How to Increase Your Frame Sales

Yes, you can operate a successful optical, even in the face of brisk competition


How to Increase Your Frame Sales

Yes, you can operate a successful optical, even in the face of brisk competition.

Richard Kattouf, O.D., D.O.S. Bonita Springs, Fla.

As optometrists, we face significant challenges when selling spectacle frames. For example, it's not uncommon for the private practice to have 60% to 80% of its patient population use a managed care insurance benefit to purchase frames and lenses. Many of these patients approach the optical department with the following mantra:

I only want what my insurance covers.

In addition, a number of entities in the marketplace compete for optical sales. In this category, corporate and commercial practices have captured about 36% of the vision market. Though in their infancy, Internet optical sites represent the latest challenge to selling frames.

Yet even in such a challenging environment, there are proven steps that practices can take to increase frame sales, which are detailed in this article.

1 Use a technician to fill out the patient's lifestyle history form.

Rather than ask the patient to fill out a lifestyle history form, have a technician take the history through an interview with the patient. The interview spares the patient the inconvenience of filling out another form, and because a trained technician transcribes each history, your records will reflect information that is consistent from patient record to patient record.

More importantly, this process allows the patient to talk about his favorite subject —himself. When the technician asks specific questions about vocation, sports and recreation, the patient enjoys the experience. You'll use this vital information at chair side to prescribe frames that will enhance the safety, comfort, functioning and performance of the patient's spectacles.

2 Harness the power of the doctor.

Having observed hundreds of optometric offices in operation, this is by far the most neglected step in the process of selling frames. Do not write the prescription and expect the optician to do the selling. If you take away only one point from this article, it should be this:

If you do not use the “power of the doctor” in conjunction with the supplied patient lifestyle history, your spectacle sales will not grow.

You, the doctor, are the expert, and patients expect their doctors to be precise in their prescribing of products and/or services. Therefore, the exam room is a “powerful place” in terms of influencing patients. Remember, your obligation is to: Render quality care, and sell it.

As optometrists, we are great at rendering high levels of clinical care but fail at selling chair side. Yet the practices with the highest profits and best cash flows are those that use the power of the doctor. (Keep this obligation in mind when prescribing/selling all products and services.)

3 Don't “up sell”—rather, demonstrate savings.

After greeting the patient in the optical dispensary, the next step most opticians take is to discuss the price of the patient's managed care vision plan allowance for spectacles. This is the wrong approach, as most of us would agree that the majority of patients do not understand their vision plan and feel their coverage should pay for everything.

So, when the optician identifies the amount of the spectacle benefit under the vision care plan—for example, $100—then that is the amount the patient plans to pay. Ask for anything more, and the patient's defenses go up. Now that the practice has created this foul mood, it must try to “up sell” the patient into a more expensive frame and lens.

A much better psychological approach is to quote the entire retail cost of each frame and lens combination and then inform the patient that their obligation is only $X—that is, the retail cost minus the amount covered by the vision plan. For example:

“Mrs. Wilson, the total cost of your frame, lenses and lens enhancements amounts to $600. But with your vision plan coverage, your total obligation today is only $240.”

This approach is much more palatable than starting with a minimum and trying to add costs. In the example above, the patient saves $360 off the retail cost. With this method of presentation, the patient perceives she has received a significant benefit from a great insurance plan.

4 Create a new, high middle-of-the-road.

In my experience, most private optometrists offer frames that range in price from $100 to $350. Market research indicates that a consumer will generally choose a mid-range fee—in this case, $225—when presented with a product line.

However, if you expand your frame inventory with some exclusive frames that range in price up to $900, then the mid-range fee becomes $500. Just by expanding the high-end line, you increase the average frame sale.

A word of caution: Do not be naïve in thinking that the addition of exclusive frames is the complete answer. The key is getting the entire fee spectrum exposed to the patient. I have observed some offices upgrade inventory and keep the unique product as the best-kept secret in the optical department.

5 Use both the retail and merchandising methods of setting frame fees.

There are the standard formulas to arrive at the retail price of a frame, such as:

Retail price = wholesale cost x 2 + $20 or $30.

Another method you should consider is merchandising. With merchandising, you instruct the frame representative not to tell you the wholesale cost of the frame. Rather, your frame buyer who is knowledgeable about frame style, hinge design, finish and comfort, first determines the retail price of the frame.

For example, the frame representative presents a frame that your buyer believes will bring $200 in your market. Now, ask the frame representative for the wholesale cost. If the response was $60, the formula method would be to set a $120 retail price, while the merchandising method sets the price at $200, or what the expert says the consumer will pay. You can use either method to establish the price of a frame.

6 Don't overlook your frame displays.

There are many ideas of how to display frames in your optical—in fact, too many to list here. However, there are some general guidelines you can follow that will optimize both the patient experience and frame sales, such as:

► Display adult frames by gender.
► Display pediatric frames separately from other lines of frames.
► Consider mixing together frames of varying prices, so that patients don't focus solely on the low-price end of your frames display. Therefore, you can display a $100 frame next to a $500 frame.

7 Market plano sunwear.

In 2010, sales of plano sun-wear amounted to nearly $3 billion. In terms of market share, the private practice is barely a sliver of the pie chart. Optometrists are the visioncare specialists, yet sunglass retailers, drug stores and department stores sell the majority of this important visual aid. Most of these sales are non-ophthalmic in nature.

You can generate sales of plano sunwear by simply referring back to the lifestyle history and using the power of the doctor. For example, in your office, there are three major groups of patients who must have plano sunwear:

► all patients who wear contact lenses;
► all patients who have indoor prescription spectacles only;
► all children who do not wear prescription eyewear, as they require protection from damaging ultraviolet light.

If you concentrate on these groups in the exam room and meet your obligation to the patient, both plano sunwear sales and patient satisfaction will likely skyrocket.

8 Use unique frame lines.

Every step in this article elevates you from your competition. Now, add the most unique line of frames to further separate yourself from competitors. Attend trade/professional exhibits, and purchase the unique frame lines that your competition ignores. Don't be satisfied with a “vanilla” optical or practice that offers no practice separation.

9 Implement a fee grid.

Instead of displaying the fee on the frame, substitute the price with a number. Make a grid with the frames in the vertical meridian and lens type in the horizontal meridian. For example, a #1 frame costs $100 and progressive lenses cost $300. You follow the grid to see that the retail price of the complete pair is $400. This method enables the optician to quote the complete fee on every pair shown. It prevents “sticker shock” and “buyer's remorse.” Also, it speeds up the styling process. In addition, it alleviates the patient waiting 20 minutes to finally hear the total cost. Further, it exhibits that you care about your patient.

10 Take advantage of pre-appointed dispensing.

By implementing all the steps listed above, you may expect to prescribe multiple pairs of spectacles with regularity. However, many patients do not purchase both pairs on the day of their exam.

To capture the second pair, instruct the optician to record data on the pair the patient did not purchase. Then, pre-appoint the dispensing and during this appointment, make available the frame that was not purchased during the first visit.

Consider giving the patient an incentive to purchase the second pair. For example, explain to the patient that “today” (the day of dispensing) is the last day that the patient can take advantage of $80 savings, or the discount you feel is appropriate.

Offer an alternate payment option, such as third-party financing. This allows patients to stretch their payments over a longer period of time. Under third-party financing, your office gets paid in full minus a nominal handling charge.

Have confidence that the concepts and techniques presented in this article will work in your practice. They are based on people skills that do not rely on other factors, such as your geographic location. Use your energy units to improve your practice. Do not fall into the trap of making excuses about economic conditions or personnel issues to explain lackluster sales. Be a strong, enthusiastic leader, and get out of your own way. OM

Dr. Kattouf is president and founder of two management and consulting companies. For information, call (800) 745-eyes, or e-mail him at