The Marketplace

By Daniel L. Mannen, OD, FAAO April 20, 2012

High competition, low margins, regulatory burden, unstable politics, strong outside forces, worst business model ever…what industry am I talking about? The answer is independent pharmacy as described in a blog by The Redheaded Pharmacist that appeared in Pharmacy Times, December 2011.

One cannot help but see the eerie similarity in market forces which are impacting independent optometry: growth of national chains and mass merchants, increasing consumer comfort with buying on line, increasing transparency on pricing, and a shifting from personalized shopping toward more efficient retail environments. To better understand the market place and where it might be going, VSP commissioned a study by Bain & Company to examine these trends.

Believe me, I am not forecasting gloom and doom. Many independent practices continue to succeed today. Revenue, in general, has not declined and we have a solid base on which to build. However, one cannot deny that the world is changing. It is possible that some of us may have a false sense of security and a relative denial that our practices could be affected. I know that in my own offices, as long as the book is full and my revenue per patient is stable, I feel somewhat insulated…change is simply not front-of-mind and I tend to continue with my current playbook.

The pressures on independent pharmacy are well known. However, one does not have to look far to see other industries experiencing market pressure such as furniture, clothing, computers, athletic equipment, and a host of others. All are experiencing significant movement from local bricks and mortar retailing to large corporate chains and now to clicks on the internet. It should come as no surprise that these same market forces have the potential to affect independent optometric practice which has both a professional and a retail component.

So, how does independent optometry both survive and thrive in this new competitive world? The most important key to success is continued access to patients. We must never take access for granted and fight any attempt to allow our future to be placed in the hands of others. We are clearly the patient’s choice for quality care and personalized service.

But it is critically important for us to develop strategies that will keep prescriptions in our offices and improve the retail experience which patients (consumers) are demanding. They expect choice, ease, and convenience. Our patients are constantly bombarded with messaging from our competitors. How do we get our message out there? What is our brand identity? What is our value proposition? How do we create our own drumbeat to remind our patients about us?

As I see it, independent optometry needs to develop an identifiable brand. We need our patients to keep our practices in the front of their minds. We need them to remember us between appointments. And let’s not forget the need for a value proposition that competes effectively in our price sensitive world. I love being independent. I hope to always be independent. I believe that we independents need to aggregate our best ideas and business strategies if we are to not only survive but thrive.

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