Optometric Management Tip # 461   -   Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Quick - Can you name your top three competitive advantages?

To build a highly successful practice, you need competitive advantages, but when ECPs are asked about this, I often see a blank stare. I can almost hear that cricket-chirping sound. The basic question you should ask yourself to evoke your competitive advantages is "Why should a patient choose your practice over all the others in the area?" The more answers you have, the more successful your practice will be. If you are struggling to come up with good, solid reasons, then you need to acquire some new competitive advantages.

As you analyze your competitive advantages, I urge you to be objective and brutally honest. Avoid weak, general statements like "We provide excellent service and high quality products at reasonable fees" because every ECP can say that and to the consumer you have not really offered anything unique.

Competitive advantages are now on sale
When you think about it, you can actually buy competitive advantages and that could be a very smart business investment. Here are a few things that money can buy:

On the other hand, realize that many competitive advantages are free and it certainly makes sense to adopt as many free ones as possible. The following competitive advantages do not cost anything:

Customer service and convenience
Competitive advantages that are based on customer service are extremely important because they create patient loyalty and that generates word-of-mouth referrals.

I have always been amazed at the huge practice building effect of a new, larger office. The office itself can be a big competitive advantage, including:

Clinical instrumentation defines your exam. While it may be true that an excellent clinician can diagnose and treat eye problems quite well with just basic tools, the public understands and is impressed by advanced technology. It may be partly wow factor, but there is usually additional or more accurate data supplied by high-tech equipment. You can treat glaucoma without an OCT, but many would say you can do a better job with one.

Optometrists are increasingly focused on growing the medical eye care aspect of their practices, but a large percentage of our patients still see us primarily for eyeglasses and contact lenses. The quality of those products that we prescribe and dispense is a long lasting reminder of our services. We must work hard to not allow the product aspect of our practice drop because we are concentrating on other specialties.

Low price is a strong competitive advantage. As discussed in last week's tip, I do not think low price is the best market philosophy for independent private practices, but there are many optical vendors who do quite well in this arena. And there is a strong market that wants low price. So decide if low price is really the market that you can do well in. Consider these points:

Independent private practices still compete in the price-conscious market by accepting vision plans. Vision plans allow the patient to obtain routine services and basic optical products at little or no cost. Private practices may also successfully implement an occasional aggressive price strategy, as long as it does not become the norm. For example, my practice does not pursue a low price structure, but we always offer 50% off on second pairs of glasses (purchased at the same time). This approach appeals to the price awareness that exists in most consumers and results in higher multiple pair sales.

Best wishes for continued success,

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