|Private Eyes’ Thixie from FGX features polycarbonate lenses and an anti-reflective treatment.|
Love ‘em or hate ‘em, readers sell. Here’s how to make those sales your own.
“You’ll probably need some magnifying glasses for reading,” doctors tell their patients. “Go down to the drugstore and grab a pair.” With that simple directive, you’re throwing away income, insist the folks who sell readymade readers to optical offices.
Americans buy a whole lot of readers, and few of those purchases take place in an optical office. “More than 46 million pairs of over-the-counter readers were sold in the United States during 2012,” says Stephen Kodey, senior director of industry research for The Vision Council. Of those, only 3.1 million, or $75.1 million in sales, left through optical shop doors. What’s more, a mere 1.4 million pairs were sold by independent eyecare professional (ECP) retailers, Kodey points out. That leaves $690.9 million in revenue a year going to dollar, drug, grocery, warehouse, and department stores— plus other outlets from golf tournaments to quilting stores where aging Baby Boomers shop.
Patients aren’t buying one special pair every two years, as they might do with regular eyewear. Consumers tend to see readers as “basically disposable,” says Cathy Karlen, consumer product manager at Hilco. “The average reader customer owns five to seven pairs,” she observes.
“Maybe you’re a contact lens wearer and only need readers for casual use,” adds Steve Horowitz, president of REM Eyewear. “You’ll throw one in your purse or pocket, another on your makeup table, more in the living room to see the remote control, and one in your car so you can read your phone at a red light.”
Since most folks own so many readers, they often prefer inexpensive ones that they needn’t worry about, says John Nides, national sales manager of Scojo New York. “I lose them, I break them, who cares?” is the basic attitude, says Nides. “What a wonderful business to be in.”
How can you get more of those sales for your business?
|Corrine McCormack’s spinner display increases impulse purchases when placed in high-traffic areas.|
THE DOCTOR DILEMMA
“Doctors often don’t believe readers provide the very best vision care for the consumer,” notes Horowitz. “Not everyone’s left and right eyes need the same correction. Maybe a patient needs +1.00D in one eye, +1.50D in the other.
While doctors can, and do, solve this problem by prescribing multifocal lenses, “that’s an expensive solution that can cost patients $100 to $500 plus a frame,” he notes. “Doctors can also make a custom pair of reading glasses, half-eye style. That’s the kind of quality optical patients expect,” adds Horowitz.
“You want to engage patients so they see you as their eyecare solution, not as 70% of their eyecare solution,” says Timothy Swartz, VP Optical, Sport and Alternate Channels of FGXI.
Dispensers often shy away from products that are sold in lower-end retail establishments since the inferior lenses and frames might mar their reputation, yet doctors’ optical boutiques can offer so much more than those stores can, says Hilco’s Karlen. “At the grocery store, you’re not going to get somebody to adjust the temples and get you the best fit on those readymade readers,” she points out. “You’re offering a professional service, adding a layer of professionalism that the dollar or grocery store can’t.”
Nides also sees reader sales as a launching point for ongoing prescription sales. “If a customer comes into the store looking for readers at 1.50D, that doctor can have a customer for life,” he insists. “After 1.50D the patient will progress to a 2.50D or a 3.00D, and now the doctor is selling them progressives.”
Some manufacturers have created lines that provide higher-quality readers than those sold in most retail outlets. REM, for example, has three lines: Visualites, a rimless choice in 21 colors; Tumi, with photochromic lenses and the ability to fold flat; and John Varvatos, photochromic readers that fold to 1.5 in. and come with a leather case. Doctors who stock any of these can feel confident that their patients are buying readers that are “optically correct” and a frame “just like the glasses I sell you,” says Horowitz. Likewise, Scojo New York offers “optical quality, distortion-free, scratch-resistant lenses with compression mounting systems and a one-year warranty,” Nides says. “You have to give people a reason not to go to Walgreen’s. You should be selling a quality product, he adds.” The Scojo readers, in fact, can be adjusted. “We want customers to go back into optical stores and buy new readers as their power needs change. Doctors can say, ‘Your magnification will change every year, year-and-a-half. Come on in, we’ll do your exam,’” and then readers sales are a “whole business within the business.”
At FGXI, Private Eyes was created specifically so doctors “could sell a product that is qualitatively on par with what they’re used to dispensing,” says Swartz. “We added a polycarbonate lens and anti-reflective (AR) treatment, and upgraded to a really nice hard case. We wanted to provide ECPs with products they could dispense competitively with the more popularly priced OTC channels.”
|Scojo’s Tribeca Collection, such as gel Style No. 732, has distortion-free, scratch-resistant, optical-quality lenses.|
Once you commit to selling readers, manufacturers agree, you might as well let patients know you stock them by displaying them boldly. “In the past, readers were under a counter, behind a counter, out of mind” rather in a prominent locale, says Donna Marasco, director of marketing/eyewear for Hilco. “The readers need to be accessible in the dispensary.”
“Readymade readers are an impulse purchase,” eyewear designer Corinne McCormack agrees. “Keep them in a high traffic area that is readily accessible to increase the business.”
“Put them right by the checkout counter for a great impulse buy,” suggests Karlen. “That way patients might pick up a pair, say ‘What are these? How much?’ and you have a sale.”
Most manufacturers offer displays to make merchandising simple. “We have a turnkey program with a very, very small footprint display that gets readers out in front of consumers,” says Marasco. “We’ve found that you don’t need to offer a very broad selection but you do need fashion-forward styles and a range of powers on hand. If someone needs a +2.00D prescription and you’re out of that, she is not going to come back to get it.”
Hilco has single- and double-sided displays, and Marasco suggests displaying coordinated products. “We make items that go hand in hand like lens-cleaning kits and eyewear holders,” she says. Then doctors have made not just a reader sale, but an accessories sale. That is all incremental revenue and profit because you’ve already covered your expenses selling the first pair of eyewear or contact lenses.”
“The doctor in the contact lens room should encourage patients to buy readers by saying , ‘Hey, by the way, you’ll probably need some readers,’” suggests Swartz. “We sell better readers. Let me get you properly fitted, 2.50D in one eye, 2.00D in the other.’” That is much better than “letting patients self-medicate by reading an eye chart in the back of Walgreen’s,” he insists. To encourage sales, Private Eyes developed a display that holds six styles and six diopters so doctors can dispense the program efficiently.
Get a read on readers. They will increase your bottom line.
Rona Gindin is an Orlando-based freelance writer specializing in business, restaurants, and travel.