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 By Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO, Editor December 15, 2010 - Tip #461 
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Quick - Can you name your top three competitive advantages?

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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:

  • A larger, nicer office.
  • A computerized refraction system.
  • A truly great staff.
  • A large, beautiful optical.

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:

  • An office that sees patients within five minutes of the appointment time, 95% of the time.
  • Excellent customer service; a staff that is friendly and caring.
  • Convenient office hours that include evenings and Saturdays.
  • A large scope of service; a practice that offers medical eye care, optical products, low vision and pediatric vision care.
  • In some cases there is an indirect cost to achieving these factors, such as more employees or staff training programs.

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:

  • Decor
  • Cleanliness
  • Lack of clutter (papers, files, stacks of stuff, old instruments, electrical cords, etc)
  • Extra features, like beverages
  • Space, so people do not feel too close to each other
  • Frame displays in optical
  • Lighting
  • Pleasant music

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.

  • Stay up to date on the benefits of new contact lens designs and materials and recommend them to your patients even if they have no complaints. Upgrade them.
  • Offer a large, diverse frame selection so you can satisfy the wants and needs of your population. This includes a wide range of price points from economy to high-end. Keep the frame styles continually current.
  • Concentrate on staff training so the service aspect of dispensing is high quality. Work to reduce remakes and errors in seg heights and frame fitting.
  • Speed of delivery still matters. Work with your labs to speed things up. Do in-office edging. Maintain a sellable inventory of your contact lens brand of choice.

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:

  • Large chain retailers have tremendous buying power and can usually buy at much lower cost than independents.
  • Consumers who are mostly interested in price are less loyal and are more likely to go wherever the lowest price is next time.
  • Product quality is lower with low prices, so there may be more dissatisfaction issues.
  • Low priced services require higher numbers of patients per day to make the same profit.

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,

Read Past Tips Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week

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Send questions and comments to neil@gailmard.com.

Dr. Gailmard offers consulting services to eye care professionals through Prima Eye Group; information is available at www.primaeyegroup.com.

Please Note: The views expressed in Management Tip of the Week do not necessarily reflect those of the sponsor.

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