Optometric Management Tip # 275   -   Wednesday, April 25, 2007
What Size Frame Inventory?

I think frame inventory is very important to success in optometric practice. I know… many of my younger colleagues probably shudder to see those words and I would never have written them in the early part of my career either, but I can see clearer from my perspective now. Most optometrists don’t agree with me on this – or if they do in principle, they don’t back it up with a sizable investment in their offices. Maybe we’re just not keeping up with the times, but it seems like most frame displays in private practice optometry are stuck in the seventies, and I’m not just referring to the style of display furnishings, but also the number of frames on display. I think the public always wants more choices but it seems like the trend in our field is to carry a smaller inventory.

Why are frames important?

The size and appearance of the frame display area is vital to the image of the entire practice because glasses are so important to a high percentage of our patients. As much as optometrists today are engrossed in managing eye disease, the fact remains that the overwhelming majority of patients in our offices need glasses and come to us for glasses. Many of these patients also have eye disease, and caring for that is also important, but from the patient’s point of view, eyeglasses are the major reason to visit an optometrist. The fact is many optometrists take the optical part of their practice for granted and put it on autopilot. The amount of time and investment given to optical dispensing is disproportionately small to the revenue it earns and the weight it carries with patients.

If we further analyze this from a patient’s point of view, the frame is the most important part of a pair of glasses, by far. To us, it would be the lenses, but patients don’t really understand lenses very well and they would really like them to disappear. The frame, however, matters a great deal because it greatly affects one’s personal appearance. It makes a strong statement about the wearer’s personality and status.

Success in business requires that we listen to the customer and identify and satisfy his wants and needs, not ours. In optometry, that means cool frames. Of course, what is cool varies widely among people… young or old, male or female, large or small, white collar or blue collar, and so on. To provide a great selection of styles in each of the variations requires a lot of frames.

If patients see what they perceive as a mediocre optical, they assume they are in a mediocre practice.

Inventory turns

Many management consultants recommend that the number of frames on display should be based on how many you sell. I’d rather see that based on the number you hope to sell! A figure referred to as inventory turns refers to how many times per year you can “turn over” or sell the whole inventory. The standard in the optical field is three or four turns per year. As an example, if you sell 1500 frames per year, this guideline would say you should have between 375 to 500 frames on display. The problem with this approach is that the practice may not ever break away from selling only 1500 per year if it has an optical that is not impressive. And a dispensary with 400 frames is not impressive.

I don’t worry much about turns because I think a practice must first make an investment in projecting the image it wants to become. If the goal of the practice is to be large and successful, it must look large and successful. If we wait for business to grow before we take an action, we may wait forever. If we take an action first, business will grow.

How many to carry

There is no minimum number of frames that an optical should carry, but I know it when I see it. If I had to give a number it would be about 800. More than that is better. There could be a point where an optical has too many frames and it becomes confusing, but that problem is hardly ever reached. I ask myself the following questions when I consider inventory size: How many frames should an optical dispensary have on display if all conditions were ideal and financing was not an issue? What is the critical mass that makes an optical impressive? Note that the number of patients seen or the number of frames sold is not needed for the answer.

Here are few more points to consider with frame inventory:

Cost

Your frame inventory is a big expense, but it is a one-time expense that produces an excellent return on investment. The return is in the form of increased profits and an improved practice image.


Best wishes for continued success,

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