CANDID CONVERSATIONS BETWEEN VCPN’S ED DE GENNARO AND LEADING OPTICAL EXECUTIVES ABOUT THEIR PRODUCT STRATEGIES.
Alan and Richard Winig are Co-Presidents and Co-Founders of Eye Designs, LLC—an office space planning, interior design, and optical furniture manufacturer. As identical twins, they have during the past 22 years co-authored over 50 patented display innovations and created thousands of office designs. Since 1989, they’ve built a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility, corporate offices, and showroom in Collegeville, PA, along with showrooms in Miami, FL, and Mexico City. Here, they discuss how important having the right optical furniture and displays is to building a successful practice.
Ed De Gennaro: How did you get into the optical furniture and display business?
Alan Winig: In 1987, Richard and I were employed in a family-owned ophthalmic instrument company called Isell Diversatronics. In addition to instruments, we had a design division so we could offer a good marriage between the front- and backends of an ophthalmic office. The company was sold in 1989 to Topcon, and we had an opportunity to start our own business. Both Richard and I were always interested in design and felt there was a need for a new perspective in the design of furniture and displays to present eyewear.
EDG: How much of a role do you believe optical furniture and displays play in the sale of eyewear?
AW: The appearance of an optical office and how eyewear is presented plays a huge role in a practice’s success. It’s what makes the first and last impression in an office. Whether ECPs realize it or not, every practice makes a non-verbal visual statement about the office, its quality of service, its products, and its personnel. Potential patients will see your office’s image long before they see anyone in the office, so it’s vital the workplace projects the right image.
Richard Winig: I think displays are the vehicle that enables you to properly merchandise eyewear and related products so patients understand the message you want to deliver. This way they know what you’re offering long before they speak with anyone or view the products.
EDG: How often should an eye-care office update its environment?
RW: Most major national chains do a minor renovation every five to seven years, and a major renovation every 10 to 12 years. Many ECPs hold their furniture for 20 years, sometimes longer. This makes the interior look tired and out-of-date, which doesn’t help sell products. We think ECPs should change their interior and create a fresh new look every 10 to 12 years.
AW: If you look at the dollars needed to redo a typical optical office with displays, furniture, lighting, etc., it’ll take about $50,000. If you get 10 to 12 years out of that, it’s well worth the cost because of the money you’ll generate from doing this. Remember that patients expect to see something new just like they do in other retail settings, and they get bored if they walk in and see the same old thing. You have to keep your image fresh to attract and maintain patients.
EDG: What’s the most successful display you’ve ever created?
AW: I think the most innovative and successful concept Eye Designs has brought to the industry is the merchandising capability of our patented Versa Merchandising Display System. It helps patients understand what’s being offered to them and also lets ECPs brand merchandise and better control their inventory. It also facilitates a faster and more enjoyable buying process.
RW: The Versa Merchandising Display System technology is totally modular and completely flexible. That means that everything is interchangeable within a series. You start with essentially a blank canvas and merchandise as you wish, depending upon the message you choose to send patients. With our system, you can tie in your core product but also integrate some other accessories.
When you walk into an optical shop and see 90 frames all in one compact area, it’s confusing. With our system, you can pull out some of the frame holders and integrate different accessories using shelving, mirrors, or other components.
EDG: What’s the one thing you wish ECPs knew about office furniture and displays?
AW: I’d like them to know that a good office design and merchandising system can have a dramatic effect on their bottom line. Also, if doctors want professional results, they should use a professional. We find that do-it-yourself projects end up costing more and, in the long run, typically don’t have the same visual impact as an office that’s professionally designed.
RW: Eye doctors don’t practice the same way they did 20 years ago so they shouldn’t sell eyeglasses the same way they did 20 years ago. That also means that their interior shouldn’t look like it did 20 years ago. It’s wise for them to invest in their practice, especially now as the return on stocks and other investments is pretty poor. The best investment they can make right now is in their business because it’ll bring them a higher return than other investments.