Optical Business Success 187


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.


People don't want what you make. They want the way it will make them feel, and there aren't that many feelings to choose from.

–Seth Godin


The Optical Growth Machine:

Building a successful optical retail business through people, positioning, customer experience, and digital marketing. 

A few weeks ago I started writing about a framework for optical business success. The framework, as initially envisioned, consisted of 4 layers or scaffolds. I introduced the foundational layer as “Becoming Better” where I talked about the importance of core competency, staff training, and a culture of continual improvement. 

But, the idea of presenting the concepts as a “layered” framework just wasn’t sitting well with me and I’d been trying for weeks (even before the first writing) to come up with a different analogy. I finally landed on something. 

So, this week, I want to take a quick step back to reframe things a bit. In doing so, I’ll also give you a high-level view of where we’re headed. Now, instead of building layers and scaffolds (zzzzz), let’s talk about building an optical growth machine. Aside from being a better way to conceptualize things, building an optical growth machine just sounds more exciting, doesn’t it?  Let’s give it a go and see... 

Alright. So, if you’re going to build an optical growth machine, there are some important features you’d almost certainly want to include. First, you’d want a machine that takes your business in the direction you want it to go, as determined by your definition of success, rather than in the direction of someone else’s choosing (VSP anyone?) or along the path laid by industry groupthink. 

Second, since growth comes in the form of people or customers, you want the machine to attract the right people. In other words, the people you want to serve, those who align with your ideals, as opposed to, say, people that are only interested in price, what their “insurance” covers, or getting their Rx and PD before heading out the door.  

Finally, since it will take some effort to build and get started, you’d want your growth machine to have the ability to create and maintain momentum—to feed itself so to speak. You’d want it to continue moving, bringing growth to your business, even if you step away from it.

For that last feature to work well, we need to build the machine with momentum in mind. Therefore, we are going to think of the bulk of the optical growth machine as a heavy flywheel. You might also think of a potter’s wheel or a millstone—it takes considerable effort to start the wheel moving, it doesn’t happen with just one push, it takes multiple efforts over time, but once it gets up to speed, it takes less effort to keep it moving and if you stop pushing altogether, it still keeps turning. Or, if you prefer, you can keep pushing, tap after tap after tap, and watch it go faster and faster.

The idea of using a flywheel as an analogy for business isn’t new. I first read about the “flywheel effect” in Jim Collins’ Good to Great almost two decades ago. Then, a few years ago, Hubspot re-popularized the flywheel as a way to reimagine the digital marketing funnel. Here, the concept is slightly different. The optical growth machine flywheel uses similar principles to those discussed in Good to Great (creating momentum in your business), but incorporates digital marketing as the prime mover, all while being more practical and actionable.

From a 30,000 ft view, the flywheel itself is built from three primary elements: the people in your business (the hub), your positioning in the marketplace (the spokes), and the experience you deliver to your customers (the rim). Once the flywheel is built we’ll attach the fourth element, the last piece of the machine, your digital marketing (the motor) to supply energy, delivering growth by creating awareness. Further energy and momentum is created as the machine turns, converting strangers into customers and ultimately customers into fans, promoters, and evangelists.   

Notice that nowhere did I mention optimizing handoffs, dispensing from the chair, or scheduling annual exams. 

Far too much has already been written about how to get patients to buy eyeglasses. This growth machine is intended to build a successful retail optical in its own right. It’s designed to bring people to your door that want to shop for eyewear, as they might shop for watches, shoes, or handbags, not to build an eye care practice and hope your patients buy eyeglasses. It’s not that we want to diminish the importance of medical eye care in any way, but our focus with the optical growth machine is to build a successful optical retail store. 

Unfortunately, we have blurred the lines between eyewear and eye care for so long that most people—both inside and outside of our industry...ies—can only see them as one-in-the-same. But, as much as many of us would like to deny it, we need to recognize that consumer motivations for buying fashion accessories (e.g. eyewear) are and should be very different from those for scheduling a doctor’s appointment. With that in mind, part of our “construction” will be to define the distinction between optical and medical. We’ll then begin to tease the two apart so we can focus the full energy of the machine on the ideal eyewear-buying consumer who our goal is to attract. 

Having said that, you can certainly use the same ideas to grow your eye care practice. Going through this process will give you the tools you need to do just that. However, keep in mind that you’ll need to build a second machine designed to target your ideal patient which will be very different from your ideal customer (even if they are the same person). Of course, bringing a torrent of new customers who want to shop for eyewear certainly won’t hurt your practice.

Now, let’s briefly recap the hub component (pun intended) even though I previously wrote in more detail about the foundation as “Layer 1”, just to put it in terms of the flywheel, before moving on. 

The hub is the core of both the machine and the business itself. The hub consists of the people that run your business—your core competency—without which, there is no wheel, no momentum and no business. Well-trained, well-selected employees form a solid hub. A culture of purpose and continual improvement is the grease that helps keep the hub and the entire growth machine turning smoothly and swiftly. From outside appearances, your hub is your value proposition, a fair exchange of consumer dollars for products sold and services rendered. While one of the most important parts of your machine, your hub is not something you can market as a differentiator, nor is it something you can typically charge a premium for. The reason being that your hub is not easily seen from the outside and its value is often difficult to communicate in a way that is different from the claims of your competitors. The value your hub delivers is usually only understood after having been experienced by your customers. Even then, in some ways, the smooth operation of a good hub will and should go unnoticed. That is after all, part of the purpose of the hub, to reduce friction and make interacting with you as effortless as possible. 

The next component of the optical growth machine is (are?) the spokes. 

The spokes are the most visible part of the wheel. The spokes get noticed before anything else. Your spokes can either make your wheel look just like every other wheel, —no matter how good your hub may be—or they can send the message that you are irreplaceable, a category of one. Your spokes represent both your niche and your unique selling proposition. The unfortunate reality is the majority of opticals’ spokes appear to be 100% interchangeable with those of any other eyeglass seller. That's why there is such an issue with online and big box competition. You may offer the best products and service for miles, but unless you appear different, no one is going to notice or care.

If you're remarkable, then it's likely that some people won't like you. That's part of the definition of remarkable. Nobody gets unanimous praise - ever. The best the timid can hope for is to be unnoticed. Criticism comes to those who stand out.

Playing it safe. Following the rules. They seem like the best ways to avoid failure. Alas, that pattern is awfully dangerous. The current marketing “rules” will ultimately lead to failure. In a crowded marketplace, fitting in is failing. In a busy marketplace, not standing out is the same as being invisible.

—Seth Godin

Next time, we’ll start to dig deeper into the ideas behind building your spokes so that your optical is unique and not interchangeable with any other. The ultimate goal being to zero in on your ideal customer, becoming a category of one, and all but eliminating the competition from your radar. As implied in the quote above, it won’t be easy, but not much worth doing ever is. 


Narrative and Feelings

Since it appears I am on a Godin kick today, I’ll leave you with one more: Why the distinction between optical and medical matters (if you want to sell eyewear that is). 



Video Rewind: Why Do Progressive Lenses Have Distortion at The Sides?

A tough question to answer simply, but one an optician should be able to handle. Let's dig into the optics of progressive lens design to see if we can come up with a good explanation as to why there must be peripheral distortion (aberration) in any progressive lens.



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Until next time, be kind and never stop learning!