Conor Heaney viewpoint

Conor Heaney, director Jones And CoStyling Opticians

Gerraint Griffiths wrote in Optician 19.02.16 about how our profession has lost its way. He stated: “We now have a profession that seeks to distance itself from its core function of meeting the visual needs of the general population. It now concentrates on ocular pathology (for which there is little or no remuneration).”

Too true. It’s ironic that for a profession that helps the world see more clearly, when it comes to our own industry, most opticians can’t see the wood for the trees.

My trusty Oxford English dictionary tells me an optometrist is a person qualified to measure vision, prescribe corrective lenses, and detect eye disease.

The Cambridge dictionary says an optometrist is: ‘someone whose job is examining people’s eyes and selling glasses to correct sight problems’.

As a pragmatic practice owner, I see it this way: we can add more value to more customers’ lives and make more profit from excelling at selling glasses than doing the work of ophthalmologists.

Consider market size alone. How many people in the UK woke up today who need spectacles, have an eye sight problem requiring a new prescription, or who (gasp) want new frames because they fancy a new look? Now compare that with how many people woke up today with some form of ocular pathology.

The reality is that most of our potential customers, and existing customers have no ocular pathology. Most of them need an optician because they need spectacles.

Remember our primary function

Opticians should excel at selling spectacles. But we don’t. Yet it is our primary function and our biggest opportunity. And for those of us who do master this and become world class at it, the future is bright.

Apple changed how people feel about computers and made them desirable. It created a unique retail experience to sell them. In doing so the company became one of the most profitable in history.

We can change how our customers feel about spectacles and in doing so they will happily spend more on their eyewear. Our clients can make the journey from eyewear being a hassle and pain to something they enjoy. Do this and your practice will grow and the industry will grow.

The Optician Index Market Research last month showed less than 50% of lenses dispensed had anti-reflective coatings. Talk about an embarrassing, cringe-worthy statistic. AR coatings were invented in 1935 yet it seems we still haven’t figured out how to sell them. They should be bundled, included and charged for as standard. Look at power steering. That was only invented in 1951. But car companies figured out how to sell it to everyone. Mmm, I wonder how many cars were sold without power steering last year?

There is a lot of innovation going on in optics but my advice is this: messing around with OCTs, the latest social media, offering online appointment booking, etc, is pointless if you haven’t figured out how to sell AR coatings – like rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.

Embrace your role

Creating high average dispense values is the oxygen of a successful independent practice. This is where opportunity lies for those who are willing to embrace their true role as opticians. Focus on this and you are not beholden to the NHS or GOC or anyone else to improve your practice’s future growth. Stop being afraid to sell glasses. Embrace it and get good at it because it is a worthy endeavour.

Conor Heaney (pictured) is director of Jones And Co Styling Opticians and director of Optical Success Academy. He has written a free report for practice owners titled The Nine Keys that Unlock the Hidden Profits in your Practice. Request a free copy at opticalsuccessacademy.co.uk