Selecting and maintaining a balanced range of frames can be a challenging part of managing an optometry practice. But it can also be rewarding in terms of remuneration and reputation if done right.
Sydney independent practice owner and founder of The Eye Piece Mr Paul Lee enjoys hunting down the next new trend in eyewear. For Lee, it is not the frames per se, but the relationship with suppliers and customers, that is key to successfully stocking and selling the right mix.
Lee and his wife, Taeyon, opened their first practice in Chatswood in 2007 under their-then practice name Proview Optical. They have since sold this practice and now operate under The Eye Piece. They opened a practice in Sydney’s CBD in 2009, opened a second practice in the leafy suburb of Wahroonga in 2017 and a third in Balmain in late 2021.
“We knew the market we were going into when we started all our practices and how we would define ourselves as an upmarket boutique. We had numerous competitors when we opened our first practice in Chatswood, so we focused on targeting a niche market,” Lee says.
“We’re well-versed in eyewear brands and take a keen interest in eyewear fashion and certain brands. We look at the global market and what is trending in overseas shows, such as SILMO Paris and Milan and apply it locally.”
He says wearers are more conservative in Australia compared to Europe when it comes to choosing a pair of frames, but it’s valuable to know what trends are emerging.
“Our three practices [The Eye Piece] attract different demographics. Our CBD practice on Hunter Street attracts white collar professionals, such as lawyers and accountants, who tend to be conversative, whereas our recently opened Balmain practice attracts fashion-conscious younger couples.”
While knowing your patient demographic, what frames your local competition stocks, and the latest trends are staples of selecting your frame range, Lee says fostering reciprocal relationships with suppliers is key to getting ‘it’ right.
Testament to this is a unique retail space at The Eye Piece’s flagship CBD practice. Lee says it is the first optometry practice to execute a shop- in-shop concept in Australia, housing collections from leading brands such as Chanel, Garrett Leight, Lindberg, Masunaga, Moscot, MYKITA and Oliver Peoples.
“In our CBD practice, suppliers have a dedicated floor space, like a shop within a shop, to display their range. We borrowed this concept from high-end wristwatch boutiques and executed it in our CBD practice, which had the floor space to make it work,” Lee says.
“We knew which brands were strong, and we said to our suppliers, ‘We would love you to be part of it’. They invested in the idea, and it helped set a precedent for what The Eye Piece is about. Each brand effectively has their own ‘shop’ and it allows suppliers to go deep into their eyewear range.”
The CBD practice also has an in-house lab, which allows for a one-hour lens fitting service, as well as the latest digital dispensing aid – the visuREAL Master from HOYA.
But Lee doesn’t rely purely on a visually impressive range of frames on display, or fast turnaround, to drive retail sales. He also utilises marketing tools and frame rotation to attract new and retain existing patients.
“Patients research eyewear before they even set foot in our practice. We’ve had customers request fames they’ve seen on Sex and the City, for example. More recently we’ve been fielding questions about frames seen in Johnny Depp’s trial, so it is worth staying on top of trends in social media and pop culture,” Lee says.
Reiterating the importance of positive relationships with suppliers, Lee says The Eye Piece is currently among the country’s leading stockists for several eyewear brands such as Lindberg, which helps with Google searches.
Lee’s team also includes an in-house marketing specialist who analyses The Eye Piece website’s traffic on a weekly basis and uses social media to promote new collections.
“There is a ripple effect. If you have the right frame selection, patients appreciate what they walk out with. And once they walk out the door, they want to let other people know what their experience has been, through word-of-mouth, social media or Google reviews,” Lee says.
And if The Eye Piece doesn’t stock a particular frame a patient is looking for?
“We try to cater to requests as best we can. If it’s a frame from a brand we carry but don’t currently stock, we try to get it, we never say no.”
Lee says when it comes to brands, you need to know what works, stock up, and review and rotate stock frequently.
“If you take on a new brand, and it doesn’t sell, cut it loose,” he says. “You don’t want patients seeing the same stock still sitting there. You need to rotate. Say I order multiple similar frames but after a month, I’ve only sold a couple, leaving the majority still on the shelf. We would contact the supplier to rotate the remaining frames for different colours or different models in the same brand. Sometimes practices don’t know that or do not get on top of their stock. Again, your relationship with your supplier is key to refresh branding,” he says.
Lee, who has been in the optical industry for 25 years and worked for corporations including Luxottica and Paris Miki before becoming an independent optometry business owner, says staff are also vital to a winning frame selection formula.
“When we opened our Balmain practice in December, we purposefully employed an experienced dispenser and optometrist who knows the market in Balmain. When we order stock in any of our practices, our team of optometrists and dispensers are all involved in choosing frames, because if they don’t like it, they won’t sell it. We empower them to choose,” Lee says.
“As an independent practice, we are grateful for the 15 years of support from our clients and suppliers. They have positioned and established us as to who we are now. All our dispensers and optometrists who have been with us from day one are on the floor actively helping with frame selection and dispensing. This provides a customer journey and our team makes our branding.”
Don’t tolerate aged stock
At Young Eyes Optometrists in the Hilltops region of New South Wales, business manager Mr Simon Hobson says stocking frames at multiple price points is a matter of necessity, including budget frames that are strong and light for customers driven by function, to high-end fashion and bespoke frames.
Hobson is responsible for selecting Young Eyes’ frames range, with input from head dispenser Ms Melissa Oldfield, and as the practice is part of the ProVision network, using ProSupply and ProAccounts to manage supply.
“We select suppliers that have strong business-to-business connections. We need supply reliability – frames that are available for delivery direct to the lab – and ability to attend to breakages and warranty, and prefer access to best seller lists,” Hobson says.
“We also use e-delivery of stock arrivals complete with frame parameters, barcodes and pricing direct into our point-of-sale. All the companies we deal with are able to provide modern e-commerce solutions.”
Given the practice’s regional location, Hobson accepts that it’s difficult for suppliers to present new ranges in person on a regular basis.
“We use the company website to review new stock. They may only come to our practice once or twice a year, but in-between, I need the company rep to make recommendations about stock. They need to have come to our practice initially because they need to get a feel for the type of business we are, but then they should be able to manage it with me with limited visitation,” he says.
“If you’ve got a range that’s selling very well – particularly if it’s a high-end, bespoke material – it’s important to get the new releases, so a good supplier rep will email me with some product photos that he or she thinks will work for our practice.”
Once Hobson and Oldfield agree to stock a range, they ask the supplier rep for advice on which model will best suit their patient demographic.
“The end decision is a combined recommendation from the supplier rep and our head dispenser,” Hobson says.
Young Eyes stocks best-selling models in at least two colours, and best-selling ranges are allocated two, three or up to four rows of display. “We go deep in the areas selling well,” Hobson explains. “We supply most frames direct supplier to the lab; best-selling frames will often sell several units a week.”
Hobson and Oldfield monitor sales reports regularly to ensure stock levels are adequate and they’re not holding onto individual units or ranges not performing.
“These are managed out of the system by our dispensers and the supplier rep. We actively manage out any aged stock. Even some ranges, through changes in design, will drop in popularity. We manage stock levels in that brand as appropriate and manage it out if required,” he says.
“If a range or an individual model is not performing, then you have to actively manage it because you cannot afford, in my opinion, to keep aged stock, and hang onto it thinking it’s going to sell. You’ve either got to reprice it to a point where it does sell, consider packaging as a second pair, or work with your supplier partner to replace or rotate it with stock that will sell.”
Hobson says he monitors Young Eyes frames stock levels weekly, taking into consideration feedback from staff, to ensure the practice always keeps consistent levels of stock on the shelves.
“Occasionally we sell stock directly off the shelf for various reasons, such as it’s not available from the supplier to supply direct to the lab, or someone comes in and wants to buy it there and then. When we replace units that have left our shelves, we refresh some units that aren’t selling.
“I personally try not to do stock rotations more than every six months because it’s time-consuming and you don’t want to be doing it too often. Hence, selection at the initial purchase is very important to try to get the stock right, which means using a supplier’s rep to give you advice, and your own sales team to tell you what they think will work.”
Although advice is welcome, Hobson says Young Eyes never puts a new range in store simply because a supplier’s rep recommends it.
“We ask supplier’s reps for a recommended new range, and then analyse if we have poor performing ranges at that price point. If we do, we then manage out the poor performing range and replace it with a new range,” Hobson says.
“If I am unsure about whether a range will work – and the supplier suggests it will – I will put it on display for six months and if it doesn’t sell, they take it back. If the supplier rep knows the range will sell, they should accept that arrangement.”
Belief and confidence of practice staff
Independent optometry group Quinn & Co. Eyecare is experiencing a period of rapid growth, doubling in size from four practices to eight in a matter of months.
Co-owner Mrs Naomi Wajntraub has been overseeing the opening of four new locations since March, in addition to managing its existing practices in Ararat, Horsham, Stawell and Swan Hill.
Wajntraub, who has a business background and previously worked as an optical assistant, now manages the whole business.
“In March, we acquired our first metro practice, High On Vision in Kew, Melbourne. At the start of June, we acquired Eyecare Sunraysia in Mildura, which has two locations. And then in early July, we acquired Echuca Optical,” Wajntraub explains.
She says the main responsibility for selecting frames is assigned to the practice manager.
“We have a practice manager at each of our locations. However, we also like to get our dispensers and optometrists involved, if they happen to be free at the time,” Wajntraub says.
“We like to get the team involved because they’re the ones selling the product, so they know what people are looking for. Perhaps they’ve struggled to find smaller frames for petite women, or really large sized frames for those with bigger heads. They know where the gaps lie and what we need to add to the range, so I prefer to give the teams the responsibility and fun task of selecting frames, insofar as deciding which pieces they want within a set range.”
Quinn & Co. Eyecare positions itself as a premium practice, and therefore stocks a selection of high-end ranges at all its practices, but also takes into consideration the socio-economic status of its patient demographic.
“Some of the new practices that we’ve acquired haven’t previously carried the more expensive ranges, so we’re slowly introducing them into those practices. We probably have a few more high-end brands in our Kew practice, with Kew being an affluent area, whereas our regional locations stock more of a balance between affordable and high-end frames.”
Supplying frames to multiple new Quinn & Co. Eyecare practices in a short time frame hasn’t been a concern for Wajntraub because purchasing four established practices has also meant acquiring existing stock, which she has been managing with assistance from staff.
“They’re established practices, so we have a good range of frames to begin with. If it’s not the same stock as what we carry in our other practices, we spend a bit of time reviewing it, and speaking to the existing team who have continued on with us and asking them: ‘What have you found works? What brands do you like? What do you have people coming in asking for? Which ranges haven’t sold well? Then working together with the team, we gradually cull certain ranges and then introduce new ones that have worked well in our other practices.”
Keeping stock current is high on the agenda for Wajntraub and her team of practice managers, with some suppliers standing out more than others for their rotation policy.
“Anything that is approaching nine months old, we like to rotate out when the reps visit. We have a number of different suppliers and they each work in different ways but we tend to favour working with those who are fantastic when it comes to helping us keep our ranges current and up-to-date,” she says.
With trade events effectively non-existent during COVID, Quinn & Co. Eyecare has relied on reps to showcase new ranges coming onto the Australian market and Wajntraub has listened to their advice on what is trending well. However, she says, the teams haven’t always been convinced about which new trends will appeal to customers.
“Different practice staff have certain beliefs about what will or won’t sell. A few years ago, round frames started coming back in fashion. I had team members in some of our regional practices saying, ‘No one is going to buy round frames here’ and they didn’t want to stock any round models. But we insisted. It’s only when people try them on that they think, ‘I could wear a round frame – it actually looks good’,” Wajntraub says.
“It’s the same with colour or more ‘out there’ styles. When we first introduced Face à Face, which is one of the Eyes Right Optical ranges, my team in Horsham, which is the first practice we introduced it into, thought that they were never going to sell, because it had some quirky models and some really bright, beautiful colours. Now, it is one of our best sellers. Almost every person on our team has their own pair of Face à Face frames, or multiple, and they’ve just fallen in love with the brand. And so now they sell it without any issues. It comes down to their beliefs and confidence and their ability to understand the customer, their personality and what they want.”
Eyes Right Optical national brands manager Lisa Wymond shares the following tips when considering frame selection:
When choosing a brand, ask:
• Does it suit your demographic?
• How often does the brand have new releases?
• Is the product stocked in Australia?
• Are there any minimums required to become a stockist?
• What is the brand’s warranty process and percentage?
• What are the brand’s marketing capabilities?
• Does the brand offer flexible rotations? 20:1, 10:1, 5:1, 3:1, 2:1, 1:1
Consider what the market-leaders are doing:
• They have amazing rapport with patients, reps and suppliers.
• They have a ‘narrow and deep’ brand strategy, meaning few brands and a large assortment in each brand.
• They have fewer suppliers, which means better supplier relations and less time spent doing/chasing paperwork, payments, credits etc.
• They hire passionate staff who can recognise patients’ needs and wants.
• They use data from usage reports and stock on hand to make informed buying decisions.
• They re-order their best sellers immediately.
• They see their sales reps frequently to keep collections up-to-date and fresh.
• They involve staff in the buying process and incentivise staff to keep them engaged.
• They focus on dollars banked per dispense, not margin percentage.