Today’s independent business owner is under fierce competition for the consumer‘s dollar, unlike ever before. Not only are you having to compete against other doctors’ offices, ODs, optometrists and optical shops - but you are competing for all consumer dollars. Items once considered a luxury have become commodity items , if not actual necessities - such as cell phones, computers, trendy sneakers (for $180), ‘7 For All Mankind’ jeans (starting at $175), Louis Vuitton and Coach handbags and Jimmy Choo shoes. And you are also up against companies with savvy marketing skills - with huge vaults of cash - for advertising and media blitzes. ‘IN THE BOX’ and ‘OUT OF THE BOX’ thinking and strategies to seduce the customer to buy their latest ‘product du jour’, not yours. Yes, it is brutal. But what are you as a doctor or business owner or a manager doing to compete? Do you have a plan or strategy? Do you have goals set and timeframe? Probably NOT. The reality is that CHANGE IS NECESSARY! Your customer is seeing it in all other aspects of their lives and in their purchases. When was the last time a patient asked for the oldest in technology and vision quality? Do you think that Radio Shack has invested millions in transistor radios recently? Of course not!

Many of you are brilliant when it comes to optics and the technical aspects. But clueless when it comes to (1) marketing; (2) sales, (3) fashion, (4) service. Some of you need a little help - and some of you need a lot of help! And there is nothing wrong with recognizing that fact and getting help. You went to school for optics and it changed your life via the knowledge that you control. So, you do have the ability to change if you want to. YOU are in total control of any changes that you make or don’t make. Your speech, your dress and personal grooming, your work habits and what you demand from your staff. You - the very same you that decided to change your life by attending and graduating with a degree in optics, regardless of the level. You are licensed professionals.

So, what is the plan? Firstly, we need to recognize that YOU are the ‘brand’, not the name on the latest hot eyewear collection. In fact, you are more exclusive if you are not carrying the BIG designer names. Leading your patient and customer to the newest and most original products. This past year, you saw a trend like never before in luxury stores - and their record profits. Not the middle-guy who has no identity. It has also happened in volume discount big-box stores - record profits, not the middle guy. Today, the chain stores ARE the middle-guy.

And why in the world would you even want to compete with them by selling the exact same products? You are forced to trade UP! And that’s a good thing. Your patients and customers are ‘trading up’ in all other aspects of their lives, so why not optics? You can.

It takes a little more work – but the reward and personal pride and satisfaction that you will achieve as a result of ‘trading up’ – well, you cannot put a price on it. But you might say : ‘i already have too many salespeople calling on me now. That’s good. Just think if they were not calling on you, where your business would be and how hard you would have to work! Seriously, play the hand that you are dealt. Here is one solution for controlling the ‘sales barrage’. And I acknowledge - it is there.

Once or twice a month - you have what is called an ‘open viewing day’. You establish a day and a time that when you see new salespeople - regardless of frames, lenses, accessories or lab. Say, the third Thursday or each month from 9am to 11am. First come, first serve and shut it off promptly. Tell each frame representative: ‘show me your ten best styles and who are your customers?’ They should know! You will see - (1) more collections (picking up on trends, new styles, etc); (2) who wants to do business with you; (3) you will have more time on your hands to run your business and drive your profits; (4) you will be more focused when buying products and hence no interruptions. You make more profit on the ‘BUY’ of the current frame - not the sale of it; (5) salespeople who’s entire collections you want to see - invite them back for an appointment. Before business hours and after business hours, are always good times as you can focus without interruption. If they want your business they will accommodate you.

Having fresh and exciting fashion products will enhance your sales and marketing image. But knowing your products is also very important. Knowing how each frame fits - is it a small or a wide frame? Single vision or a PAL? Which colors look best on different skin complexions? When a patient walks in, right away you should be able to select five frames and put them on the patient’s face each looking fabulous in its own way. And establishing that level of confidence that you want from them and truly, they want to give to you. They want to be sold.

But price should not be the main selling point, nor quick turnaround. Better products cost more and take more time. This is not a ‘drive-thru’. This is optics from which the patient derives 75% of all information traveling through their brain! My attitude is - “why are you coming to me if you don’t want the best for your eyes?’. Or you could have this parallel thought of - ”i only dispense the world’s best optics for your eyes!’ Be always building on quality. When you sell quality - you don’t have to make apologies. There is no negotiation!

Also, patients will have more respect for their eyes and eyewear, the more that they spend. Many times you hear ‘I only buy cheap sunglasses because I lose them so often’. NO, you lose them because you buy cheap and have no respect for them or for your eyes! Same with readers and ½ eye computer eyewear. Many of your patients and customers are buying these ½ eyes at generic chain stores. Criminal! And what is amazing is that they are at these chain stores for other reasons - buying technology for their home or office! Why are you letting this happen? That business was just handed to these chain stores by the optical business. We gave it away and today it is now one of the emerging profit centers for you. Recapture it!

The formula to capture the better consumer is through quality, the latest in technology and fashion. And why would you not want to capture the consumer who was the most money to spend and who spends it more often? Simple math! Why would you want to base your business on the consumer who doesn’t have as much money to spend and doesn’t spend it as often on eyewear? Unless you are a volume discounter, this won’t work. Your time is too valuable to work for cheap. Raise your own bar. There are so many great marketing ideas that are niche and different and won’t cost that much. Ideas can be developed specifically for your needs. Trunk shows. Monitors. Visual and social and educational functions.

Making your place a destination. It’s just as much about the whole ‘experience’ of the purchase, as the purchase itself. It is about the experience of keeping your staff motivated and involved. Everyone wants to be entertained in both their life and at work. You can still be professional - and have fun! Many different components are responsible for ‘image’ - and how your patients and customers see and perceive you and your staff / business. All are one and one is all. Everything is interchangeable and either compliments or distracts from your professional image. And the first impression when a patient walks in will be their lasting impression. Make your first impression… well - impressive! Don’t you, as a consumer, want to be impressed? In fact, a ‘secret shopper’ is a great idea to gauge your business and staff. Hire and unknown professional in optics to come in as a prospective patient or customer. Work out a cash payment or frame / lens package for their time. You will get a reality check. You know what you have or more importantly - learning what is not happening, or is happening in negative terms. Then you can fix and remedy the situation. You always have to be ‘stepping’ back’ and taking a look at your business. It is worth the four or five hundred dollars investment for a ‘secret shopper’ - as it could generate thousands of dollars for you by identifying voids, whether in the product area or in the sales presentation.

Many times, you are too close to the problem, or are part of the problem itself to be able to recognize it. Again, you mostly tend to be professionals in optics - most of you did not go to business or fashion or merchandising school. You are not expected to know. Ego cannot get in the way. Your bank won’t accept ego. You cannot retire on ego. Hire outside professionals to help you in areas you need help. Work more closely with your vendors and sales representatives and network within the business. Learn what fashion collections are strong - buy Women’s Wear Daily and buy fashion magazines - not only to keep your staff current, but additionally, to show your consumer what is current. And importantly, showing them that you are current - if not ahead of the rest of the optical competition. Fashion dictates the purchase in most cases. Not only the frame itself, but also your dispensing staff’s appearance.

Your faces are your billboards! Use them! If not, it’s like working at Kinney shoes and NOT wearing shoes! You aren’t making any money from contact lenses. Frames on the faces! In most cases, the doctor does not need to be ‘fashionable’, unless they are really involved in dispensing. But your staff - that is a different story. The owner of the business has to set standards of dress code. We need to project professionalism and still be fashionable at the same time.

Is your staff wearing eyewear? You would be astonished to see how few ‘staff’ are actually wearing eyewear - much less, the latest in eyewear. This is criminal! What does this say about your business? What does it say about your pride and commitment to the products that you dispense? It should be mandated that wearing eyewear is a ‘job description’ and make that known in the interview process. As an owner, you also have to make it very affordable or even ‘comp’ the frame/lens package for your staff. It’s a great investment. Wearing what you dispense is the best advertising. Again, work with your representatives. The smart representatives are trying to get their products on your faces.

Your faces are your billboards! Use them! If not, it’s like working at Kinney shoes and NOT wearing shoes! You aren’t making any money from contact lenses. Frames on the faces! In most cases, the doctor does not need to be ‘fashionable’, unless they are really involved in dispensing. But your staff - that is a different story. The owner of the business has to set standards of dress code. We need to project professionalism and still be fashionable at the same time. Are their shoes shined? Are they actually wearing shoes that can be shined? Ties, jackets and suits? What is wrong with dressing up for work? All your customers dress for work! We have to set new standards for ourselves and reinventing ourselves and our businesses.

Is your business décor up to date, or are you still working with an interior from the 70s? Vintage is only good if you are in the vintage business. But not in technology. Only collectors buy vintage technology. Wearers of optical products want the latest… and if you won’t sell it to them, believe me - someone else is more than happy to get the sale. It has been said that the optical industry sales industry has been flat. Yes, that may be - but it is only because we are not ‘selling’ them on the latest products and technology. We are not trying to romance the products to entice the consumer to purchase. Most are not proud or bragging about the quality of products that they represent. For instance, sales of anti-reflective coatings in the US are 18-19%. While in Europe and Asia, this number is more than 90%. Why? It is attitude! They have made premium products that are more important to the consumer. It is also about control.

My grandfather would say to me ‘Jimyboy, it only costs a little bit more to buy the best’. He would also tell me that ‘people look at your shoes and fingernails and judge you accordingly’. Nowadays, they look at your face! Then they look at your shoes and nails. It’s a package, whether you agree or not. All is one and one is all. What would be wrong with saying to your patient - ‘Mrs Smith, here, we only dispense the best products that are available in the world!’ What a statement! As a doctor / business owner / manager - we have to take control of the business. That means controlling what is happening in your office / shop. Controlling what is said by the front desk staff to patients when making appointments and what is being said by the dispensing staff when it comes to terminology and how they sell / present products. Are they asking the patient what they want or are they ‘dispensing’?

For instance -‘Mrs Smith, this prescription that the doctor and i are giving you is the best for your eye care health. This is a daily prescription for your eyes - and this is no different than a pill or liquid prescription that an MD would prescribe to take daily, this just happens to be in a lens and anti- reflective technology and deserves the same respect as a pill from an MD’ (see ‘Controlling Your Business, Controlling Your Patient’).

As I close, I want to thank you for your time and interest. Secondly, understand that i approach the business industry with the attitude that there is so much opportunity available in the optical industry - we just have to grasp it. It’s there! Manage your growth and success. Don’t just show up for work. If the sign on the door says 9-5, most are showing up 9-5. Put in the extra effort. Get that fax machine with a dedicated line. Purchase that new computer which will take you to newer heights. I bet that ALL of your customers have the latest computers - so why do most optical shops NOT have them? This is criminal! You have to set yourself up for success. And the sky is the limit of what you can achieve.

Believe me, i know virtually nothing about the technical aspect of lenses but I am the number one representative when it comes to sales for Varilux, Zeiss, Transitions and J&J Lenses. I sell more Crizal / Alize than any other representative on the East Coast. I am Luzerne’s number one representative - and yet, i am with the least experience. Why? Because COMMITMENT and PASSION - are greater assets than any knowledge that you may hold!

I hope that this and my other articles can help you in your pursuit of excellence and in your business growth.

Thank you,

Jamie Hansel

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