Your frame inventory is likely the largest investment of your practice if you have an optical. Here are actions to take to ensure the maximum growth of profitability for the frames you purchase.
Fewer Lines But Greater Selection
Diversity within frame lines is more important than diversity of frame lines. You want to find a few reliable lines that offer a wide selection of sizes, styles, and price points, and then you can make an investment in them. This serves many purposes. On the patient side, it offers variety of choice along with the comfort of familiarity and reliability. If a patient comes to know that X line is comfortable, affordable, and looks good, that translates into dependability; and the patient will develop loyalty to that dependable brand and look for something in the same line next year.
From your perspective, it cuts down on the number of vendors you have to deal with, and it allows for you to work on developing a small, reliable number of contacts on whom you can depend, cultivating positive working relationships rather than having to juggle dozens of frame reps over the course of a year. I once worked in a practice where we had about 12 different reps who jockeyed for attention, frame board prominence, and trunk show participation, and it became untenable from a practice management perspective.
If It Hasn’t Sold In a Year, Dump It
If a frame hasn’t sold in about a year, that’s generally a safe indication it’s time to retire it. The decision on when to stop selling a frame is also based on how often you want your rep coming in. If, for example, you have a positive relationship with your rep and you’ve set up, say, quarterly visits with them, and a frame hasn’t sold in six to nine months, that’s a good time to get rid of it, too—even if it hasn’t been a full year.
Conversely, if a frame sells at least twice, and/or patients are showing interest in it (trying it on, asking after it), I’d keep it in stock/rotation. We had a major boom with two particular men’s frames at my last practice, the Marc Ecko Snake Eyes and the Shuron Ronsir, which patients loved. We sold about 20 Snake Eyes and 10-12 Ronsirs in one calendar year alone, including to a few women who purchased them as unisex frames. In that instance, we made sure to keep a steady supply of the frames coming in. Once you’ve reached that point I’d even advocate keeping one pair strictly as a display model to facilitate sales and let people keep trying them on.
Focus on Your Demographics
The independent practice absolutely needs to target its patient demographics, especially as the big-box retailers and chain opticals are starting to do precisely this. In year’s past, you could walk into any chain or big box in any part of the country and find the exact same selection, often even placed in identical places on frame boards as part of corporate standardization. There was also a sort of “cast a big net” philosophy, with big boxes and chains using their financial and corporate resources to offer a wide, un-targeted selection of frames.
But big-box and chain retailers are getting savvy to patients’ desire for a personalized experience on a low budget. Anyone who’s shopped at multiple Walmart stores, for instance, knows they vary their clothing selection based on careful customer demographic research—areas with a higher blue-collar concentration of consumers will tend to carry more workwear, while stores located in lower-middle-income regions tend to have dressier clothes targeted to young working professionals on an entry-level budget. Now big-box stores and chains are applying the same principles to frames.
That means I can go to a big-box store in a predominantly African American area of Dallas/Fort Worth, and they’re carrying brands and styles worn by Black entertainers, whereas a chain optical in a white, affluent part of Dallas has entirely different brands and styles. That means it’s more imperative than ever for practices to do market research, determine who their patients are, and target frame selection to those specific demographics.
Preston Fassel is an award-winning author, optical writer, and former optician. He worked for three-and-a-half years as an optician and optometric assistant and for one year in a finishing lab before transitioning into independent consultancy.