Amid the negativity of the economic downturn, there are stories of success and optimism. Optometry should be one of these.
The economic storm clouds that have been gathering since the global credit crisis began appear to have formed a ‘perfect storm’ of negativity for business, with doomsday predictions of further decline punctuating stories of here-and-now business failure. Frankly, it’s depressing. It is a fact that health related industries are more resilient to recessionary pressure than industries that rely on the sale of highly discretionary items.
Needs or Wants
In economic terms it is the basic difference between a ‘need’ and a ‘want’ – eyecare is a need, whereas a new TV is a want.
“In economic terms it is the basic difference between a ‘need’ and a ‘want’ – eyecare is a need, whereas a new TV is a want.”
As Economics 101 teaches us, demand for a need is inelastic (doesn’t change much) and demand for a want is elastic (jumps about like the stock market).
But is it that simple? Will all optometry practices be immune from these recessionary forces? Of course not.
The first thing to blow this economic theory out of the water is that there will always be a small proportion of the population that simply prioritise their health after their finances. Sadly, in some cases, they have to.
Patients to Customers
The bigger influence with optometry services, however, is that it is not just about healthcare. It’s retail too. The fact is that our patients become customers as they exit the consulting room and begin browsing frames – and customers have different buying habits to patients.
It stands to reason that the health care component of the business (where we have patients) will be highly resilient, but the retail component of the business (where we have customers) is more exposed to recessionary forces. In other words, in theory, patients will continue to have their eyes examined, but as customers they will spend less on frames and lenses.
This is a good theory, but fundamentally flawed. The reality is that patients/ customers don’t give it that much thought. In reality, our decision making is not that sophisticated. We simply make a gut-feel decision as to ‘whether we can put off going to the optometrist until the hard times turn around’.
Further, our gut-feel is influenced by what we understand about optometry. Opinion varies among the general community about how important it is to have your eyes examined thoroughly and regularly by an optometrist.
To some people, a visit to the optometrist is all about getting ‘new glasses’ and the examination is simply the red tape you’ve got to go through before the big decision about brand, colour, shape etc.
Other people imagine life without sight. To them, eyes are sacred and the gift of sight is so special that they are not prepared to take a risk with anything relating to their eyes – so a visit to the optometrist takes on greater importance.
Surely, our goal as an industry (and a society) should be to move people from the first category to the second? Apparently not.
The Profession’s Reputation
Frankly, our industry can largely blame itself for the dumbing down of its reputation in the eye of the public.
It is obvious that you learn most about optometry when you are visiting your optometrist. So if the primary communication given to a patient/ customer through that practice’s marketing and in-office promotions is about some sales gimmick or promotion on frames or brands – then what is the public supposed to think? As an example, even the important health check message of an optometrist’s recall is often weakened in many practices by the inclusion of a product sales brochure.
The over-commercialisation of marketing in the industry has seen the examination by an optometrist reduced to ‘red tape’ from the customer’s perspective, and a ‘cost of sale’ from a business perspective. The focus is fashion and price, not eyes and sight.
The flip side to prioritising fashion and price in marketing optometry services is of course that it educates patients to become customers; and therefore to become discretionary. It educates them to see optometry as a fashion purchase, not a health service. Ultimately it’s natural that people will become how you treat them.
The Good News
However, some optometry practices will be better positioned to weather the current economic storm. These practices will be the ones that have kept health as a priority, nurtured strong relationships with patients through one-on-one communications about eyecare (not sales gimmicks) and provide personalised advice and assistance in the important frame and lens selection process.
Patients will keep coming for eye examinations while customers stay away. In the end, good optometry has always been good business.
Eyecare Plus was founded with these priorities in place, not in defiance of good business principles, but because of them.
It is simply good business practice to identify the core drivers of your success. Neglecting optometry in an optometry practice is akin to killing the goose that lays the golden eggs, because there is no sale of frames and lenses unless there is a consultation first.
Yes, there will always be discounters, even in healthcare. Sadly there will always be a market of people who put health after finances. However, the long term sustainable future of any truly successful optometry practice will always be underpinned by quality optometry, not hard retailing.
So, as business is battening down the hatches to weather the worst economic storm in a generation, retail focused practices will face the brunt of the storm, while clinically driven practices will be grateful for the shelter.
If there is a silver lining to these economic storm clouds, for the optometry profession it will be that we focus again on what’s truly important. To find out more about becoming a member of Eyecare Plus contact the Eyecare Plus Membership Department on (AUS) 02 6583 4966.