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Recession Repression: 
Some Opticals Increased Sales in 2008

Now the story can be told: while many of us bemoaned the economic downturn of 2008, there were practices that paid no attention to the newspaper story outside their doors, and just attended to business, serving their patient’s visual needs. They knew that the power was in their hands, and they used it to great effect.

From Fort Lauderdale to Tampa, there were accounts that increased their annual Lens and Anti-Reflective protection lab purchases by 40%-75% as compared to the volume they did in 2007. Other practices from South Miami to Jacksonville consolidated their lab business, and so increased their Lens and AR purchases by 100% to 400%. Was there a common course of action, a magic bullet or potion, to guarantee success? Fortunately, and unremarkably, there is not: there are as many roads to success as there are human brains to imagine them.

One practice focuses on selling second and third pairs of glasses to a patient. My mantra is, “The patients who sit in front of you want to pick your brain – educate them.”

The successful Office Manager/Optician put it this way. “The patients who come to this practice are not optically educated. If you don’t tell them it exists, how are they going to know that they want it, and that there is an optical product designed to enhance their overall and visual health?”

One Optician at another practice said, “With so many people interested in the Presidential elections this year, and fear especially among retirees that absentee ballots might not be correctly counted, more ‘snow birds’ who have made Florida their legal residence came here to prove their residency by voting in person,” he said. “The first thing many of our patients do, upon returning to their Florida home, is get their annual eye examination.”

Another Optician said it differently. “Our practice is next to the University, and each semester there is an influx of new and repeat patients. Our Optometrist has his appointment book filled weeks ahead, and his client base believes in the frames and lenses we offer them.”

Can Opticians Reduce the Cost of Doctor Changes?

Doctor changes are also costly to all parties involved in the sale of eyeglasses. The patient is annoyed that, “the Optician made my glasses wrong.” The Optician is upset because his reputation has been affected, even when his skills might not be the cause of the problem. If the Rx is wrong because, “the Ophthalmologist or Optometrist wrote the wrong Rx,” the Optician must tacitly hold accountable the prescribing skills of the Doctor the patient has faith in, since the only way to have the prescription changed is to ask the patient to return to the Doctor to ask her/his advice on how to correct the Rx. And of course the lab is annoyed that there is another Rx they will manufacture, ship and not get paid for. This is another warranty that cries out for a change of procedures to reduce the cost to all concerned.

Here is one suggestion. Opticians often know that the offices of certain doctors have a high incidence of incorrectly prescribed Rx’s. Often the Optician can predict that the change from a previous prescription is drastic, and may cause patient adjustment difficulties.

In such instances, the Optician would proceed with the normal process of choosing lenses and frame for the new Rx, and then might say, “I want to make sure that you feel comfortable wearing this new prescription before we order these eyeglasses. I will make you a pair of glasses in any of these frames at no charge. Wear them for a week, let me know how this new prescription is working for you, and I will then order these glasses you have chosen. If the prescription is not working for you, just return to the Doctor for him/her to do any correcting to the prescription that might be necessary.”

The Optician has now given the power to decide whether to return to the Doctor for a prescription change in the hands of the patient – before s/he is annoyed that, “these eyeglasses you made don’t work.” Might this be a way to get out from being the bad guy, and being caught between the rock of your referring doctor and the hard place of an annoyed patient?

The frames you offer for this test will be ones that have a low cost or are old frames you can’t sell. The lenses should be clear SV or FT just to test the Rx. If the prescription works for the patient, you have the option of making a gift of “these second pair – emergency pair of eyeglasses,” or offering to sell them at a very low price to cover your cost. Even if the patient rejects this prescription, the cost to the practice is greatly diminished.

Lens Returns for Credit Take Profit from both Labs & Opticals

The costs of the current warranty system to both the lab and the optical practice are obvious. Both parties have a profit motive to change this system in 2009. Some practices have chosen to do business only with labs that will ship warranty, Non-Adapt, and Doctor changes to an Rx at no charge, so there is no need to go through the credit process at all. Some labs have chosen to issue credits, but not require the return of lenses, while other labs have offered a significant discount on some Rx’s or AR’s in exchange for not offering any lens or AR warranty.

Let’s say that a practice knows that scratch warranty returns happen to only 10% of the Rx’s they dispense. Non-Adapts probably occur less frequently than that. An incorrect prescription might be the cause of some Non-Adapts, and therefore both of these causes for remakes, returns, and credits might be reduced by making a change in how “suspect Rx’s” are filled in the first place. If the “no warranty” discount is greater than the percent of returns for Rx change that the practice experiences, there is a clear profit motive for a practice to use the “no warranty” lenses and ARs offered by the lab.

Ted Weinreich, MBA
Regional Sales Manager, Optogenics

Ted Weinreich, Optogenics

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