For some optometrists and dispensing opticians, the idea of children in their practices sends shivers up their spines. All those little hands grasping at their beautiful frame displays or running amok amongst stock stands is the stuff of nightmares. But catering for kids could bring a whole new lease of life to your practice.
Children are an important segment of the optical market and normally come attached to at least two or more other family members, so it makes sense to try to make your practice kid-friendly if you want to tempt in more of the family-end of the market.
Check your demographics
Before embarking on this decision, however, check to see if it really does make financial business sense for you: review your current patient list and assess your patient catchment area.
If you’re located in an area with a much older population or in the business sector of a city, then it doesn’t make much sense to focus on children. But if your practice has a lot of families on its books and/or is close to childcare centres, schools, shops, sporting or dance clubs or a popular paediatric practice, then it’s probably a good idea to focus a little more on the kiddie market.
Create a kid-friendly space
There is a plethora of options when it comes to making your practice more inviting to children, but your practice space and budget will dictate how far you can go.
Ideally, it’s best to have a separate children’s area to keep them happy and make them feel comfortable from the get go. This also has the added advantage of separating them from other patients who may not appreciate the inevitable noise and activity they bring!
Consider installing a range of seating that accommodates various ages from the very little up to teens and parents. Bright colours bring warmth and fun, while simple distractions in a play area, such as Lego or Duplo blocks and a table with craft activities (pencils and paper, good; permanent markers, not so much!) can hold their attention for a significant amount of time. Ensure you have a good stock of magazines for older teens too, and somewhere they can plug their phones in.
If you have the space and money to spend, you can take it even further by including a dedicated child/teen exam room and cool age-appropriate images and kid-only eyewear displays and mirrors, set to appropriate heights for shorter statures.
Hone your affable exam skills
Big scary-looking examination machines can frighten younger ones, while teens and tweens may be interested in finding out more how they work – you could be responsible for creating your country’s next crop of optometrists! So, it’s good to have a variety of examination equipment available, including handheld instruments that allow you to get down to the child’s level to make them feel more comfortable.
With younger kids, it’s a great idea to make the exams fun, so they relax and become better test subjects. Perhaps you can have a collection of soft or squeaky toys to hand to help keep younger patients amused and focused.
The real secret to ensuring the kids and their parents come back to see you year-after-year, however, is to get them to like you, which sometimes means spending a little more time and making a little more effort, which isn’t hard if you like them!
A personal experience
My children, who are now 12 and 14 respectively, began seeing our local optometrist just before they started primary school. Our optometrist’s practice is stuck in a time-warp, somewhere within the 1950s and is in no way, shape or form conducive to keeping children amused, despite their biggest demographic being kids.
So why is it known as such a kid-friendly practice? Because they have a very special optometrist who just ‘gets’ kids. He has an uncanny ability to engage directly with children, whatever their age, and make them feel like the most important person in the room. When my kids were very young, he shared a love of Lego with them. As they’ve grown, he’s consistently remembered the activities they do and the schools they go to, and he never fails to ask them about these and listen to what they say. He’s even managed to find common ground as their interests have changed, moving from Lego-inspired talks to Fortnite-ones! If you don’t know what Fortnite is, you might want to ask any kid, definitely any boy, between the ages of 8 and 20!
Another important aspect of our optometrist’ s exam-style is how he explains to my kids what he's doing, step-by-step, encouraging them to ask as many questions as they want. My two are curious beings, like most kids, so they always throw a few curly questions at him too. But he just seems to lap this up, answering them fully and throwing in some really interesting facts to back up whatever he says.
This aptly leads me to my next point…
Find the right staff
Your staff are paramount when it comes to catering for children. It almost goes without saying you should have at least one optometrist who loves dealing with kids. But this affinity needs to extend throughout the practice to dispensing opticians who understand how best to fit kids for specs and advise on what are the best frames and eyewear brands for each particular child patient, to other practice support staff who can relax in their presence and deal with tricky small people questions. If you can have a dedicated children’s team, all the better.
At the end of the day, the more interaction children have with the same staff members, the more relaxed they will be, the better test results you’ll get and the more likelihood the whole family will return.
Tell people about it
Finally, if you’ve gone to the trouble and expense of creating a kid-friendly practice, ensure you tell people about it. Social media is a must with Facebook and Instagram, the minimum, while your website should shout-out your kid-friendly credentials.
Consider reaching out to local businesses that may have a large kid clientele, such as sports or dance clubs and offer nearby schools and kindergartens free on-site eye tests or educational material to ensure the teachers know you cater for children of all ages and can ensure kids are ‘school ready’.