Practice Management

Reframing your dispensary, a guide to optical merchandising

Frame board management can be difficult, time consuming, frustrating and even counterproductive. But it doesn't have to be, read on to learn how to make your life easier and your practice more profitable.
Published 3.7.2024

Lots of people in eye care industry proudly consider themselves old school, and sometimes that's absolutely the right way to go. Think old Craftsman tools or 1940s era refrigerators and compare them to a lot of what we see today, and old school seems pretty great. However, in a modern optical dispensary, taking the rising cost of everything into account, running your inventory in an old school way is a recipe for new school disappointment.

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There are many ways of approaching your optical inventory, perhaps none more effective than having a purchasing philosophy, a kind of guide to help you make decisions. A stronger approach to managing your frame board might also mean employing data and logic with an eye toward simplification.

In this article, we're going to explore a narrow and deep purchasing philosophy. Rather than gathering a few frames from many collections, you will learn how and why to purchase more frames from a few select collections.

For example: instead of carrying 6 - 10 pieces of 12 different children’s collections, simplify that down to 15 pieces each of 8 collections. Eventually, this will be simplified further, but stay tuned. This approach will allow you to see fewer reps, unpack fewer boxes, simplify your price schemes, increase your negotiation opportunities and allow for static frame board management.

Consider this example:

ABC Optical Shop is representative of the average optometric office’s modus operandi. They have enough space for 750 frames and do their best to keep the boards full at all times. The inventory consists of, on average, 20 pieces of each collection. Those collections are serviced by reps, each of whom carries, on average, 3 collections.

They stock 38 different collections and work with 13 reps to service those collections. Those numbers add up to enough frame sales reps to see one a week, every week, for an entire quarter. Conservatively, they spend two hours per quarter working with each rep, plus another two hours of follow up work per rep.

The follow up work includes:

  • shipping frame exchanges back to the manufacturer
  • removing those frames from existing inventory
  • unpacking new frames
  • entering those frames into inventory
  • adding price tags to the frames
  • adjusting the frame boards to accommodate the new frames
  • additional merchandising may have to be done as well if you’re bringing in a new collection or removing an existing one

Each quarter, they spend 52 hours on just maintaining our frames and the inventory. That amounts to 204 hours every year that the highest paid employee spends maintaining (not selling) the frame inventory. Like many practices, the optician in charge of this task is paid $28 per hour.

That means that it costs this practice at least $5800 every year just to manage inventory. The lead optician should have more important things to do, like taking care of patients. As a practice, it's worth evaluating these numbers and the way your time is spent, and to investigate further and make good decisions about what to do.

Common Wisdom

Consider that in practices across the country, the person most commonly tasked with frame board management is the optical manager or, failing that, the most tenured optician. In some cases, this works out fantastically well; when your optician is keyed into fashion, pricing, demographics, merchandising, inventory control and management, and perhaps most importantly, the needs and wants of your patients.

Unfortunately, this is not the norm in dispensaries. We often see opticians who spend time with the reps they like most, the ones that are the most present, or the ones that bring in lunch. It is not uncommon for consultants to hear the reasoning behind carrying one collection or another amount to the strength of their relationship with the individual frame representative; not the manufacturer, the collection or a specific need of patients, but the individual person who works for them.

In a vacuum, this isn't a good thing or a bad thing, it just is. When you step back and consider the implications of a personal relationship with a sales rep and how that can influence the buying decisions that your optician makes, you begin to see the significant pitfalls.

Relationships with representatives and companies should absolutely be important in your decision making about which lines to keep and which to sell down, but should not be the only factor in your decision making.

Buying decisions in general and inventory investment decisions specifically should be made through the careful consideration of available data and the potential return on that investment.

Getting Set for Success

If relationships are just part of the equation, how does an optician assess what will be the best buying decisions for the growth of your practice? In order to do anything successfully, we have to understand what we’re trying to accomplish, where we are, and the steps we need to take to get to our destination.

When you’re traveling to any given place, all you really need to know is where you’re headed and which roads you should take to get there. In the case of a road trip, the roads are already built, your phone, map, or GPS will tell you which roads to take and for how long; it’s also abundantly clear when you arrive at your destination.

The road we’re going to take here hasn’t been built yet, it’s up to us to build it, one step at a time. The destination itself is also not as clear because your perfect frame board is a moving target; tastes, demographics, trends, and technology are constantly in flux so it is to our advantage to build a flexible roadmap with identifiable milestones.

We don’t want to head too far in one direction in case a different path could get us there faster or to a better destination entirely.

Results, on the other hand, tend not to shift and what you’re measuring today should be more or less what you measure today and what you measure a year from now. Measuring the same performance indicators over time tells the true story of your frame board effort and not what’s on the board itself.

Next Steps

Tune in next time for another issue of Reframing Your Dispensary, where we'll review some merchandising lessons you can learn from other retail businesses and how pricing is a little more complicated than just 3x wholesale.

Steve Alexander
Steve Alexander, Head of Growth
Steve Alexander has been in the eye care industry for over 20 years and has worn many hats including optician, ophthalmic tech, lab tech, practice manager, regional manager, operations consultant, CE certified speaker and other in both private and corporate eye care settings. Over the last 8 years, he has been consulting with practices to find ways to better understand their patients, the ecosystems in which they work, and how to create a practice of which they can be proud. For the last two years, Steve has been Head of Marketing and Partnerships at Anagram, an industry leading tech platform driving change in Eye care with the explicit focus of increasing price transparency, private pay business, and improving the lives of patients and the people who serve them.

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