Learn from merchandising and marketing plans that don’t work out

Everyone loves a good failure story, right? After all, it’s nice to know others are human, and don’t always have the rosy, perfect-picture life social media would have us believe. (I have to give a nod to epic Pinterest fail posts…but failing hugely is almost an accomplishment in and of itself, right?)

I believe there are certainly lessons to learn and, as I tell my staff, we don’t fully succeed if we don’t fail a few times first. Let me help you in avoiding some of the most grievous of errors I’ve made (and, hopefully, you haven’t already made them):


Can I chalk up being new to private practice as an excuse here? I started my practice cold, and I was searching for ways to garner new patients. Social media wasn’t quite what it is now, so upon the well-meant advice of others, I decided to purchase mailing lists of new homeowners in the five-mile radius surrounding my office and send them a series of letters. Over the course of three months, they got three letters from me/my office, attempting to convince them to see me. I had to purchase a bulk-mailing license given the sheer number of letters I was sending, and then I would have to deal with the crabby local postal staff who were not fans of the hundreds of letters sent out each month (even though I had the license to do so).

I did this for the first year, plugging along, even when I would get people angrily coming to my office with the letters in their hands, demanding to be “taken off the list.” I had managed to get an unsubscribe request — on snail mail. The number of patients who actually came to see me because of these letters could be counted on one hand. Lesson learned: Know when to cut bait when a strategy isn’t working. And if you wouldn’t like it yourself, chances are others won’t either.


Fancy regional magazines are fancy for a reason: expensive advertising. I know, because I paid for it for some time. I was caught up in the allure of shiny pages, promises of exclusive article features and statistics that showed people really did frequent the business advertised. Kudos to you if this has worked, but it did not for me. Because the “fancy” editors at this magazine had total control, they wouldn’t allow me to review the article written on me for a feature prior to publication. I sure wish they had, because there were about five factual errors, including that I was referred to as an “obstetrician.” My ads didn’t bring in anyone that I knew of, either. Lesson learned: All that glitters is not gold, but it may cost you some — and it may be less factual than your Yellow Pages ad (which is an epic fail heard about from others).


Although I’m not entirely sure this counts as merchandising, it certainly affected other merchandising in my optical. My patient living room (we abhor the word “reception”) has a variety of kids’ books and toys for entertainment, so mom and dad can browse easily in the optical. We had a trio of plastic trucks, fairly good-sized, that were extremely popular to the point of kids fighting for possession, “vrooming” so loudly it was disruptive to the whole clinic and, finally, caused damage to one of our optical displays when launched from afar. Lesson learned: Kids are fun, and so are their toys. Just make sure all around will appreciate the “fun.”

I would love to hear about your epic merchandising/marketing fail. Just don’t send me a letter or try to reach me through a regional magazine. Happy Holidays! OM