Optometric Management Tip # 226   -   Wednesday, May 17, 2006
Can Private Docs Compete With Chain Opticals?

A focus group of eye care consumers was recently held by a major company in the ophthalmic industry.† Focus groups are a great way to learn about the opinions and perceptions of the customers in any business.† They need not be a strategy used only by large corporations; independent private practices can benefit from them as well.† This focus group worked with patients who had recently seen an eye care practitioner in various modes of practice.

The competitive advantage of chains

Several questions asked of the group revolved around perceived differences between commercial retail forms of practice vs. independent private practice.† While both types of practice had some traits that were identified as preferred or superior to the other, the following factors were cited as reasons why consumers chose chain optical stores over private doctorsí offices.

These factors would be considered competitive advantages in the business world, or in other words, reasons why a typical customer would choose one company over another.† It should be noted that these are only the perceptions of the consumers and may not actually be fact. †But really, isnít consumer perception all that matters when it comes down to marketing?† After all, it doesnít matter if your office can argue that itís more convenient than a super-optical if the public doesnít know it.† Since the consumer makes the decision about where to buy, his perception is reality.

Those are some pretty important features when you consider a consumerís choice of eye care practitioners, donít you think?† Might a private doctor lose some patients to a provider that is deemed better in those areas?† I certainly think so.

An exercise in competitive analysis

Here is an exercise for you.† In which of the five categories above could a private eye care practice perform equal to or better than a typical chain optical store, if it really wanted to?† My answer is all of them except the last one.† Letís look at each category and consider what it means and how private docs could compete.

People want the personal touch and the medical expertise they perceive as better with private doctors, but they donít want to give up the features they have come to love in upscale retail stores.† Why not provide both?

Best wishes for continued success,

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