Looks do count… especially in business. While providing the best care and service for patients is critical for any practice, so is the appearance of the optical dispensary. After all, the way a practice looks conveys a message to patients the moment they walk through the door. A well-designed, well-displayed, well-organized store invites the customer to spend some time… and then some money.

Savvy display is one way optical retailers can stand out from all their competition. According to 20/20’s Retail Design Survey 2007, 50 percent of dispensers say display items were “somewhat useful” for their practice (up from 44 percent last year) and 44 percent perceived their value as “very useful” (up from 39 percent in 2006).

Of note, the majority of the practices we surveyed identified their target market as mid-range (83 percent), followed by highend (31 percent). In addition, (19 percent) described their target market as value-oriented. Below we take a look at some key findings from our latest Retail Design Survey.

With the majority of practitioners stating they deem display and point-of-purchase materials an important part of the dispensary mix, most rely mainly on POP supplied by vendors—88 percent (which is the same number as last year’s survey). However, there are some dispensers that are industrious— 14 percent say they do create some of their own POP items.

The most popular POP materials continue to be such items as counter cards (94 percent) and brochures (84 percent). Demonstration kits follow at 58 percent and spin racks at 52 percent. Premium items, including perfume, T-shirts, books, handbags and other accessories, account for 27 percent of POP. DVDs and videos were cited by 12 percent of eyecare professionals. And of the 7 percent of dispensers who use “other” POP items, mentioned were Lucite logos, logo blocks, display boxes, glass shelving, pottery/art and posters.

Although lenses are a key component of the eyewear package, only 10 percent of display space is dedicated specifically to spectacle lenses, lens treatments or lens-related educational information, according to respondents. On average, 68 percent of practice space is devoted to the dispensing area while 18 percent is dedicated to the finishing area.

When asked what types of product display items as well as promotional and educational materials they’d like to have available but currently don’t, ECPs cited such things as videos/DVDs (22 percent), updated promotional items such as brochures and posters (13 percent), lens education materials (8 percent) and digital imaging systems, which allow patients to view themselves in a variety of frames (2 percent).

A great place to make a good first impression is the waiting room where patients are a captive audience. Dispensers have been continually incorporating the waiting room into the dispensary area (67 percent, a solid increase from last year’s 59 percent). A properly set up waiting area allows additional browsing time of frame and lens products as well as other services and procedures offered. In fact, 22 percent of dispensers say there are videos of products and services playing in their waiting area.

Other popular merchandising materials set up in the waiting room cited by respondents include brochures and educational materials (95 percent), posters and counter cards of models in eyewear (60 percent), optical products (49 percent) and optical industry publications, such as 20/20, (45 percent). Additionally, 9 percent cited “other” items such as eyeglass cases, iPort television, eyemaginations, demo lenses and sunglasses, vision therapy pictures, posters and self-created DVD info videos.

Considering 57 percent of ECPs have 500 to 1,000 frames in their inventory and 23 percent have more than 1,000, frame boards continue to be the way most dispensers display eyewear thanks mainly to their capacity to showcase a large amount of product. Of the total number of frames displayed, on average 87 percent are on boards with display cases a distant second at 19 percent on average. Only 4 percent of frames on average are displayed in store-front windows. “Other” items, which include counter tops, cubby holes, custom displays, glass shelves, pull out drawers and spin racks— account for 5 percent of product merchandising

As for the way frames are displayed by category, sunwear (78 percent) fashion/ name brands (77 percent) and gender (77 percent) were the most popular way to group product. Rounding out the categories are sport (50 percent) and color (14 percent). “Other” categories, such as age, style, manufacturer, kids, specialty medical, value, mixed and drill-mount, were cited by 8 percent of dispensers.

Kids are a key ingredient to the optical mix and many of the dispensers surveyed know the important role they can play in their practice. An overwhelming 81 percent of ECPs allocate a separate section for children (ages two to 14).

Making the dispensary more kid friendly are such items as books (52 percent) and toys (50 percent) as well as a play area (26 percent). Child-size furniture (21 percent) and DVDs and videos (10 percent) complete the kids’ section.

Little people, big people, good display and merchandising can help any dispensary stand out from all retail competition and help patients get to know a practice even before they enter the exam room.