Extreme Makeover: Dispensary Edition

Boost Sales in Your Optical Shop with a Merchandising Upgrade
By Barbara Wright

Has revenue growth in your dispensary slowed to a crawl? Wonder how to increase your average sale or sell more high-end frames? Maybe you need a merchandising makeover.

You have to keep up with advances in equipment, tools and techniques on the medical side of your eye care practice. Your dispensary also has to keep up with the latest styles, colors and technological advances in merchandise.

The way frames are organized and presented has a big effect on how well they sell. Merchandise categories will shrink, expand or disappear according to the whims of fashion and so should your frame inventory. Otherwise you risk missing out on sales because you have no room for the hottest new styles.

Developing a merchandising plan will help you use what you've got more effectively and decide if the time is right for adding or replacing display fixtures or lighting.

Accomplishing a merchandising makeover is a 3-step process:
1. Replan
2. Declutter
3. Reorganize

Step 1 Replan
The crucial first step is to plan your desired merchandise mix on paper. When merchandise is properly organized, patients and dispensers will be able to find the right style in the right price range quicker and easier. A free easy-to-follow template for merchandising plans is available at here.

Count your current inventory by category. See whether those categories still make sense. You may want to keep your total inventory the same but change your product mix. No longer selling many rimless frames? Reduce the rimless inventory and bring in something new.

There are two basic approaches to merchandising: by price or by brand. You may choose to mix the two, grouping all your moderate-priced frames together, but presenting your higher priced frames according to designer name.

Merchandising By Price
You must choose which price category-budget, moderate or high end-is your primary focus and concentrate the majority of your frames in that price range. Frames in each of these price categories need to be displayed in a different manner so that the patient is able to easily distinguish between them.

One glance into your dispensary should tell the patient whether he or she can expect to find a frame in his desired price range. Budget-priced frames can be crowded together quite closely on a frame board or placed on a rotator. Clear acrylic vertical frame bars are good for moderate priced frames. However, higher priced frames must be given "breathing room" (more space around them) in order to look like they are worth more.

PHOTO CAPTION: 'At a glance' merchandising: Moderate priced frames on open glass shelves, high-end in locked showcase, lens samples on open shelves next to dispensing station.

Never show expensive frames on the same display as budget or moderate priced frames or crowd them together. That diminishes their perceived value.

If your patients are primarily in the budget or moderate price range, it is good to have at least a small selection of higher quality brand names for those patients who are willing and able to spend more. Offer them a choice; don't force those who want better quality or more fashion to go elsewhere.

If you have a only small percentage of high-income patients, a locking lighted showcase in an upgraded finish (such as stained wood or marbled laminate) easily communicates the higher perceived value of the designer frames inside.

When you have a larger percentage of high-income patients you should have a corner or a portion of the dispensary decked out in upgraded finish materials (velvet pile carpet, deeper, richer colors, etc.) so it's obvious that this is where they'll find the high fashion frames they want.

Merchandising By Brand
If your patients are primarily in the moderate to high end price range, you will want to have plenty of flexible shelf-type displays so you will have room to feature all the latest fashion styles and use display props to make your more expensive frames look special.

Some practices today display nearly all of their frames in brand name collections. Using the recognized logos of these brands to identify the collections makes the task of selling easier for you.

Feature Displays
A feature display can be anything from a tower showcase to a simple pedestal or table. This is where you display just one or a few of the newest or hottest-selling frames to call attention to them. If you don't have a feature display right now, consider adding one.

Some like to feature a very expensive frame or two just for the value of price comparison. When a patient sees that you carry frames that cost $800 or $1,000, then a $300 or $400. frame starts to look like a bargain.

Lens Selection
With the wide selection of lenses and tints available now, devoting some space to a lens selection display is a good idea. A few glass shelves with a cabinet for storage below is all it takes to create your lens selection area. Ideally it should be located so it is the first stop for patients entering the dispensary after their exam.

There the optician can show the proper lens for the patient's prescription, explain the advantages of various tints and coatings and educate the patient about which type of frame would be most appropriate for his lens before going on to the frame selection process.

Step 2. De-clutter
Remove all POP's (Point of Purchase displays), posters and counter cards. Also remove all current display props.

Decide what category of merchandise goes where. You don't need to strip down all the displays and start from scratch unless you're going for an 'extreme makeover.' Sometimes just changing the location of one or two merchandise categories can make a real difference in sales.

TIP: Men don't enjoy shopping the way that women do. Locate your mens frame area close to the check out counter so the guys can 'get in and get out.' Women don't mind walking farther to get to their area. They will probably browse everything, including the men's area!

Step 3. Re-organize
Enlist help with the changeover from everyone on staff who assists with frame selection. They all need to know where to find everything, and more importantly, how to re-stock properly.

Once all the frames are in their new locations take stock of your props and POP's. Choose only a few items and place them with the matching frame style or brand name. If you no longer carry that frame or that name, toss it!

Add one prop at a time but stop while the dispensary still looks a bit bare to your eye. Make sure the frames are the stars and don't let them get upstaged by too many props.

If you have track lighting adjust the angle of the fixtures so the light is aimed right at the frames. Consider adding halogen track lights if you don't already have some. Upgrading your lighting is a worthwhile investment because great lighting has a big impact on frame sales.

File your merchandising plan away and mark your calendar to re-evaluate it in one year. See if changing the location of a category produced more sales or less. If less, try putting that merchandise in a different location.

Let your dispensary be a work in progress. Experiment with your merchandising and find what works best in your practice. Small improvements over time can add a lot to the bottom line.

Barbara Wright, principal of Barbara Wright Design and author of the Ophthalmic Office Design Guide, has designed eye care facilities across the US since 1984. Barbara offers a free report Are You Making These 7 Office Design Blunders? at http://www.barbarawrightdesign.com/

Contact information:

Barbara Wright, C.I.D.
Barbara Wright Design
1521 N. Jantzen Ave., Suite 379
Portland, OR 97217
Tel 503-283-9611
Fax 503-289-7598
E.mail barbara@barbarawrightdesign.com
Website http://www.barbarawrightdesign.com

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