By Jennifer L. Stewart, OD
March 31, 2021
Sports eyewear can enhance patients’ enjoyment of student athletics and hobbies while providing sight-saving protection. As the owner of a sports vision-focused practice, here is how I approach sales of these products to ensure both well-cared-for patients and profitability.
Independently Tested & Conforming to ASTM Standards
In the past, we stuck mostly with RecSpecs and Liberty for our sports eyewear inventory. We are excited to have recently added Shaq Eye Gear to our office! These sports eyewear frames are independently tested and meet all ASTM International standards.
Provide Something New from Time to Time & Go Deep
It is easy to let sports eyewear inventory stagnate, offering the same products for years. The new Shaq Eye Gear line enables us to add a fun, sporty, colorful line that also offers great protection.
We tend to invest deep in a line to make sure we have a depth of products–and purchasing choices–for our patients. Bringing in a few frames from a product line does doesn’t do justice to the product line or to your patients. If you decide to invest in particular line of sports eyewear, go all in so the benefits and diversity of the product line are maximized.
Bundles Frames & Lenses
An effective way to offer sports eyewear is to bundle frame and lenses into a package. This is a great way to present the eyewear and limit patient push-back on cost. Working with your frame reps and optical labs can help you set prices for the bundled packages to make them competitive yet profitable.
Prominently Show Off Inventory
Many practices fall into the trap of keeping sports eyewear in a drawer or tray and bringing out as needed (I always joke, blowing the dust off the frames as they do so!) To be successful, a practice has to showcase that they are knowledgeable and stand behind their sports eyewear. This means properly displaying the eyewear, along with point-of-purchase materials to show patients that the practice features sports eyewear.
The conversation on sports eyewear should start before a patient enters the office. Patients should be instructed to bring all eyewear, including sunglasses and sports eyewear to set the stage for their visit. The conversation should continue with the front desk (“Did you bring your sports eyewear?”) and in the exam room with directed questions about sports and hobbies. Every patient should be asked what sports they play. More than 45 million children play an organized sport, with 75 percent of families with school-age children reporting at least one playing a sport.i
And don’t forget your adult patients. One-in-four adults report they play a sport, with men more than twice as likely to play. We need to make sure all patient athletes are protected when they step on the field or court, including our plano patients and those who wear contact lenses.
Showcase sports on your website, social media and through e-mails sent to your patient list. Does a staff member or doctor play a sport? Patients love to hear about that and will seek out practitioners who “get it.” I have gained numerous new patients who have read my bio on my practice website and requested to see me because we play similar sports.
Train Staff to Educate Patients on the Value of Sports Eyewear
Everyone in the practice should be well versed in the benefits and importance of sports eyewear.
Opticians should be experts on the requirements for each sport and stay up to date with the latest ASTM standards. They should feel comfortable and confident after the handoff in fitting and dispensing sports safety eyewear, and be able to answer questions patients and parents may have. They should know pricing and how to maximize benefits or promotions to make it easy for patients to purchase sports eyewear as a second (or third!) pair.
Doctors also need to be up to date so they can fully educate and prescribe in the exam room. We all know the weight the doctor’s recommendation carries and the role this plays in a successful optical handoff.
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The front desk should know pricing, bundling and insurance coverage (if applicable).
There are many great resources out there for education. Prevent Blindness America, The Vision Council, the American Optometric Association and the International Sports Vision Association are excellent organizations committed to sports safety with educational resources on eyewear.
Ask Sports Eyewear Reps to Present to Your Staff About Their Products
Utilizing reps to understand all of the features and benefits of sports eyewear is such an important part of being successful. These are niche products that it often takes education and scripting to feel comfortable presenting in the optical. I am a big fan of not reinventing the wheel and leaning on my reps for support and education. They know their products inside and out, and are invested in helping you be successful.
Ask them for tips on how best to present the eyewear, how to talk about special features and for guidance on what makes a line stand out from others (is the sports eyewear line independently tested? Does it meet current ASTM standards for different sports?). Ask them for best practices from other offices that have been successful in promoting sports eyewear in their office. How did they do it?
Illustrating for Patients the Value of Sports Eyewear
Patient hesitancy is usually due to not seeing the value, necessity or urgency to purchase sports eyewear. It is our duty to educate them on why it is worth the investment to provide proper protection to prevent eye injuries.
One of my favorite questions to ask a patient (especially a young athlete) is: “Do you wear your flip flops when you play soccer? Do you wear a dress to play basketball?” They usually giggle and say, “Of course not!”
I then respond by saying: “So, why do we wear our ‘dress eyewear’ to play sports? Sports eyewear should be part of our uniform. When we step on the field in our shin guards, mouthpiece, uniform, cleats or sneakers, we should be suiting up with our eyewear, too.”
The importance of protective eyewear in preventing eye injuries possibly leading to blindness is a conversation we must have with every patient, every time. We have a duty to protect our patients while they are playing sports. I’d rather have the conversation about injuries in my chair during a routine exam than during an emergency visit to treat a preventable injury.
Patients are investing countless dollars for their children or themselves to play sports. Specialized eyewear that maximizes performance, while offering protection, should be part of that investment.
Jennifer Stewart, OD, is a partner in Norwalk Eye Care in Norwalk, Conn. She also is founder and chief vision officer of Performance 20/20, a sports vision training center in Stamford, Conn. To contact her: firstname.lastname@example.org