Article Date: 3/1/2010

Create A Buzz For Your Practice

Create A Buzz For Your Practice

Break out of the winter doldrums and jump-start your practice with a trunk show. Here's how to create a memorable – and profitable – event.

LOU MANCINELLI, Contributing Editor

Summit Eye Associates' St. Patrick's Day open house incorporates pictures of the practices opticians dressed in St. Patrick's Day garb.

When optometrist Gina Wesley opened her new practice, Complete Eye Care of Medina and Crystal Vision Clinic in Minnesota 2 years ago, she knew she needed to create an identity and connect with the community. Her grand opening celebration was such a success that she now holds open houses — a.k.a. trunk shows — regularly as part of her marketing and promotion efforts.

Trunk shows had their beginnings in the fashion industry, so these events are well-suited to highlighting your frame and sun-wear collections, but they also give you and your staff the opportunity to explain all of your services and to showcase the technology in your practice. Granted, producing a successful show takes time and effort, but the rewards can be long-term as well as immediate. Dr. Wesley's grand opening attracted 50 visitors. More than 25 contacted her for appointments.

Are you ready to create some buzz? Here's how.

Advance planning

The keys to hosting a successful trunk show are planning and timing, according to optometrist Ann Hoscheit and her marketing and special events coordinator Darylene Finkelstein. To be most effective, they recommend holding trunk shows two to three times a year. Their shows are usually half-day events, from noon until 6 p.m. in the spring and the fall.

“You have to determine what your focus will be and then plan around that,” says Dr. Hoscheit, who built a 9,000-plus patient base before she launched Summit Eye Associates in Gastonia, N.C., in 2005. “You cannot just open the doors and hope people will come.

“Set the date 6 to 12 months in advance,” she says. “Determine who your audience is and the goal of your trunk show. Then select a theme. We've done Springtime in Paris, Holiday in the Islands, and so on.”

Then it's time to send your first invitations - not to patients or neighbors, but to your vendors. Having frame and lens representatives on-site for your event provides additional expertise for your guests and visibility for your products. “Patients appreciate getting advice in frame styling and product options from optical frame vendors. They also appreciate that my staff can spend more time with them,” Dr. Wesley says. “It's important to showcase special products you normally don't carry at the office as a draw to bring people in.”

The Summit Eye trunk show from November 2009 used the theme Christmas in Hollywood.

The “old fashioned” holiday theme invitation from the November 2008 event from Summit Eye Associates incorporated a picture of Dr. Hoscheit as a small child on Christmas.

Be sure your vendors don't come empty-handed. Ask them to provide prizes, such as sunglasses and gift cards, for guests attending your trunk show. “We feel this is the cost of being invited to participate in the event,” Dr. Hoscheit says. “For our patients, it's a bit like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.”

Be selective with the vendors and reps you invite, however. “Not all frame reps are suited for a show,” Dr. Hoscheit says. “Select people who are outgoing and support your theme.”

Fresh Ideas For Your Show

If you've already hosted a trunk show or open house and are looking for a new approach, Gina Wesley, O.D., has some suggestions. Dr. Wesley has tied her shows to charitable organizations, such as Toys for Tots and the local food bank to raise awareness of these organizations. She offers discounts to attendees who contribute. She also is considering inviting staff from a local upscale salon to offer make-up and hair consultations during her next event in a co-marketing venture.

Get the word out

Promoting your event is critical, whether you take a broad approach or a very targeted approach. For example, Dr. Hoscheit's practice caters to women, ages 35 to 65, who have disposable income. For her practice, a mailing directly to this patient population works well. “We research, watch trends and pay attention to national marketing,” Ms. Finkelstein adds.

The invitations created by Dr. Hoscheit and Ms. Finkelstein reflect the investment of time (and money) that goes into a successful show. They are printed on quality paper complete with artistic sketches that echo the show's theme.

Dr. Wesley takes a broad approach as she continues to build her patient base. “We market to homeowners within a 5- to 10-mile radius of our office with a minimum household income of $40,000,” she explains. “We send postcards and newsletters to about 7,000 households in the area. We also post notices in local businesses, do in-office promotions, post the invitation on our website and send e-mails to current patients.”

Dr. Hoscheit and Ms. Finkelstein also eblast patients and past participants, post in-office flyers and, periodically, run a newspaper ad and write a feature for their practice's newsletter.

As the date of your show approaches, make appearances and speak in the community, Ms. Finkelstein advises. The local Businessperson of the Year Award Ceremony is a great example, she says. “We try to have a presence at any event that reflects our practice philosophy.”

The staff at Summit Eye pose before a recent trunk show. For this practice, the event's success depends on marketing to the right audience.

Neither practice requires an RSVP from attendees. Dr. Wesley keeps refreshments simple and plentiful, while Ms. Finkelstein notes, “We bought extra food the first year to make sure we had enough, and now we have a good idea how much to buy based on previous years.”

Once you've attracted guests to your open house or trunk show, quality execution will keep them coming back as patients.

Preparing your office

Preparing your office on the day of your trunk show means looking at the scene with a critical eye. Decorations should play off your theme — flowers and balloons may be appropriate — and, of course, snacks and beverages are a must. “You have to set the mood and atmosphere,” Ms. Finkelstein says.

In addition, be mindful of traffic patterns for this special event, because products and equipment may need to be more accessible. “You want people to have room to walk around and enjoy the experience,” Dr. Hoscheit says. “In one corner, you may have a frame rep talking style, while in the other you may have a technician doing screenings. Because activities are spread around the office, it is more of an interactive experience. It's all about relationship-building.”

To add to the excitement, Dr. Hoscheit offers special discounts on eyeglasses during her trunk shows.

It's Not Just About Shopping

Although Ann Hoscheit, O.D., says a trunk show is “a shopping thing,” she notes that attracting women to the practice for an afternoon of “shopping” makes sense for growing the practice. Most women are healthcare gatekeepers for their families, so if they like the practice, they will bring their husbands and children back for eye care.

Measuring success

At the end of the day, what makes for a successful trunk show? “For my practice to meet our production goals, we need about 30 patients to attend and purchase,” Dr. Wesley says. “We usually have at least three to four times that number.”

Dr. Hoscheit practices in a community of more than 75,000 people. She has a budget of $1,500 per event, and the highest amount she has earned from one trunk show is $30,000. But she emphasizes, “It's not the size of the practice. It is the focus of the marketing.” In other words, if your practice is in a smaller community, an effective marketing campaign aimed at the right audience can have as much impact on your practice as an event held in a bigger town.

In addition to having the potential to boost revenue significantly in one day, well-executed trunk shows have the long-term benefit of raising your practice's profile in the community. As Ms. Finkelstein notes: “People start talking: ‘You're the practice that has the trunk show.’”

What's more, patients appreciate the relaxed atmosphere of an open house or trunk show, where they can meet the staff, ask questions and learn more about new products.

Coupled with refreshments and a chance to win a prize, what's not to like? OM

Mr. Mancinelli is a writer based in the Philadelphia area.

Optometric Management, Issue: March 2010