Independent Optometry’s Branding Problem & What You Can Do About It

Dr. Carruthers outside his practice. He says that specific branding emphasizing your practice's areas of specialization are essential to marketing.

Jason Carruthers outside his practice. He says that specific branding emphasizing your practice’s areas of specialization are essential to marketing.

Differentiating in a sea of glasses & contact lens providers.

By Jason Carruthers, RO, FCLS(C)

Jan. 10, 2024

Optometry has a branding problem.

Not optometry itself, that’s doing well. A widened scope of practice. Strong consumer confidence. Increased market demand. Above-average incomes.

It’s the independent optometry practice that has a problem.


Because optometry practices invariably brand themselves as, well.. “optometry practices.”

And in the mind of the consumer, optometry = glasses. That association is a good thing if you own the market.

Tooth hurts? You go to the dentist.

Need a hip replacement? Only an orthopedic surgeon can help you

But what if you need new glasses? Sure, you can buy them from your optometrist, and plenty do. But there are other options. Many, many, many options.

Big chains, independent stores, warehouse clubs, online retailers, grocery stores. And those competitors are cheaper, faster or better in some way. In fact, those competitors are spending millions to take away your share of the eyeglass market, and the laws have even changed to accommodate them. Yet many ODs still make a majority of their income on eyewear.

No other health practitioner faces this type of competition for their primary source of income.

What Is the Best Way to Stand Out?

To make matters worse, many optometrists work against themselves by drawing attention to the competition. “Don’t buy your glasses online. Buy them from an optometrist.” Not only is this message not convincing; it fuels the belief that “everyone must be buying them online because they’re cheaper. If they weren’t, why would optometrists be saying this?”

Thousands of small practices have seen the writing on the wall and the future of optometry.

These doctors are specializing in more profitable, less competitive services like Ortho-K, dry eye, sclerals and vision therapy. This is the right move strategically. To survive in any saturated market, you must specialize.

The extra time, expertise and equipment necessary to offer these services creates a barrier to entry for many of your competitors that isn’t there with eyewear.

Fewer Patients, But Greater Profitability

Furthermore, the higher price tag and profit margin mean you can see fewer patients, have less staff, less inventory and still make a lot more money. Ortho-K, for example, has an 85 percent margin compared to 60 percent on glasses.

See 5 eyewear patients @ $500 each x 60% margin = $1,500 profit.
See 5 Ortho-K patients @ $2500 each x 85% margin = $10,625 profit.

In this example, the higher ticket price and profit margin produce seven TIMES the profit on the same number of patients. No wonder doctors are signing up for certification courses, buying fit sets and leasing $100,000 intense pulsed light (IPL) units to start offering these services.

Brand Yourself a Specialist

The problem is, these doctors are trying to attract “specialty patients” to their “primary practices.” Their branding reflects primary care and eyeglasses.

“Jones Optometry.” When you look in the window, all you see are glasses everywhere.

If you want to build a thriving specialty practice, you have to commit to it with a brand name that will anchor your category in the mind of the consumer.

If you were suffering with dry eyes, who would you call?

Jones Optometry or Jones Dry Eye Center?

Jason Carruthers, RO, FCLS(C), is founder of Ortho-k Launch Patient Acquisition and Orbit Contact Lens in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. To contact him:

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