Where are we, where do we want to be and how do we get there?

By Chris Clemence, Commercial Director

One of the first skills I learned outside of the school curriculum was that of nautical navigation. This was sufficiently long ago to predate GPS and indeed many of the electronic aids that benefit the modern small boat captain. So I learned the traditional way, doing each step largely by hand. Skills fade with lack of practice and that is certainly the case with my navigation, but even after these few years I still remember day one, lesson one: ‘what is navigation?’ The answer is straightforward; it is knowing where you are, knowing where you want to be and then figuring out how you are going to get there, and in that order.

Business and marketing are very similar to navigation, the tools at one’s disposal vary of course, but a business is affected by external factors, just as a ship is, and a business has direction and purpose, just as a ship does. But most importantly, the fundamental principles of understanding where you are and where you want to be, before trying to figure out how you are going to get there, apply with equal import.

As Eyeplan’s contribution to this series of preferred supplier articles, especially because of this recession storm we have all experienced, I thought it might be interesting to consider the ‘where we are’ and the ‘where we want to be’ of independent optics and have a look at some of the ‘how we can get there’.

Where are we?

According to government statistics the economy has enjoyed some small growth recently, but unemployment is still high and the general sentiment is one of caution. As I travel around the Eyeplan network of practices, there is abundant anecdotal evidence that patients are still deferring the purchase of a new pair of spectacles, or going elsewhere where they perceive a better deal is to be had, or re-glazing when what is really desired is a new frame. Given the current state of the economy I do not see this changing soon and certainly it will be well after the forthcoming general election.

In addition to the gloomy economic solution, the competitive threat for the independent practitioner also continues to grow. New entrants on the internet are forcing everyone else on the bus, including the multiples, to squeeze up just that little bit tighter.

By comparison, Associates in the Eyeplan network have generally seen membership levels grow during the recession at not dissimilar rates to pre recession times. We do not have statistics for every practice's dispense rate or value, but we do know that in general an Eyeplan member typically has been spending approximately 20% more on a pair of spectacles compared to a non Eyeplan member.

Here at Eyeplan we do believe that, as well as the conceptual parts of ‘where we are’, it is also important for a practice to understand their core statistics and ratios. This is because they are a significant piece of the ‘where do I want to be’ part of the exercise. Eyeplan does offer pricing consultancy as part of the service package, but we also recommend the ‘where am I now’ benchmarking services provided to practitioners by people such as Myers La Roche and Insight Marketing.

Where do we want to be?

Of course we are not in absolute control of our destiny and we do have to take into account external factors, whether those are of the national economic situation or are those of practice location and local demographics. But whatever the situation, we should not let the external factors curb ambition and certainly it is not a bad idea to set objectives with regard to dispense rates and values.

These apart though, I personally believe each independent practice needs to have a vision of the type of practice it wants to be and once that vision has been crystallised then the ‘how do we get there’ exercise starts. As the diagram above illustrates, there is a distinct risk that trying to be all things to all men can lead to the practice being lost in no man’s land. Something an independent practice can ill afford to do.

How do we get there?

Place Where is the practice located? What local factors might affect the performance of the practice?
Practice What is the condition of the practice? Does it present well to the patients we are seeking to attract?
Products Do we have appropriate products that will meet the needs and desires of our patients? Do we have brands that patients might recognise and aspire to?
Professional Do we present the professional aspects well enough to patients? Do we have appropriate equipment to support our professional standards?
People Do the people in the practice understand what is trying to be achieved?  Are they enthusiastic and are they trained regularly?
Plan Do you have a loyalty plan in place? Is it appropriately targeted to your different patient groups and spectacles and contact lens wearers? Is it properly trained, administered, promoted and supported?
Patients Are you attracting the patients you would like?  Are they loyal to you and your practice? Are you rewarded appropriately for the services a patient receives from the practice?
Promotion Are you promoting the practice? What is being done about generating word of mouth recommendations? Are you investing the right amount of money in marketing? Is it being spent wisely? Who is helping you?

When navigating a ship the options on how one gets somewhere are generally quite limited. You need to be aware of the hazards and then of course avoid them, but in reality the choices are usually few. This is not the case in business or marketing where there are many different methods of achieving a given goal. Some will be effective, some will perhaps seem effective and some will not be effective at all.

Broadly speaking the actions required to achieve the objectives for the practice can be grouped into the eight optical practice Ps:

For the last 11 years or so, Eyeplan been primarily concerned with the effective delivery and administration of eye care schemes for independent opticians in the UK.  More recently Eyeplan has been investing in expanding its support for Associates to include more training for staff (including training not directly relating to Eyeplan) and marketing services including a new promotional tool known as Eyeplan Connect.

Eyeplan’s recommendation is that now there is some hope back in the economy, independent practices should pause and take stock of where they are now, consider carefully where they would like to be and then plan the way forward.  Part of that plan should include looking for companies that will partner and work with the practice to help achieve their goals.  Companies such as Eyeplan.

Bon voyage!

Submitted to Optometry Today 03/2010