By: Doug Martin
Director of Membership
How to Design & Manage a Thriving Optical
The answers to these three questions will help you compete with big retail.
1. How can your independent practice compete against retail giants and chain stores?
The lure of retail stores is nothing new to Doug Martin, Director of Membership at Professional Eye Care Associates of America (PECAA), who worked in merchandising for stores like Neiman Marcus and Macy’s for 20 years before shifting his focus to eye care practices. But he sees key competitive advantages for independent practices over retail outlets.
“Retail stores belong to large corporations, which means the independent can not only offer better service and quality, but also be faster to react and change. Technology is a good example, as practices are often early adopters of new clinical testing devices. Consumers like that newness,” Martin says.
According to Martin, retailers have advantages of location, merchandising and sales promotions. At PECAA, he urges members to learn from those strategies. “Optical is a business of convenience, so for sales purposes, it is much more effective to locate your practice where Mom, the primary purchaser, already shops. You can never make up in advertising what a good location gives you in visibility,” he says. “But no matter where you’re located, you certainly can improve your merchandising.”
2. What key merchandising strategies should you employ in your practice?
In the practices he’s helped, Martin has helped achieve better merchandising through some very fast and simple steps, as well as through top-tobottom makeovers.
“The practice environment and optical display are extensions of your business’s branding, so they must communicate your message about your practice. Is it luxurious? Practical? Full service? Unique? Neiman Marcus and Walmart make sure customers know the answer when they walk through the doors. Make sure your customers understand your practice, too.”
The optical display in particular is an area where optometrists often ask Martin for help.“Practices need to put some thought and planning into their merchandising, guided by the question, ‘What does this say to my customers?’” he explains. “A good display tells a story, stops the consumer’s eye and gets that person to interact with the products. The tools are concrete things like fixtures, lights, props, posters, point-of-purchase materials and music, as well as choices like positioning, spacing, quantity and brands. Even an older optical area can be a well-merchandised shop.”
3. Will these changes be profitable?
According to Martin, the optical area of an optometric practice typically generates 45% of its revenue. He thinks that this number can and should be higher. In addition to improving merchandising and displays, he offers several pieces of advice.
“One way practices can increase sales is to consider their purchases,” he says. “When I ask doctors why they purchase certain frames, most say they don’t know. But the retailers always know. Practitioners should follow that approach and make purchases according to a strategy built on their business branding and their patients’ needs.” Martin also points out that most practices he visits don’t have what he calls a “selling culture.”
“The optical area isn’t measuring sales or setting sales goals. But we know ‘what gets measured gets done,’ so we have to change that situation,” he explains. “Set a goal for $100,000 in March. Track sales for each optician. Try to boost under-penetrated areas like anti-reflective coatings and purchase of multiple pairs. You’ll be more in control and responsive to your patients, and you’ll increase revenues.”
Did You Know?
Different price points require different merchandising techniques. According to Doug Martin, Director of Membership at Professional Eye Care Associates of America (PECAA), “This is clearest at a jewelry store. Expensive items have space around them in the case, and the case is front and center. Less expensive items are more crowded in cases on the periphery. This is how merchandisers communicate what is luxurious vs. what is a value.”