By Katie Gilbert-Spear, OD, MPH
Professional Co-editor, Women In Optometry and Co-founder, Distinctive Strategies & Leadership
One of the most common complaints we hear from ODs is how competitive the marketplace is. “A patient can go down the street and get two pairs of eyeglasses and a puppy,” they say in frustration. “How can we compete with that?”
My answer—and I’m not being glib—is that you don’t. Look at businesses across the spectrum. A luxury car dealership may be across the street from a used car lot. Designer specialty shops thrive in communities where there are big box retailers. High-end and middle-range restaurants are often blocks away from fast food places.
Buyers tend to choose the shopping experience that appeals to them most. A person who typically shops in one may not usually go to the other because the shopper knows what to expect in the store of his or her choice. That is why it’s so important for optometrists to identify what their strategy is.
Everyone loves value. Even the high-end boutique shopper might be delighted to hear that the store is offering a special on spring wardrobe pieces. But that person didn’t come looking for the least expensive price on a new jacket. She came to the boutique because it carries the brands and the service she wants.
Is yours the kind of practice that prides itself in earning the respect of your patients by offering them the best service, products and education? If the answer is yes, then don’t worry about the external factors that you can’t control and focus on the ones that you can.
Even if you are competing for more value-oriented patients, you can rise above the competition by being the best in that market segment. There is no additional cost to you to talk to your patients about UV protection or a healthy diet. Everything that you and the technicians do for the patient should be explained. Why is this test being done? How will it help the doctor? That ongoing patient education will help patients understand that the exam is more comprehensive than an online refraction test.
Does the front office staff greet a patient or customer who enters? Is the reception area clutter-free? The details matter. Those first impressions will go a long way toward identifying what kind of practice you are and what the person can expect.
Also take a look around. What stores are doing well and why? There are ideas to be found everywhere—from the local coffee shops to big-ticket item shops. Study the successful businesses—including looking at their website and social media – to see if that offers you some insight. Chances are that your patients or potential patients are patrons of these businesses, too. What appeals to them in one setting could appeal to them in others, too.
It’s hard not to worry about the competition—and I’m not suggesting that doctors put their head in the sand and ignore the market. But if your patients leave your practice thinking that the products and services that they received in your place are essentially the same as what they can get down the road or even online, then that’s on you. If you’re providing them with more education and better products and services, make sure they know it.