Posted by Paul Surridge, Chief Executive, Sight Care Group
The UK is unquestionably Europe’s most competitive optical market. In recent decades there’s been a dramatic shift in how optical services are delivered. Independents have come under increasing pressure to commercialise their businesses to remain viable, and at the same time differentiate their business model.
For independents to compete successfully in this highly competitive market demands fresh thinking. It requires a commitment to constant change, the establishment of business plans and accompanying financials, and importantly, a genuine and enthusiastic commitment to seeing plans through. All too often it’s the latter that undermines the process, either because there appear to be too few hours in the day to undertake such tasks, or, a lack of commercial knowledge or training to do it confidently. DO’s are more likely to relish the process of business planning and execution, and as a result DO owned practices often perform above the average.
It’s important to recognise too that optics has a dual function, clinical and retail. If, and until the market polarises, with clinical services at one end and retail at the other, independents need to generate the majority of their revenue from commercial activities. That means dispensing has to be at the heart of the business.
Qualified Dispensing Opticians are fundamental to the future success of the independent business model. A dynamic relationship between the DO and the Optometrist, where both parties work in harmony is crucial to ensure that the patient journey is fully satisfied.
For example, patients visiting for an eye examination should spend ten to fifteen minutes with the DO on arrival to conduct pre-screening, and the completion of a life-style questionnaire. The latter is very often overlooked as a part of the patient journey, and when it is used, is often ignored by the Optometrist in the consulting room.
For life-style questionnaires to be effective there needs to be a seamless hand over from DO to Optometrist and back again, sharing a common language with patients where dispensing recommendations by the DO, based upon the responses given by the patient are echoed by the Optometrist before being dispensed. This simple approach allows patients to be fully engaged in the process. Always talk to patients about benefits, not the technical features that we get excited about.
Even if the prescription is stable, there will almost certainly be dispensing opportunities. Optometrists often get into the habit of using the term No Change if a prescription is stable, and these words can be translated by patients as no change = no need for new spectacles, when in fact it’s an opportunity for a new look, or importantly a new pair of spectacles to meet their life-style requirements.
In commercial terms, one additional dispense a day at an average value of £200 can deliver in excess of £48k additional turnover a year, and a cohort of very happy patients. The use of life-style questionnaires is not a mechanism for pressure selling, instead a vehicle for ensuring the eye care needs of a patient are fully met, and if the process is managed correctly, they will thank you for your diligence.