Adding an optical shop as fixture of success

July 15, 2015

A whole-hearted commitment to building and designing a dispensary from the ground up is vital for its success, explain those who have first-hand experience.

Take-home message: A whole-hearted commitment to building and designing a dispensary from the ground up is vital for its success, explain those who have first-hand experience.

By Rose Schneider, Content Specialist, Ophthalmology Times

Optical dispensaries can be a significant driver of revenue for eye-care professionals (ECPs).

Consider that about 60% of an optometric office’s total revenue is from frame and eyeglass sales, according to Samantha Toth, ABOC, president of Innereactive Media.

Even with that statistic, however, many ophthalmologists may be apprehensive about adding optical shops to their practices.

“Any ophthalmologist can add a dispensary and make it work,” encouraged Sherrie Rogerson, senior director of corporate accounts for REM Eyewear, Sun Valley, CA.

The key is fully understanding that the process is not as simple as adding a dispensary and then expecting the money to start magically flowing in.

“If you think you’re going to try this out on the cheap and just put a few frames out and see what happens, nothing much will happen,” said Barbara Wright, president of Barbara Wright Design, Smyrna, TN.

However, the process of building a profitable dispensary from the ground up—and then maintaining it—is surmountable, as long as full attention is constantly put into the optical from day one, Wright said.

“You will have to make a good effort, . . . half-stepping is a way to disaster,” she said.

Step 1: Brainstorming

 

Step 1: Brainstorming

The first step ophthalmologists should take is to create a merchandising plan before any layouts are begun, Wright noted.

“That means they need to decide which categories they’re going to cover,” she said. “Look at (your) patients to find out which brands are going to appeal to them, price points, etc.

“Saying, ‘Okay, we’re going to put in a bunch of fixtures in here and put 500 frames in here just isn’t good enough,” Wright continued. “It won’t bring them the success they’re hoping for.”

A feasibility analysis can assist with understanding the ophthalmic patient base, determining whether a dispensary should even be opened, and if so, how the dispensary should operate, said Carolyn Salvato, director of optical consulting, BSM Consulting, St. Louis.

The analysis should ask: How many prescriptions are filled? What is the projected volume of the optical shop?

Answering these two questions will help decide how many frames are needed for a successful optical dispensary, Rogerson said.

Deciding what staff will be the buyer for the optical and who is going to be responsible for making it profitable is another major consideration to take into account before beginning the process, Wright said.

“Unless they have somebody, and I know the doctor isn’t going to do it—the MD, he really should not be very involved or it means he’s not doing enough surgery—so he needs to have somebody in the practice (or) hire a good optician who can really plan all of this out (and) train the other opticians how to sell,” she stressed.

Salvato recommended hiring an optical manager or exploring whether the practice has the administrative capacity to take on the optical tasks.

Step 2: Designing

 

Step 2: Designing

What will the new optical look like? Will it be small and hidden in a back corner or closet? Or will it be in the middle of the practice and adhere to the latest-and-greatest technology?

If design plans involve the latter, a practice is on the right course, Wright said, because size and location do matter.

“If it’s really tiny, it’s hard to succeed these days,” she said. “You’re competing with so many other possibilities the patients have out there.”

Optical designers who know retail, she said, are a tremendous help when it comes to creating the most profitable dispensaries that also flow well with the practice.

Salvato suggested paying extra attention to the flow of the optical. Ideally, the dispensary should be conveniently accessible to patients so they can easily walk in and out of it to shop. This is where a floor plan comes in—which should be submitted to the optical designers or display companies to develop and create the best look for the practice.

The designers will also work with the practice’s merchandising plan to determine a good balance of all the needs of the medical practice with the requirements for the optical that will provide the best chance for success, Wright said.

Step 3: Filling the optical

 

Step 3: Filling the optical

Once it decided what the optical will look like, the next task is to fill it with the appropriate fixtures.

Vendors, contractors, and labs need to be determined now to get a clear idea what the dispensary will be and what it will look like, Wright and Rogerson said.

 It is important that each category is within the desired budget as well, Wright added.

Lighting, however, is not the area upon which to scrimp if the practice is struggling to stay on budget, she said.

“You don’t have to spend tons of money on fancy cabinets,” Wright said. “But you need nice lighting and an organized way of presenting the frames.

“Excellent lighting (such as LEDs) play a big part” in an optical shop’s success, she continued. “If the lighting isn’t done right, it doesn’t matter how beautiful the materials are.”

Once the optical shop is built, pay attention to how merchandise and display accessories are organized. This can be done by following a merchandising plan, which identifies how many frames can be put into each display, Wright said.

But beware of overcrowding displays, she warned.

“Keep breathing room around the frames—especially the expensive ones,” Wright said.

Step 4: Maintaing profitability

 

Step 4: Maintaining profitability

For those who may think the work stops once the dispensary is completed, think again.

Continued maintenance, consistent point-of-sale and inventory analyses, monitoring the financial performance of the optical, and promoting the optical shop are never-ending tasks—unless the practice wants the dispensary to fail, Salvato said.

“You won’t be getting walk-ins, because it’s an ophthalmic practice,” she added. “You need to work and get everyone at the practice to refer to the optical.”

Social media is a crucial tool to continue engaging more patients, Toth said, but many ophthalmologists may balk at the idea.

“Ophthalmologists tend to be more scared of doing (promotion) more on the Web, on social media,” she said. “But it’s becoming so much more important to do these things.”

By utilizing social media, practices can easily promote their optical, get referrals, and connect with local media for further exposure, Rogerson said.

Sometimes promotion “can be expensive, but these days, with social media, it’s easier,” Rogerson said. “There’s ways to get your name out there and create awareness.”

Practical tips

 

Putting the best face forward

In a round up of practical advice, some simple tips that may be overlooked are offered:

No mirror, mirror. “One of the simplest things that people can get wrong is putting a mirror in the back of the frames,” Barbara Wright said. “It should be a very white background or you can’t see colors very well. Also, magnifying your lighting background is a mistake that is often made.”

Boring boards. “I really think frame board are dead,” Wright added. “They don’t do the best merchandise job. They really should be relegated to a museum. They were originally designed to make it easy for the doctors and the opticians, (but) they don’t help the patient make a good selection.”

Sherrie Rogerson concurs: “A lot of people tend to go with board or peg boards, but by doing that, you limit the number of pieces you can put on the board.”

Take ownership. “Trademark your look so if you decide to expand into more opticals, it’s a uniform look between the two,” Carolyn Salvato said, “so when people walk in, they know it’s yours.

“You want people to really feel like (the dispensary) is owned by the practice . . . not a separate entity because people are loyal to their doctors,” she added. “It increases their comfort level.