I couldn’t think of anything to write about this month. I thought, and I thought and…I thought about it, but nothing came to me, no stroke of genius, no one thing that would elicit that all-important click-through. In fact, I was late submitting this month’s article and for that I will pay a heavy price indeed.
I couldn’t find one thing…then I realized it’s because there is no one thing. Every day I come to work, and I spend 8 hours (9 if the lunch in the cafe downstairs isn’t enticing) helping you all with the many needs of your practice. On an average day I can have 3 meetings, 2 conference calls, 2 consults, and receive over 200 emails. So, for me to say I want to write about only one thing, in reality, seems a little absurd. Because none of us are focusing on just one thing. Imagine if you arrived at the office and said I’m only going to read Susan’s article today. That’s it. I am going to focus on one thing. Though I intend to be as insightful and engaging as I possibly can, still, that wouldn't be the best, nor the most realistic use of your time.
So, in the absence of a magic bullet, I’d like to discuss three things that have been on my mind, and yours. Let’s focus on these three things and paint a canvas rather than waiting for a stroke of genius to come.
The Preceptor Bias is the idea that the Preceptor, or teacher, is seen as an authority figure, and that as a result, has greater influence. I spoke with a practice generic yesterday and analyzed their sales revenue in the optical. While they had shown an increase of more than 40% year-over-year, all of that revenue came from their lens sales, while frame sales had remained essentially flat but had seen a decline. So, I asked the question, in an established practice, how have you been able to demonstrate such phenomenal growth in your lens sales? How are you able to sell such premium product so consistently? The OD has been prescribing from the chair, a practice whereby specific lens solutions are recommended to the patient by brand, material, and benefits. The authority of the OD as a Preceptor, or teacher, allowed for an acceptance of the recommended solution outright. It makes sense really. When was the last time your General Practitioner recommended you take a pain medication to which you said, "Nope Doc, I think you’ve got it wrong"? The thing is, it’s tough to go around holding lenses in front of your eyes all day. Fingerprints aside, I just feel like people would judge. Lens recommendations then, are not the complete solution. What would happen if the OD said, "I am going to recommend the lens option to help with your eye strain and I think they would work well in one of our new frames from *insert brand*?" How would that change the Optician/Patient conversation in the optical? How would that affect your frame sales?
The Minimum Viable Audience or MVA is the minimum number of patients we need to be loyal to our practice for us to survive and thrive. A common refrain in optical consulting is the pressure from outside influences, the Walmarts, Costcos, and online retailers of the world. They’re stealing our patients! Our scripts are walking! And it must stop! Why? Chasing a price conscious consumer will set you on a path that leads straight to the bottom, and they will leave you anyway when you fail to make it free. If we aim to please everyone, we disappoint everyone. Do you know how many patients you need to thrive, how many exams, how much revenue per exam? What would it take? Are we all striving for limitless wealth? Because that’s not what you tell me during our calls. I hear things like, I want to serve my community, I want to help people, I want to be a good Doctor. These things run counter to the chase. If you don’t know your MVA, find out. Then, focus on those people, your big spenders, your legacy patients, your core consumer, and market to them. Neglecting your returning patients to chase walking scripts is like having a date on your wedding day. The MVA, says Seth Godin, goes against our capitalist nature of course. Why not try to make as much money as possible? But, if we focus on those hundreds, or even possibly thousands of people who already believe in what we do? Success will come.
The Optical Obstacle is the roadblock to optimizing your optical. (Say that five times fast). There are two reasons that the optical may be difficult for an OD to embrace. First, it very clearly takes money to make money. There is a direct correlation between how much is spent in the optical, and the return on investment. The more beautiful your displays, the more time spent considering lighting, and materials, the more specifically trained the staff, the better the optical will perform. At the end of the day, it is a retail environment and, as such, must satisfy a feeling, as much as offer a solution. A well-stocked display with multiple pairs (duplicates), and a good 36-piece assortment per brand, will outperform a sparse and scattered optical every time, without exception. Not every frame can be a best-seller however, and this is frustrating and sometimes expensive. Second, the sales in the optical can, upon first inspection, appear random. A prescription is a solution to a very specific medical need. Lenses help people see. Contacts require fittings. All of these things have a tangible need and a noticeable effect. The idea that someone would spend more on a frame because of a logo on the temple then they would on a generic of the same material, color, size, and shape, is a foreign and confusing concept. It can be easier just to abstain, than to try to understand consumer behavior in the optical. So, what to do? Recognize that the optical and the clinic are different and hire someone who understands why.
Susan earned her bachelor’s degree in Fashion Merchandising Management from FIT and studied branding abroad at the University of Westminster. Her most recent positions include Merchandise Manager for Cohen’s Fashion Optical and Northeast Regional Trainer for Solstice Sunglasses. Susan started her own business in 2009 and sold it in 2016 to return to Connecticut and begin working for IDOC, helping other small business owners find success on their own terms. For questions or comments about this article, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.