Executive Discussions: Eyemart Express

Posted by Paladin on November 24, 2011

As a professional staffing and recruitment firm dedicated to the marketing, creative and communications professions, Paladin often has the opportunity to work with leading executives in these fields. Our “Executive discussions” series was created to share their insights and best practices with you.

One of these leaders is Doug Barnes, Jr., COO and CTO of EyeMart Express, the sixth largest national eyeglass retailer with over 120 stores in 25 states. In 2010, during a period of significant growth, Doug made the strategic decision to build an in-house marketing team and focus on brand. What followed is the focus of our discussion with Doug.

What were your key challenges in 2010?
In 2010, our company experienced immense growth. EyeMart Express grew by 35 stores and was ranked as a top 20 eyewear retailer last year. Finding the right people for our company was a challenge.

Our niche is unique and the skill sets we are looking for are very specific. Hiring an internal recruiter wouldn’t have worked – they have a generalized knowledge. Instead, we found that working with specialized recruiters worked best for us. It was definitely a learning process.

What was the most important lesson learned from the recent recession?

It was extremely difficult to recruit ourselves when we were poised to grow. We needed a team that was up and running, and we needed to focus our efforts on production, not hiring.

For example, we needed a software programmer for the specialized system we use. It was extremely difficult, because the technology we are using is cutting edge and had only been out for about two or three years at the time. I knew exactly what the company needed, but only a handful of people had the experience we were looking for.

After combing through about 200 resumes, I still had nothing. I decided to work with a professional recruiter, and within a week and a half we had interviews with three candidates and found exactly what we had been looking for. We now know that we can’t do everything ourselves.

Tell us about your marketing team.
Well, our marketing team has grown significantly over the past year. Early in the year we realized that our marketing efforts, like many other of our operations, required specific skill sets and talent, and as a result we decided to bring our marketing department in house.

Today, we have a comprehensive department with diverse and highly talented individuals, from creative graphic artists to field analysts. They’ve been invaluable in driving our brand and key sales initiatives.

What are your current marketing priorities?
Our key to success is simple – advertise and deliver what we advertise. We have a very aggressive advertising campaign. We spend a large portion of our marketing budget towards our television ads. We utilize television as a key channel and we plan to stay on television. We’re on several major television channels during peak times, the morning news in particular.

As part of our strategy to differentiate ourselves from the competition, we’ve continued to explore text messaging which is proving to be very successful for us. When a customer comes in for glasses, we promise them it’ll be ready in an hour.

Our goal is to be able to text message the customer in 45 minutes that his/her glasses are ready. The customer is happy, and thus we’ve managed to successfully relay our brand at minimal cost. We also use text to deliver our annual exam reminders, and have found it a more successful approach than follow-up emails and phone calls.

What marketing initiatives will you focus on this year?
Up until now, we haven’t put much focus on digital marketing. But the industry, and our consumers, are adapting to technology so we will focus on expanding our web and social media presence. We are also going to be adding SEO capabilities to our marketing team.

Additionally, we want to focus on what the competition offers – sit back for a bit and see what they do first. And finally, we intend to place more focus on the brand and less on the pricing.

When building a marketing team, what are the qualities you are looking for?

Everyone is talking about social networking these days. Everyone is aware of Facebook and Twitter, but not everyone actually knows how to use it effectively for business. We need someone that can really think outside the box and do something unique, something different that will challenge the norm. And we can’t have a plan A for Twitter and a plan B for Facebook. It all needs to work together as one cohesive plan.

How do you think the marketing profession will be different 5 to 10 years from now?

In the eyeglass industry, there will be massive changes in quality, as a result of technological evolution.

We also predict there will be a slow-growing bank of online competitors in our industry. Currently, 2.5% of all eyeglass sales are conducted online. And it’s a 17.7 billion industry! Online sales will grow slowly, but they will grow. On the other hand, we believe that nothing compares to actually trying on a pair of glasses.

In eyeglass marketing, we expect an increased emphasis on web and television presence, with print advertising becoming less important. We find that in our industry, the web is used primarily for research – finding doctors, comparing prices—and that the doctors we work with tend to be slower adopters.

Additionally, with the average consumer in this industry being in one of the older generations, our consumers are slow to adopt as well.

To build a successful creative and talented marketing workforce in your organization, Paladin Staffing recommends the following:

  • Rely on specialized professionals to do what they do best.  EyeMart Express learned that their resources were best utilized doing what they were hired to do, while leaving the hiring process in the hands of recruiters who specialize in the industries for which they were hiring. The approach allowed EyeMart Express to capitalize on the growth they were experiencing, while also building a team that was positioned for continued growth opportunity.
  • Invest time and resources in learning the latest marketing tactics and strategies. It would be easy for EyeMart Express to disregard technology based on their current consumer profile, but instead they recognize that new marketing methods are an opportunity, if applied appropriately. Texting, for instance, allowed the organization to reach customers with better results than traditional phone and e-mail follow ups.
  • Focus on your industry, and innovative use of current mediums that are appropriate to your audience. Don’t fall prey to the hype of the latest social network or digital technology, but instead create a cohesive, innovative plan that integrates use of the latest mediums in an appropriate way.
  • Orchestrate a direct tie between the organization’s objectives and your marketing strategies and campaigns. Identify a brand message and then execute it through marketing and sales channels. Create a cohesive, unified message that translates loud and clear to the consumer.
  • Watch, and learn, from your competition. Don’t spend money and effort recreating the wheel. Your competition is currently putting their ideas to the test, for better or for worse. Identify what works and doesn’t work then copy and contrast as appropriate.

Paladin would like to thank Doug Barnes, Jr. for his time and sharing his insights with us; and EyeMart Express for allowing us to share this valuable information with the business community.

Paladin is a professional staffing and recruitment firm dedicated to the marketing, creative and communications professions. Within these specialties, Paladin is a trusted partner for interim, contract-to-hire, outsourcing staffing and direct-hire recruitment. Each Paladin account manager has direct experience in the fields we serve, which allows us to provide highly personalized, effective and efficient service to clients and expert counsel to candidates.

We invite you to contact us today with any questions, or to connect with one of our specialists.

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