The Business of Contact Lenses
How to Profit From Competition
By Gary Gerber, OD
We continually hear contact lens practitioners complaining about increased competition. “Yet another practice opened up in town,” or, “The big box down the street is selling lenses for less than I can buy them,” and, of course, “The Internet is stealing all of my patients,” are all very common refrains. Yet, there is something inherent in competition that is very favorable, and it's often overlooked.
Defining the Competition
First, you need to define who your competitors are and separate the real from the perceived. This definition process is usually a function of your business model. For example, if you're in a retail setting such as a shopping mall and you focus on low prices and a large inventory, then a practitioner who is a specialty lens fitter and who practices on the third floor of a non-descript office building isn't someone I'd define as a true competitor. Yes, some of your prospective patients might wind up there, but usually it's such a small number that it's not worth considering.
Use Them to Your Advantage
Once you have your real competitors (those who practice similarly to you) defined, it's time to use their existence to your advantage.
If they are practicing similarly to you, see if you can discover their Achilles' heel. For instance, in our above example, perhaps the practitioner on the other side of the mall doesn't offer same-day delivery on most lenses. Or he doesn't have Thursday night office hours. Or you're continually hearing complaints about his rude and inattentive staff. You can use what you learn in your marketing messaging. So in this case, you could communicate within your local market and espouse, “We now offer Thursday night hours and are proud to announce same-day availability of most contact lens prescriptions.”
Offering specialty services—and aggressively promoting them—is another possibility for many practitioners. In this case, you need to carefully define “specialty.” There are thousands of patients who have simple astigmatism or presbyopia and are under the false impression that they require “specialty” or “custom” lenses. They have been led to believe this by your competition. That gives you the opportunity to capitalize on these beliefs and expectations by proclaiming, “We have the ability and experience to fit patients who require special lenses for astigmatism or those who need bifocal correction.” While you are indeed stating the obvious, the point is that you are doing so because your competitors are not filling this need or aren't clearly stating that they do.
If there is a lot of bona fide competition in your market that's been there for a while, that's usually a sign that the business you're in, or trying to expand into, is profitable and worth focusing on. While not always true, if a competitor in your market is continually growing, they are most likely doing so profitably. That should give you some degree of confidence in the continual pursuit of your business model. Instead of perpetually living in a state of angst over the degree of competition, you can revel in the fact that you have probably found a viable niche, and with the right amount of thought, energy and resources, that niche can become very profitable.
In addition to attempting to discover your competitors' Achilles' heel as above, see if you can distill down what their key to success is—and try to do it even better. For example, it could be argued that Internet sellers offer patients the ultimate convenience in lens ordering. If you were to stress the dispensing of an annual supply of contact lenses at the time of a patient's examination, that would certainly be more convenient than anything an online seller could do.
Clearly defined competition can work to your advantage as long as you approach it analytically, non-emotionally, and proactively. CLS
Dr. Gerber is the president of the Power Practice—a company offering consulting, seminars and software solutions for optometrists. You can reach him at (800) 867-9303 or DrGerber@PowerPractice.com.