Specsavers’ recent announcement that, within 2 years, all stores will be equipped with OCT devices  seems to have been greeted by the independent sector with a grudging acceptance that this development is excellent news for consumers.But what of those independents who have invested in the same technology, often at much higher costs – both in total outlay and relative to turnover – than is likely to be the case for Specsavers stores in their catchment area?

No longer will an OCT keep independents ahead of the clinical game – but merely in the game.  Once the market leader is able to advertise its new service nationally, patients will assume all opticians use cutting-edge technology to conduct every eye examination.  Frankly, they almost certainly believe that to be the case today.

For independent practice owners able to recognise the changing competitive landscape, revamp their propositions and do so with alacrity, this levelling of the clinical playing field could prove opportune.

Most independents can no longer point to their consulting room equipment as a key differentiator between themselves and other practices in the neighbourhood. It is critical that practice owners now take time out of their businesses to fully appraise the security of their place in the hearts, minds and budgets of their patients

Aspects of your business to consider include:

  • Why are patients loyal (or disloyal) to our practice?  Do we know?  Have we bothered to ask them?
  • In the face of ever-increasing consumer awareness and expectation, is our customer journey designed to ‘Wow’ every patient with a truly bespoke approach?  Does the practice environment, visual impact and marketing activity reflect the calibre and style of customer experience we want to deliver?
  • Is our team the best in town?  If not, is it because we need to make changes – or do we have outstanding people who just need to be developed?  Do our staffing levels allow for the type of service we wish to provide, across the hours we want to trade?  Is the team operationally and financially productive?
  • Does our team have total conviction in the quality, range and performance of our products?  If not, is this due to an inappropriate product portfolio, or because  supplier training is needed?  Does our pricing structure (cost and retail) generate the level of profit required to reinvest in the business?
  • Is our marketing plan carefully constructed to deliver the type and volume of patients we need to achieve our financial objectives? Do we even have a marketing plan?
  • What are the services that do, or should, set us apart from our independent and multiple competitors?  Should we develop expertise in low vision, sports, audiology, colorimetry or other specialist field – or do our demographics and skillset suggest we should focus on general optometry?
  • Are our clinical diaries managed to ensure patient convenience?  How long are patients waiting for an exam appointment?  Can we accommodate walk-ins?

These are just some of the questions practice owners should be asking of themselves NOW.  It isn’t especially important whether you start this review process with your business partners, by involving your entire team, or even in the pub.  Just start!