Increase Optical Sales
Improve your zero growth pattern by following these three steps.
STUART J. THOMAS, O.D., ELLEN BYRUM-GOAD, LDO, ATHENS, GA.
Former Penn State football coach Joe Paterno once said, “If you are not getting better, you are getting worse,” which easily applies to optical dispensary sales in my practice: While our sales remained above national averages, the growth pattern was zero.
The following three steps spurred optical growth:
1 Focusing on premium products
O.D.s use verbal recommendations and/or written “prescriptions” to provide patients with the best products, materials and visual outcomes. But this comes to a grinding halt if your optical staff goes rogue after the patient hand-off.
We’ve changed our staff’s mindset and convinced them to make our premium products their first option for patients in the following areas:
• Lenses. Too often, our employees gravitated toward single vision plastic lenses with no extras because it was an easy sale. To help our patients obtain better visual outcomes while benefiting our bottom line, we made premium lens features standard.
To increase plano sunwear sales, Thomas Eye Center offers gift certificates to patients when they purchase their annual contact lens supply or six-month supply of dailies.
PHOTO COURTESY OF SEAN BAILEY
I’ve changed the way optical staff discusses lens features with patients, so they are no longer considered unnecessary add-ons that increase the price. We treat them like they are part of their prescription. Opticians name the lens brand and type, as well as everything that comes with it, such as UV protection, AR coating and polished edges. Our employees use our price list, which lists our two lens materials: polycarbonate and 1.67 high-index, and quote prices. The price lists bundle all our premium lens features.
Then, the optical staff explains the benefits of each feature. For example, staff tells patients that polycarbonate lenses are thin, lightweight and durable while providing a better visual outcome. To express the importance of digital freeform lenses, our staff says to patients, “the technology in optics has advanced just like television, which went from low quality, big box machines to high definition. Now, we can offer that technology in your prescription lenses.” Patients understand this HD parallel and want to experience the same viewing pleasure in their everyday lives. Whenever possible, we demonstrate the benefits after explaining them, so patients see them firsthand. An example: AR Coating.
We’ve found this method is more effective than naming each feature while typing its cost into a calculator, which created sticker shock — patients opted out of features that they deemed unnecessary after hearing the price. By having optical staff treat the O.D.’s recommendations like a prescription, patients aren’t likely to decline.
We’ve even completely removed products from our practice software that we didn’t want our optical staff to sell. For example, when we previously sold patients our cheapest plastic lens options, they damaged easily, especially if the patient’s occupation caused a lot of wear and tear. Offering only polycarbonate and high-index lenses has cut down on the number of remakes from damaged lenses, which were costly and compromised the patient’s experience. This created stress for both patients and staff.
Our approach has significantly increased the frequency of sales of lens “add-ons.” For example, our digital freeform sales jumped to roughly 93%, compared with 15% roughly a year ago. Also, our AR percentage improved from 80% to roughly 97% simply by making this a default first option for our patients.
► Frames. Our philosophy of “starting high” and “trickling down” also applies to selling frames to patients. We wanted to create tendencies in which our opticians’ would suggest our high-end frames before our inexpensive frames.
To aid this process, we decided to reposition our frame boards. First, we determined our optical department’s selling tendencies. Each staff member indicated on a diagram of our frame boards where they typically started when showing frames to patients. The response was amazing — they all began at the same side of our “C” shaped gallery and preceded to the left, regardless of whether the frames were our most expensive or low-end.
Therefore, we moved our most expensive frames to that display board. The next high-priced frames were placed on the adjacent board, and so on. Now, our staff knows to start their recommendations at the most expensive frame display and move left as needed.
Also, we added a $20 bonus as an incentive when one of the high-end frames is sold ($500 and up). This provided extra motivation for staff to push these frames first.
2 Increasing emphasis on second pair sales
Focusing on polarized sunwear has allowed us to sell more second pairs. After explaining our 50% discount on a second pair of eyewear, we show patients the benefits of polarized lenses.
Our opticians use demonstrators provided by sunwear companies that allow each patient to compare the difference between polarized lenses and non-polarized lenses. During the demonstration, our optical staff says, “This simulates the effect of glare on a windshield or the surface of water. You will notice that polarized lenses increase your safety when driving and give great clarity when fishing.” Also, we take patients outdoors on sunny days so they can experience the impact of polarized lenses.
Upon dispensing to patients who decide they only want one pair of prescription eyeglasses, we remind them of our second pair discount. Then, we mention the savings again during our courtesy check-in calls to patients one week after we’ve dispensed their eyewear.
This approach has led to a 5% increase in polarized lens sales, which we expect will continue to grow.
3 Providing incentive to purchase plano sunwear.
Without providing motivation for our patients to purchase plano sunwear from us, our patients used to leave our optical and buy their sunwear from other retailers.
In an effort to prevent this, we developed a simple plan to help staff increase plano sunwear sales: When patients pay for their annual supply of contact lenses or six-month supply of daily contact lenses, we hand them a $25 gift certificate for plano sunwear.
After presenting the gift certificate, we ask, “would you like to try on a few frames today?” Then, we offer to take them to the frame boards to help them choose their sunwear.
Providing the gift certificate and personal attention has been a motivator behind patients purchasing more plano sunwear in our optical.
It can be easy for optometrists to not pay enough attention to their optical, but, if you’re not experiencing growth, you should shake things up. Staff may struggle to adjust, so give them the exact guidelines you want them to follow through specific scripts and protocols. If you do, rather than your numbers getting worse, they will get better. OM
Dr. Thomas practices at Thomas Eye Center and is the team optometrist for University of Georgia Athletic Association. Also, he is a member of the board of directors for VSP. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mrs. Byrum-Goad is a licensed optician and practice manager of Thomas Eye Center. Also, she owns and manages Georgia Optometric Consulting. E-mail her at email@example.com, or send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.