Everyone knows there are many differences between box chain stores and private practices. How are they different? Let me count the ways… Many box chain stores strive to be "one stop shopping" for their patients, they work on a "quick-in, quick-out" pace, often focusing on "buy today, wear today" strategies using their in-house surfacing labs. Many private practices take a distinctly opposite approach by using a "quality products and quality care takes time" strategy when encountering their patients.

That's not the only difference. I'd be remiss to not mention the vastly different pricing strategy taken by box chain stores. I don't see many private practices that offer complete glasses for $39, nor do I see many private practices who can even get their products for $39, let alone sell them for that amount. This opens the door to an entirely different conversation, how do you compete? Do you choose to compete at all?

Know Your Options
As the owner of a private practice, I feel I have a unique perspective on this very subject. And while I can't tell you what to do, I can give you a few things to ponder to help you come to the decision that works best for you.

One of the things I've recently discovered is that there are an abundance of buying groups out there looking to even the playing field between box stores and private practices. They are able to do this by contracting bulk pricing discounts on products and offering special pricing to their members. It is the same business strategy that box chain stores essentially created. By becoming a member of any of these buying groups, you stand to gain deep discounts on frames, lenses, contact lenses, software, education, tools, even office supplies.

Compile Your Data
If you choose to look into the buying group option, how do you decide which group would best benefit you? Ask questions! All of these groups will readily be able to send you a list of the discounts they have contracted with all of their vendors. I would recommend you gather this information and then compare it with your current business model. For example, maybe 30 percent of your frames come from Safilo, 20 percent from Marchon, 20 percent from Charmant, and 30 percent from Luxottica. Now look at the discount amount offered from each buying group and see if that works into your current business model. If a particular buying group offers discounts on products you don't use, or don't use frequently, obviously, it may not be a benefit to you to belong to that particular group. But keep looking, there are many buying groups to choose from and there is likely one that will fit your practice's business model fairly closely.

Discounts Aren't Everything
One of the other very beneficial things many buying groups offer is business consulting. Often in private practice, the daily grind bogs us down. We get so busy seeing patients and filling insurances that we forget to plan for the growth of our business. We think that if we care for our patients the rest will take care of itself. And while that is certainly the hope, it is always nice to have a non-biased outside opinion of what could take your business to the next level.

Also, several buying groups have created meetings where members can sit together and bounce ideas off one another. Often the networking opportunities created are of even more worth than the discounts you will get on products. After all, you never know where your next great idea will come from, and it may be that sharing success stories with other practices can help bring strength to the private practice sector as a whole.

Do What is Best for You
Again, each practice is vastly different, and I could never tell you with any level of certainty which group is best for every practice, but by taking the steps to look at your business and compare it with the benefits offered by each buying group you will have the tools to help make your business more competitive. Weigh your options, ask the right questions and if you do choose to participate in a buying group, try to take advantage of the ancillary networking opportunities offered within these programs. It may have more value to your business than the discounts alone.

Johnna Dukes, ABOC is currently the owner and operator of an optical boutique, with experience in both the private practice sector as well as the retail chain setting. She has a wide range of experience varying from optical support staff to dispensary management to practice ownership. She lives in Okoboji, Iowa.