Saturday, December 19, 2009

Fantastic Mr Monocle

What fun!

The Telegraph reported last week that VEUK have started to stock monocles in response to requests from young men. Brilliant! wonder if this isn't a simple PR trick (love the Mr Uppity reference!). But what if it isn't.......

Wouldn't it be excellent if our young people caught onto a style of a gentleman - it seems they don't take themselves as seriously as us older folk.

Would I wear one? Well for someone as visually challenged as I a pince-nez would be more the historic fashion article of choice.

Of course, should you be inundated with young men aspiring to present themselves in such a way, there is a company offering high quality, high market monocles, lorgnettes and pince-nez's to opticians in the UK.....I wonder - who could that be?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Luxottica continues retail expansion

The breaking news is that Macy's department stores have signed an exclusive deal with Luxottica to expland the number of Sunglass Hut concessions to more than 600 stores across the US.

Find out more here.

Independent opticians would be forgiven for asking "Where will this end?" if in fact this is not still too distant an issue.

In my last post I suggested that independent opticians and independent eyewear producers should forge closer relationships to deliver greater market differentiation. That would mean we could all compete from a strong niche rather than working harder for less margin against Lux-owned, De Rigo-owned, Saphilo-owned, Specsavers and on-line retail which prefers either fashion house brands and/or "cheap" (and cheap does not always mean cheerful or provide good value).

I was speaking to an enthusiatic optician today who is considering a different optical retail model. Her view is that many independents could be sleep-walking to oblivion, especially where they rely on the marketing pull of the fashion house brand licenses the large Italian companies own.

She believed independents need to embrace the niche and ensure excellence of advice and take the time with patients to give them all the information. Having worked in multiples and independently as a locum she does not feel that we have it quite right.

So how can you build a practice on niche products? And how can you market effectively?

I have my own ideas that I share with those of my customers who prefer to be closer to an independent niche design company.

What is you view?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

So where do independents turn...?

With the news that HAL has taken a stake in Safilo, the UK independent practitioner witnesses a further closing of the market.

A quick analysis of the market reveals the following:

De Rigo with a stake in Boots / D&A;
Luxottica with a stake in David Clulow
HAL (or for our purposes Vision Express) with a stake in Safilo
Specsavers - who also control their supply chain.

All of these organisations benefit from manufacturing, distribution and retail profit combining in group accounts.

If we take this model to the nth degree where margins are improved through technological integration and where efficiencies and synergies are leveraged, where does this leave the independent optician?

How can you compete with the size and margins created by these entities with ultimate degrees of vertical integration and diversity of brand portfolio?

Independent manufacturers support independent opticians who market effectively and who support independent manufacturers in return. It seems both need each other in order to maintain the niche position which is becoming increasingly distilled.

Hence the over-used buzz-word (or empty marketing cliché) "partnership".

Often independent manufacturers provide design concepts and manufacturing quality that is a cut above, increasing wearer satisfaction and enhancing wearer experience whilst also reducing service hassle and costs.

Also, independent manufacturers can also ensure exclusivity that not only benefits the practice but also appeals to eyewear fans (who tend to spend more than those who spend begrudgingly).

Some leading independent eyewear manufacturers (and yes I know they're manufacturers we support and could do worse!):

JFRey and BOZ - ground-breaking design, colour and quality - leading the design market
Henry Jullien Lunetier - highest quality french manufacture for the classically minded - second to none for service.
Oga - strong architectural design for men
Koali - colourful design inspired by nature for women - both bold and feminine
SHOC - designed by a Norwegian optom this collection offers sophisticated quality for the professional
Derapage - most awarded collection from Italy - a world first in mechanical assembly - masculine.
Julbo - French sport sunglasses - high quality to price ratio and No 3 best selling sun brand in France in 2009.
and for children
Hello Kitty - what more can I say! Fun, quality frames for princesses!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Tornado by Derapage

Very few eyewear collections have a story like Derapage - conceived in the Italian hot-bed of industrial design - Turino, an experimental eyewear collection began its life. Now selling in 35 countries the nature of the Derapage collection continues to thrill.

The name itself describes a daring way to take corners racing a rally car, pushing boundaries - this eyewear appeals to those who want to present themselves as edgy and distinctive.

Chemically cut surgical stainless steel is hand riveted in the same way that cars were built in the 1930s. In fact, the owner of the company responsible for Derapage - NICO Design - Giovanni Vitaloni explained to me that his family have been supplying the automotive trade and therefore understand the technical dimensions of this patented system.

"All the materials and processes, down to the PVD colouration are carried out to exacting standards" Vitaloni explains, "We are not creating eyewear to a formula but engaging the talents and various passions of designers, architects, metallurgists to create the perfect recipe - in the same way we'd create a perfect risotto!"

This results in the most awarded Italian eyewear!

Have a look how it all comes together...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

This season's retail opportunity is NOW.

If you're anything like my mother, everyone's Christmas present has been bought and wrapped already. However, if you're like me - a dash around on the busiest and most frustrating weekend just before Christmas is the norm.

Fortunately there are many sensible people between these poles who are often inspired by store windows as they do their regular shopping.

Many opticians I visit occupy High Street locations, pay High Street rents and rates though miss the retail opportunities their location provides them.

Whilst cases and accessories are not thought of as an optician's "core business" we miss the hook that a great festive window can provide.

Imagine you have been wondering what to buy for Aunt, Mother, Father-in-law etc. You walk past an optician's window - and whilst you have not had to visit an optician so far in your life (I know they should anyway but this is the reality.......) you have not had cause to notice them before.

In the window you see some brightly coloured and attractive cases, chains and compact reading frames that would be perfect for Mum, Dad, the lady who lunches, the executive, the golfer who needs an easy reading pair on the green etc etc.

For the first time perhaps, you enter the practice and ask about the products in the window, receive excellent and friendly service and leave having ticked another box off the Christmas "to buy for" list.

A few years later your arms cease to be long enough and you think about going to the opticians - who would you consider at the top of the list?

I was talking with an Optician in the West End who is not on a busy retail street but was surprised by the volume of cases he sells having placed a simple display in the window.

Of all the things you can buy on the High Street, optical cases and accessories are not well presented or displayed.

Independent Opticians - here is your chance to give people a reason to enter your premises!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Marketing (and Selling) Basics - More to existing patients

There are many ways we can increase our business - here are a simple 2 that we all endeavour to achieve:

1. Find new customers
2. Sell more to existing customers.

In my last post I outlined a couple of items to find new customers, here I deal with how we can encourage greater spending by existing customers.

Generally existing patients can spend more in the following ways:

1. They see something they have to have - they are tempted and they give in whether they need it or not.
2. They are presented a higher quality and higher value product when they visit for their regular purchase.
3. They are offered something that fits with a different part of their lifestyle.

We've all done it. We look at MP3 players and whilst our head is telling us this one has all the features and works fine, our heart is telling us - but this one looks so amazing, and works so much more smoothly....

When we see something we desire we often justify it to you really need another pair of shoes? Do you really need that new driver - will it really give you 30 yards more off the tee? In the same way we can offer excellent products and customers will justify it to themselves if we present it well enough. This certainly happens at trunk shows - I have certainly had great success with JFRey as it's so different.

Why would anyone improve their eyewear when they have been totally happy wearing the same thing for the last 10 years? Well they may be persuaded by new technology, increased comfort and improved vision. Henry Jullien, for example, have may models in their collection made of Nanoflex - a material that is stronger and lighter than titanium. They also have an amazing history and design and production facility in France - again quite unique these days.

Then there are those many children and adults that play sports, run, cycle - Optician editor Chris Bennet, Ironman extraordinaire often preaches the missed opportunity sports specific eyewear presents opticians - but very few stock it let alone make sports vision a marketing tool for creating second pair purchases and new contacts.

In all these things profits benefit from an increased focus on maximising sales.....hmmm....

A comment about selling

Do we really see "selling" focus as a dirty function un-worthy of a health professional? Well, I suppose you'd be forgiven that view were you pushing a product on someone they neither wanted nor needed.

However, enlightened and beneficial selling comes from asking good questions of a patient and matching a product to their needs or wants.

The question "Do you play sports?" opens up a great conversation to offer a sports frame or a tint that can help them to perform better.

Will your patient be offended if you present them the opportunity to buy the most expensive frame in the practice?

Selling comes from connection with the patient and understanding their needs, problems, wants and desires and stems from that.

How many pushy sales people do you ask back into practice?! But those that help you, introduce you to new innovative things and solve your problems....?

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Urgent - Sight tests for drivers needed NOW

I am convinced there is a desperate need for the government and optical bodies to increase the awareness of the nation's poor eye sight and to encourage people to have an eye examination - especially for those who drive.


The number of people obviously without children parking in Sainsbury's Parent and Child parking bays who cannot see the large yellow pushchair symbol and the cross-hatching yellow lines!

Boy, do we have a problem with our vision.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Marketing Basics - New patients

Marketing is mainly about making connections with those with whom you can enjoy a valuable relationship and enriching those relationships.

You may want to move your practice in a particular direction to find new more profitable customers but do not want to alienate existing patients...

How do you do this?

Simply - specific targeting and aligning your offer to them.

1. Define who you want to attract.
Understand who the people you want to attract are. This will help you to know which eye wear / examination services are interesting to these people. Outline the traits that mark out these people. Over 40? High spenders? Like golf, fashion, working out? This will help you to decide what you will offer to attract these people. For example, over 40s may be attracted by more in depth examinations whilst to build a younger patient base use eyewear brands and social media to make connections.

2. Be where these people go.
Network at the local golf club, spa, restaurant. See if there are opportunities to hold an event with an up-market hairstylist, art gallery or jeweller in order to make new connections - this way you can share your good customers without losing them to the competition.

3. Offer them something they desire.
People buy for 2 reasons - because they have to and because they want to. It does not take too much thought to know that the former spend as little as they can whilst the latter spend much more. Offer products people desire - perhaps present more benefits during the dispensing, starting with the highest quality first. You may be great at attracting these people to your practice but unless you have something they desire they will leave disappointed. Eyewear collections are not just stock that can pull people in - they are a foundation on which you can build a market and position yourself.

I am often suggesting to my customers that when they consider a new collection think "How do I reach the people that will buy this?" Otherwise you are buying something that may stay on your racks or shelves.

Of course, in any of these 3 headings there are a myriad of marketing options and issues to remember to ensure success. If you have any questions for me then let me know.

Here is a great website that may give you some ideas on how to market your business:

The Optical Vision Site

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Protecting our children's eyes

We are so paranoid about slapping the SPF50 on our children - but do those of us in the optical field protect our own children's eyes?

Here are handy resources for those needing some patter for encouraging parents to make the important decision to purchase sun protection for their children:

The report that all this is based on...

A recent GMTV article

Leading children's sun protection Manufacturer - Julbo

Yahoo News article

An Independent article from 2007!!

Stay safe in the sun!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Optician Space - On-line social Media

I have to say... I think Optician magazine have made a scoop with their Optician Space online social community. For those of us who are enjoying Twitter and who stay in touch with friends both near and far flung on Facebook this is something we can see a very large potential.

And it works very much like Facebook in its raw state.

It will be great to see where this journey takes us and how it changes the nature of the optical community in the UK...and beyond Mr Bennet?

A head-nodding jazzy "nice" to the Optician Magazine team for this one.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Sporting opportunity

I cannot agree more with Optician Magazine editor Chris "Ironman" Bennett about the opportunity presented to retail optics regarding the sports niche in his Big Optometry Blog.

In his blog he wonders why opticians cannot connect with the fanatical sportsman - there are many out there who love to spend on kit so why aren't they offered it by an optician?

The view should not be that this is expensive product that won't sell through as much as other investment in stock but rather as a vehicle to connect with a new community of patients / customers who purchase product becasue they desire it - not simply because they need it.

For me it is a simple market force:

Desire = value

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Merger of Boots and D&A

I can't help thinking that this is good news for independent opticians - there'll be more distance between them and where the new organisation will operate because they intend to move closer to Boots' position in the market.

It seems that independent opticians will seem further removed from the retail-focussed, sales environment of the chains - and that will reinforce the positive perceptions value-discerning patients have of independent opticians.

I wonder how the franchisees will respond?

For more info check what the Optician Magazine has to say.
Just a quick note - I am talking part in Trailwalker 2009 - which is basically 100k walk across the South Downs within 30 hours in July 2009.

Please consider sponsoring me!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Building greater children's practice

A customer told me he wanted to build a greater children's business. I asked "Why do you want to?!"

Here are some of the reasons he cited:
1. They don't take much time in the testing room (compared to someone in their late 70s)
2. Many independant opticians shun young children as a major optical group gives children free eyecare and eyewear - "It's too difficult to compete!" they sigh.
3. Children bring their parents - look after the children right and the parents will also become your patients.
4. He remembers his first pair of glasss when he was 8 and so he knows what children go through - he hopes to help children with their first experience. Now there's the hook for a PR piece in the local paper....

But "How do I do it?!" he asked me.

As I looked around there was nothing that served children apart from a few frames on the wall.

1. The first place I looked at was his door and he had sufficient access for pushchairs - you don't want parents to fight to get in the door.

2. There wasn't a fun place as separate from the rest of the practice. In fact the practice was fine for an adult but would be the most boring place for a child. Face it. If a child is bored then frames are going to come off the walls before you know it and parents are going to become fried. A low cost way of making a designated space in which children will feel at home is by placing a brightly coloured rug in a corner.

3. As most parents try their utmost to keep children well-behaved I suggested in this area that he made some toys and books or colouring stuff available. He'll have to keep them clean and santitary too so I suggested having some gentle and safe disinfecting wipes that one of his staff could clean with from time to time.

4. Parents may become stressed if their children are playing them up (sugar levels too low or too high + fatigue + boredom = parent nightmare!) I suggested he encourage his reception staff to help, befriend and distract the children - this will be very much appreciated and will increase referrals at the school gates. Importantly staff will need the right attitude - if the children are viewed as a nuisance there is no point.

5. He would need to consider clean and functioning baby changing facilities (quick research has found these) equipped with nappies of various sizes and wipes. adequate bins for offending articles.

6. Stock - now here's an interesting one. If you want to build the business against other consumer options available to them in the market then he could consider some private ranges in order to make an impact and get parents through the door (here's one he may consider that can provide impactive POS materials right on the trend). He could still have the value ranges that will be necessary but better to have something to shout about. How few practices I see with only a very small and often poor quality ranges in - no wonder parents go automatically to Specsavers! (Anyone who follows that link will be surprised at the on-line cost.)
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