Oxford Opticians

College Town Optician Focuses on Loyal Boomers Not Budget-Conscious Students

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One would expect that having a location in a college town would result in serving a majority of Millennial customers, but that’s not the case for the one-man shop that is Oxford Opticians. For 30 years, proprietor Thomas S. Hicks, HFOAA, ABOC, FNAO, has run the location in Oxford, Ohio, home to Miami University, where he caters primarily to Baby Boomers.

“The Boomer generation is still the loyal generation. They’ve been with you, and they stay with you,” he said. “The younger generation is not loyal. They will go wherever they can get a deal. We’re a showroom, and they’ve grown up with the notion that things online are cheaper.”

He’s even witnessed the younger generation exhibiting behavior that’s come to be known as showrooming, viewing merchandise in a traditional brick-and-mortar store with the intent of purchasing it later online, expecting to get it at a lower price.

Hicks has observed this most with plano sunglasses, which he said he used to sell by the thousands each month in the days before the internet, but now he only sells about 500 per month. Since everything is under lock and key, these Millennial shoppers have to be pretty blatant about what they’re doing. “All they want to do is try them on,” said Hicks. “They write down the information after looking at the product and then they go order it on the internet.”



 


 For 30 years, Tom Hicks has run Oxford Opticians in the college town of Oxford, Ohio, where he caters primarily to Baby Boomers.





Yet, he feels competing wouldn’t be good business. “I cannot compete at the online price,” he said. “I would rather they walk.” Instead, he focuses on the clientele who make the most business sense and who have proven to be the most loyal over the years, the older generation.

For them, Hicks focuses on service. “For the Boomer generation, it’s all about service,” he said. “If you treat them well and are honest with them, they will stay with you.” He also cited the fact that Boomers will go wherever their vision care insurance dictates and he estimates that as much as 75 percent of his business is with third-party payers. “If I didn’t take eyecare insurance, I would be out of business,” he said.

Some older customers are so loyal that Hicks even invites them in to help select styles when frame reps pay a visit. For example, he said, “I have customers who are loyal to Ogi Eyewear, so when that frame rep comes in, I’ll call them up to stop by to pick out frames.” This turns into a word-of-mouth marketing technique as well. “When they talk about it at bridge club or wherever, then their friends come in to look at the specific frames that the customer picked out,” he said.

He also appeals to the older set by sending product home with loyal customers when they can’t make up their mind among a selection of frames. “If we pick out two or three frames that they want their daughter to look at, for example,” he said, “I actually send the frames home with the customer, and they come back choosing the one the daughter picked out. That creates a lot of goodwill with some of my returning customers.”

At least one time this approach almost backfired when he sent some frames home with a customer who brought them to work with her to show her coworkers. He got a call from her boss complaining that he should never do that again because he didn’t get any work out of his employees for an hour. “But I sold three pairs of glasses,” said Hicks, acknowledging the effectiveness of this marketing technique. “I did it again six months later with one of the other ladies in the office.”

Still, he does do some work with the younger generation, much of it not the traditional business one might expect at the neighborhood optician. For example, he sees a lot of younger adults requesting lenses-only jobs when they buy the frames online and bring them in to be finished.

The younger crowd is good for emergency work as well. Over the years he’s realized that most of his town’s college kids have an eye doctor at home and can get through four years without a prescription change at that age, so they’re more likely to stop by Oxford Opticians when they’re in panic mode after losing their contact lenses or breaking their glasses.

The tide may be turning, however, as time progresses and purchasing habits and eyewear styles change. Hicks’ daughter has gotten involved with the business now, and one of her roles is to rotate the window displays. He’s observed that she’s more frequently putting younger style frames in the windows, which “In some respects is trying to appeal to the younger generation,” he said, quickly adding, “or trying to attract the 50-year-olds who want to look younger.”

—John Sailer