Contact lenses can create a stronger business and boost patient loyalty. Independent practice owner Shelly Bansal explains how
15 May 2017
Contact lenses account for an estimated 40% of dispensing optician Shelly Bansal’s business. This is no happy accident, as Mr Bansal explains how ahead of opening First Contact Opticians, in Middlesex, in 1994, he identified a gap in the market when it came to contact lenses and decided to utilise it as the practice’s unique selling point.
“We have been proactive with contact lenses from day one because we always saw it as a great business opportunity,” Mr Bansal told OT.
Expanding on this, he shared: “Ahead of opening the practice, I did some market research, which included analysing what was on offer at our prospective competitors to ensure that we could offer something different.”
During this analysis, Mr Bansal noted that there were a number of ‘nice’ practices in the local vicinity, but that no one was focusing on contact lenses as a main form of vision correction. Being a dispensing optician with a contact lens specialism, Mr Bansal knew he could capitalise on this effectively.
Consequently, Mr Bansal established a business model that concentrated on this ethos – with successful results.
“For most businesses, all transactions are geared towards the sale of products. However, we keep our professional time very separate from the sale of products,” he said.
As part of this business model, contact lens patients at First Contact Opticians have an annual eye examination, as well as an aftercare appointment every six months.
Highlighting the benefits of this regular in-store contact, Mr Bansal said: “Seeing our patients regularly ensures that we can help maintain and preserve their eye health. However, equally as important, it gives us the opportunity to review their needs and see if there are any other products on the market that they may benefit from more greatly,” he told OT.
His patients are appreciative of this and are now also proactive. “We have got to the point now where patients actually come in and ask us what’s new, which demonstrates their appreciation of the review process and how they are keen to try something new,” he said.
"When you offer a patient something that they haven't been offered before, they feel that you have invested your time in them and you become the gatekeeper to creating a positive change in their lifestyle"
Conversion rate is particularly high at First Contact Opticians, with Mr Bansal revealing that of those patients who book a contact lens assessment, 95% convert to purchasing lenses.
However, there is more to contact lens success than the lenses themselves, as Mr Bansal details a routine that is designed to ensure patient loyalty and satisfaction.
“We mention contact lenses as an appropriate form of vision correction to everyone, young and old,” Mr Bansal emphasised.
This journey begins on the shop floor, where the practice owner ensures that all employees have a very good understanding of what contact lenses are, how they work and the benefits they can bring.
“All staff members have tried contact lenses and continue to do so as new products are released,” he explained.
Training is also important and Mr Bansal ensures that staff members’ knowledge is constantly refreshed. “While a lot of practices will put aside a day for staff training once every six months, we have an on-going training programme with specific contact lens sessions once a month,” he said.
Bring up contacts
Once inside the testing room, the first step is to make patients aware that contact lenses are a viable proposition for their needs, explained Mr Bansal. “We sow the seed by asking all patients if they have tried contact lenses as an additional form of vision correction,” he said, admitting that many patients’ initial reaction to ‘putting something in their eye’ can be negative.
“However, once we show patients how straightforward it can be and put them on a comfort trial to let them experience the lenses first-hand, a full contact lens assessment normally follows,” he shared.
Mr Bansal also credits his practice’s conversion success to a “very good examination routine,” during which the practitioner strongly establishes what a patient’s needs and expectations of vision correction are.
“After ensuring I understand their expectations, I can positively re-evaluate them so they understand what is a realistic outcome. This is important so they are not disappointed,” Mr Bansal explained, adding: “If you don’t challenge their expectations then it will fail.”
A blossoming business
Having decided what lenses to offer as part of the practice’s portfolio, Mr Bansal doesn’t keep any stock in-store, instead opting to use the home delivery services that are offered by many manufacturers nowadays.
“Johnson & Johnson’s was probably one of the first to offer a home delivery service and we have been using it since it was set up around 20 years ago. Today, we also use this method with other manufacturers to the benefit of our customers.”
In Mr Bansal’s view, home delivery offers many patient benefits. “Home delivery services ensure that patients receive their lenses directly through their letterbox within 24–48 hours. It is also very convenient for the patient and cost effective for the business as we order directly from the manufacturer as and when the patient needs the product,” he said.
Simple methods such as this help independents to create a unique proposition for themselves. “Everyone talks about the threats of the internet, but I think a lot of it comes down to convenience, rather than cost, and home delivery offers patients that convenience,” Mr Bansal said.
Mr Bansal recalls one contact lens development in particular that has helped his business thrive over the last 18 months: “One of our biggest successes in the last year or so has been the introduction of Johnson & Johnson’s 1-Day Acuvue Moist Multifocal lens,” he said.
“Of course, we have been dispensing multifocal lenses for a long time, but for a long time patients have had to compromise on comfort or vision with this type of lens,” Mr Bansal explained, adding that many patients trialling the lens are switching. “They are buying into it and their feedback has been a genuine wow,” he said.
The proof is in the pudding so to speak, with Mr Bansal reporting an 80% conversion rate to the lens among his patients.
And with a business model that encourages aftercare appointments every six months, Mr Bansal can take advantage of the opportunity to trial new products in a timely manner too, which he believes also increases patient loyalty.
“If you are not seeing patients as frequently as we are, you don’t have the opportunity to deliver better outcomes for them – and they may be tempted to go elsewhere,” he said.
Expanding on this, he explained: “When you offer a patient something that they haven’t been offered before, they feel that you have invested your time in them and you become the gatekeeper to creating a positive change in their lifestyle.”
He concluded: “As a close practitioner friend of mine says: ‘You owe it to your patients to tell them what’s new – it doesn’t matter if they buy it or not.’ And that’s how I feel. It’s my duty to keep my patients informed and give them access to all types of vision correction if they so wish.”