LOOK FOR OPPORTUNITIES

When William Jackson, OD, opened The Eye Contact in 1996, he built his business with a reputation for the latest advances in technology and products. He says that an important factor in his success was his focus on contact lens fittings when it wasn’t always the norm. In 2010, he moved into the freestanding building that he had constructed across the street from his original leased space. This investment in the community of Lake Jackson, Texas, which has helped his practice blossom, will help him serve his patients for years to come.

Here are a few key ways he keeps his contact lens business growing.

Stay educated. Keeping the whole team — doctors and staff — on top of what’s new in the industry is essential. This is Dr. Jackson’s philosophy about all things related to optometry, not just contact lenses, and he continues to advance his education; shortly after certification was offered, he became board certified as a Diplomate of the American Board of Optometry. “When something new comes out, we want to be the practice that knows about it,” he says. For example, Dr. Jackson held a training session for his staff with the recent release of the ACUVUE® OASYS with Transitions™ contact lenses. “I explained the technology so that they would understand the capabilities.” He also invites his contact lens and ophthalmic lens representatives into the practice for lunch-and-learn sessions. The team meets for a daily huddle each morning to get the day off to a good start and address any timely issues before their next monthly meeting.

Prescribe what’s best for each patient. Dr. Jackson always utilizes the full portfolio available to him of the latest and greatest products. His staff learns about patients’ career and hobby visual needs and demands during pretesting, and they deliver this information to Dr. Jackson before the exam begins. He also reviews the patient history form that is synched to the patient chart for other pertinent information so that he is prepared to make the best recommendation. Over the past few years, he says he’s been prescribing more daily disposable lenses and fewer weekly and monthly lenses, but those still have their place, too. “I talk to my patients about what is best for each of them.”

Emphasize an annual exam and annual supply. Dr. Jackson and his staff make it a point during patient interactions to talk about the importance of an annual exam for ocular health in addition to checking their prescription. An annual supply of contact lenses is the perfect complement to recommending an annual exam. Patients will have just enough contact lenses to keep them compliant to their replacement schedule, which will serve as a reminder to come back in when their supply begins to run low.

Know the numbers. It’s important that either the owner or a trusted staff member keeps a finger on the pulse of the practice. Dr. Jackson enjoys a focus on the clinical side, while his wife, Denese Jackson, brings her business background to the practice so that they can make sure their metrics are aligned with their goals from capture rate to contact lens sales and types of products sold. “We look at the norms and what we need to do to surpass those,” Dr. Jackson says.

Turn outside sales requests into opportunities. When a fax or call comes in for a request for an outside contact lens sale, Dr. Jackson’s staff always reviews the patient’s chart and makes a personal phone call. “We let the patient know if he or she has any allowances left so no funds are left on the table, and we explain that those contact lenses are available from our establishment,” he says. It’s also been a valuable strategy in recalling patients who may have slipped through the cracks. Recently, the staff had a request from a patient who was last seen in 2017. The phone call prompted his return to the office for an exam.

RISE ABOVE THE COMPETITION THROUGH DIFFERENTIATION

One of the most significant challenges for independent eye care professionals (IECPs) today is to keep contact lenses from being even more commoditized than they already are. “Everything available online has been commoditized,” says Scott Sanders, OD, of Coast Eyes in D’Iberville, Mississippi. That’s true of both consumer products and medical devices. Where patients can search for an item by brand across the full spectrum of suppliers, it means the markups that IECPs once enjoyed are a thing of the past.

However, he says, that doesn’t mean it’s a race to the bottom. Note that even retail giants like 1-800 are not necessarily offering the lowest price. What they do offer, however, is perceived value, convenience and inventory. Those are areas in which the IECP can — and should — compete, he says.

Here are the strategies he uses.

Use rebates to incentivize annual supplies and help boost compliance. “Everyone likes instant gratification. That helps explain why Amazon Prime is so popular,” he says. His office uses a distributor, which allows him to ship annual supplies at no cost to the patient and offer contact lenses at a competitive price point. He can tell patients that their annual supplies of contact lenses will be delivered to their home or office within days. By encouraging the patient to have a full year’s supply of contact lenses, it is more likely that the patient will replace his or her lenses on the recommended schedule and call the office when the supply starts to dwindle.

Improve on “good.” Dr. Sanders says that most contact lens patients will not complain about their contact lens-wearing experience. “But if I push a little, I can learn whether the patient is truly satisfied,” he says. Even if the patient has been wearing the same lens with no complaint for a while, he’ll still ask whether the patient gains consistent, long-lasting comfort and crisp vision from the lens. The conversation, he says, “is quicker than a rodeo. If the patient loves the contact lens experience, then great. But if the patient says that the lenses get a little uncomfortable as the day goes on, I can suggest that we try something different. It gets the short conversation going, and since we have fitting sets right here, we can finalize most fits right away,” he says.

Specialize. The single best antidote to commoditization is to not deal in commodity lenses, he says. Dr. Sanders fits scleral lenses and other specialty lenses. He also encourages patients — under his “improve-on-good” strategy — to switch to the latest technologies available, noting that those lenses are not offered at a deep discount. Make sure that patients understand what they’re buying if they opt for the lowest-cost lenses available.

Use a distributor. The pace of innovation in contact lenses is impressive. By using a distributor, Dr. Sanders can maintain a virtual inventory, not having to commit his money to a particular contact lens design that he then needs to promote. The distributor allows him to shift or bank his virtual inventory with different products quite easily, “so there’s no inventory that sits on the shelves. It minimizes the dropout rate when I can recommend what I believe is truly the best lens for that individual patient,” he says.

Leverage your Healthy Eyes Advantage (HEA) membership. “HEA is great with its consolidated billing,” he says. “It’s so much simpler paying one bill versus a dozen or more bills each month.” That advantage has become even more noticeable as HEA has expanded both manufacturer direct and distributor programs.