Stock control: it’s an area many practice owners and managers struggle with. Too much, not enough, the wrong sort, the list goes on. So here are a few tips from those in the know: Peggy Savage, a highly experienced dispensing optician at Matthews Eyewear Eyecare in New Plymouth, New Zealand, and Alyssa Piva, the former marketing manager of Sunshades Eyewear Australia & New Zealand.
Know your client base
Knowing your client base is perhaps the most obvious, but certainly the most important place to start. Piva recommends doing some reconnaissance outside your practice, paying close attention to the other businesses in the area and, especially, the people walking past. What type of clothing or accessories do they have on? Are they heavily brand-driven and if so, do those brands have optical ranges you could capitalise on?
Compare these people with those who actually step through your door. Are they primarily men, women or families? Are they brand or value driven? Do they want something unique or something safe?
While you still need to offer a complete range that appeals to many different people, understanding the ones who shop in your area and who are already on your customer book will help you weight your ranges in the right direction, says Piva.
On the topic of your customer book, study your data and understand the mix of your clients’ age ranges, gender and, even, nationality. For instance, if you have a large Asian client base, it makes sense to stock a good range of Asian-fit frames.
Another great way to acquire information is to be a little bit nosy. Should someone fail to find a frame and move to leave your store, ask them specifically what they were looking for. Piva suggests you note down when someone asks for a certain brand or product you don’t stock. “If two customers say the same thing, you can bet there will be lots more that didn’t mention anything!”
Understanding where you are
It is also a good idea to have a think about the area you’re practice is located. Is it an affluent area or more blue collar, or is it a mix? This can help you determine the right composition of price points. Savage says you should also check out nearby competition to help get a handle on things and better position yourself.
“I would look at my closest competitor; know what they sell and ensure I am offering different products. If my store is next to a budget outlet, I would ensure I am selling high-end as I don’t want to compete on price.”
Crunch your numbers
Inventory is one area that frequently gets out of control very quickly, says Piva. “Most optometrists end up having more stock in their drawers and back rooms than they have on display!”
While it’s important to have backup stock to replenish from, it should not come at the expense of your bottom-line. Both Piva and Savage recommend drilling down into your sales data to help answer your stock issues.
“Familiarise yourself with your computer system reports and make sure you look at your total stock at least once a week,” says Piva. “If you have space for 400 frames on display and you have 800 total stock, you need to ease up on your orders! Your reporting system can also tell you how many pairs you sell weekly so you can determine how much stock you need in the drawers to keep you going between rep visits.”
Practice owners should take a 30-day period and determine what they’ve turned over and what they’ve spent on inventory, say other commentators. If what you spend is considerably more than your sales volume, then your stock ordering is out of whack.
It’s also likely 20% of your inventory provides you with 80% of your frame sales, so identifying this 20% and making sure it’s front and centre in your store is imperative.
Picking price points
Roughly stock levels can be apportioned as 25% high-end, 60% mid-range and 15% budget, says Savage, but this varies according to your clientele and your area of course.
Piva agrees. It’s important to group your products as good, better or best, depending on who you’re targeting, she says. “For a practice in a rural area with low incomes, a $300 brand may be the top-end product. But a boutique store in the city might have that same brand as their opening offer. If you build the price structure in this way, it is easier to explain the value of the more expensive frames and move customers up to higher price brackets.”
As a generalisation, optometrists and dispensing opticians often make the mistake of neglecting their high-end by providing a broader range at the value end, says Piva. “By doing this, you’re giving patients less reason to invest in the higher end. Talk with sales reps about their rotation or returns policies which will help you to have a wider offering in top end products and not have to worry about if they will sell.”
A word on fashion
With fashion trends changing as fast as the seasons, it can be hard to ensure you strike the right balance between being on-trend and having too much stock. But for some patients, brand recognition and being fashionable is a large part of their frame selection, while for others, who may be more reluctant to change, they can still be valuable, says Savage.
“Fashionable frames are imperative as your customer will not know what is available if we stay with the old tried and true. Be progressive in selections but keep the balance realistic. Being passionate about your stock will sell far more than being passive.”
Use your sales reps
Your suppliers’ sales representatives are your biggest source of information, from knowing all the latest best-sellers and when new ranges will be available to when a product will be made obsolete.
“Build a real partner relationship with them,” suggests Piva. “Discussions about warranties, stock exchanges and discounts should be had at the start followed by further discussions about growing your business together.”
“Don’t get caught up with the, ‘buy 5, get one free’ offers as that will lead to you holding more stock than you can sell, and more returns for the rep.” Be open about your customer demographics and ask the rep which styles are their most popular, she says, adding that even if your rep doesn’t have the best fashion sense, they’ve got data from a large customer base to ensure you don’t miss out on a bestseller. “It’s also a good idea to limit how many suppliers you have. Order more brands from fewer suppliers so you aren’t spending all your time scheduling rep visits.”
Renee Lunder is an Australian freelance journalist and proud specs wearer.