Optical Business Success 182
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.
Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better. What if they are a little coarse and you may get your coat soiled or torn? What if you do fail, and get fairly rolled in the dirt once or twice? Up again, you shall never be so afraid of a tumble.
―Ralph Waldo Emerson
Don’t fear failure—not failure, but low aim is the crime. In great attempts, it is glorious even to fail.
Are you still trying to figure out how to compete with online retailers and big box stores? Working out how to deal with price objections and how to stop your prescriptions from walking out the door?
What you don’t realize yet, is that you’ve already lost the game. Your just waiting out the clock.
The thing that most optical professionals are still struggling with is that you can’t compete in a game for which the rules were written by your opponent, designed to put you at a disadvantage.
That’s exactly what Warby Parker, Costco, Zenni, and others have done. They’ve changed the game and made up their own rules.
Your desperation to “capture” patients on the way out the door, to create barriers or hindrances making it more difficult for your customers to purchase online, only makes it more obvious to them that you don’t belong in the game to begin with.
As tempting as it may be to want to serve everyone—even those determined to get the lowest price online—independent brick-and-mortar opticals can no longer successfully vie for the mass market. The economies of scale obviously aren’t there—you’ll never out-Zenni Zenni—and consumer retail habits have changed over the past decade, even more dramatically over the past year. The bottom line is you have to deliver something pretty special to draw people away from their devices (or money out from their wallets) and special isn’t cheap.
If you are thinking, “We just need to educate our customers so they’ll know we’re better than the competition”, you are still playing their game. Worse still, you are comparing yourself to your competition, reminding your customer that the standard is not you.
So, instead of worrying about how to compete, it’s better—essential even—to do something completely unique or focus on a tightly-defined niche. As long as there is a market for what you create, you get to make your own rules. You set the terms rather than reactively responding to “the competition.” What’s more, you define success for yourself based on your values (assuming they are in line with the people you want to serve), you get to detach from the inevitable race to the bottom, and you have the opportunity to build a base of lunatic fans.
The Water’s Edge
How do you sell water? It’s boring, tasteless, and comes out of the tap for free. Yet, the market is saturated with every over-priced variety imaginable and business is booming. There’s mountain water, spring water, sparkling water, glacier water, mineral water, seltzer water, vitamin water, diet water, flavored water, and even death water (more on that in a minute).
If you want to sell water, you won’t get far trying to be like everyone else.
Cheap eyeglass retailers have made eyewear for the masses a commodity. Combine that with our industry’s decades-long push to convince consumers and legislators that eyewear is a medical device and…
Oh, sorry. I fell asleep.
...eyeglasses are about as exciting as tap water. The only difference is that, in most places, eyeglasses are about as fun to buy as a used car. Yet for those same decades, ECPs have been able to make a profit—a handsome one at that—selling average eyeglasses to average people.
Ah, the power of regulation.
In the immortal words of Bob Dylan, “The times, they are a-changin’.” Consumers have alternatives—ways to avoid the barriers and the all-together miserable experiences we’ve created. Selling eyewear from the dispensary is no longer as easy as waiting for a patient’s bi-annual exam and taking the Rx order on the way out the door. Now, we face challenges similar to that of the water market—how to make a boring commodity exciting where the consumer has far more choices. In order to succeed we have to rethink how we do things. We need an edge.
Seth Godin has a concept he calls “edgecraft” that can be used to find a unique position in a market.
- Find an edge… [something] that has been shown to make a product or service remarkable.
- Go all the way to that edge—as far from the center as the consumers you are trying to reach dare you to go.
You must go all the way to the edge… accepting compromise doesn’t make sense. Running a restaurant where the free prize is your slightly attractive waitstaff won’t work–they’ve got to be supermodels or weightlifters or identical twins. You only create a free prize when you go all the way to the edge and create something remarkable.
The cheapest, easiest, best designed, funniest, most expensive, most productive, most respected, cleanest, loudest…
Before you begin to do edgecraft, you must accept the fact that the edges of the problem aren’t always obvious. Because the edge you’re seeking is not the primary reason for being, you’ve got to see it out of the corner of your eye. It’s not always clear exactly what would make your product or service significantly more remarkable, until you embrace the fact that the problem you’re trying to solve isn’t the problem you think you have. It's also quite possible that your edge will merely be stupid, not effective.
Sometimes you don’t discover the problem you’re solving until after you’ve solved it–it’s not always a top-down process. Someone creates something weird or neat or quirky or fun and the marketplace embraces it. You don’t often create a more popular restaurant by serving better food. You can do it by serving remarkable food, or having a remarkable location or a remarkably famous chef. You don’t often build a better car by building a faster car. You do it by building the most beautiful car, or the least polluting car, or the biggest car. At least for a while.
Instead of slogging your way through incremental improvements in the core element of your offering, then, the edgecrafter seeks out another element and pushes it so far it becomes remarkable.
So, how might this apply to eyecare?
Wada Optometry comes to mind with their Star Trek theme. I’ve also mentioned Eye Roc Eyewear in the past. I love the Eye Roc concept, but I can’t help but think they could push their edge even further to be even more remarkable.
Do you know of any practices or boutiques that are well-versed in the art of edgecraft? Are you? Drop me an email and let me know. I’d love to see what you come up with.
The Edgecraft of Darkness
You'll either love this example of edgecraft or you'll immediately want to start a prayer circle and write your Senator to have it taken off the market. But you will not be neutral.
If you are easily offended by language, animated gore, and selling your soul in a legally-binding document in exchange for merch, all wrapped up in a cerement of dark humor, please, skip this section and move on to the next.
Liquid Death sells mountain water to the environmentally-conscious consumer with a death metal twist. Their tagline: Murder Your Thirst.
It’s as if they looked at the marketing of water in stores today and asked, “How can we go as far in the opposite direction as humanly possible?”
Then they went even farther. Much farther.
Their ‘about’ page is a marketing masterclass in a nutshell:
Let’s be clear. Liquid Death is a completely unnecessary approach to bottled water. In fact, we strive to be unnecessary in everything we do. Because unnecessary things tend to be far more interesting, fun, hilarious, captivating, memorable, exciting, and cult-worthy than “necessary” things.
Smashing a guitar on stage and lighting it on fire
Jumping over 14 Greyhound buses on a vintage motorcycle
Driving the speed limit
Liquid Death Mountain Water is edgecraft to the extreme; edgy in the most non-edgy category. In keeping with their “opposite” approach, Liquid Death is sold in aluminum tallboys that are more environmentally friendly and recyclable than plastic bottles. What’s more, they donate five cents from every can sold to help rid the ocean of plastic garbage created in large part by the rest of the bottled water industry.
However you feel about the use of murder in marketing, it's an incredible example of a company going out of their way not to appeal to everyone and certainly not playing it safe. You’ll find an epically offensive marketing video here and the Liquid Death website here. You’ve been warned.
So now, even as you’re emailing your Congressperson, you have to admit the sick twisted freaks (you know who you are) who love this, really love it. And even those that hate it will still talk about it and not soon forget it.
When you go to an event, a performance, or a speech, you’re not usually going to hear something for the first time. Chances are you’ve heard/seen the material before. You’re not going for the material, you’re going for the performance.
No matter what type of work you do, it will be better received if you think of it as an art-form. You are performing for an audience, even if they don’t always get to see it. If your heart is in it, your customers will want you at least as much as they want your work .
Optician Video of The Week: The Lens Stretcher
Sometimes called a lens washer, liner or interliner, we take a look at some temporary solutions to hold a lens in a frame when it just won't stay.
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!