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Wednesday / July 15.
HomemifashionFrames That Fight Back

Frames That Fight Back

One area within an optometry practice rarely given serious consideration is budget frames. Yet as an independent optometrist you can thrive by selling eyewear to customers on a tight budget. The trick is to source quality frames and lenses from savvy suppliers – then let your patients know you have them.

Mass media advertising promoting ‘two for one’ specs has screamed at customers for years and had an enormous influence on the retail market in Australia and New Zealand. Because, and in spite of this, customers have flocked to the giant chains like lemmings.

Optometrists in less affluent suburbs have been the most affected by the ubiquitous ‘two for one’ campaigns. Their customers are very price sensitive and tend to be less loyal to their service provider.

It’s Time To Fight Back.

While many independent optometrists have bemoaned the mass marketing campaigns initiated by major retailers, and others have resigned themselves to being non competitive in this space, there is an alternative. A number of manufacturers and distributors have been making low cost, yet high quality specs for years. Now they’re stepping up their support to help independents fight back.

Optometrists… shouldn’t be afraid to ‘talk up’ their offering – it’s been proven time and time again that being the cheapest is not necessarily what wins

Aaron McColl, General Manager of Shaan in Brisbane said his company introduced the Magic collection 17 years ago and it is well liked by the profession. “Magic is an excellent quality range at a budget price – there is no compromise in the manufacturing process,” he said.

“We instruct our Chinese manufacturers to use genuine parts for the frames and use a quality varnish and plating process to make the colour look better and last longer.”

George Nasser, Managing Director of Opticare also has a budget range manufactured out of China. “We’ve offered a budget range for the last six years. We have quality assurance processes in place as well as a frame guarantee to ensure the collections we release every six months meet our standards.”

At Frames Etcetera, Managing Director Sean Rosenberg devotes as much time to developing the company’s lower cost ‘lifestyle brands’ as he does its designer brands. Quality is always an issue.

“Quality is essential no matter what the price. We work closely with our manufacturers on their quality control programs as well as timely delivery, which is an increasing issue,” he said.

To help independent optometrists compete against the bigger retailers, Frames Etc also focuses on offering a broad choice of low cost frames. The Capri and Capri Elite brands comprise about 200 fashion styles, or 500 stock keeping units (sku’s) in total when you take into account all the colours – enough, they say, to satisfy both the fashion conscious and traditional markets.

In addition to representing high profile elite brands, General Optical has released an entry level package that makes it easier for their own customers to remain competitive.

Jonathon Lewis, Managing Director of General Optical, said the company launched the iPack.Rx package deal last month (May) to enable optometrists to compete with the two for one offers.

“We included our house brands Jon lee and Candice B in the offer and we’ve backed it up with marketing support materials that include large format posters, counter cards, a dispensing mat and direct marketing tools,” he said.

How Do They Do It?

One strength that most of these eyewear suppliers has in common is onsite manufacturing facilities that enable them to supply their own frames fitted with lenses to order.

This process saves both time and money for independent optical retailers – savings that can be passed on the patient. “There’s no time lost or cost involved in couriering stock to us to have the lenses fitted. The optical dispenser places an order by phone, fax or using our new online system,” said Mr. McColl.

To minimise costs for independents, Shaan offers the option of its Shaan.RX program for those willing to wait five to seven days for delivery. In a nutshell this is grind and multi-coating production sourced from overseas and fitted in Brisbane.

While Frames Etcetera doesn’t have its own lens laboratory, the company has a logistics arrangement with Essilor Labs in all states to fit and supply Capri Frames and Capri RX sunglasses with Essilor lenses.

The arrangement, called Framelink, enables Essillor customers to order their lenses and have them fitted into a select range of Capri frames and sunglasses direct from the lab.

Good Terms

Some Australian optical manufacturers have taken an extra step to help independents fight back by providing flexible financial and stock management terms.

Aaron McColl explains. “At Shaan, we can provide our frames on consignment. That means optometrists have no capital outlay. They stock samples and our sales people refresh and rotate the stock as needed. We fit the lenses and send them out to the store.”

Opticare also helps retailers with favourable terms. “Our customers can place an order, receive the stock and sell it within 24 hours – yet there is no need to make a payment for three to seven weeks,” said Mr. Nasser. “It makes much more sense to run your business this way than to negotiate a discounted rate on bulk stock that could sit around in your practice for months or years.”

Displays Sell

It’s all very well to have budget frame and lens packages on hand, but how can you as a practise owner achieve customer awareness? Especially in the face of massive marketing spends by the optical chains.

Mr. McColl says there is no easy answer. “I think independent optometrists need to compete on both quality of service and eye health – if they provide a quality service and comprehensive eye exam, they can charge a higher price… but in the face of the competition, that’s a long road – that’s why we promote our Magic range. It enables independents to offer frames that compete with the ‘two for one’ offers on price, and it beats the offers when it comes to quality – your customers won’t return to the store in six weeks with a problem.

Mr. Rosenberg agrees: “This is a tough area… but there are certainly things they can do. Independent optometrists should offer a wide selection of good quality frames at very competitive prices… but importantly, they shouldn’t be afraid to ‘talk up’ their offering – it’s been proven time and time again that being the cheapest is not necessarily what wins.”

Show and Tell or Hide and Confide?

While some eye care professionals may prefer to hide away their budget frames and only bring them out on ‘special request’, others, particularly in less affluent suburbs, should make a point of having plenty of quality budget frames on display.

Regardless of the area you retail in, Mr. Nasser, recommends you always have at least a few pairs of low cost frames in the window. “It’s the only way to compete against the advertising being thrown behind the two for one offers. Show your customers you have the stock at the price they want, and back it up with the service they’ve come to trust,” he said.

“Good personalised service in conjunction with ‘value for money’ will win” agreed Mr. Rosenberg. “Let your customers touch and feel the frames – let them try them on – they may well feel more comfortable with your lower cost frames than others available at the bigger retailers.”

Quality First

As an eye care professional, it’s your responsibility to promote the highest quality lenses and frames that will best suit your customers’ needs.

But while some will always pay big money for the brands and styles they love best, others simply can’t afford to.

If that’s your customer, you need to have an alternative up your sleeve. But don’t go in with the least cost option first. Start at the top and work your way back – informing then of the features and benefits of each option.

Regardless of the final product selected and the ticket price, as an eye care professional, it is essential that you are confident of the quality lens and frame packages you sell. By providing the highest level of care for your customers you can ensure they are happy with the results and will stay loyal to your practise.