The Journey From Expert Technician to Creative Artisan
By Jim Emanuel
Release Date: September 1, 2016
Expiration Date: April 27, 2020
Upon completion of this program, the participant should be able to:
- Learn how to treat new eyewear purchases as a facial makeover.
- Understand the importance of demonstrating an understanding of skin tone and facial contour.
- As an optician, know how to provide eyewear that will enhance their features as well as provide them with improved vision, better performance and superior fit and comfort.
- Learn why your expertise, in every aspect of their purchase decision, is an invaluable feature they won't find from your competitors.
Jim Emanuel, BS, MBA, ABOC, is a semi-retired optician/manager with 30-plus years of experience for retail chains, private and managed care. He received his undergraduate degree from Temple University in Journalism and master's degree from Golden Gate University in Marketing. He has been ABO certified since 1986.
This course is approved for one (1) hour of CE credit by the American Board of Opticianry (ABO). Course STWJH321-1
COMPETITION IS WELCOME
The independent should never fear competition. The challenge provided by optical chains, mass merchandisers and online vendors have only made individual practitioners reinvent themselves. Doctors have become better new product advocates and now include recommendations with their prescriptions. They now understand the power their voice has in their patient’s decision. Patients will act on a specific doctor’s product recommendation at a 72 percent conversion rate.
The best doctors will include their opticians in a consultative manner and discuss recommendations made in the patient’s presence and then perform a seamless hand off. Doctors understand that they have a captive audience, and their involvement in the sales process will only improve their capture rate. A collaborative effort between optician and doctor empowers opticians.
BE THE FORUM FOR COMMUNICATION
The journey to creative artisan for the expert optician begins with a sense of responsibility. The optician needs to see themselves as a co-captain of the team. Information needs to be shared with fellow staff members. Any business or practice can have specialists, but generalists with multifunctional knowledge build a comprehensive story line to customers. Each personal interaction is a chapter in a novel, an experience.
We all know that excellent communication is two-way. Therefore, solicit and embrace feedback from your work associates. Encourage fellow staff members’ opinions in building an inventory, choosing suppliers and in facilitating a customer’s eyewear decision. It empowers staff members, solidifies a team concept and builds individual confidence. Optical is a service environment which thrives on communication. The creative artisan communicates and listens to all: It is their most powerful skill. A sense of ownership is instilled throughout the office, especially in a doctors’ dispensary.
The optician has been handed the keys to the Jaguar. They will have proven their worthiness through their personal presentation and the unique display of a collection that is deep but not overwhelming, reflects current fashion trends and is colorful but not gaudy. It should create excitement in your customer. And you should handle it with respect. Show it like a piece of fine jewelry, unfolding the temples slowly and deftly, and presented on a padded jewelry tray.
PERSONAL APPEARANCE: A KEY TO CREDIBILITY
Part of personal presentation is appearance. Mirror your environment: It sounds like a uniform, but can you really show someone a $500 frame wearing a lab coat or scrubs? A large wardrobe and corresponding budget is not needed.
Monochromatic colors work well in any environment. Blacks, browns, grays and beiges with color accents (scarves, tasteful jewelry and vests) work well in chains, private and upscale environments. Don’t be afraid to use color, perhaps consider dressing to the season. Try mauve, burgundy, shades of green, or even orange (not just on Halloween).
For example, the author’s sense of color presentation comes from a time when lenses were typically dyed light cosmetic colors, when understanding the customer’s use of color was important. While no longer popular, color in lenses involved the customer in a process about the appearance of their glasses. Today, the use of bold color and textures in frames provides more individual style.
Color is more than just clothing. It’s important to remember opticianry is a physical profession. You use your hands extensively, so they should always be clean and your nails manicured. Use hands in an expressive but controlled manner. Keep your movements, whether seated, standing or on the move, steady and confident.
GET ENGAGED AND WELCOME ENGAGEMENT
Engage the customer with dialogue. You might say, “I have several options that I believe would be ideal candidates for your new eyewear, but more importantly, what aesthetic or style statement do you want to create?” Open-ended and collaborative dialogue is crucial to create an “a-ha” experience.
The goal is you have done your homework not just technically but you have, to this point, exceeded their expectations, and complete satisfaction is the objective. And you turned what can sometimes be a laborious process into a creative success. Too many over-the-top adjectives and phrases? It’s purposeful. Referrals grow a business, and you may get more than a few from someone you have serviced in this way.
Also, don’t be bashful. Ask for referrals. Give them your business card, and say that you would like to help any family, friends or associates (particularly if they are a managed care patient). If the customer says family/ friends see another doctor, you may respond with, “I definitely appreciate the loyalty that a patient may have to their present provider. Long-term relationships are a result of trust built on providing personal care and attention to detail provided by ongoing history.” Go on to say, “They don’t need to change doctors. Their doctor probably has little control over the content of frame inventory. If they like your frames and suggest that they can’t obtain great eyewear from their current doctor, refer them. I’d love to help.” This may result in this customer even asking for a few more business cards.
DEMONSTRATE THE QUALITIES OF A BUSINESS PROFESSIONAL
A great optician needs to be vested in their doctor’s practice. Today’s practice software provides instant access to information like the dollar value of your inventory, sales numbers of individual frames sold, sales stats by particular vendor, percentages of AR, progressive, high-index, polarized and multiple pair lens sales, and much more.
The benchmarks to work against are at your fingertips. Use them; share them with staff members (even as a training tool) and with your doctor. He or she may know them. Make them aware that your downtime can be focused on the business, and any reports you can compile will enhance your value to their practice.
I worked for a doctor in the Brentwood area of Los Angeles who would review the scheduled patient’s charts with the staff every morning. Staff does change, so this was an invaluable tool in acquainting them with the specific needs of each patient and the tools for each member to successfully play their role. This was a practice that serviced celebrities and entertainment industry executives.
It was a dry run for the day’s activities. It may sound somewhat scripted but there was room for improvisation because the talent pool chosen for this practice was creative.
INVENTORY MANAGEMENT POSITIONS
Inventory control requires the most focus on its management. The beast, if you will, is very much controllable. Every time a frame is sent to the lab, fill the space. After all, that space on the display has a value. Think of that value as the margin and dollars received for the frame sold.
Frames should be barcoded for easy scanning in/out of the practice management system. An old but true rule is the Pareto Principle. It suggests that 20 percent of inventory is responsible for 80 percent of sales. The buying lesson therefore is to choose carefully. The slower selling 80 percent should attract attention to your total collection and be unique in color and design.
The first rule for good inventory presentation is to go two to three (better four) deep on a selected style. Three colors and a representation of the different available sizes are part of this equation. Be creative: Every style does not have to be tortoise or black. You need to mix up color from a particular collection. It will mean fewer styles per vendor, but it will make that 80 percent work for you… and disappear from your boards. That is the point: Frame inventory is not just for show. It needs to have legs—sales legs enclosed with your lab order.
How many turns? Inventory needs to turn so that the display becomes fresh regularly. A good rule of thumb is for the inventory to turn three times a year to be effective. Less than that and the collection is stale. More than that and sales programs are being effective. Choose replacements of good sellers, or if new styles and collections are being offered, buy those. Your frame rep can provide excellent input.
PARTNER WITH YOUR SUPPLIERS
Check sales reports frequently. In addition, your frame representative will know what you have been selling. Meet with them quarterly, know what has not sold, and be prepared to exchange those frames. Exchanges with new orders can reduce restocking charges. This type of frequency will keep your inventory fresh.
Always prepare in advance for the rep’s visit. Pull the inventory to be returned and include it with any damaged merchandise that was a customer warranty return. Let the rep know that you had pulled some pieces prior to them doing their frame count. Have each of the branded collections together and separated in any particular way (gender, material, other). Then do a quick walk-through with them.
It’s important to establish a fair, honest and supportive relationship with all of your suppliers. Mutual respect can lead to a quasi-partnership and some great benefits (priority scheduling for trunk shows, personal attention by representatives on supplying backordered merchandise for orders, and getting quality support and attention to detail).
Opticians should have excellent negotiation skills. Clear ground rules should be established as to inventory levels (piece number), payment terms, returns and a visit schedule. It is always good to agree upon a minimum on-hand amount with each supplier.
How many frame reps have used the phrase “top ten seller” to entice you to purchase a particular frame? Often, a visual image of each supplier’s top ten sellers have an uncanny similarity in color, size and shape. They’re usually of favorable fit and soft/safe design. My advice is, unless it is a must have, be daring in your purchase choices, which means picking the best of the lot. It might be difficult to make a decision checking frames on a website, tablet or catalogue, but you should eventually develop an eye for picking a list of favorites. Compare your “favorites” list to on-hand stock, and ask to see those new frames first.
Inventory planning can be daunting; it’s easy to make mistakes. Building a solid relationship with suppliers allows us to be more creative because it’s a safety net. You are really in the most advantageous position when you can view suppliers (lab and frame accessory vendors) as teammates. A part of developing this concept is communication.
Communicate with your top inventory suppliers every two weeks. It can be small talk or product feedback. Get into the habit of semi-annual appointments for less critical vendors, as frequent as six times a year for regular providers. Set reminders digitally and have an annual calendar list of appointments visible for all that need to know.
You may not want to see someone whose product has sold slowly. It is better to call and reschedule rather than waste their time. I would sometimes order pieces online to keep my inventory levels up if I could not place a full order. This communicates respect for suppliers as business associates. It also respects that they are a small business owner and that their time is valuable.
As an experienced buyer, you’ll also place small orders by phone or online. Use this when needed. It’s an easy sale for your rep. A good one will call to see if you want to schedule. You can explain the strategy about the small order. It also tells them that you are a sophisticated buyer who is keenly aware of their product mix and representation. Text and email messages can prevent hurt feelings.
IT’S NOT JUST COLOR AND STYLE
Look beyond aesthetics when putting together a collection. Inspect the hinges. On a spring hinge frame, be sure that the mechanism springs cleanly without dragging. Look for solid construction. On plastic frames, check for zyl uneveness or dips and also check how the temple butt lines up against the frame front, on the hinge. They should be even. Use your finger on the inside of the bridge; feel for the smoothness of the junction where the nosepads are attached. Make sure metal or titanium frames have even color, no pings or alloy drips.
YOU AND YOUR LAB
Most independents and small retail chains (less than 10 stores) use a primary lab to process their eyewear orders. Communication here must also be constant and clear. I cannot stress enough that the integrity of this business relationship is crucial to your success. The contacts can be a bit more complex. A good goal is to have a strong partnership with the field rep, a stronger one with the in-house production person(s), and a familiarity with the lab owner and regional rep.
There is an old saying that spreading honey and not vinegar will get better results. Keep your cool and be forgiving. Disappointment with poor performance (rolled eyewires, scratched or damaged frames, delayed work, etc.) can give rise to being angrily vocal with a supplier who has let you down. Remember, you toe the line both as a customer and a service provider. It is safe to say that these situations can be looked at as fixable/correctable and only a temporary inconvenience.
People talk; word of mouth carries great weight and formulates the practice’s reputation. Despite everyone’s best intentions, things can go wrong. Labs teeter-totter on quality and turnaround time. Keep in communication with secondary suppliers; they may become an outlet until your primary lab works out their issue. Excellent suppliers will check in with you, periodically, when they, too, are having difficulty that might affect your orders.
Suffice it to say, strong partnerships put you in a better bargaining position for discounts and priority treatment. Suppliers want to keep you happy, especially when you demonstrate loyalty and that your goal is the same as theirs. Successful businesses employ this practice and build a positive image.
Acquiring this skill level can be demanding and time-consuming. Commit personal time to online webinars for continuing education on business management. Read optical blogs and articles on business-oriented sites (Review of Optometric Business, Opticians Handbook, etc.), and attend local events sponsored by labs. Some labs offer half-day programs where you can obtain product and business-oriented education as well as credits toward re-certification.
These events provide the opportunity to renew and make new acquaintances and share best practices. We work in a cottage industry with worldwide presence. As professionals, we share a deep respect for international cooperation. The world is at our finger-tips, and we have a real chance to find and initiate change that will propel our practice.
POSITION OF WEAR TECHNOLOGY
Advanced technology improves and expands a skill set. Remember, technology is only great in the hands of an accomplished user.
Position of wear digital fitting technology, as well as manual measurements, are the benchmarks of a modern optician. That’s because a skilled optician understands the opportunity for both and the way that they can best describe the most efficient ways of fitting lenses. Remember, justifying an upgrade in lens style (meaning a more expensive product) is aided by having a digital device with accompanying software to assure accuracy and satisfaction and the identity of high tech.
Don’t forget the advantage of human touch. Manual measurements require a tactile approach, which allows the customer to become relaxed and respond with a natural position. It never hurts to have fun. I am 5 feet 4 inches tall and often refer to myself as vertically challenged, which gets a chuckle. It is also visible to your customer, and it indicates to them that you are considering all the variables. By combining manual with new digital devices, you can account for any differences in height and posture.
Experience teaches a seasoned optician expected measurement values when visually viewing a frame on a customer. You want a minimum of 10 to 12 mm of distance area in a progressive lens with a frame “B” measurement of at least 27 to 30 mm. Granted, you have greater forgiveness on segment fitting heights than ever. I can pretty much predict a seg fitting height from a visual after I have adjusted and viewed a customer seated, standing and then observing them at various tasks.
Embrace technology but also trust your instincts, and double check when there is a variance. Areas of caution are when a customer is much taller/shorter than yourself or seems to accommodate to you to be more helpful in the process, rather than assume a natural posture. That’s the signal to step back and start anew.
ASSURANCES AND PERSONALIZATION = SATISFACTION
Pre-adjust eyewear before ever putting them on a customer’s face. But please, let them know you will take a few minutes to do that. This is important in multiple optician offices because you may not have done final inspection, which should include alignment. We would like to think that everyone adjusts a frame before sending it to the lab, but things do happen. The frame should be as close to perfect a fit as possible before ever going on to a customer’s face. Pre-adjusting takes away the customer’s feeling that this frame is loose or tight. This will remove any remaining doubt that the value of eyewear and its performance delivery exceeds expectation. It is also the final chance, in this setting, for the dialogue to remain open. It is a chance for initial feedback and perhaps continuing to look into other eyewear opportunities.
We can call this an area of renewed opportunity. Satisfaction has been met on a primary level. The customer may be willing to explore other areas of need, be they sunwear, reading or computer eyewear. The lesson is to keep notes on the initial visit and have the other selection ready to show at dispense. Remember also that customers will generally respond to a promotional discount. Most independent labs will provide you a multiple pair discount, which you can pass on to your customer.
THE CREATIVE ARTISAN CHECKLIST: PRODUCT OF LIFELONG GOOD PRACTICES
- Maintain excellent personal hygiene.
- Always smile and be personable.
- Be fashionably understated in attire; the person you are helping is your customer, not your patient.
- Be prepared and organized.
- Maintain a no-clutter environment (restock frames, reading materials).
- Be informed and be the information hub.
- Respect your product and maintain its value.
- Know how to present yourself and be fluid in movement.
- Be part of the team and under the best circumstances, be a leader.
- Maximize your identity and stature, be part of a vibrant optical community; utilize the available forums for contemporary knowledge.
Any checklist is a guideline. It should not be rigid in format. Highly successful people have flexible habits. I use the word flexible because we should all reach for the next best level of customer satisfaction. It may mean an adjustment here and there, and not a complete overhaul.
You will learn to make any system work to your benefit if you understand that it typically takes human intervention to succeed. This is what makes you so special in the goal of complete eyewear satisfaction. That means you have the following hats to wear: an understanding of aesthetics, the ability to present styles that perfectly suit each customer; the ability to assess needs that present multiple pair sales opportunities; and provide state-of-the-art lenses that have been perfectly measured. When we do this, we dispense truly custom-fitted eyewear.