By Fabio Pineda
August 17, 2022
For most practices, the optical is central to profitability. With so many options for patients to choose from in where they buy eyewear, you have to make sure your optical is as pleasing and easy to shop from as possible.
Two years ago, I built a new office and optical shop, Eye Boutique in Houston, Texas, which opened in 2021. My previous office was a volume-based, medical-style practice with an average per patient purchase of one frame per year, 5 percent sunglass sales and an average per patient revenue of $300-$350.
My new office follows a business model of what I call a red carpet approach with gourmet beverages, pastries and a dedicated sunglass section with a wide selection. I offer individually booked time slots for shopping and exams, and generate an average of three frame purchases per patient per year. We generate an incredible average per patient revenue of $600, and 40 percent sunglass sales. We quickly became a destination store for people looking strictly for designer sunglasses, which is not common for optical-focused practices.
Increasingly, we are now seeing patients buy 5-9 pairs of designer glasses at one time, spending upwards of $4,000-$7,000 on purchases. As recently as June of 2022, one patient purchased five frames with top-tier progressive lenses and four sunglasses with premium progressive lenses for those as well. That is something I never saw in my previous office.
Here are the key improvements that made this impressive sales performance possible.
Created a Luxury Experience
I wanted fashion, a luxury experience and a boutique shopping atmosphere all in one. We added luxury frame lines that most of my local competitors do not carry, including Dita, Fendi, John Varvatos Artisan and Philipp Plein, which is limited to 100 accounts between U.S. and Canada.
I installed detailed shelving spaces with a limited number of curated eyewear, so we do not overwhelm our patients with too many options. I believe less is more when it comes to designer accessories.
The traditional visit to an eye doctor’s office is becoming a thing of the past, and people expect more for their money. The experience they have in your office, especially if you are creating a luxury optical with prices that generally start at around $500, and can go up all the way to around $2,000 for a complete pair of eyewear, must go hand in hand.
They also expect a different level of customer service. You have to ask yourself, and be honest, “Are my customers experiencing the same level of attention as they would if they stepped into one of these designer’s atelier’s?” For us, that means either myself, or one of my opticians, spending one-on-one time with the patient acting as a style consultant. It’s no longer enough to have a staff of opticians with technical skills to fit eyewear. Patients looking for a luxury experience want opticians who are able to observe their personal style and give the same kind of advice they would receive if they visited a luxury clothing shop.
Over-training your staff is key to having your operations run as smoothly as possible. I am all about making my staff as knowledgeable as possible about the brands we represent and the technology of lenses we provide. We put all of our training materials in a PowerPoint format to make them as easy to learn as possible.
There is nothing worse than having a customer ask about a brand and an optician not being able to speak on the brand’s history. While this level of training may sound tedious, it makes the information easier to learn, and can simplify the process of making sales.
Our office was constructed from the ground up during COVID, which made the project far more difficult than it would have been in pre-pandemic times. I spent $140,000-$200,000 for the construction of an $1,800 square foot space. I spent an additional $20,000-$30,000 on furniture and décor. And those figures do not do not include optical equipment or inventory.
A build-out of this size will take roughly six months in today’s world, so keep that in mind when negotiating with a landlord for a space if you’re thinking of doing something similar to what I did.
Patients love a great shopping experience, and everyone loves to feel like the red carpet is rolled out for them. This will entice your patients/shoppers to spend more and feel good about it. In turn, if you make them feel like a million bucks, they will make sure everyone knows about it.
Down the line, I would love to sell accessories from the same designers of the frame brands we sell. Who wouldn’t love a nice pair of Fendi shoes to go along with their Fendi glasses?
Compared to my previous practice, for every one patient seen here at Eye Boutique, I would have had to have seen 2.5 patients at my previous office to generate the same profit.
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Established as Out-of-Network Practice & Marketed to Get Word Out
Reimbursements from managed care are generally low, and being in-network often requires working with specified labs and selling certain products that often do not meet the standards of a luxury office. For those reasons, I decided to be an out-of-network practice from the beginning. My increasing operating costs, and managed care’s refusal to increase reimbursements, do not make them good partners for a practice like mine.
Click HERE to read how Fabio Pineda uses Anagram to help patients submit out-of-network claims.
I created a marketing strategy to reach the kind of people I felt would be drawn to my practice. On average, I spend $500-$1,000 monthly on marketing to get the word out to patients who may only know about practices that are in-network for them, and to find the kind of people who will value an office like mine. I run Google Ads, and during the summer months, advertise sunwear on Instagram and Facebook. Successful marketing is based on trial and error. These are the marketing platforms that I found work best for my high-end target demographics.
It is tempting to just hire someone who says they will get you placement on Google or will streamline your ads. No one will care about your business as much as you do, so it’s better to do the work yourself. Trust me, if you are smart enough to own an optical practice (and if you’re an OD, get through optometry school), you can learn how to market your office.
I used Fiverr for classes on marketing and search engine optimization. You can also find many YouTube videos that are free, and a Google search on SEO will guide you in what you need to learn.
Incremental sales every month since we opened our doors are proof of the work that has been done. Also, it shows that you do not have to be in-network with managed care plans to have a successful practice.
Established as Low-Volume Practice
I did not want to sacrifice my patient/customer experience to accommodate the push for a high volume of patients who were willing to settle for low-to-medium quality services.
I began to understand that more patients did not necessarily mean more profit. If anything, a high volume of patients would just become more overhead because of the need for additional staff to keep up with patient needs. Higher error rates, and a greater need for remakes, also often happens in high-volume practices, adding yet more costs.
My employees have noticed that working in a low-volume practice is more pleasant, with less chance of feeling overwhelmed. They never are pushed to provide a lower level of service than they would like. We book appointments of 30 minutes to one hour depending on the exam. Our high level of sales of premium products and low overhead allows us to do this. On average, we only have to see three patients per day to be profitable.
The positive impact on patients of getting eyecare in a low-volume practice is immense. The patient no longer feels like just another number waiting in line, their time is respected because a schedule is kept and followed. They aren’t booked only to come in and have to wait for other patients to be seen before them. The ability to consistently keep on time results in a smoother patient experience and better reviews for a practice. Here is an example of a Google Review left by one of our patients: “Fabio and his staff at Eye Boutique are knowledgeable and helpful. There is no pushy, aggressive sales pitch. They let you take your time and offer honest feedback. Friendly and prompt service in a lovely store. The whole process was easy and pleasant. I love my new eyeglasses!”