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MANAGING OPTICIAN

It Is the (Good, Better, Best) of Times

It’s all about choices in the marketplace today. Our patient’s disposable income has been affected by the downturn in the economy and the savviest of us will craft a proper response. That response should, rather must, contain choices for those patients, not only in frames and in lenses, but also in add-ons and multiple pair or contact lens/eyewear package options.

The latest data compiled by Jobson Research for The Vision Council indicates a 2.5% drop in the total vision care market in the U.S., excluding contact lens sales. The data reflects the marketplace during 12 months ending in September 2008. So, if you’re feeling a little pinch, there it is. The bigger question, bigger even than how much more it will drop, will be how do we react to these numbers?

Still, the same report shows that of the respondents, 24.8% were either very likely or extremely likely to purchase a complete new pair of eyeglasses within the next 6 months. That’s very good news for us all. But there is another statistic that represents even greater potential for increasing sales…lenses only purchases.

During the 6 months ending September 2005, 17.5% of respondents were very likely or extremely likely to purchase lenses only for their eyeglasses. In the 6 months ending September 2008, that number had increased to 21.7%. That’s a pretty healthy jump in “lenses only” and a big opportunity to offer an expanded menu of lens options to our cautious patients.

Every lens manufacturer offers a good, better, best product line, either utilizing lens materials or lens designs or a combination of both. This is the time to carefully evaluate the choices you have and can offer your patients. Don’t shy away from offering your patients the best in design, material and treatments, but do be ready with options that you and your patients can live with comfortably. By and large, your patients will appreciate your honesty and consideration.

So, how do you begin to make these decisions?

  • If your practice is committed to a single lens manufacturer, work with the manufacturer’s rep to compare the features and benefits of individual designs, their availability and their compatibility with lens treatments.

  • If your practice is committed to a single laboratory, work with your lab rep to design a menu of lens designs, materials and treatments that will give you and your patients enough choices.

  • If your practice uses a number of labs based on lens prices then you’re probably already getting the best price, but you may be sacrificing the in-depth knowledge that either a manufacturer or lab rep can provide. As some of your returning patients may have discovered, there is a risk associated with shopping for price alone.

Choose the lens that will populate your “best” tier and build a series of packages around that lens, including materials and treatments. This is the top end of the price/value scale and where all your sales conversations should begin. Create a script for yourself and your staff that describes the features and benefits of this choice. In a tight economy, this level can be a tough sell, so you and your staff need to be prepared to describe the package in specific detail to reinforce its value.

Next, choose the lens that will populate your “good” tier. This lens should not be the least expensive lens you can find, but should be the best value lens in terms of material, availability and compatibility with lens treatments. You and your patient should be confident that it meets more than just a basic need. You should be confident enough in the lens to offer it to your very best customer if and when it addresses a need. Most labs have a “go to” or a “house brand” lens. It’s usually one that provides good quality at a very good price with a wide availability in materials.

You have now determined the top and bottom end of your packages. The most difficult tier to populate is the “better” one. There are an astounding number of excellent lens manufacturers with mid-range products to choose from. These are the lenses that you may have relied on as your top tier just a few years ago. You should be prepared to explain why this lens is no longer on the top of the stack. You and your patient can be confident in the performance of this tier since it already has a good track record with many, if not most, of your patients. Build some attractive packages around this middle tier and make it the bread and butter of your dispensary.

Pricing the “good, better, best” tiers is a critical decision. You should know what percentage of your patients purchased which lenses and lens treatments. The tiers should be designed, described and priced so that your patient can see and understand the value in each step up.

You should know what combinations were most attractive or popular and how frequently your patients returned for additional eyewear purchases. For instance, if they are returning within 30 to 60 days, is a multiple pair package a viable idea, even if it means new lenses for an old frame and a new pair? Or, in these tight times is a “family package” going to keep a family of patients from looking elsewhere for more affordable options? These times require creative thinking and a willingness to push some boundaries that have become untenable.

Every practice has a style or manner in which lenses and frames are presented to the patient. Most agree that the “lenses first” approach is the most efficient and effective. Some prefer to use a patient questionnaire to determine lens needs and wants. Others prefer open-ended questions and active listening. Still others use a combination of both, but the end result is still the same…providing the right lens for the right need while addressing the want.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…it was the spring of hope…”
Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Judy Canty
ABO/NCLE 

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