Everybody wants your business! Of course, I’m talking about vendors – not patients or neighbors – but are you conscious of the fact that you have something to offer to companies that want to sell you products and services? You bring value to that relationship, just like they do. Your vendors are intently interested in both acquiring and retaining your business. To take that a step further, your vendors are – or should be – intently interested in the success of that business, because it feeds their own.
Don’t assume that, just because you are an independent practitioner, you don’t have anything to offer your vendors. Your contribution to the relationship matters, and your vendors have more than “the stuff they sell” to bring to the table as well.
Big Business Advantages for Small Business
If you’re not practicing in a mega-corporation, your budget is likely one of your highest priorities. Using your resources wisely is more than just good business – it’s critical. Competition is rising, and margins are shrinking. Staying competitive sometimes feels like a complicated dance where the steps keep changing. You need to find smart opportunities and resources that you can leverage to help you build your business, and your vendors can be excellent assets. Many of them create and promote programs designed to curry your favor and your loyalty; these programs can help you overcome the gap between your big-business goals and your small-business checkbook.
Think of your vendors as extensions of your team. Your buying group, practice management software company, frame vendors, lens companies, laboratories, and professional association are all potential assets. They can function as merchandising experts, practice management consultants, fashion advisers, product educators, and staff trainers, just to name a few. If you make judicious use of these resources, you can effectively expand your ability to run an efficient, profitable, successful practice with a fraction of the investment you might put into securing those services independently.
There needs to be a good reason to buy any product; the products you purchase should always be consistent with the level of quality and service that you want to provide to your patients. However, there are many choices in frames, lenses and accessories that meet that standard. Vendors are aware of the competitiveness of their industry, and many have created pricing incentive programs that can be of great benefit to your practice. The bottom line is that they want what you have to offer – your business – and will work hard to acquire it and retain it.
As a smart business owner or manager, you have the ability to seek out these purchase incentives and put them to work for your bottom line. For example, purchasing good quality frames at discounted rates can help you improve your frame boards and create additional profit opportunities, particularly with managed care. Your labs, frame vendors, and lens vendors are generally happy, and motivated, to work with practices to develop or offer pricing advantages in exchange for purchasing specific levels or types of products. Explore those options, talk to your vendors, and find the best deals available. The savings can be applied directly to your bottom line.
Does your lab or lens vendor reward you for your purchases? Just as some grocery stores track your purchases and offer rewards at certain levels, many ophthalmic vendors are creating loyalty programs. They may offer “points” that accrue with purchases, and can be redeemed for valuable assets, like training programs or free products. These programs are well-publicized; explore the options with your favorite vendors. You’re going to purchase the products you need somewhere; it may as well be from a vendor who will reward your loyalty with additional benefits.
Product and Process Training
What happens when your practice uses a specific product, system, or piece of equipment correctly? Generally, it improves both your business and the business of the supplier. When there are fewer mistakes, fewer re-do’s, and better sell-through, your practice is not the only beneficiary; the vendor is also realizing additional profit. Higher efficiency in your business yields better results for their business. Translation: well-trained staff at the point of consumer interaction helps the bottom line at every point in the supply chain.
Your vendors want your staff to be successful with their products, equipment, and systems, and they will help ensure that this is the case. Let’s say you want to boost your premium AR sales. Your lab wants the same thing, right? If you sell more premium product, then they also sell more premium product. What is your lab willing to do to help you and your team achieve this mutual goal? They may be happy to sponsor a lunch and learn at your practice and train your staff on the benefits of the products, help you formulate good scripting for patient dialogue around premium AR, and even provide you with Point of Purchase (POP) materials to help you educate your patients about the benefits of premium AR to their vision comfort. It’s a win/win/win. You, your lab, and ultimately your patients, all receive value from this type of inter-company cooperation.
Training programs and resources are available from practice management systems, equipment manufacturers, product vendors, and service providers. Find out what your vendors are offering, and how you can leverage those options to better your practice performance. If your existing vendors don’t have the options you need, look further afield. A prospective vendor may have special options available for “new customers only,” to help them build relationships with you.
Buying Groups and Professional Associations
It’s no secret that buying in quantity yields financial advantages. Many buying groups and associations help independents leverage that concept by making high-quantity buying options or discounts available to their members. If you already belong to a buying group, find out what pricing advantages are available as a result of your membership. If you need something specific that isn’t available elsewhere, start by speaking to your current membership group about how they might help.
Other Great Options
Your vendors are not just limited to people who sell you optical products; after all, optical or medical products are not the only things you buy. You have a landlord, a business insurance agent, a tax consultant, a banker, and managed vision care providers. You can explore customer incentives in payment terms, warranties, price-values, and customer service. Actively pursuing the best options for your practice at every level makes you a smart consumer, and gives your business the best opportunity to succeed. Every dollar leveraged is an advantage.
You have many different types of vendors, and each of them has a vested interest in your business success. Find the companies and representatives who are most interested in actively participating with you as partners in your mutual success, and make thoughtful, proactive choices about who you do business with.