Preparing for a Retail Reset

What Might the Future Hold as Optical Retail Transforms Post-COVID-19?

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Updated on May 20, 2020

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View a PDF of this year's Top 50 U.S. Optical Retailers 2020

View a PDF of last year's Top 50 U.S. Optical Retailers 2019


How does a leader prepare for a never-known-before challenge? Pause. Breathe. Rely on colleagues. Get the real facts. Make a plan. Be prepared to change it. Do the right thing for your team, your employees, your company, your patients. As we examine the 2019 year past, VM asked a few of our Top 2020 U.S. Optical Retailer executive leaders about the pandemic and what it could mean for the future.

- The Editors






Edward Beiner
Founder and Chief Vision Officer
Edward Beiner Group


“Going forward, more personalized service but a safe and protected environment will be key priorities. Luxury retailers will need to redefine safety with luxury—or luxury with a safety component.

I think telehealth along with online sales will be the two points of most interest for us. As for merchandise, the choices might become narrower (less masstige) but higher end and more exclusive products. I think volume will decrease for the next 12 months—but the average ticket might increase.

As the business comes back, we will have to prioritize safety and networking. We all need to continue to learn and benefit from our colleagues. Networking is key. No one is in this alone.”






Sue Downes
CEO
MyEyeDr
.

“This pandemic has caused patients to rethink their relationship with their optometrists and view them as essential providers in a way they may not have before. Patients have experienced a new appreciation for their vision health and wellness, and we need to deliver on their new expectations. Key to these expectations, however, are two very important caveats.

First, in-office care must be delivered in a safe, surgically clean environment with long-term protections in place for the patients, doctors and staff. Second, the patient expectation has grown to include an increased level of interactivity with doctors outside of the office. We must deliver services and goods to our patients when and how they need them instead of when and how they are convenient to us.

If you are watching traditional retailers and restaurants on TV advertisements, you’ll be hearing a lot about non-contact interactions, and optometry needs to adapt quickly to this new basic expectation. That means expanding telehealth services, developing new methods of outreach to patients, and understanding more about what patients need and why they are looking for examination, diagnosis, products, and other services related to vision and wellness.

Optometry has to do a better job of anticipating patient needs and a new health care environment while leveraging some of the new technology that retailers are developing to interact with and address patient needs differently.

There will be a natural inclination to focus exclusively on revenue and profitability, and everyone in the industry learned some valuable lessons about fiscal responsibility and our industry’s position in health care while handling this crisis. These are important lessons, as they focus our priorities around the commitment to patients and the patient experience within our offices.

Patient behaviors and expectations have been changed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and we need to be adaptable and listen so we deliver what patients want and what patients need in every interaction. In addition to this awareness, we have to demonstrate great sensitivity to the emotions and health of our returning associates. This has been, and continues to be, a traumatic experience for many, and their anxieties are real. The more we care for them as individuals and listen to them with genuine respect for their life experience, the better we will emerge as a unified team prepared for a future together.”






John Marvin
President
TSO/Texas State Optical


“During the severe limitations imposed to bend the infectious curve of the COVID-19 virus, many doctors and optical stores went out of their way to make purchasing of eyewear and contact lenses extremely convenient for consumers. Some went online with purchases, others offered extensions of patient’s contact lens prescriptions and others offered curbside delivery of eyewear. I believe a stronger expectation of convenience in all purchasing experiences is one that will remain.

As for new technologies, there’s no doubt that using virtual conferencing will be long-lasting for our company. Our field people will complement their face to face meetings and trainings with virtual meetings and trainings. It is more efficient and far less expensive than travel. It won’t take the place of in person contact, but we are now comfortable with interacting virtually.

I believe e-commerce will be more prevalent and provide more competition both in terms of convenience and price. Consumers are now comfortable with care delivered through virtual consultation and I believe that online refractions will be the next big disruption in our industry.

Going forward, our industry must be more consumer centric and understand their expectations. The successful organizations will deliver products and services that exceed their expectations. Our industry has long been provider centric. But with consolidation and the disruption in distribution channels the consumer is now more in charge of their decisions than ever before. If today’s senior executives don’t understand that it is all about delivering what the consumer wants or demands, tomorrow’s executives will.”





Aaron Schubach
CEO
Standard Optical


“Early indicators, both quantitatively and qualitatively from our patient surveys and central call center interactions are this: our patients want to feel safe and need to be assured that we take seriously cleanliness and their safety. If that is accomplished, we believe that patients will be more open to the doctor’s recommendations. Some early Google analytics might suggest the patient is asking more informational questions directly to the medical professional, and are less likely to trust a simple Google search. In the office, it’s not enough to just have a posted sign or a message on our website like everyone else, we must make a concerted effort to clean and disinfect in front of the patient.

Also, in a post COVID-19 world, patients will be less comfortable spending big chunks of time in the office. We have most of the intake steps completed by the patient prior to the visit. We reassure them that our protocols will insure a timely, safe and pleasant experience. Doctors are equipped with slit lamp germ guard, masks, paper or full shield and gloves.

After the exam, we will set the patient up in their “safe-zone” which is essentially a dispensing desk and workstation that we clean and disinfect in their presence. This method not only serves its purpose from a coronavirus standpoint, but it is truly a VIP experience. This process has resulted in an average ticket increase of about $70 and multiple pair KPIs have gone up about 15 percent and, in many cases, the frames that the optician presented were all purchased.

The coronavirus pandemic has reinforced our 3 pronged strategy (in-store, online, mobile) and put projects such as telehealth at the top of our priority list. One of the first things we did in mid-March was reinitiate discussions with several telehealth platforms and by May 1 we were seeing patients remotely.

Patient communication via email and text has been a critical component to what we ultimately believe will be a land grab for market share. We have 20 locations and 20 optometry providers who each made, in conjunction with their office manager, a short 10 to 15 second video letting each of their patients know that they were thinking about them, they can’t wait to take care of their eyecare needs in the near future and to let them know we have (5) regional hub locations for medical and urgent issues. The feedback on social media and review platforms has been overwhelmingly positive. We are close to launching our eyeglass store, which was in the works prior to COVID-19.

The last new technology related strategy is our mobile eyecare program. This is in conjunction with Opticare Vision Services (formerly Opticare of Utah) whereby we offer on-site eye exams and RX services. The system was originally designed for large employer groups, associations, etc. during the pandemic where we offered concierge service to our elite customers and did a non-contact eyecare experience on their front porch.

We use portable equipment from EyeNetra, Topcon and Marco combined with a non-contact frame selection and measurement tool called Smart Mirror by ABS ACEP France. We firmly believe that if we provide excellent in-office experiences, telehealth services from the comforts of the patient’s home and mobile capabilities for onsite eyecare, it will fundamentally change the eyecare delivery system as we know it.

Safe, happy employees will produce safe and happy patients. The most important thing in my mind, in a post-COVID environment, is that the safety of our patients and employees is paramount but it doesn’t have to be at the cost of an easy, fun and memorable VIP patient experience.

Optometry is the primary care expert in vision and eye health related issues, however, over the years google searches and online “exams” may have taken some of that away. Well now is a great time to take back the position in the patient’s mind as foremost authority in all things eyecare and eye health related. Don’t forget to learn from this time.

Standard Optical was founded in Salt Lake City, Utah in 1911 by Henry Schubach, my great grandfather. Over four generations of Schubach leadership this business has survived two world wars, the Great Depression, recessions, countless military conflicts, Sept 11, the 1987 stock market crash, the 2008 housing market crash and much more, including, on March 18, a 5.7 magnitude earthquake here in Salt Lake City. After a few days of serious aftershocks, we began to realize that we can overcome anything, even when it comes without warning.”

Read the expanded version of Standard Optical’s story on VisionMonday.com. Learn more about what 20-location, 4th generation Standard Optical has been up to in the months leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic and read about how they’re adjusting to reopening after both the advent of the coronavirus—and a 5.7 magnitude earthquake.






Reade Fahs
CEO
National Vision, Inc.


“The COVID-19 era, perhaps more than any other period in our lives, has required leaders across all industries to concurrently balance a multitude of critical—and at times opposing—needs and opinions of multiple constituencies. Leaders are facing more vitally important and emotionally charged moral and ethical decisions than most have ever faced.

Specifically, this has required weighing matters of the individual physical health and individual financial health of everyone employed in their company with concurrent considerations of organizational financial long-term viability and community safety.

There is a theory called “Opposable Mind Thinking,” which is about being able to hold two diametrically opposed thoughts in one’s head and still be able to move forward. Thus far, and going forward into the next chapter, leaders and organizations that can prioritize safety and maintain their operating model will be the ones that will come through this experience stronger.”






Russ Steinhorst
CEO
Shopko Optical


“Above all else, patients will want to feel safe and prioritize their health when returning to our centers for eyecare and eyewear. Patients will look to us for guidance as they navigate the “new normal.” So, it is going to be critical that the eyecare industry leverages its resources and expertise on safety protocols and best practices that we can then implement in our centers.

This will help patients feel confident that we are providing a safe environment to receive eye exams and eyewear. By clearly communicating social distancing procedures, hygiene rules, and sanitation practices, patients will feel comfortable and informed knowing what to expect before they step into a center.

As we begin to reopen our centers, Shopko Optical is focused on expanding the availability of comprehensive eye exams in underserved areas through increased optometrist recruitment efforts and expanded telehealth technology.

We have recently partnered with DigitalOptometrics to offer additional flexibility and availability for comprehensive exams in 20 of our locations. Not only does this allow patients to easily see an optometrist virtually, but it also provides greater flexibility for appointment times, as the optometrist does not have to be on-site.

In addition, we are offering patients the option for curbside pickup of eyeglasses and contact lenses. They may also request to have their contact lenses or eyewear shipped directly to their home.

We are also in the process of expanding our lens and frame assortments to provide new technology and fashion options while still offering a great value to our patients.

The health and safety of patients, doctors, and staff should be the number one priority for optical leaders. Leaders need to communicate openly with their teams and patients, with a focus on helping everyone involved adjust to the new normal. Continuous monitoring of updated guidance provided by the CDC and AOA, as well as federal, state, and local governments, will help to ensure a safe environment for patients and optical staff.

While there’s excitement around centers reopening, leaders will need to ensure that robust health and safety procedures are diligently followed in all centers to protect patients and employees. For example, occupancy limits, social distancing protocols, sanitation routines, and infection control practices, such as regular handwashing, should be consistently monitored. Management should ensure that sanitation materials, like hand soap and PPE, are readily available in all centers.

We also believe it’s important to keep spirits high and remain focused on what is critical. The well-being of patients and staff should come first, which will, in turn, create a positive environment for the entire eyecare industry.”






Steve Klein
Chief Growth Officer
Total Vision, LLC


“Consumers will almost certainly prioritize their health and safety above all else. Not only will they be looking at our use of PPE and cleaning protocols, but I think a trend toward minimizing their time in our offices will be apparent.

Our doctors certainly started using telehealth when possible and we will continue to do so. However, I believe it will remain a relatively small percent of our total patient interactions. Our merchandise mix has been one of our priorities since our new CEO Neil Collier came on board two months ago.

Most optometry offices we analyze have a low capture rate, often in the 50 percent to 60 percent range, and we believe an ideal mix of frames from value to luxury will lead to significant improvements in capture rate, especially in the post-Covid environment. Our strategy of using data and analytics to constantly fine-tune what we offer has already produced significant results.

As leaders, we need to be nimble with respect to how we respond to changes in HR, CDC guidelines and many other aspects of the post-Covid environment. Our most important asset is our team, and if they don’t feel safe in the work environment, the patient experience will suffer.”

Neil Collier, chief executive officer, added, “We want our practices to open with confidence, knowing their safety and our patients’ safety remains our top priority. Our team is putting in additional processes to ensure that they meet or exceed sanitation and sterilization standards of care for our patients.”






Nick Williams
CEO
Keplr Vision


“I believe that the number one priority for our returning patients will be clinical safety. This was Keplr’s first focus in our plan to reopen our 150 locations, and our Medical Advisory Board consisting of Dr. Ben Gaddie, Dr. Paul Karpecki, Dr. Alan Glazier, Dr. David Nelson, and Dr. Eric Schmidt have produced a 20-page “Clinical Preparedness Handbook” to ensure patient and staff safety in our practices. These protocols have already been successfully instituted in our practices and are already producing results.

We are considering telehealth as an enhancement to our clinical offerings, however, we will not pursue a strategy that promotes an alternative to patients seeing a Keplr OD face to face for primary vision care. That said, we view telehealth as a way for our ODs to provide additional patient care for a limited number of services that may not necessarily require a patient to come into the clinic.

As for the new environment, everything has changed. Patient flow through the clinic will need to be reconsidered as a necessary function of social distancing guidelines. How patients interact with and try on frames will need to be considered. Expanded use of PPE must become the new norm for the foreseeable future. That said, there are common sense solutions to all of these issues. Change is going to be required, but not all change is bad, and because Keplr was already medically focused we are not finding these changes to be overly difficult to institute and execute.”