One of my most favorite things about this industry is the relationships that we build with our reps. They help us, guide us, listen to us, & understand what we as staff are going through because most of them have been in our shoes. When I first started my career in the Optometry industry I did not know a whole lot as I came from a completely different background, but my reps were always so kind and helped me along the way with questions I had...and yeah I had a lot of them.
Fast forward to today I knew that I wanted to give you the inside scoop into the prespective of a rep becuase their insight is important and they are truly partners in our industry who help us along the way. So today I on the blog I want to introduce you to Mikki Collins originally from Charleston, WV she is now a recent resident of Renton, WA and repping for Morel Eyewear. She is here to share her insight and tips to help you make the most of your relationship with your reps.
Without further ado, lets welcome Mikki Collins...
+ Introduce yourself & tell us about your background:
I am 34 years old and originally from Charleston, WV. I have spent most of my adult life moving around due to my husband being an active duty United States Marine. I knew as a Marine wife I needed a career I could travel with. My mom was a nurse but hearing her horror stories over the years led me to anything but nursing. So, at 23 years old and newly married I decided to enroll in a Certified Surgical Tech program at Low Country Technical College in Beaufort, SC. I had hoped to eventually land a job working as a private scrub tech for a plastic surgeon but I accepted a position right after graduation for an ambulatory surgical center. Naturally because I was new and nobody liked scrubbing in during cataract surgery that's where they decided to put me and dubbed me "The Eyeball Queen". I knew nothing about ophthalmology at the time but soon I became really good at it. The three surgeons I worked with weekly quickly gained my trust and taught me everything they could during the procedures. I was amazed by the delicacy of cataract surgery, the preciseness it took to peel away the bag without breaking it, the steadiness of the surgeons hand working through a 3mm incision, and just like that I found my niche. I spent two years as a surgical tech before my husband received orders to transfer to Eglin AFB in Northwest Florida.
I decided to try to get my foot in the door in an ophthalmology clinic because I craved more knowledge than just what I saw in the operating room. I interviewed for an ophthalmic assistant position at Emerald Coast Eye Institute and was hired on the spot. That is where I built the foundation of my career as an ophthalmic assistant. I learned how to refract patients, check pressures with application tonometry, and understand everything that went into diagnosing and treating a patient.
I spent four years working with glaucoma and corneal specialists before a new doctor, Dr. Nathaniel Ruttig came to the practice and encouraged me to get certified. I spent a year pre-testing and studying for my exam and passed with flying colors. A year after becoming certified things began to change at the clinic I had spent the past 5 years at, Dr. Ruttig decided to leave and start his own practice and asked me to join him. I was ecstatic to be the first employee he wanted to bring on at his practice Eye MD of Niceville. It was so amazing to watch a practice grow from seeing 3 patients a day to seeing 60 patients a day. I went from being the only employee to having 9 employees on staff and it has continued to grow even larger than we imagined it to be. I considered this time of my life the highest point in my ophthalmic assistant career. I feel so accomplished to have had the opportunity to be a part of this growing practice.
In 2018 my husband was medically separated from the Marine Corps and we had a choice to make. Stay in Florida where we were comfortable and he could find work as a contractor on base or look for something more. I had visited Washington state several times over the years to get away to the mountains and fell in love with the Pacific Northwest. The west coast just hits different.
So my husband decided to apply for a job at Boeing in Renton, WA and 3 months later he was moving across country to begin our new life. He moved first to make sure it was going to work out, then myself and my two boys moved in Sept 2019. At this point, I didn't know what I wanted to do with my career. I knew I would probably never find another office position comparable to the one I had left behind in Florida so I took a few weeks off and explored the area while my kids were at school. I quickly became bored and felt pretty useless sitting at home all day with nothing to do. I found an optometry office close to home and thought I would go tech a few days a week to keep me busy. It must have been fate, because the day I contacted them about a position one of their techs had resigned. I interviewed a week later and was offered the job.
Optometry was completely new to me. I was used to doing most of the "grunt work" myself. Refracting, taking pressures, quickly doing an OCT if I suspected something was going on with the macula, things like that. As a tech in optometry it was a little different and less in depth than what I was accustomed to so I started to get a little bored with the repetitive daily routine. I started becoming more interested in the optical side the longer I was there and I am a sucker for a good pair of sunglasses so I was always sneaking up front to browse our selections. I watched the opticians shop with patients and help them pick out frames and thought "wow! I would be good at that".
Then we had a rep come in for a "luxury sales training" where everyone could attend...even those of us who aren't hands on with frames so I happily went. The way he executed his training had me in awe. Creating an experience for a customer, telling a story with a product, and how he painted a picture of every little detail had me sold!
+When did you decide that you wanted to become a rep?
After the training session I started thinking about how amazing of a career that would be. For awhile it was just a thought I shoved to the back of my brain that I quickly talked myself out of because I didn't have any sales training or a fancy college degree. Then COVID hit. I was furloughed from my job as a tech for 4 weeks and had A LOT of time to think about what I wanted to do with my life. So I started researching "frame rep". Surprisingly, there isn't a lot of information out there about the job itself so I had to start digging deeper.
+Where did you get your start?
I started by making a LinkedIn profile and adding people in the optical industry like crazy to my network. Then, I started sending messages. I think I probably sent 50 messages to people in the rep business just telling them that I was interested in what they did and if they could give me some insight into their careers. I spoke to opticians, regional managers, and other reps about what they love/hate about their jobs. My networking paid off within a month of starting my research.
I met an optician/frame rep on LinkedIn that I decided to send my resume to so if he knew of anyone looking he could forward it on my behalf. That is when he messaged me and said he knew someone with Morel Eyewear and they were looking for a rep in our area. He thought it would be a great fit for me and gave my information to Jason Dopheide who is the Director of Sales in the US for Morel who sent me a messaged on LinkedIn asking if I was interested in interviewing. I was blown away to even have my name thrown in the hat for this opportunity to interview so quickly.
I accepted and began researching about Morel in general. I didn't know what I was really looking for but I googled what I could and had an initial phone conversation with Jason a few days later. He knew I had no sales training and there was a lot of work to be done but he gave me 24 hours to gather as much information about the company as I possibly could and have a second video call about what I found. When I say I researched... I RESEARCHED literally from the time we got off the phone at 8am until midnight that night. I immediately got on LinkedIn and starting messaging people within the company asking questions, I called a few of the reps that I could find and were willing to tell me what I should know, I printed pages of notes from the story behind Morel to the frames I liked that I found online. The next day I went on my lunch break and had the phone interview with Jason notes in hand and nervous as hell.
I thought it went well but I knew there were some others interviewing as well so when I didn't hear back the next day I sent a thank you message for the opportunity and expressed gratitude for the chance to interview for a position like this and went back to work. The weekend went by and Monday morning came as usual, as I pulled into the parking lot my phone rang and it was Jason. I figured he was calling to tell me I didn't get the job but I was SHOCKED when he said he wanted me to come on board. I literally thought to myself "is he sure he called the right person?" but I was so excited I ran into the building and burst into happy tears. All of my hard work and persistence paid off and I began my journey as an official frame rep.
+Why rep for Morel?
I knew nothing about Morel until July 2020. Being a smaller lesser known company the brand isn't a household name like Gucci or Ray-Bans. The week I was hired I was sent a mountain of information to review and learn. I quickly learned to story of Morel and was blown away by the brand. Morel is an independent family owned company deeply rooted in French eyewear since 1880. Their whole brand is built around family. Morel is everything I want to represent in a company. The frame quality speaks for itself, we cater to those who wish to be different, and you will never find a cookie-cutter style frame in our lines.
+What is your approach when helping an office decide on what frames to bring in?
I always like to start with asking "What do you feel you are missing in your office?" whether it's mens styles, colorful women's frames, or budget friendly frames we have something for everyone. I like to take a look at what an office carries in their other collections and offer them something completely opposite first. I like to ask who their patients and customers are as individuals. I enjoy discussing how the frames make them feel as they view our products. I understand that what works for one office isn't always good for the other but I try to find a good balance between encouraging an office to branch out a little further with our products because you never know what someone is looking for when they walk through the door to buy glasses.
+What do you wish more offices were aware of when it comes to their reps?
That we aren't there to bother you. Sometimes I feel like an inconvenience when I ask to come into an office to check on their stock or make an appointment to show you new frames. I spend more time leaving messages for people every day than actually speaking to someone. Communication isn't hard and is key for a good relationship in every aspect of life. For some reason there's a stigma around reps and I don't know why or how it began. Maybe it has to do with "sales" in general but that is something I want to break free from. I am not a salesperson trying to make a dollar off of a crummy product. I am a professional working with other professionals to ensure patients have the ability to see, look, and feel their best when wearing our products.
I have dealt with medical reps my whole career. I know it isn't always convenient when someone walks into a busy clinic and you have a stack of charts or orders a mile high on your desk to finish. I GET IT. I UNDERSTAND. but I am also here to help make your job a little easier and ensure you have the best of the best when it comes to our products on your board.
+What changes have you had to make as a rep in this era of Covid?
I become a rep after the initial wave of COVID hit so it is hard to say. I do know that because of COVID it has been hard to get in person training because of travel restrictions. I have been fortunate to have Jason as a manager who flew to Washington for a few days to ride along with me a few months after I started. I have kind of been figuring it out by trial and error on my own. Morel has been great with providing as much as they can to prepare me to do my job but honestly I believe this will make me better in the long run. It is disappointing to miss out on events like Vision Expo and events that I normally would have been attending pre-COVID but it is forcing me to look in other places to carve out a path in this industry. Social media has been a great outlet to meet people in the optical world.
+What can we as the eyewear buyers do to prepare ahead of a rep visiting us?
Know what you are missing in your practice and be open to trying something new. I can't tell you how many practices never change the styles they buy. Creatures of habit I assume but I encourage buyers to try something new. If it doesn't work we will switch it out for something next time I come through. I've been blessed with a pretty good group of clients who have taught me a lot about being a rep. I try to let the buyer lead during a sale and I take little details from what I am hearing in conversation to guide the buyer in a direction of what I think will work for them.
+What qualities do you think make a good rep? And which qualities makes a rep not as good or successful?
Honestly, I don't know. I feel like I haven't been a rep long enough to know what makes you "good" or "bad". I have asked clients in the past who are apprehensive to work with me because they didn't like something about previous reps what I could do differently to make them want to work with Morel again. Usually it is something as simple as just doing what they ask without dropping the ball. I try to always respond in a timely manner and give them solid answers to questions they may have. I never try to "fake it" with a customer. Too many people are too proud to admit they don't know something and just try to BS their way through it but I am not one of those people. If I don't know something I ask and pass on the information to my client as soon as I can.
+What advice would you give to someone who is interested in becoming a rep or new to the industry?
Manifest it. I set a goal to become a rep within a year when I started this process in late May - early June. I told myself it would take time but I was going to make it happen. I NEVER dreamed I would have an opportunity like this land in my lap a 6 weeks into looking with no experience. Network and research. Do not be afraid to ask questions!
+What are your top 3 tips to staying productive?
1. Find what works for you. Jason taught me in the beginning to plan ahead in increments of 10-12 weeks. I study my routes so I know exactly where I am going, hotels nearby, and scout other clinics along the way.
2. I find joy in thinking outside of the box and doing things differently vs. traditionally. I like to connect with my clients on a daily personal basis through Instagram. I find it gives me an outlet to be creative and connect with them by showing I support their practice by liking, commenting, and sharing their posts especially when they share Morel products on their pages! It is also another way for me to show products without formally showing product in photos or videos.
3. Set goals. If you don't have a goal then how do you know where you want to go in your career? I like to write it down, talk about it, and hold myself to the things I wish to accomplish.
So there you have it great advice and insight if you want to learn more from Mikki and follow her adventures be sure to follow her instagram page @gypsyeyegal