Work with vendors to grow your profits

February 1, 2011

Be prepared to describe your practice's goals during vendor meetings.

For years, Cathy Ives sold eyewear frames and lab services to optometry practices. Looking back, Ives said she could probably count on one hand the number of times optometrists and opticians viewed her as a partner, someone they could turn to for help with growing their business.

"I have been a vendor for 30 years and know that vendors want to work closer with their customers," said Ives, a San Diego-based blogger of Optical Vision Resources, http://opticalvisionresources.com/. "Many eye-care professionals don't realize the full value that vendors can bring to the table."

Vendors can be sources of industry knowledge. Most sales managers visit between 200-300 practices every month. During their visits, they learn about trends, new marketing ideas and other creative programs, or business methods implemented by different optometry practices. Yet, few opticians tap vendors for this information or don't always understand how these ideas or programs can benefit their own practice.

Be prepared to describe your practice's goals during vendor meetings. For example, if you want to increase your average sales transaction from $150 to $175, how can the vendor help? Maybe your office goal is to have inventory turn four times each year. So how can the vendor help you achieve that turn with their products?

Not all vendors are easy to get along with, Ives said. Some may be overly aggressive, consistently late or don't follow through on requests. So during vendor meetings, outline your office policies and expectations so vendors are very clear about what they need to do to earn and keep your business.

Then establish back-up plans. For instance, maybe a vendor typically ships only 50 percent of product orders and backorders. Develop strategies that you and your vendor can both live with, such as how to avoid frames from dribbling in one at a time or not at all, and disappointing patients.

Likewise, take a firm stance with aggressive or rude vendors. Their job is to sell product, not be pushy or offend you. Ask the vendor how spending $1,500 will help your practice become more profitable.

While this isn't easy to do, Ives said it would be much harder in the long run if you ignore the warning signs.

"Vendors are just like you," she said. "They have a business to run so treat them with courtesy by being on time, communicative and professional. The more you work together, the more successful you'll both be."