By Preston Fassel

Not long ago, I talked about how, while visiting a local optical, I was struck by their lack of ambient music, and the strange effect it had on the atmosphere in the store. It got me thinking about the office where I spent the bulk of my time as an optician, and that got me thinking about how our old office compared to many of the stores I’ve visited. I realized something unique about those places versus my old office: None of them had TVs.

The 32 inch plasma screen was already on the wall when I started my first optician job, and I never asked about its origins, so I have no idea about the thought process that went into it. But it was always there, and, for the first several weeks of my optical career, it and not the sound system was what played non-stop, broadcasting what was essentially a propaganda video provided to us by a company attempting to get people to buy their product. My coworker and I tired of the sales pitch and sound of the host’s voice, and eventually we switched the TV off and went to a full-music rotation. About a year and a half into my tenure, though, our OD went on vacation for a week, and my coworker and I found ourselves working limited hours strictly to sell and dispense. With light foot traffic coming through, we hit upon the idea of firing up the TV and watching some publicly-appropriate television. When our boss came back, she appreciated the change of pace, and so the TV stayed on for a while in lieu of the music.

And something interesting started happening.

As it turned out, the right program at the right time got everyone in the room talking. The Price is Right was an invariable fan favorite, as were most game shows, really (Jeopardy was probably the second most popular). Nature programs—if they weren’t the sort with animals getting torn up—were also a crowd pleaser and especially good for keeping small children occupied. The point was, though, it got people talking to one another. That got us talking to them. And that got us talking about glasses.

Starting a sales conversation can be awkward, even within the context of an OD handing over an RX. You may have never met this person. They may be an awkward individual. But, having a conversation already started about something you’ve got a common interest in, facilitates the sales conversation in a smoother, more organic way.

Is using a TV in your waiting room the solution for every dispensary? Absolutely not. I’ve mentioned before that we were an office in a close knit, rural community that valued a sense of shared identity. Our TV was essentially their town well. Other demographics value their privacy, while other office designs and atmospheres would be ruined by the presence of a television—say, a boutique optical going for the ambiance of a jewelry store versus a Rockwellian doctor’s office. For those independent opticals that do operate in rural areas or cater to a largely family clientele, it may be worth considering switching off the music, switching on the tube, and seeing what happens.