Article Date: 10/1/2005

contact lens
Keep a Well-Stocked Pantry
A contact lens inventory will keep your patients compliant and loyal to your practice.
BY GARY GERBER, O.D., Hawthorne, N.J.

The more money you make, the more money you spend. It's a rule that's as unalterable as gravity. The good news is, you can implement this law of nature to build your contact lens practice. This article isn't directly about ways to increase your contact lens profits. Rather, you'll learn how to apply that natural law to your contact lens inventory — or current lack of one.


ILLUSTRATION BY LAEL HENDERSON

Remember when

Historically, with soft lenses in particular, a large contact lens inventory was a mainstay of every successful contact lens practice. For the younger doctors reading this article, I'm talking about how we used to fit lenses. First, you had to use the back of a pair of plastic tweezers to wrench open the container the lenses came in — a small glass jar of sorts, referred to as a vial. After about ten minutes of struggling and swearing and exchanging the tweezers for a screwdriver — as well as a few nasty, bloody cuts on your fingers — you finally got the vial open.

Then, using one arm of the tweezers to remove a hopefully intact lens, you placed the lens on the patient's eye. You had a one out of three chance that the lens you were fitting was actually what was labeled on the vial. Yes, I'm exaggerating (a bit). But my point here is simply when you compare the hassles, frustrations and pain of how we used to fit lenses with how much easier it is now, you have to wonder why we ever bothered to inventory contact lenses in the first place, let alone fit them!

Streamlining seemed right

Newer generation disposable lenses have decreased in price and package size, making it easier to keep an inventory. Yet fewer doctors are inventorying lenses now than when we fit mostly vialed lenses.

This was partly due to a concept I fully supported in my own practice and encouraged our Power Practice clients to adopt — namely, having the patient's supply of lenses shipped directly to them from the manufacturer or distributor. This certainly seemed easier and more convenient for the patient and staff. The other benefit was that the manufacturer assumed the inventory costs and freed up a practice's cash. Seemed like a good idea at the time.

A fly in the ointment

Then came the Internet and big-box contact lens warehouses. Patient loyalty seemed to wane as alternative sources of lenses grew in concert with disposable lenses. Most studies attribute this growth to the consumer's desires for a more convenient delivery system and a better price for lenses. And it is exactly these two points that having an inventory of lenses can address!

Make it work for them

At the conclusion of your fitting process, when you've made a clinical decision that Brand Z is best for your patient, what could be more convenient than escorting your patient to your front desk and having her year's supply of contact lenses waiting for her? Isn't that easier for the patient than shopping on line?

Regarding pricing of the lenses, I've often written that your contact lens product fees should be in line with other commonly available sources. You don't have to be the cheapest guy in town, but you have to be in the same zone. The ultimate convenience of patients purchasing their lenses from you — the person they just trusted to fit them — while they're still in your office, is something no dot-com or big-box dispenser can beat.

It's not that expensive

Worried about the expense of having an inventory? Consider the ongoing revenue generated from happy returning patients. Further, it isn't necessary to inventory every contact lens you fit. Even if you're a specialty practice, you don't need to have every available parameter in stock. Instead, keep a supply of your "go to" lenses on hand and keep it well stocked.

For most practices, this probably means two or three brands and a cost of less than $10,000. Putting this against a capital equipment purchase of $50,000, it's clear that a well thought out and carefully organized inventory is not that big an expense. It provides a significant return on investment via patient retention.

Back to the beginning

So, what does the original truism, "The more you make, the more you spend" have to do with a contact lens inventory? The corollary in retailing is referred to as pantry loading. In conventional retailing, pantry loading accomplishes two important goals. First, it loads the consumer with enough product so that they don't need to consider competitive ones. They have enough to last a long time and the "pantry" is physically loaded so no more product can be squeezed in. Secondly, retailers gain the benefits of the time value of money by accelerating future purchases.

In our case, inventorying contact lenses also shares the above two benefits with the doctor. When patients are pantry loaded with contact lenses, there is no reason to shop elsewhere. Additionally, the practice benefits by increased cash flow. If a patient were to purchase lenses twice a year and spend $100 each time, the practice benefits financially when the patient spends $200 at the beginning of the year.

However, the best reason to pantry load lenses is the key point buried in our economics axiom. Not only will people spend more money if they have it, but patients will wear more contact lenses if they have them available. This equates to superior compliance and invariably improved ocular health. Instead of trying to stretch wearing schedules and risking complications, pantry-loaded patients tend to be more compliant with their wearing schedules.

So considering all these advantages, are you convinced to carry a contact lens inventory yet?

Dr. Gerber is president of The Power Practice, a company specializing in making doctors more profitable. You can reach him at (800) 867-9303 or at www.powerpractice.com.



Optometric Management, Issue: October 2005