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  February 6, 2013

Built on a Foundation of Managed Care, SVS Vision Achieves Growth in Optical Retail

By John Sailer

About the Transitions Retailer of the Year Award
Through its Retailer of the Year program, Transitions Optical, Inc. recognizes one National and one Regional Retailer of the Year for their commitment to encouraging healthy sight. All Retailer of the Year award finalists are judged on several factors, including overall growth of Transitions lenses, efforts to support the Transitions brand through marketing programs and promotions, quality of education provided to optical employees, efforts to promote healthy sight in their local community, support and involvement with public service programs, and an overall commitment to educating customers about the importance of healthy sight and benefits of Transitions lenses.

Past Retailer of the Year winners in the U.S. include: Eyear Optical (Regional, 2011); Costco Optical (National, 2011); SVS Vision (Regional, 2010) and ECCA/Empire Vision, now Visionworks (National, 2010). In addition to SVS being named Regional Retailer of the Year for 2012, National Vision, Inc. was named National Retailer of the Year for 2012.

MT. CLEMENS, Mich.—With its roots as the Sterling Vision insurance company with retail operations catering to union auto workers in Michigan and other states, SVS Optical now operates 58 optical centers in nine states. As the insurance business shrunk along with the auto industry, "We started to look more and more to retail," said Kenneth Stann, president/CFO, part owner of the company along with Rob Farrell, OD.

Stann, a CPA by profession, got involved in 2002 when the equity firm that had purchased the company from founder Avery Sterling brought him in to sell the business. When deal after deal failed for one reason or another, Stann purchased the company along with Farrell in March of 2007. "I loved the business model after I'd been there for five years and had gotten more and more involved in the operations," Stann told dba.

In addition to its retail and insurance operations, the company has always operated its own lab and continues to do so. "There's never been a time where we've contemplated not having our own lab," Stann told dba. "The last two years we've probably made more of an investment on the lab side than on new offices." Finishing 1,000 jobs per day, the lab surfaces lenses with three Schneider generators and does its own anti-reflective coating on Leybold equipment. It is currently looking at adding two MEI robotic edgers.

Today, the retail side of SVS grows both organically and through acquisitions. However, the SVS executive team prefers opening new stores, such as the one coming on line in March in Traverse City, Mich., as opposed to buying existing locations. "Deals are tough," Stann told dba. "The valuations on practices run the gamut. Once you have the brand recognition, which we do now, it's much cheaper and much more efficient to open new stores."


With business having historically been generated primarily from business-to-business relationships and with little brand recognition, as the auto industry hit a downturn, company executives realized it was time to start marketing.

"When we made the decision to start marketing," Lisa Stann, VP of retail operations, told dba, "the auto business was going down. We had to diversify or we were going to go in the same direction. We needed to start having more brand recognition in the market. It wasn't until two years ago that we started radio, cable TV, national TV, etc." In addition, an avid sports fan, Kenneth Stann spearheaded advertising behind home plate at the Detroit Tigers' Comerica Park and in other local teams' venues.

The SVS Optical model has proven successful. For example, among its achievements is having been named Transitions Regional Retailer of the Year for both 2012 and well as being named a finalist in 2011. In the following article, Lisa Stann describes how SVS achieved this accomplishment.


A Commitment to Education: How SVS Vision Became a Two-Time Transitions Regional Retailer of the Year

By Lisa Stann

SVS Vision was named the first-ever Transitions Regional Retailer of the Year in 2010, and last year, we were recognized as a finalist for our 2011 efforts. We have been long-time supporters of the programs and products available from Transitions Optical, so being honored as the Regional Retailer of the Year once again for our 2012 efforts has been nothing short of amazing.

We knew that we were up against some amazing competitors in 2012, so right out of the gate we set new, aggressive goals and engaged our entire team, from our executives and sales representatives to our doctors and office staff. We made a commitment to education and, for the first time, gave our doctors a larger role in our goal setting and strategy discussions. We targeted the offices that weren't performing as high and developed a game plan to help them succeed while continuing to push our top performers to deliver powerful results that were above and beyond even their own expectations. As a result of our training and education, each individual office has become more confident in the products they are recommending to their patients. We've seen an increase in our numbers, even as the overall industry remains flat, as well as higher patient satisfaction.


Engaging Our Team
In 2012, our main strategy was to educate our entire team, particularly our doctors, about the products that we carry and the ones that should be our top recommendations. We want our patients to have the very best, so we try very hard to make sure everyone is aware of the benefits of the Transitions family of products so that our doctors can make the recommendation during the eye exam, and our opticians can continue the discussion in the dispensary. We know that when our staff believes in our products, that confidence transfers directly to our patients. At the end of the day, we are very confident that all of our employees are on the same page.

While internal training and education have always been a big part of what we offer at SVS Vision, we made an even bigger commitment in 2012 and held regular training sessions throughout the year. During our annual company meeting in May, for example, we brought together everyone, including doctors, opticians and managers, so that they could talk about why they are loyal to certain products.

We also tracked sales growth and held competitions throughout the year to incentivize our staff to up their own commitments to growing their sales and patient satisfaction. For example, when our staff achieved growth with Transitions lenses over the prior year while maintaining a 40 percent anti-reflective coating share, we offered cash rewards and other prizes. We also held a competition among managers, giving them a chance to win a trip to Transitions Academy in 2013. This was very motivating, since everyone wanted to be a part of one of the annual event.

Presenting With Confidence
At SVS Vision, patient satisfaction is our top priority, which is why we only offer what we believe are the best products in the industry. All of our packages include Transitions lenses as an option, and we offer the entire line of everyday Transitions lenses. We always start with the best, offering premium options and anti-reflective coatings, and then we give our patients the choice of taking away options if they prefer. We have found that when they are presented correctly, by a doctor or optician who believes in the product, our patients rarely choose to go without the Transitions lenses/AR combo.

Transitions offers a number of great programs and point-of-sale materials to help our staff better educate our patients. We have a UV demo unit to showcase how the lenses activate and adapt to all outdoor lighting conditions. We also use many Transitions-branded brochures, dispensing mats and posters. All of our on-hold messages talk about Transitions lenses, and we also link to Transitions Optical's products and resources through our SVS Vision Facebook page. At our corporate offices, we refer to the Eyeglass Guide to help our managers think about the best ways to match patients with the right Transitions lenses. We also include the Eyeglass Guide link on our website so that our patients can check it out before they come to see us.

One of our best point-of-sale methods has been making sure our doctors and opticians themselves are wearing Transitions lenses. When patients see that our staff members are wearing the product, it helps them to believe in it as well. After a purchase is made, we always review the benefits of Transitions lenses at the time of pick-up and register their lenses with the Transitions Certificate of Authenticity, right in our office, to reinforce that they're getting the real thing.

Focusing on Kids
When it comes to giving back to our local communities, SVS Vision is all about kids. We have our own mobile unit that visits schools in need throughout the year to provide free eye exams and vouchers for eyeglasses with Transitions lenses. We also engage our local eye doctors and staff to help out with the screenings and provide eye health education, including Eye Didn't Know That! activities and handouts from Transitions Optical that the children can complete and take home to share with their parents. Over the past few years, our program has grown to a point where we frequently receive calls from schools asking us to stop by. In 2012 alone, we performed more than 1,500 eye exams and provided more than 1,200 pairs of eyeglasses to children in need.

In addition to our own mobile unit outreach, May marked the third time that we partnered with Transitions Optical, VSP Vision Care and Bess the Book Bus to provide even more eye exams and eyeglass vouchers. We visited schools in Detroit and Grand Rapids over two days and saw more than 200 children. Radio Disney joined us once again to provide entertainment for the kids.

In 2012, SVS Vision also made several donations to youth-focused charities. Through the UAW Region 1 Community Caring Program, we donated over $2,500 to the "No Child Without a Christmas" fund, helping hundreds of families during the holidays. Our "Everyone Deserves Clear Vision" program also allows nonprofit organizations, such as churches and schools, to earn 10 percent back from purchases made by their SVS Vision members. Groups that sign up for this program are also given an unlimited number of vouchers for free eye exams and glasses to people in need within their organization. In 2012, we donated over $6,000 to member organizations through this program.

See You Next Year
We know that SVS Vision has what it takes to become the Transitions Regional Retailer of the Year again for 2013, but we also know that in order to make it happen, we must continue to meet and exceed our goals over the next year. We've already set our plans in motion and, with the support, passion and dedication from our amazing team, have our hearts set on becoming the first three-time Transitions Regional Retailer of the Year.


Lisa Stann is vice president of retail operations of SVS Optical.



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