It’s All About Numbers
It’s All About Numbers
A hands-on, from-the-trenches guide to the basics of tracking every item from
each of your location’s individual sales
By Gary Kaschak
Though I became fascinated with numbers in sports as a child, I am not a math genius. Let me also emphasize that I have experienced a down year or two as an optical store owner, made business decisions I’ve regretted, and even been on the brink of collapse.
But what I have learned about numbers—their resulting statistics and how to use them properly to my distinct advantage—has literally kept me afloat since 1988 when I purchased my first Sterling Optical franchise in Philadelphia.
Of course, we all understand how critical the big numbers are to the success or failure of a business. We live it every day with our sales, cost of goods, rent, salaries, and tracking third-party insurances. It can be a daunting task just keeping up with paying the bills, making schedules, trouble-shooting problems, and multi-tasking every single moment of every day.
Let’s face it, most of us simply wear every hat there is in running our stores, and we don’t have the time to handle even one more task. Yet, that is exactly what I am advocating.
Why? Because how can you analyze anything when nothing has been tracked? Certainly, all of us understand what our final sales and profits are every year—usually with the help of an accountant—but digging inside the numbers and producing and sharing reports with your staff assists in determining why things are as they are, what can be done to help shift certain trends, and what is needed to maintain positive and lasting results.
So, what should you track to determine the results of a store? The answer is simple: everything. While the blood of our business is keeping the optometrist booked at all times, it is the individual sale that is at the root of the business and needs to be followed closely. Why? Because it is the individual sale that helps a store grow and flourish.
CREATING THE PLAN
If you indeed buy into the concept of tracking every item from an individual sale, then it’s time to look to the past for your data. Do your research, and list every single element from a sale. If you have never tracked and analyzed sales in the past, this will be a time-consuming effort, but with a great payoff.
My advice is to set up a spreadsheet listing every category—from tints and edge polish to Transitions and polarized lenses, and everything in between. When you've accumulated the data, you now have something tangible, and valuable, to review with each and every member of your team. Present the results to your staff and plan for the future based solely upon the data and statistics.
How do you analyze the results if you’ve never gauged the individual sales before? You likely will be in for a few surprises and have some questions, too, like: What deviates a good average from a poor one, or a good average from an excellent one? Are there major differences between your staff members’ resulting statistics?
Trust me, if you have not been tracking, there will be plenty of questions like these.
Years ago, I had a young employee whose sales were consistent month to month, with about 40 percent of his sales including an anti-reflective coating. But suddenly, his numbers dropped to 37 percent, then to 25 percent. When we spoke, his responses were lukewarm at best. As much as I tried to restore in him what he had once had, his enthusiasm soured (due to external factors), and we had to part ways.
The point is, by tracking the numbers, I was able to identify a problem—and act upon it within a reasonable space of time. While it mattered that I was unable to recapture his enthusiasm, what mattered more was that a change was made—because I was aware of the trend that had developed.
PRESENTING THE DATA
Every month, I review the individual sales with each staff member. What I have to say and how I say it are paramount to the process of growing each of them into the best they can be.
This is a most important element in the evaluation process. It is here that I refer back to a sports team, and how all the elements working in conjunction with each other contribute to an outcome, good or bad, and how the best teams are comprised of a few superstars.
Presently, we have two new members on our team, and while they have been trained and guided as much as possible, my current expectations for them and in their results certainly do not compare to that of my veteran sales people. Their goals in the first year are simply to improve gradually upon their own results every month, thereby competing with themselves only.
THE SALES CATEGORIES
Here are the categories you should be tracking.
■ UNITS SOLD. We constantly compare this category of eyeglass sales units—complete pair and lenses only—by month and quarter, as well as to previous years. As with any category relating to the resulting outcomes, it is imperative to recognize trends and act upon them. If sales are down or up by X percent, the numbers will reflect those changes in this category of units sold.
It is within this category that we go inside the numbers and their trends to produce informative statistics that will help guide us in figuring where a specific problem may be. We break it all down by third-party insurance, discounts, coupon sales, Rx sunglasses, etc.
■ CONTACT LENS SALES. You’re likely to uncover some surprises here in this often-overlooked category. I went inside the numbers recently to determine which customers who had recent exams were purchasing a year’s supply of contacts, and broke that number down into the individual sales from the staff. My biggest surprise was that a new employee with no optical background was producing far more of these yearly packages than experienced staff members.
By determining this and then meeting with the staff, we were able to shift that trend by simply reviewing the recent data from this category, recognizing the complacency of certain staff members, reviewing rebates from our vendors, and expecting a reversal of the trend as we continued to track and review all sales.
■ PROGRESSIVE SALES. Yes, we track brands sold on a monthly basis. Digital lenses have been in the marketplace for some time now, but what are your averages of digital to overall progressive sales?
If you don’t know, you need to look to this category, as bigger money is there for the taking. If members of your staff are reluctant to suggest these lenses because of price, they are standing in your way.
Suggesting expensive lenses is the easy part, but it takes supreme confidence, unique presentation, command and knowledge of the product, and an enthusiasm for the likely outcome to achieve the goal of conversion. Look to those key elements in your staff. If any one of those components is missing, then another opportunity goes missing as well. Listen intently to your most successful salespeople—what they say and how they say it—and share that presentation and skill with the staff.
■ THE SALES AVERAGE. Like players have a baseball batting average, your staff members have a sales average. In creating one, however, it is imperative that the scales are weighted fairly. For years I’d assigned “points” for every category of sales. Then I’d tally the totals to develop an average. For example, a standard AR lens is worth one point, while premium AR is worth two, and so on.
The surge in third-party sales skewed those results, as many plans include high-option lenses as a covered item. I understood that those sales and their results had nothing to do with suggestive selling, but were in part the luck of the draw. However, I believe in “The Law Of Averages” as long as the playing field has been made entirely even.
THE RETAIL SALES AVERAGE
To come up with the retail sales average, simply take the retail add-on sales for every category there is, add up the dollars from those sales, and divide that number by the number of jobs sold. This will produce a number that is fair in its design, easy to understand, and simple to track.
In addition, tally the number of options sold on each job, then divide the dollars sold by that number, resulting in an average add-on sale. For example, Sally has sold Crizal ($120) and Transitions ($100) to the same customer. Her average add-on dollars produced would be $110, with an average of two options sold. Third-party insurance and discounting have no bearing on the outcome.
THE BOTTOM LINE
When there is a presentation of real data, there is competition and excitement among staff. When there are expectations with real goals, there are results. When you as an owner know these sales categories, trends can be reversed—and quickly.
When you forecast the sales for a new year, you can give specific goals in specific categories to specific workers. But, if you do nothing, the mundane prevails, followed by complacency, stagnation, even bitterness.
THE DANGER OF NUMBERS RELIANCE
When I worked for the Federals football team years ago as a statistician, I found that the language of numbers—if reviewed solely from an outside source, that is, a statistician—sometimes told only a part of what actually occurred, and gave no mention of the external factors in the individual statistics of the game. For example, a running back for the Federals was handed the ball from the quarterback, but was trapped behind the line of scrimmage for seemingly a seven-yard loss. But, through his individual effort, he broke several tackles and was finally tackled two yards behind the line of scrimmage, resulting in a two-yard loss. To the statistician calculating the statistics of the game, the play was seen as resulting in a two-yard loss, while to an observant statistician at the game, the play was a five-yard gain
And so it can be with the individual sale in optical. There will be plenty of times when a sale will appear to be below average, but the external factors of what you did and discovered on your path to the sale will be excluded from any mathematical analysis of that sale. For example, perhaps the customer was a contact lens wearer who never wore eyeglasses, yet you convinced him to purchase at least a pair of “budget” eyeglasses. Perhaps another customer had decided to purchase a three-month supply of contact lenses, but you convinced her into a six-month supply. Again, the outside analyst reviews the sale, records the sale of a six-month supply, yet wonders why the customer did not purchase a year’s supply.
In these cases, the language of numbers cannot be calculated to take into account the effort of the worker. However, over the course of time, each and every one of these efforts contributes to an increase in sales and a healthier bottom line—and has an impact on everything.
While sales from patients who ate on “welfare” can be a significant ‘percentage of your business, 1 is my experience that the add-on sales produced from these customers are usualy next to nothing as most have little money left for any upgrades.
We refer to these as supplemental sales. And yes, we do track these as well. Why? Because we want our employees to know that we are tracking them, and to not make assumptions based upon the customer’s life situation. We want our staff members to make the same suggestions they would to others more fortunate and not to assume anything. When I present my sales averages to the staff, this category is separate from the main sales average.
As important as the numbers have been to me over the years, there is one absolute that must always be followed at all times: Listen to your customer.
Make interesting and exciting suggestions, but know when to go forward and when to back off. Use intuition to your advantage. And, if your efforts have failed to convince a customer to purchase what you are suggesting, just make a sale. If you are good at what you do, the numbers will follow. EB
Gary Kaschak has spent 35 with Sterling Optical as an optician, manager, district manager, and franchisee. He was also a sports writer and sports statistician and has published three inspirational novels.
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