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
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
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.
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:
- Preventing Rx walkout. Patients make a snap decision about where they
want to buy their glasses. They know they have many options. If they see a
large and impressive optical showroom in their doctor’s office, they usually
decide that is the place to get their glasses.
- Selling multiple pairs. When patients fall in love with a frame style,
that’s what they buy. If they fall in love with two frames, you increase the
chances that they will just have to buy both.
- Size of space. Empty floor space is important in an optical. Most
practices hope to serve more than one person at a time and with multiple
frame selections, eyeglass pickups, payment transactions, repairs and
adjustments all occurring at once, most opticals feel crowded. If patients
are forced into display areas and tables that are too close to other
patients, many will feel uncomfortable. It makes them want to leave. As more
floor space is devoted to the optical, more frames are needed to make it
- Understock. I believe in holding some frames in stock that are not on
display because I prefer to use frames right off the board for each Rx job.
I strongly dislike seeing holes in the display, so we need extra frames
every day to replace the sold ones. Our office continuously receives new
frame orders, but an understock of 5 to 10% of the number on display helps
us keep our displays looking great.
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