Optometric Management Tip # 40   -   Wednesday, October 23, 2002
Contact lens inventory – time to reconsider?

Maintaining an in-office inventory of contact lens multipacks to sell directly to patients is out of vogue. This practice started losing popularity a few years ago and now the vast majority of optometrists I know think it is an absolute waste of money and office space to keep an inventory. They prefer to order lenses for patients and either have them shipped directly from the supplier to the patient, or have them shipped to the office and the patient can return to pick them up. I disagree with this line of thinking.

Competitive advantage

At a time when we need all the marketing tools we can get in order to compete for replacement lens business, I can’t imagine not having an inventory. It is the single biggest advantage any “bricks and mortar” seller has over an Internet seller! Having the correct lenses in stock is a very strong tool in attracting and keeping patients. I have always maintained an inventory of our most commonly prescribed contact lenses, and I’m quite sure it builds patient loyalty and increases sales.

Sure, my practice has patients who buy replacement lenses online or by phone mail order – but I’m also sure that number would be much higher if I did not have their lenses in stock. The majority of my contact lens patients comply with my recommended yearly exams. After this exam, the vast majority are simply handed their yearly supply (or a six month supply) of lenses in a bag, and they pay for them at the front desk. It does not get any more convenient than that! Our lens prices are not much different than the Internet vendors – but most patients don’t even think about looking there anyway. They like us and trust us and we are their source for contacts. Compliance with yearly exams is improved because patients get their new supply of lenses that way – and more people get their new lenses from us because they are in for their exam anyway.

Ask yourself why a huge number of people still buy books in person at Border’s, Books-a-Million, and Barnes and Noble, when they could go on Amazon.com and buy the same thing? Lots of reasons, actually, but one is they want the book now. There is an even bigger trust factor when it comes to eye care then bookstores – so we should find it even easier to keep our patients.

Inventory cost not that high

The cost of a lens inventory is actually quite small – in my opinion. Remember, it is a one-time expense, because after you make the investment, you are simply replacing multipacks that you sold on an as-needed basis. If you stock 4 boxes in every .25 diopter step from Plano to –6.00, you would need 96 boxes. Multiply that times your wholesale cost and what do you have? About $1200? Taken against your gross revenues, it is peanuts! And it is not a lost expense, like advertising. Your inventory is an asset and has value. $2400 will buy a truly nice inventory!

You don’t need a large practice to have a CL inventory; you only need to want it to become large.

Best wishes for continued success,

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