CONTINUING EDUCATION, 1 CE Credit � $9.99, 1 Hour, General Knowledge, Level 1, Release date: October 2007, Expiration date: October 31, 2012

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MANAGING OPTICIAN

The Sky is NOT Falling!



Despite what most of the media would have us believe, the sky is NOT falling. It might be a little overcast, but definitely not falling. For one thing, gas prices are dropping...in my little corner of the world, we're under $4.00 a gallon, even for premium. That should begin to ease the fuel cost crunch most of us are feeling by way of surcharges and increased shipping fees.

However, we are heading into the dreaded "FOURTH QUARTER," where grown men (and women) sigh and nervously watch sales slip, appointments go unfilled and those "iffy" sunglass purchases sit gathering dust.
If cloudy skies are part of your forecast, consider some steps you can take to ease your mind and perhaps your checkbook.

  1. Revisit your business plan. A good business plan is a living document. It needs attention on a regular basis to remain relevant and to keep you and your business on track. According to William Dennis, senior research fellow at the National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB), the recent installment of the Small Business Economic Trends Report indicates that 20% of respondents are advertising their businesses more than they were six months ago, but 15% were advertising less. Both groups cited the economic slowdown as a significant motivator.

  2. Review your staffing needs. Most big-box retailers will be cutting staff, so if you intend to concentrate on personalized service, following their lead may not be the prudent move. Hiring a well-trained but recently laid-off staff member may prove to be a valuable risk to take. The same study from NFIB reported that in the hard-hit construction industry, 19% of owners plan to expand their workforce, while only 12% intended to cut back. 13% have cut their selling prices, while 48% have raised them.

  3. Plan your purchases. A full 20% of the same respondents said they had scaled back on planned capital investments, primarily based on the slowing economy, though 5% said they could not get financing. At the same time 30% remained on track with their plans for major purchases. The reality is that there are some very good deals out there and many companies are willing to negotiate more favorable terms to move major purchases like edging and surfacing equipment. Bill Dunkelberg, NFIB's chief economist reminds us that "the U.S. is never uniformly in a boom or a recession. You really have to analyze what's happening in your market where you are and how it ties in to the fortunes of the larger economy."

  4. Review your lab purchases. How long has it been since you took a good look at your lab bills? How current is your most current price list? Lab costs generally represent the bulk of your monthly expenses. Are you constantly scanning the trades to find the cheapest price on lenses or coatings or are you concentrating on creating partnerships with just a select group of labs? In troubled times, the relationships you've forged by being a good and loyal account may enable you to negotiate more favorable pricing or shipping charges. Utilizing remote ordering/remote tracing may entitle your practice to discounts or reduced shipping fees. You won't know unless you ask. Consider utilizing the package deals that most labs offer. They generally include good quality frames and lenses at attractive pricing. The labs value your business every bit as much as you value your patients business. 

  5. Take a critical look at your frame inventory. I love eyeglasses as much or more than the next Optician, but if a frame has been sitting too long, it's got to go. You should be tagging frames so that you know when the return date is near. If you don't, you'll own that dog forever. Hopelessly overstocked? Perhaps it's time to consider a sale or, better yet, develop a package that includes your older frame inventory with a specific group of lenses and/or lens treatments (polarization, variable tints, anti-reflective coatings, etc.).

  6. Reach out and touch your patients. Don't wait until the holidays to thank your patients for their business. Those cards will get lost in all the madness. Thank them now with a special sale or a trunk show. Rethink trunk shows to include "Lens Shows." With all the new technology available, why not highlight lenses for those older frames? If you're not collecting email addresses...start now. An e-newsletter tells your patient base that your practice is on the cutting edge of technology. Offer yourself as an expert speaker to local civic organizations or the local schools. As local business person, you need to be visible in the community. That's the kind of advertising you can't buy.

  7. Review your accounts receivable. This is quite possibly the most uncomfortable thing you'll ever have to do. You know that your patients are feeling some economic pain, but keeping the lines of communication open will prevent a lot of hurt feelings in the long run. Be willing to work with your patients to set up payment schedules, if necessary. If you require payment in full at point of service, good for you! If you're not comfortable with that, require a non-refundable deposit to cover your costs. Eyeglasses are, after all is said and done, a custom-made product.

  8. Talk to your creditors. If things are looking a little bleaker than you're comfortable with, the most important thing you can to is to communicate with your bank and your creditors. Ignoring phone calls is not going to work for very long, and when economic times improve you may need some help to build and improve your business. Protect your credit rating by keeping the lines of communication open.

  9. Take a vacation or a "staycation". Many years ago my Mom gave me a sign for my kitchen.

    "When you're up to your ___ in alligators, it's often difficult to remember that your initial objective was to drain the swamp."

    A few days or a long weekend away from the everyday hassles of running a business may be just what you need to gain some perspective. Take some time to catch up with your reading or play with the kids or go fishing. 

  10. Find something to laugh about. If you can't find something to laugh about every day, do something to make your staff laugh every day. You're spending more than a third of your life at work, you better start having some fun. Try visiting www.thehumorproject.com for some great ideas. The "Smile on a Stick" is my personal favorite.

"Our country was built on the entrepreneurial spirit and we will get through this. Entrepreneurs are optimistic by nature, and although they may be being cautious right now, they're still looking for opportunities." �Tom Ulbrich, Vice Chairman, Leadership Council of the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

Judy Canty
ABO/NCLE 

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