Ours is an era in which the consumer reigns supreme—he or she can get just about anything they way, anywhere they want and at just about any price they want. The level of competition to sell people stuff, from luxury cars to paperclips, has accelerated at a dizzying pace.
Optical people know this well. For every basic product or service offered by Optical Store A, there’s an Optical Store B and even C which will sell it cheaper and faster.
The dilemma is built around the retail model that optical, along with a number of retail categories, has clung to for so long.
For decades, retailing was about the stuff and not the buyer. Just line you shelves with the latest widget and customers would trample each other to buy it. One widget, one larger consumer base, lots of sales. Quantity was key.
But conditions today defy that model. The consumer now can get the widget in pink, blue or red, large or small, from specialty retailers, general retailers, or even on-line and telephone retailers. They can get it fast, delivered right to their door if they choose, and at highly favorable terms. In this world, accessibility is key.
Ironically, one of the best competitive strategies in this new age comes from a time long before mass retailing, when quality purveyors of goods treated each customer personally.
A suit or coat wasn’t simply purchased off the rack, it was custom tailored for the buyer by a professional who understood well that buyer’s needs.
There’s evidence that this approach is reemerging in many avenues of retailing, as phrases like “have it your way,” waft back into the marketing lexicon. Even Internet retailers, the champions of the new accessibility retailing model, are playing to this sentiment. Companies like Amazon and Netflix develop electronic profiles on each buyer enabling them to recommend other products that reflect that buyer’s unique interests.
For optical, a business well-rooted in personal service, this strategy should be a natural, more so now than ever, as the market has developed products to suit it. Digitally-produced lenses that satisfy specific wearer requirements, frames with interchangeable, customizable components, and a host of other eyewear enhancements make it virtually easy to treat each customer as if she’s the only one you’ve got.
To execute this strategy for greatest success, the optical person really needs to know his customers, which means building the kinds of profiles on each the way Amazon and others do. Armed with this kind of intelligence and the products to accommodate, competition no longer matters.
Frank Giammanco, formerly president & CEO of First Vision Media Group, Inc., is a 38-year veteran of publishing and communications for the optical industry. He began his career as editor of Optical Index, a monthly magazine owned by Fairchild Publications. Moving into publishing management and sales, he eventually became a vice president/group publisher at Jobson Publishing. He founded First Vision Media Group, Inc. in 2000, publishers of highly successful business-to-business titles, Vision Care Product News, Optical Lab Products, Optometric Office, along with websites and other digital products. Prior to that, Giammanco was president of Gramercy Marketing & Media, Inc. a business-to-business marketing communications firm headquartered in New York City. He is the recipient of the Optical Pioneers Hall of Fame award, class of 2014.