Hello eyecare professionals!

So, you think it's tough now. Just wait. There is a dynamic shift happening in retail. It started in the 1980s. I saw it happening right before my eyes - i experienced the change first hand.

As a ladies wholesale clothing representative, i started in 1975. There was a huge amount of independent 'moderate priced' mom and pop shops in every town, small and large. And of course, each city had its own independent department stores - Minneapolis had its Dayton's and Power's and Donaldson's. Cincinnato had Shillito's and McAlpin's and Pogue's. Each major city usually enjoyed two or more locally-owned department stores and small town had their 'anchor' department store - locally owned.

In addition, there were many cities that had companies whom had chain stores. Salkin and Linhoff in Minneapolis had several hundred locations under different names. Maurice's in Duluth, Minnesota had over 600 locations; Seiferts in Cedar Rapids, Iowa had almost 200 shops. And there were many retailers similarly with hundreds of doors. There were literally thousands of 'doors' available to representavies to sell to and for shoppers to shop, all over the US.

As interestate highways became better and as mom and pops started to retire (their children did not want to maintain the shops), they started to close all over the US, as nobody wanted to buy them. So, they closed. Department stores merged, many are now Macy's (Shillito's, Rich's in Atlanta, Burdine's in Florida, Goldwater's in Phoenix, Broadway in Los Angeles - all of them are Macy's now) and you have May Company, Dillard's and Nordstrom too. Along with that, stores like Target (started by Dayton's), Costco, Home Depot and other big box stores started to proliferate in the 80s and 'discounters' were born.

The US started to experience a 'polarization' in retail - it became a 'higher end' better business and a volume discount business. And so the moderate middle price point was gone. And the manufacturers also started to open up their own retail stores, competing with their longtime clients who had purchased and supported their brand for years.

Liz Claiborne, Nike, Abercrombie, Express, Joseph A Banks, etc. NOW we have the internet to contend with, which amplified that 'volume discount' purchase, as well as CHOICE - and has taken more business, from not only the independents, but all brick-and-mortar retailers - YOU included.

What has that got to do with optical? The very same thing is now happening in optical, just not as quickly as it did in clothing or hardware or food stores. The middle moderate is getting lost. Many of your suppliers - Luxottica, Machon, Oakley, Solstice (Safilo) etc - have now become your competitors. Most moderate collections with brand names, you can buy their products on every website and chain store and discount store. Even VSP is reducing your compensation. Essilor owns You simply CANNOT compete on price or selection. They will bury you. In fact, they are already cutting into your sales and your gross margins.

Today's consumer has so many choices. What are you doing that makes the consumer want to shop with you? How does your practice or shop look? How does the staff dress? What kind of eyewear do you sell? What eyewear do you and your staff wear? What message are you sending to your patient/customer or potential customer? What is the 'experience' that the consumer is having in your practice or shop? What is the 'perception' that the patient/customer has of your business? Do you have a website or internet presence? What is the 'image' of your business? Andthis includes the website.

If YOU were the patient or consumer, would 'all of the above' be a drawing card to you - or would you pass and go online or go to a chain store to purchase your optical needs?

Some of you have already traded UP. Many have not. Many of you are nearing retirement age and are going to want to either sell or retire... probably not having children that want your practice or business and some of you want to start your own business some day. What can you do? What are your choices and how can you compete?

CHANGE! Your decor. Your eyewear collections. Your lenses. Your accessories. The 'experience' has to be elevated. You have to create 'equity' in the business. Create equity in the perception of your business.

All of these questions i asked above have to be addressed. Now is the time to address these issues. To keep on doing something the same way - because you have done it the same way all of these years... is reason to change. The retail world is not the same.

You have to get in the game. If your strength is not retail, then hire someone that knows retail to assist you. Can you afford not to?

Optical schools are NOT teaching retail (just starting) - they teach optics then they 'throw' you into retail to compete with some of the most savvy retailers in the world... and not just optical. You are competing for EVERY consumer dollar spent... not just optical, but Abercrombie, Starbucks, Macy's, Coach, Lenscrafters, Apple, etc. Look at all these retailers and the 'formula' that they have for success. Consistency. It is a controlled environment, a controlled message, a controlled product mix, a controlled atmosphere and a controlled experience. Take Starbucks - you know what you are getting, regardless of the city.

Take a walk through SoHo. Look at the window displays, look at the interiors of shops. They are beautiful and 'make' one to want to shop there. They 'lure' the consumer in. Then it's up to the staff to get the message across consistently and succinctly and take the 'experience' to the next level. You have to open the door to success. It's out there. The consumer is out there and they have money. Learn how to connect with the customer and romance them properly and they will give you their money. And it has to be done consistently, every day.

As always, all the best to you.

Jamie Hansel

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