VM REPORTS: Optometric Business Innovators OPTICAL DISPENSING By Staff Monday, June 17, 2013 12:07 AM RELATED CONTENT Practice Management Stories: The Secrets of Their Success The Selection Process for the 2013 Innovators MARKETING DIGITAL MEDIA BUSINESS MANAGEMENT INFLUENCERS THE PATIENT EXPERIENCE CONTACT LENS DISPENSING 2013 Alphabetical List of Honorees 2012 Alphabetical List of Honorees 2011 Alphabetical List of Honorees MITCH CASSEL, OD Owner Studio Optix www.studiooptix.com New York, N.Y. OPTICAL DISPENSING “Studio Optix: Eyecare and eyewear to make you see and look great!” After beginning his optometric career in the early 1980s, Mitch Cassel, OD quickly placed himself among the cream of the crop. Over the past 25 years, the optometrist has proven a knack for dispensing to New York City’s high end clientele in his practice’s famed Rockefeller Center location, where he regularly contributes to the costume and eyecare needs of NBC’s Saturday Night Live cast and has also done so while specializing in a unique celebrity couture. Cassel is the owner and creative mind behind Custom Color Contacts (www.customcontacts.com), a company specializing in soft lens designs for prosthetic, cosmetic and special effects, and has been called upon and credited for eye effects seen on the likes of Tom Cruise, Leonardo DiCaprio, Natalie Portman and Robert DeNiro, “just to name a few,” he said. The list of stars goes on, but Cassel’s innovations also shine outside the spotlight. His contact lens expertise applies to patients with traumatic eye injuries, discolorations and other cosmetic issues, and his eyewear dispensary boasts over 6,000 frames sourced from unusual designers around the world to satisfy his diverse, tourist-driven clientele. What makes the practice even more unique, Cassel said, is that its elegant image—a very important aspect to a dispensary with such a high profile following—does not outweigh its focus on patient care and medical expertise. With three exam rooms, top-tier equipment and a finishing lab that boasts same-day progressive lens dispensing, the location has proven to be a one-stop shop for a patient’s eyecare needs. “It’s really important to have expediency and service with great staff and product that complement it,” Cassel said. “We’re very medically oriented— we’re not just selling eyewear.” Cassel also said that while he communicates a certain message to potential clients with purposefully planned window displays and an expertly environed store design, he is open to customers not looking to stop in on a shopping spree. “From a dispensary perspective, we choose to be recognized as a high-end, fashion forward boutique with the most fun and exciting frames available. This has proven to be very successful, as our patients are a walking advertisement for us.” But from an eyecare perspective, he said, the practice takes pride in its medical model, accepting most insurance plans—VSP, Davis, and EyeMed among them—and is always willing to see a patient in need of emergency care. Staff meetings focus on maximizing the patient experience, often incorporating roleplay with prepared scripts to address situations. “For example, patients asking for their prescription to go elsewhere,” he said. A balance of star clients and attentive medical care has kept Studio Optix, and Cassel, in the innovative spectrum. “All of the celebrity work is good, but the better part is changing people’s lives,” Cassel concluded. BRAD DRAKE, OD Owner Drake Eye Center www.drakeeyecenter.com Hartselle, Alabama “In the new environment, everything began to sell much more easily once we had room to let the inventory shine.” Drake Eye Center makes an imposing sight as one drives through Hartselle, a town of 14,000 in the center of Alabama. The handsome stone building, rendered in a neo-classical style and set back from the road amid landscaping, includes a tower with large windows, allowing motorists to view colorful, hanging mobiles that turn slowly inside. “People drive by and see that ‘something special happened in there,’” said Barbara Wright of Barbara Wright Design, who was hired to design the retail space by practice owner Brad Drake, OD, a Decatur native who has practiced in his hometown since 2003. Three years ago, Drake made a major business decision to leave a tiny office down the road and to construct a new building. When the building was finished and the move complete, the jump to 4,000 square feet from 1,500 square feet (and to a dispensary area of 1,000 square feet from 200 square feet) yielded two immediate reactions, both positive. “First, we had room to work, and immediately that made the staff happier. They really took pride in our new office,” Drake said. Despite very little change in eyewear inventory, there was a dramatic change in sales. “We didn’t start selling $1,000 frames, we offered the same price points,” Drake explained. “In the new environment, everything began to sell much more easily once we had room to let the inventory shine.” The immediate ROI in dispensary sales was the result of “doing it once” (and not adding a bit of space here and there over the years) and “doing it right.” The latter meant hiring a designer with optical retail experience, and in Wright’s case she began with a merchandising plan and applied retail principles of layered lighting and richness in materials. She varied displays to include both frame racks and open shelving where dispensary staff assemble creative displays and use signage to subtly connote price points and to feature brand collections. Expanding the dispensary space also facilitated more experimentation with higher-end or fashion forward brands, something that differentiates Drake Eye Center in Hartselle. “If you have space for 1,500 frames, you have the flexibility to try out a lot of new styles and adjust with what sells and what doesn’t.” JOEL KESTENBAUM, OD Owner Optix Family Eyecare Center www.optixeyecare.com Plainview, New York “Treat patients the way you’d wanted to be treated in their home—because your office is your home.” Three years ago, Joel Kestenbaum, OD, owner of Optix Family Eyecare in Plainview, N.Y., installed The EDGE, an internet-based practice analysis tool from GPN. Kestenbaum said that he has witnessed a few tech-driven turning points in the success of his practice, which he started cold in 1984—but none bigger than the ability manage his overall practice with real-time information. He continually tracks gains in productivity and profitability, especially in the dispensary. “I am able to continually monitor what brand is selling, and adjust if a brand or style is not selling, right from my phone or iPad,” he explained. “As soon as I began to look at this level of detail, things started to improve.” Welcome to optical dispensary management in the cloud-based computing age. In addition to this electronic management, Kestenbaum applies several proven strategies to running his dispensary, which he has built into a highly inviting retail environment in a typically not-large, too-narrow retail space in a suburban mall. First, go deep into a brand. “Patients need to see that you have a lot of product in the brands they want,” he said. When a specific frame proves popular, he will stock it in a half-dozen colors, and in different sizes, if available. Second, offer luxury brands; they differentiate your practice, and their often heady high price tags provide context that makes other quality brands seem a value. “In the rough economy of the past five years, we’ve actually added high-end frames, and it has helped to define our practice,” he said. “I never wanted to compete in the $99-complete-with-exam arena.” Third, there is service. Kestenbaum constantly counsels staff to improve the patient journey through the office and dispensary—treating patients as if they were guests in their home. “This is really a neighborhood practice, and we need to know our community and our patients and be warm with them,” he said. The staff, which includes his wife and son, keeps sales presentations simple and friendly. They bundle premium lenses and treatments utilize the Visioffice measuring system, and the practice charges enough to cover the occasional return. “We pretty much maintain a never-say-no policy. Returns are just a cost of doing business, but they are infrequent and manufacturers will work with their good customers on discounting replacements,” he said. Kestenbaum communicates regularly with patients about the premium brands he offers. His list of email addresses exceeds 6,000 names, representing 95 percent of his patients. He utilizes social media in driving patients to his website for news about products, special events, and to keep the practice top of mind. One recent communication was for a Lafont trunk show, a highly successful event that followed earlier trunk shows for Ray-Ban, Prada and Tom Ford.