Optometric Management Tip # 212   -   Wednesday, February 08, 2006
Upscale Frame Lines: Your Market May Surprise You

There are a few management weaknesses that are quite common among most eye care practices. One of the lesser known, but still widespread, deficiencies is a frame inventory that does not offer enough at the high end.

Presuming too much

Most practice leaders know it is a big mistake for staff members to prejudge a patientís wants and needs or financial ability. We all try to remind staff not to do that when presenting eye care services or products. Yet, many doctors/owners are really guilty of the same thing when they allow their frame inventory to be concentrated in the common middle and low price range, with very few offerings in the really pricey category. The actual frame buying may be delegated to staff, but the owner is ultimately responsible for the vision behind the inventory.

You may cite various reasons for how you arrived at the frames and price points that are currently in your optical, but unless youíve explored the high end with more than a few models, how can you know? Whose standards are you using when you decide which frame companies to do business with, or which price points to offer? Frequently, doctors will say they know their market and their local economy. That could be a mistake Ė like prejudging a patientís pocketbook.

Individual priorities

There is a segment of all markets, even those of average income levels, that places a high value on personal items. Iím referring to average people who live in any community and work hard for a living. Many folks do not live in fancy, expensive homes, but they still like to drive nice cars, enjoy expensive clothes or use premium eye wear. And why not? Those are personal decisions that every individual is entitled to make for himself. For some, personal appearance and the impression made on others are extremely important factors. As we know, eyeglasses have a huge impact on appearance, since they are worn on the face! If you donít supply the premium eye wear for this market, someone else will.

Where is the high end?

One thingís for sure, the ďhigh endĒ keeps changing. Be sure that your practice changes with it. If a $300 (retail) frame was high end a few years ago; it could be $500 today. Many practices not only have too small a selection of frames at the high end, they also have not really found their true high end. Perhaps you have never even pursued an account with an exclusive frame line and high end frame companies rarely come knocking at your door. Thatís what makes them exclusive.

Different sales policies

You may be shocked at the terms expected by some high end frame lines. They may offer a much smaller discount than youíre used to Ė or no discount at all. There may be a minimum purchase requirement. They may not exchange frames that donít sell; or if they do, it may be at a 3:1 ratio. They may not allow you to advertise their products and they may require you to sell frames at the manufacturer's suggested list price with no discounting. You may not even be allowed to open an account, or to do so may require extra effort to prove your office is worthy.

It is often tempting to reject such extreme terms because there are plenty of other frame companies out there to buy from, but be sure you make a smart business decision. Even if the terms are tougher, and even if you bear more risk, the profitability may still be much greater than you are currently earning with a typical frame line.

How to proceed

My advice is to test the waters in your practice. Explore upper end price points and see what will sell. Some of the large frame suppliers that you already work with may offer an exclusive designer line. Try one of these to start. Browse the high end optical shops in your area or in the nearest large city and note the brand names and prices. Research these brands online, call the distributor and inquire about opening an account. Attend Vision Expo East in New York City and visit the exclusive frame boutique section. Itís an investment, and there is always some risk, but you have a ready-made market in your office every day.

Get your staff excited about showing the new line and encourage them to dismiss any bias they may have about how much frames should cost. Let the public decide. Show the best lines first.

Gradually, you can move your average retail frame price up, by stocking a few more frames in the high price range, a few less in the middle, and finding your new high end. The usual effect of this is that patients buy better frames at a higher price, and your net profit increases. A bonus is that the patient will probably get more compliments and will love the look and quality; which increases loyalty and referrals. One more bonus: showing a $600 frame makes a $300 frame appear reasonably priced!

Best wishes for continued success,

Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Chief Optometric Editor, Optometric Management