Article Date: 3/1/2001

Purchasing Frames that Work for Your Practice
Each year, hundreds of new frames compete for our attention. These guidelines will help you make the smartest buys for your practice.

By Carol Norbeck, F.N.A.O., Seattle, Wash.

For me, buying frames is like going to the candy store. The number of choices can seem overwhelming. I can't buy them all -- and neither can you -- so here are some guidelines to help you choose which frames are best for the patients in your practice.

Know your patient base

Who are your patients? Do you have more male patients than female? Are they avid athletes or emerging presbyopes? You probably already ask your patients about themselves; now take that information and create a profile of your patient base. Think about what types of eyewear are likely to inspire them. For example, skiers in your patient base would love to have eyewear that will help them on the slopes, and young people starting in business would benefit from eyewear that lends them an air of authority.

When considering your practice's demographics, also consider the face shapes of your patients. No frame is suited to every face shape, so vary the shapes and sizes. Make sure you have something for the person who's wider at the temple than the chin (a base-up triangle) as well as for the person who has a model's oval face.

If you only buy variations on little gold oval frames, all you'll sell are little gold oval frames -- and only to patients who like that style. Others will just leave to search elsewhere. Instead, include frames in your inventory that will entice a variety of people to leave their prescriptions with you.

You don't want anyone to walk out the door without visiting your dispensary. So you must display frames that will suit a variety of face shapes and lifestyles in both warm (yellow-based) and cool (blue-based) colors. And, of course, frames that will accommodate different prescriptions.

Fashion's bell curve

No matter how hip your patients are, it's rare that frame sales will vary from the fashion curve.

Your vendor reps know what's selling, and what's not. They can tell you which line is targeted for which type of patient -- a real help when choosing the best selections for your frame board. And reps can provide advice beyond choosing frames, including technical information and merchandising.

Your reps can tell you what's already successful -- the frames attracting the most patients, showing up in fashion magazines, on movie stars and doing well in your area. Also, take one more step by asking your reps to show you what they're putting their money on. Which frames do they think will have the highest sales? See "Upcoming Trends

Expand your horizons

Trunk shows are great for building traffic and drawing attention to your dispensary, but they can also tell you what else might sell. With an entire collection at your fingertips, you can see what you need to add to your frame board.


Upcoming Trends
By Rene Soltis, Whitehall, Pa.

Are you wondering what types of frames will be the most popular this year? Here are some of the styles for women and men that stand to be the favorites of 2001, according to the Vision Council of America:

  • heavy plastics layered with color

  • super-thin frames in metals like titanium, beta-titanium, beryllium and cobalt

  • rimless styles

  • aviator frames

  • rectangle shapes

  • bigger is better

  • animal prints

  • white metals

Someone in your office needs to keep on top of the latest trends. That means reading fashion magazines and publications such as Women's Wear Daily. And you must read the non-clinical optical trade publications. Take advantage of fashion or brand recognition.

The consumer press and corporations spend a lot of energy defining brands and fashion. Piggyback on what consumers already know excites them about eyewear. And once you carry the latest fashions, make sure you and your staff wear them. Show your patients that you believe in the products you dispense.

The best quality

Make sure your frame board has the best-quality frames at any price point. Your patients are entitled to sturdy hinges, good styling and a good fit regardless of their budgets.

Once a year, count the frames you have in stock, noting the vendors, styles, lines and colors. Don't guess! Take the time to sit down and analyze the inventory. When you know what you have, go back to price books and your records. Figure out how much it cost you to purchase these frames. Then, figure out what you charged patients for those frames -- and what the frames you sold cost you. From there, calculate how you're doing. See "Manage Your Inventory

Determine the average cost of frames in stock vs. the average cost of frames sold (i.e., your cost of inventory ÷ the number of pieces in stock vs. your cost of the frames sold ÷ the number of pieces sold). These averages should fall within a few dollars of each other.

How has the average cost of your frames changed? Which vendors' frames sold the most? Which styles, shapes and colors didn't sell?

Keep an open mind

With all of these tips in mind, set up a system to continually update the frames in your dispensary. At least once a year, plan to meet with all of your vendor reps to see their entire lines. This is also the best time to try out new suppliers.

As you meet, pay attention not only to what excites you, but also to what will excite your patients. Consider the merchandising and co-op advertising opportunities that each vendor provides, as well. Choose the lines you'll carry, then set up a system to re-order frames that sell and to replace frames that don't sell.

Depending on how often your reps get new products, arrange to meet quarterly or monthly with the reps of your choosing. As you prepare for that meeting, re-evaluate your stock. Let personal taste be just one factor in your purchasing decisions. We've all seen dispensaries that look like a single person has done the purchasing based on her personal style. It's great if your patients like what you like, but if they don't they'll leave alienated.

It's tough to predict what frames your patients will want. There will always be that one patient you can't seem to please. However, following these tips will keep you aware of what your patients are looking for, which makes your job that much easier.

Carol Norbeck, F.N.A.O., of CN Consulting, is a professional optician with more than 20 years experience. She's the founder of Optical Illusions, a three-store optical chain in the Seattle area.


Manage Your Inventory

Here are two rules of thumb about inventory:

  • Control your inventory. You need to know your actual inventory to do your taxes correctly and to maintain an accurate picture of your practice and dispensary. If you don't know your actual inventory, you won't be able to gauge your success or growth in actual terms.
  • Turnover is how many times inventory goes out and is replaced. It's expressed in dollars. Calculate your turnover by dividing your cost of the goods sold by your cost for the inventory.

Here's a hypothetical practice for you to look at as an example:

Dispensary A has 1,000 frames in stock. The frames cost them $55 each.

Dispensary A's inventory cost: 1,000 x $55 = $55,000 

Dispensary A sells an average of $40,000 of frames (retail price) per month

Dispensary A's sales for the year: $40,000 x 12 = $480,000

A dispensary's cost of goods sold should be about 40% of its retail sales for the year

Dispensary A's cost of goods for the year: 40% of $480,000 = $192,000

Inventory turn = Cost of Goods Sold � Inventory Dispensary A's inventory

Dispensary A's cost of goods = $192,000  Dispensary A�s inventory = $55,000  Inventory Turn = 3.49

Dispensaries in the United States average a turnover rate of about 1.9. Retailers consider a turnover rate of 3 to be good, and 4 to be great. The cost of goods sold usually runs at about 40% of the sales. For example, if you sell $480,000 worth of frames in a year, your cost of goods should be $192,000 (40%). If you want a very profitable dispensary, you want your cost to be even lower, $156,000 (32.5%).

Work with your vendor and examine your pricing strategy to create the most profitable solution for you. If you carry too much stock, you'll lose money. To decide how much inventory you should carry, divide the cost of goods sold by your desired turnover.

Using the example above, for a turn of 4, keep your inventory at about $48,000 ($192,000 (your cost of goods) ÷ 4 (desired turn rate).

*For the purposes of this article, the cost of goods equals the overall wholesale costs. However, your accountant may also include expenses such as shipping or labor in his definition of "cost of goods." Whatever your definition, use it consistently to gauge your performance.

Optometric Management, Issue: March 2001