Rep Life

On a perfect Autumn Day, I found myself in a small tree-filled town in Northern California. As a sales rep for an independent optical company, my territory stretches all the way to the top of the state, and there are several picturesque towns around the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Not far from Mount Shasta, I was loving my new job, now on the road everyday instead of an office like the previous twenty years. After a three-hour drive, I get to me first appointment, a fairly busy practice with two OD’s. At the time, I was brand new to the life of an “outside sales rep” however, I am quite used to the atmosphere; My wife of fifteen years is an optometrist and we have been running a private practice for eight of those years.

As much as I was used to the standard procedures at our family practice, I was not prepared for what I encountered on this day, and what I continue to encounter at optometry offices all over California and Nevada.

Understock! Why do so many offices have so much understock?!

The first time I saw this, I was just a little confused. As I searched for my own frames to take inventory and hopefully put a nice order together, I was pleased to see how few pieces were left on the board. That was until the optician showed me where they keep their understock. Underneath the frames boards were several rows of drawers all stocked full of beautiful expensive eyewear-Lindberg, Cazal, Orgreen, Maui Jim-hundreds of frames thrown into a drawer for whenever they “might” be needed.

I am never quite sure how to handle this. I don’t want to be presumptuous so, I never say anything. However, as a business owner, I cannot help but wonder why anyone would spend thousands of dollars just to keep merchandise in a drawer. Listen, I know it’s nice to have a large inventory, and I know it is considered good business to have a large selection for patients to peruse. On the other hand, I might suggest that smaller orders on a more frequent basis, gives you the flexibility to keep track of inventory, sales trends, and most importantly, it assures that you are spending money when and how you want to.

With very few exceptions, we know what brands and styles are going to work for everyone. The majority of offices I walk into sell mostly a couple of well known name brands, rectangular plastics for men, and basic elegant metals for woman. At one point in time, I have asked every single one of my 115 accounts which brands and styles sell the best for them and my interest in sincere. I think it is safe to say that all independent optometry practices make the majority of their annual income on frame/contact sales. So, if this is the primary way in which everyone gets paid, we should be more intentional about what comes and goes from the frame board.

Take a moment to review your frame inventory. What sells like crazy? What hasn’t sold in months? Remember, you didn’t sign a contract to carry a frame line forever, you signed an agreement to pay for a minimum first order (and maybe a minimum board number at all times). You did not, however, sign a contract to purchase frames every three months, regardless of how they sell. The optical world is huge, its honestly ridiculous how many frame brands are out there. The freemarket is beautiful thing, and it benefits optical departments much more than it does optical sales reps or frame manufacturers. Not only do we want your business, but we want our products to sell to your patients-When you win, we all win. I believe, that when a rep is doing her job well, you won’t need 200 pieces of understock because you should be able to get a hold of her and easily make a phone, internet, or in person order as quickly and as easily as possible. If a particular frame is selling really well, order four and keep those in understock. If you have a line you really love but the rep is another state, order some extras of those. However, a constant heap of dozens or even hundreds of frames in your cabinets puts you at risk of several unnecessary headaches.

More than likely, an overly-stuffed inventory usually means low sales and higher returns. When frames sit in a box for months on end that usually raises your return percentages, which can affect sales incentives you receive from frame companies. There is a much higher chance some of those frames will become discontinued before you sell them. Moreover, offices with too much understock usually need or want to return several of those frames before they bring new products in, which means the rep will probably try to avoid your office at all costs because those returns effect their bottom line as well. Ultimately, it is much easier to track inventory, identity top-sellers, and perfectly curate your frame selection when you know what you actually have in stock.

When you purchase frames for your board, that cost has already been incurred by the optometrist that owns the practice, and each one of those frames purchased from a vendor is profit waiting to me made for that optometrist and their staff. I genuinely believe that understock over 20 pieces is a waste of space in the office, money in the bank, and the opportunity you have to make a rep work for you. Take some time, figure out what brands are going to stay, and which need to go. Stay on top of what is selling and what is not, tighten up that inventory and take full-advantage of incentives and promotions. Keep your reps’ numbers handy because a quick call or text can usually get you what you need in just a few days-no waiting for appointments or trying to figure out how to make online orders. Once you have exactly what you want on the boards, sell those babies with pride and don’t be shy, some of us don’t mind spending more money for something that goes on our face every day. I guess I am supposed to say this, but sales are just as important for opticians as they are for reps.

A wise optometrist that sees her opticians working hard to make the practice more money will rightly reward those opticians with an increase in pay.

  • Did you raise frame sales by 15% this year? Good, then ask for a 15% pay increase.
  • Have you done the work to get rid of lines that never sell?
  • Did you bring in a couple lines that sell like crazy?
  • Can you point to exactly how you have optimized the frame selection to increase profits?

If you work for an O.D. that allows you to participate in frame selection, then challenge yourself to blow up your monthly sales, this will lead to job security and more money in your pocket. Trust me.

Drew Wademan

Article written by Drew Wademan

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