what it takes, and in the long-run the loyalty and referral potential this act builds is worth one box of open lenses that I can’t use again,” she explains.

Neither the Internet nor brick-and-mortar retailers are going anywhere. As a result, in order to both protect and grow your contact lens business, you must be on the lookout for ways to deter patients from purchasing their contact lenses from these entities. Your colleagues have been able to accomplish this by following the five aforementioned steps. Why not give them a try yourself? OM

Have a tip for securing the contact lens sale that isn’t mentioned here? We want to here about your ideas and experiences! E-mail James Thomas, editorial director, at james. thomas@springer.com.

1. Time.com. Companies & Industries. The Top Ten Fastest-Growing Industries in America: Online Eyeglasses & Contact Lens Sales. C Matthews. http://business.time.com/2012/04/19/the-top-ten-fastest-growing-industries-in-america/#online-eyeglasses-contact-lens-sales

ImageCorrie Pelc is a freelance-writer based in Sacramento, Calif. She has written for both consumer and trade publications and is the former communications manager for the California Optometric Association. E-mail her at corrie.pelc@gmail. com, or send comments to optometricmanagement@gmail.com.


Optometric Management, Volume: 47 , Issue: June 2012, page(s): 44 - 47

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