Optical Retail Success 137
Tasty, weekly nuggets of random goodness; tips, stories, and science hand-picked to help you find the most success in your optical retail business/career.
I’d love to change the world
But I don't know what to do
So, I’ll leave it up to you.
Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve loved the haunting refrain of that song.
Opticians Are A Luxury
As our world becomes increasingly digital and the price of devices continues to drop, anything that can be done on a screen can be done cheaper. While it used to be true that digital devices were mostly for those with disposable income, the scales have tipped the other direction. Now, not only do the poor have access to screens, but the rich are opting to spend more time away from them. Fearing that time on screens is unhealthy and unproductive, the rich are quitting social networks, delegating email to assistants, and choosing nearly screen-free education for their kids. As a consequence, human interaction is becoming a luxury good.
Over the past few years, those in retail have been waking up to this trend, trying to bring more human interaction and experiences to their offerings, but two things are becoming clear. Human interaction and experiences cost more to provide and not all consumers are interested. Many simply prefer the comfort and familiarity of their screens. Mall owners are finding that even big experiential retailers like Apple, Tesla, and Eataly aren’t enough to lure the shoppers they need to sustain what has always been a mass-market shopping venue.
So, not only does it seem that the B&M retail market is shrinking as willing participants’ incomes skew higher, but even a portion of that market remains tied to the comfort of their screens. The challenge, therefore, is not just moving upscale or providing an attractive-enough alternative to digital offerings, but doing so in a decidedly smaller market, all while remaining profitable—a tall order to be sure.
Let’s face it, the experience and human interaction most optical retailers provide is abysmal. In fact, all that has kept the industry from falling off a cliff, like so many others, are the barriers of the “prescription” and custom/technical nature of lenses and frame selection—both of which are showing signs of wear, soon to be completely overrun by digital denizens. The only choice now for those desiring to avoid a precipitous fate is to stop relying on these barriers as soon as possible and learn to stand atop the cliff on your own two feet.
Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise, it is not luxury.
There is some good news, however. As we shift toward a culture that is willing to pay a premium to remove screen time and replace it with real engagement, human interaction will become a larger indicator of status. As with most luxury items that begin as “exclusive”, their associated status causes the demand and market size for those items to grow.
More good news: Both our industry’s temporary stay of execution and the current—but also temporary—human-heavy nature of the business, seem to put us in a fairly good position to take advantage of these trends, as long as we’re willing to (quickly) change our beliefs about what the role of a (human) optician actually entails.
Enter “opticians as a luxury.”
Keep in mind, luxury doesn’t necessarily have to be about price, but it could be helpful help to think upmarket.
So, what exactly does the (human) optician as a luxury offering mean in practice? While, much of that depends on who your ideal customer is and what luxury means to them, we can start in the right direction by looking at some common attributes of luxury.
Luxury can’t feel as if it is available to everyone. The no-brainer here is to make sure the your product lines cannot easily be found online or down the street. But also, above all, make sure the human experience you offer is unique to you.
No concession should be made on quality (as defined by you) which must be delivered consistently and without compromise. To deliver this high level of quality, you must strive to be an expert in your field, your niche, your products, and most importantly in your ideal customer. Always provide everything you promise plus little more.
Luxury is as much about the experience as it is the product. Whether, environment, style, dress, music, signage, or packaging; details matter. Stories also matter. Everything previously listed helps tell your story and your story must resonate with your tribe. The most important thing to keep in mind about the experience you deliver is how you want your customer to feel when she leaves your store.
Luxury feels bespoke even if it isn’t. Eyewear should feel specifically chosen, designed, and unique for each individual customer. Again, much of this depends on you doing the human work of relating to your customer.
They say time is money, but in reality, time is more valuable than money. Money is a renewable resource, while the amount of time we have is finite and fleeting.
Bruce Lee said, Be like water. I say, Be like lube.
Look at every step in your customer’s journey from before they walk into the store to weeks after the purchase. Find ways to reduce friction and not only make each step more efficient, but make it more pleasurable. The goal is to make your customers feel that any time spent is not time wasted.
None of this can be faked. To do any of it well, you have to care about those you serve. Hone your ability to put yourself in the shoes of your ideal customer and really understand what they want—not just in terms of their optical needs, but in terms of the experience they desire.
Perhaps the most important quality of luxury is what it says about a person to his peers. This starts with the selection of your tribe, continues with the culture you help build and culminates in your offering that gives them status in their group. “People like us do things like this.”
The more things become automated, the more humans become the differentiator, but only for those that can afford it and more importantly (this is the kicker and what makes all of this so damn hard) only for those that still care.
Make Things Better
Who knew these words could be so contentious? Yet it is abundantly clear they are. It’s the often insurmountable friction that even the very thought of “making things better” brings forth that holds us back in so many ways.
I’ve come to realize that “Make things better” is a controversial statement for some people.
Two issues, it seems:
Better implies that what we have right now is imperfect. Better requires change, and change is scary. Better might be in the eye of the beholder. Better is an assertion, one that requires not just the confidence to say it, but the optimism to believe that it’s possible.
Make implies that it’s up to us. Someone needs to make it better, and it might just be you. In fact, if you don’t enlist to produce better, you’re part of the status quo, which is a problem.
I’ve seen that there are pockets of our culture where both of these ideas are difficult to embrace. That authority pushes us to fit in, not to seek improvement, and deniability encourages us to whine instead of doing something about it. Power enjoys passivity in others.
Power doesn’t want you to get uppity, doesn’t enjoy your dissatisfaction, doesn’t want to be on the hook to continually upgrade all of its systems. And so power has sold a cultural norm of acceptance, deniability and ennui.
Everything in our built world–the water we drink, the food we eat, the place we live–if it’s good, it’s good because someone, a generation or two ago, decided to make it better. And if it’s not good, or not good enough, only our action is going to make it better.
We can see the world around us, and if we try, we can see it becoming better.
It might be a podcast or a political campaign, an engineering insight or a more inclusive policy. It probably involves finding and organizing others on a similar path. It definitely takes guts.
I’ll reiterate my belief that we each have a chance to assert. To announce our vision, to propose a change, to do the hard work to make things better.
It’s on us, right now.
Make things better by making better things.
In an environment where (relatively uneducated) opticians are often both surrounded by doctors and the public, it’s common to feel less than respected. However...
Have you noticed the difference between dignity and respect is a big one? People that fly off the handle and get angry too much always talk about, ‘I’m not being respected.’ But respect is something you can’t control, right? Dignity is inside you, dignity is yours.
Remember, life can be divided into two big categories: things that are up to us and things that are not.
Although it is nice to be respected, that really isn’t up to us. But acting with dignity? Maintaining our own standards—our self-respect? That’s ours. Even when we are under duress, facing adversity, or someone is attempting to humiliate us—dignity remains firmly in our control, provided we don’t give it up.
—Excerpted from The Daily Stoic newsletter
Coffee: Your’re Doing It Wrong
Video of the Week: Dive into The Vertex
Does vertex distance affect lens power or perceived lens power, or is it something entirely different? Either way, how do we calculate the effect it has on someone's vision?
Through the OpticianWorks free video lessons, Laramy-K Optical is making every effort to provide better and more accessible education for opticians everywhere, but we’re only able to do it with your support.
You can help keep it going in two ways:
Become a paid-member of OpticianWorks.com for access to 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 uncut work and we'll throw in the OpticianWorks memberships for free! Your customers and your staff will thank you!
I hope you enjoyed this edition of Optical Retail Success.
Here’s to your success in this year and beyond.
Thanks for reading and sharing!