Optical Business Success 185

Tasty, weekly nuggets of random goodness; observations, musings, tips, stories, and science hand-picked to help you achieve success in your life and independent optical business.


We are what we repeatedly do… therefore excellence is not an act, but a habit.
–Will Durant


A Framework for Optical Business Success

I’ve written much over the years about how to compete and stay relevant in a world that seems to be leaving independent, brick-and-mortar optical behind—a world that increasingly prefers more convenient, often less-expensive alternatives. 

The truth is, trying to simultaneously compete on cost, convenience, and attention where technology clearly has the advantage, is not an easy problem to tackle, especially when you’re already busy juggling the day-to-day activities required to keep a business afloat. 

From simple vocation mastery to finding a niche/building a tribe; from creating a remarkable customer experience to effective use of digital marketing; there’s an overwhelming number of things to learn and consider for the owner/manager trying to build a successful practice and optical retail business.

If that weren’t enough, we’ll complicate things even further with the fact that most optical practices are actually two distinct businesses; one a service business the other a product business. The differences don’t end there. A huge mistake that most practice owners make in an effort to simplify things is assuming the consumer motivations are the same for both. 

Today, I want to introduce you to a framework that can help you get a handle on much of what is necessary to not only achieve optical business success but build a business impervious to competitors, regardless of whether they are corporate giants, discount chains, fancy boutiques, or online stores. How is this possible? When executed successfully, you will have no competitors, the framework will help you build a business that is 100% unique to you, serving the types of customers and patients you want to serve who will ultimately make up your tribe of raving fans.

Rather than discrete steps, the framework is broken down into 4 levels, each level provides a foundation for the next. Think of each level as a scaffold that you will put in place to revisit, build upon and improve as time goes on to continually adapt, bolster and strengthen your business. 

Framework Level 1: Becoming “Better”

Ask most business owners—regardless of the industry they’re in—why someone should choose to do business with them and they’re likely to say—in one form or another— “We’re better.”, or, “We provide better service and/or better quality.” 

Well, isn’t that special?

Unfortunately, no, it’s not. Here’s why:

For starters, we all have a tendency to believe that we’re better than we really are—a point I will illustrate a bit further down the page. But, even if we are, in fact, “better”, if most business owners claim to provide “better quality” or “better services” how can “better” possibly be a differentiator? “Better” makes you just like everyone else who also thinks they are better. Furthermore, what does “better quality and service” even mean? Can you define it? More importantly, can your customers?

Let’s take look at the fictional Dr. Binford’s Family Practice and give him the benefit of the doubt. Let’s assume he does actually provide “better” quality and service—even though we’re not exactly sure what that means. Regardless, Dr. Binford has built a reputation for quality work, his staff are always pleasant, knowledgeable, and accommodating. He uses a reliable lab, his frame selection is current and varied, his office is attractive, clean, and maintained. There’s free coffee in the waiting room and his magazines are up-to-date.

One evening, one of Dr. Binford’s long-time patients, Ms. Taylor, a thirty-something business exec, happens to catch the consumer segment on the local news and learns about EssolucksGlasses dot com. She hears how the website offers a larger selection of “name brand” frames than Dr. Binford and sells them at less than half the cost. What’s more, she can get her new glasses without the hassle of appointments and the pressure of deciding among an array of confusing options before leaving the office—something that had always frustrated her in the past. The consumer advocate even implies that eye doctors like Dr. Binford may have been “ripping off” people like Ms. Taylor for years. She’d always thought of Dr. Binford as an honest man but now finds herself questioning that belief. 

Ms. Taylor doesn’t think of her eyeglasses in the same way she thinks of handbags and shoes otherwise she’d spend far more on them. She’s always purchased her eyeglasses in the doctor’s office where they were presented to her as a medical device. She thinks of eyeglasses much like any other healthcare service covered by insurance as an entitlement and the product itself—like so many other medical devices—as a commodity. Why wouldn’t she look for the lowest price? She decides to give the online store a try. 

When Ms. Taylor gets her new glasses she discovers she can see just fine—or at least she convinces herself that she can, given the price. Her new glasses were delivered in less time than the ones she ordered previously from Dr. Binford. She loves the style and color. Though, mostly she’s happy about the savings. So happy, in fact, she orders two more pairs to match different outfits. In the weeks that follow, Ms. Taylor’s friends take notice and are intrigued that she now seems to have a different pair of glasses for every day of the week. You can guess what happens next.

So, where does this leave Dr. Binford and his better quality and service differentiator? If Dr. Binford’s staff is like most, they end up trying to convince Ms. Taylor at her next appointment that she’s made a poor decision and should really care more about her eyes. It appears to Ms. Taylor that they’re simply upset that she decided to spend her money somewhere else and perhaps the consumer advocate was right about eye doctors all along. Feeling she’s been taken advantage of, she heads to Google reviews to voice her displeasure and tells everyone about the great deals to be found on this newly discovered website. 

Granted, this scenario could easily happen in reverse. Someone has a bad experience shopping online and a brick and mortar store makes a good impression and wins a new customer. Unfortunately, I think that’s what many opticians and doctors count on happening every time. They mistakenly assume that the quality of eyewear sold online is and will always be sub-par because, let’s face it, brick and mortar opticals are “better.”  However, the point here isn’t that online wins out every time, the point is that Dr. Binford did everything “right” and it still comes down to what amounts to the flip of a coin. Quality and service are not adequate differentiators. There’s nothing to keep Ms. Taylor as a customer, perhaps not even as a patient, when she finds what she believes to be a better value somewhere else. You might argue her relationship with Dr. Binford must be worth something and of course, it is. However, even that was brought into question. 

“Better quality and service” are not enough to grow a successful optical business, not in a world where consumers have an unholy number of choices, particularly when combined with the transparency the internet provides. “Better quality and service” are simply the ticket to the game, the cost of admission, the foundation necessary to build a successful, defensible business position. Without it, you might as well hang up your phoropter and PD stick, because you won’t be in business for long.

Sadly, having the experience of working through the lab and hearing regularly from the eyeglass-wearing public, I’ve come to learn that far too many opticians and doctors believe they are “better” when in fact they don’t even meet a minimum standard of competency when it comes to making, fitting and selling eyewear. Nearly every day, we get comments and emails in response to our videos just like these:

“I'm just a consumer and I'm finding out what all of my local opticians either don't tell me or most probably don't know. I feel sure that they have not received proper training and are more like used car salesmen. Just maximizing profits without understanding the products they sell. I really appreciate your videos. I just wish that I was armed with your knowledge, thousands of dollars and years ago.”

“I asked my eye doc if I could get the bifocal on the upper part of the lens, [he] told me no…”

“High index, progressives/Transitions are back to the lab for the third time due to mistakes. 1st... wrong PD, then Wrong Rx, then [the] lab forgot to use Transitions lenses. It was the consumer(myself), that noticed ALL these mistakes! Inspections were not done properly. 50 days in, and hope to get them correct by day 62... Funniest thing is, I got a pair of cheaper [glasses] online for mowing, they are better made at less than half the price, received in 11 days from ordered…”

These are but the tip of the iceberg. I could write a book on why opticanry skills are so abysmal in the U.S. But, this should not and cannot be an excuse for the opticians in your store. We’ve known this to be the case for a long time. Suffice it to say this is why OpticianWorks.com exists. It’s why we have nearly 200 training videos available for free on the Laramy-K YouTube channel, and why we created the Optician Qualification Standard, and have made it also available at no charge.  

It’s easy to think of “better” as a state of being as in, “We built this business in such a way that we are better than our competition.” Unfortunately, this is a trap. This way of thinking—the kind that assumes you are better than online eyewear retailers—leads to complacency which leads to decline and the type of comments you see above. 

Instead of being better, think, “becoming better.” Think of “better” as a process; a mindset; a way of operating that encourages and rewards continual, incremental improvement.  On a practical level, ask yourself every 90 days, “How can we improve in key operational areas?” Encourage your staff to do the same. Set goals for the next 90 days and then at the end, evaluate how far you’ve come. Continually look beyond the optical bubble for ideas on where you can improve. Don’t restrict yourself to the same 5 topics covered in the optical magazines month after month.  

Invest in yourself and your own development, but more importantly, invest in your staff and their growth. As you work your way through the various levels of the scaffolding, you’ll discover that there are skills outside of those typically thought of as important to an optical business that will become equally important, perhaps even more so. Learn about the interests of your staff and help them develop in areas beyond “passing the ABO.” You’re almost certain to find that your return on investment will come back to you in many ways. You may find yourself asking, “What if I invest in my staff and they leave?” If so, follow up with, “What if I don’t invest in my staff and they stay?” 

Just keep in mind that becoming “better” is not a USP or unique selling proposition, it’s not a differentiator, it’s simply a solid foundation from which to start. We’ll get closer to building USP in Framework Level 2: Becoming “Different.”   


Optician Videos of The Week: Choosing A Lens Material Based on Power

Can you choose lens material based on lens power or are there more factors to consider? How much difference do different lens materials actually have on the weight and thickness of a lens?


Through our OpticianWorks free videos, Laramy-K Optical is making every effort to provide better and more accessible (and yes, even free) education for opticians, helping independents everywhere deliver a better optical experience. But we’re only able to do it with your support. 


You can help keep it going in two ways: 


Purchase a paid membership to OpticianWorks.com for you or staff, to access the best in online optician training (The videos are only a small portion). 


Or, even better, open a Laramy-K Optical lab account for the very best in independent lab work and we'll throw in the OpticianWorks memberships for your entire staff for free! Your customers and your staff will thank you!


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Until next time, be kind and never stop learning!