As we continue with my “Pick One Thing” (and get really good at it) series, this week’s topic is a really big one. So big, we will devote two articles to it. Frame selection (and I will include lens design here) is really the essence of optical dispensing. This includes the sales aspect of optical and that drives a huge part of practice revenue; usually about 50% of gross revenue.
The other reason that frame selection is such an important part of the patient experience is that patients care so much about it. Many patients still see their family optometrist to obtain routine refractive eye care and new glasses. They want to see clearly, but they also want a new look that freshens up their self-image.
Most ODs today are increasingly embracing medical eye care, which is a great move for many reasons, but I caution these doctors to not lose sight of the importance of optical dispensing and to remain actively involved in it.
While I firmly believe in investing a portion of profits back into the practice to make it great, I’m also a strong proponent to starting small and modest in order to generate profits quickly. That is the way it is with optical: the practical budget aspect may limit what you can do in the early stages, but don’t become complacent and drift along in mediocrity for a long time. Think big and think great.
The frame displays and general office décor have a huge impact on the perception of your optical by the patient. Many offices start out with a do it yourself approach in optical, but it is smart to obtain the professional skills of an interior designer, either as a free-lance advisor or by using one of the optical display companies who employ these experts.
I believe optometrists need a larger frame inventory than most of them have. I know it is expensive, but people want choices and it is not very difficult to find more choices at the local mall or online if their family OD seems small and out of date. Investing in your optical pays off with increased sales.
To do a good job in frame buying, start by considering your target market. What does your patient base usually buy from you? What are the demographics of your community and what are the opportunities? It is smart to carry some high end frame lines to stretch the price points that you think are in the normal spending range of your patients, but you also need a good selection of value-priced frames to prevent price-conscious buyers from walking out with their Rx.
Most practices need several choices of well-known fashion designer name brands, but they also do well with the lesser known, independent labels that have shapes and colors that do not look like every other frame on the boards. Of course, you need styles that are designed for men, women and children and a nice selection of sunwear.
To accomplish all this really well, you need about 800 frames as a minimum and maybe 1,200 or more when your practice is in a growth mode from medium to large. Part of the challenge of larger frame inventories is often the lack of office space. After all, we don’t want the frame boards or shelf systems to be packed with frames! We want to break up the rows of frames with product displays, branding materials, merchandising, mirrors, posters, and all the tools you see in nice retail stores. See if you can add more space to your existing optical and make it a priority in your floor plan the next time you move to a new office.
Review Your Resources
Much of the success of your optical lies with the people on your staff. Designing and fitting the right pair of glasses takes knowledge and skill. Optometrists are busy professionals and many believe in fully delegating all aspects of optical, which I think can lead to problems. In my view, the independent OD who owns his/her practice must be competent enough (and interested enough) in optical dispensing to be able evaluate the opticians who work there. If you are one of the ODs who has not paid attention to optical, now is the time to dive in. Set up some meetings with your opticians and start asking questions. Gather some data about your optical product sales. And find time to take a seat in your optical way off to the side and act like you are working on your laptop, but really observe and listen.
The transfer of the patient from the clinical side of the practice to the retail side is crucial. Patients are observing this closely as they decide what to do about buying glasses. They often missed what the doctor said at the end of the exam, so this is a chance to hear it again and decide what to do. The patient also obtains clues about how well the office operates.
Time is a big enemy in the handoff. If patients are frequently left to wait for an optician and browse on their own, many will think about it and decide to wait. Many patients will say they will come back when they have more time, but never do.
Optician Skill Levels
In start-up practices, it may make sense for the optometrist to serve as the optician. Don’t be shocked; owners must do all kinds of tasks in a start-up. But hopefully it will not take long for that approach to stop being economical and then it makes sense to hire a well-trained, experienced optician. Eventually, with more growth, the practice needs several opticians to handle the flow of patients.
Not every employee who works in optical needs to be a master optician. Some optometric technicians also serve as opticians. Some staff members are trained as frame stylists and they understand optical products and can take basic measurements, but they do not have the skills to handle complex prescriptions or troubleshoot optical complaints. Always follow your state law if opticians are required to be licensed.
Evaluate the skill levels of your current optical staff and provide training and support if there are areas of weakness. Some opticians are very skilled on the technical aspects of optics, but may not be good at selling or may have poor people skills. Identify the needs of your practice and get the right people.
More to come next week on frame selection in your practice.
Best wishes for continued success,
Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week
Dr. Gailmard's new book, Practice Management in Optometry: A Blueprint for Success Based on the Optometric Management Tip of the Week, is now available on Amazon.