It’s your optical’s time to play ball


Be excited about looking at the odds and following your team as they begin the long process of qualifying for playing in the World Series. Spring training is just around the corner and who doesn’t love a good ball game?

Editor’s Note: Welcome to “Let's Chat,” a blog series featuring contributions from members of the ophthalmic community. These blogs are an opportunity for ophthalmic bloggers to engage with readers with about a topic that is top of mind, whether it is practice management, experiences with patients, the industry, medicine in general, or healthcare reform. The series continues with this blog by Donna A. Suter, president of Suter Consulting Group. The views expressed in these blogs are those of their respective contributors and do not represent the views of Ophthalmology Times or UBM Medica.

On paper, your administrator and I want you to invest in and open an in-house optical. It just makes sense. You are already in the business of helping people see well, and the growing population needs eyewear.

It’s a great cross-sell to grateful patients who love your clinic and your surgical abilities.

But you should pay attention to 1960-the World Series, in particular, when the Yankees were coming off their tenth pennant in 12 years. They outscored the Pirates 55 to 27, they outhit them, average-wise, .338 to .256, they hit ten home runs against four, they got two complete-game shutouts from Whitey Ford-and still they lost.

I love sports metaphors, and I got this 1960 baseball story from a type-two, pre-cataract-surgery diabetic with a glasses prescription guaranteed to drive your optical manager crazy.
What does baseball have to do with anything? It is proof that it is always possible to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Nobody likes to lose

Losing is what you would be doing if you built out an old procedure room with frame bars, signed up for a bunch of vision plans to keep your optometrists busy, or hired a lone, hardly trained employee and anointed him or her with the unearned moniker of “optician."

More important than losing money, you would be losing your patient’s trust and good will. Google ratings are powerful, and every granny-and-pop shop in town knows how to write bad things about someone on a social media outlet.

How to achieve a win

Here is my best advice.

  • Recruit like you want to be in the World Series. Opticians are not technicians who know how to refract. They are a wonderful blend of makeover stylists and mathematicians. He or she understands the importance of deadlines and time management and how to close a sale. The career path for opticians differs across communities and states but one thing is for sure-not understanding and paying market rates for top talent will hurt your optical’s performance in the long run.

  • Run the optical like a small-business owner. Know how much money is in the bank, how far you are from set goals, and have a working knowledge about the steps between today and success. It takes a trained optician about 4 months to get up to speed. If you aren’t seeing the results you want by then, either start over or double down on training.

  • Set your prices to make a profit. Spreadsheets are your friends. Do some basic projections and set your fees (retail on frames and spectacle lenses) so that you are making a net profit. Use MRRP (manufacturers recommended retail price) as a starting point. But remember, you are the one who is either taking a loss, or making money.

  • Expect set-backs. Baseball has something in common with vision-plan participants. Getting a lifetime average of more than .300 gets a player in the hall of fame. Upselling 33% of the time is good. Being rejected is tough. Cheer your opticians on even when they strike out. They have to be willing to stay in the game even when they can’t seem to “buy” a decent sale.

  • Don’t reward order-takers. “What are you interested in?” and “Let me tell you how your vision plan insurance works.” These are not the way to have a million-dollar optical. High-performing opticals are twice as likely to provide ongoing training as low-performing ones. Just like winning the World Series, closing a high-dollar sale day after day is a team sport. 

  • Find out what the patient’s most visually challenging situation is and solve that problem with premium technology. There's a clear relationship between the number of questions asked and your optical’s chances of making a profitable sale. In other words, if you want your investment in a dispensary to go well, make sure everyone-from front desk to optical-is periodically posing lifestyle questions to the patients.

  • Use your practice software. The optical software you use should be able to turn retail prices into vision plan reimbursement just like your clinic software. Accepting retail sale numbers and depositing just vision plan reimbursement (minus charge-back fees) means you may set up a commission sales plan for your optician that keeps them happy.

Statistics are just numbers

The same retired sports writer who told me about the 1960 World Series is in a college football betting pool. Each participant puts in $32 at the beginning of the season and the national championship is the last game participants wager on. I looked at his statistical average for the 2018 college season.

Funny thing, the odds of him picking a winner are higher than anyone else in the pool. This is worth remembering because he has never won the pot.

Never. Not once.

Don’t presume your patients will choose to use your optical. Train well and choose your merchandise carefully. Being the odds-on favorite doesn’t guarantee a win.

Be excited about looking at the odds and following your team as they begin the long process of qualifying for playing in the World Series. Spring training is just around the corner and who doesn’t love a good ball game?

Everyone loves clear, sharper vision in life’s most challenging circumstances and I do think you should enjoy the profit of a well-run optical.

If it were not hard, everyone would be doing it. Let’s play ball!

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