By Maria Higgins, OD
March 4, 2015
Create a local buzz and make your practice a fixture in your community. How to network with other merchants and double your patient base.
ATTEND LOCAL BUSINESS MEETINGS. Get to know other businesses and make plans to collaborate.
HOST EVENTS WITH OTHER RETAILERS. Contribute glasses to a local store’s fashion show, or invite a makeup store to a colored contact lens event at your practice.
CO-PROMOTE ON SOCIAL MEDIA. Bring new glasses to a nearby business owner, take their photo and post, naming their business, your business and the frame brand.
My practice, Unique Optique, has become very active and visible in my local community of Frederick, Md. One of the ways we’ve accomplished this is by forging mutually beneficial relationships with other local businesses. These relationships have provided exposure and community identification that have helped us all to grow by exposure to markets not normally touched.
All local businesses are in the same boat, so it pays to work together. I have no interest in competing with others in my community, and am truly happy when we all succeed. This collaboration and synergy helps everyone do well. Your reach for an event at least doubles when you include another business’s e-mail and social media lists.
Dr. Higgins walking in a hair fashion show in her community while modeling frames she sells in her optical. Dr. Higgins says these kinds of events provide the opportunity to showcase products to prospective patients while supporting a fellow local business owner.
Create Buzz About Your Practice
One of my patients recently mentioned to her hairdresser that she was on her way to her eye exam. The hairdresser was excited to talk about my office, even though she had never been here, because she had heard so much about us from her clients, and wanted more information from my patient.
Establish Relationships with Competing Opticals
One of the many ways my practice is unique is that we only sell frames from small, independent manufacturers. For this reason, I have been able to build a relationship with the other optical in town, which also carries independent frames and is only a block away. When I opened, I visited and asked them to share with me the names of the lines they carried. While initially reluctant, they trusted me with that information, and I specifically carry no lines that are carried in the other optical. Now when we have a patient who just is not finding what they want, we refer them to the other optical explaining how our taste and selection differ from theirs.
Participate In & Host Local Business Meetings and Events
My town has a very strong downtown merchant community that convenes monthly. As I got to know other business owners, I would try to come up with ways we could work together.
Sometimes, I will host the local monthly downtown merchant meeting. I feel that the more exposure people have to the inside of my office, the better. I am a member of a group of women business entrepreneurs who meet monthly, and we also host that meeting. In addition, I have had sign language classes for the public given by the local school for the deaf at my office, and we hosted a small health fair in our office with other holistic practitioners.
I gain practical advice daily from all of the other local businesses. For example, a nearby business told me about a town ordinance on food at public events that I hadn’t known about.
Build Relationships, Host Events with Retailers
For example, Unique Optique has a relationship with Smooch, an independent downtown makeup store. We recently had an event that was for patients to try on color contact lenses, and Smooch came and did makeup for the patients. We also had an event where Smooch did summer makeup at their store, and we brought sunglasses for their clients to buy to go with their new summer makeup.
We have also coordinated with local clothing stores to throw fashion shows featuring their clothing and our glasses. I, personally, also sometimes serve as a model for hair fashion shows. They color and cut my hair in a crazy way, I wear Unique Optique glasses and walk the runway while they plug my office.
Additionally, I have used local art store business owners as artists for the art gallery I house in my office to better showcase our frames. We have a gallery opening party, their art hangs in my office for two months, and we each advertise the show to our e-mail and social media contacts. They get exposure and we get new people in our space.
One of the owners of a shabby chic furniture store designs my windows every month for a minimal fee. On Facebook, we tag the heck out of each other each month. Once we used old bike gears from the local bike store for my window display and plugged the heck out of their store, too.
Advertisement posted online to promote an event in which a local makeup salon joined Dr. Higgins and her staff in her office to style the makeup of new color contact lens wearers. Dr. Higgins says partnering with local businesses letsyoushow how your products can enhance the others areas of the patient’s life–like their personal style.
Promote Local Business Relationships on Social Media
Unique Optique has an Instagram program called “Unique Optique on Location,” where I go out with glasses specifically for a business owner. I take the local business owner’s picture with Unique Optique glasses on while standing in a recognizable part of their business. I then post the photo to Instagram, tagging their business, my business and the frame company. Win, win, win.
Editor’s Note: To meet HIPAA regulations, have any patient featured in any marketing capacity review and sign the federal government’s HIPAA marketing authorization form.
I am very vocal about local businesses I enjoy. At one point, I went through the map of my downtown area, and every day would post to Facebook about my favorite businesses and my favorite part of each business. It could be my favorite meal in a favorite restaurant, a favorite pair of boots I bought in a local clothing store or my dogs’ favorite treats made in our downtown area.
Be generous with your ability to reach your patients, and be sure to consider collaborations that expand your reach to other businesses’ customers, as well. Spread the love.
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