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Best of the Best

An Iowa OD Who Developed an Industry-Leading Neuro Rehab Specialty

Offering glasses just wasn’t enough.

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DR. DEANN FITZGERALD STARTED practicing optometry in Cedar Rapids, IA, in 1984. In 2006, she founded the non-profit Spanda, Inc., which combines optometry with other healthcare specialties and took her as far afield as Kenya. Soon, she decided to expand Spanda’s activities to her own community. Spanda opened Cedar Rapids Vision In Motion (CRVIM), a vision wellness and rehab clinic, in 2007. What started as a 1,600-sq. ft location with an occupational therapist and a single employee now occupies 6,000 sq. ft and employs two athletic trainers, seven therapists and two ancillary staff.

THE IDEA

A Door Opens

Vision therapy was on Fitzgerald’s radar screen from her earliest days in optometry, but it took some time for her to embrace it. “I originally went to school with the thought of providing therapy but Cedar Rapids was very medically oriented, with the University of Iowa just 20 minutes away. Which made it very difficult at first to want to do therapy.” But by the 1990s — the “decade of the brain” — she sensed a door opening.

THE EXECUTION

Bridging the Gap

Dr. DeAnn Fitzgerald

CRVIM deals with a larger variety of diagnoses and issues than we can list. The services Fitzgerald’s team have developed bridge “the gap between assessment and treatment” for patients of all ages who experience visual processing dysfunction. In other words, “It’s a brain thing,” as the practice’s mantra states. Since 2010, CRVIM has also been teaching, offering instruction to OTs, PTs, ATs and others, passing on Fitzgerald’s “Train your brain to see again” gospel.

Patients find CRVIM in a variety of ways. “We have the general practice so sometimes people come in for routine care and find out that we do other services to help with various problems.” Of course, there’s word of mouth, as well as the training conferences to which the CRVIM team are now often invited as experts. “I have patients come from a nine-state area for our services. With the training conferences, we try to collaborate with other OTs and PTs.” Among the many hats Fitzgerald wears, she is vice president of the Neuro-Optometric Rehabilitation Association (NORA), an inter-disciplinary industry group whose mission is to see that patients with physical or cognitive disabilities as a result of an acquired brain injury get full ocular health evaluation and optimum visual rehab services.
Fitzgerald doesn’t have the luxury of patterning CRVIM after anything in the industry, “because it doesn’t exist. But I look at what’s possibly working and couple it with things that work — multi layered therapy or integrated therapy for quicker recovery — so we combine vision vestibular and auditory and proprioception all together for a more intense and passive therapy that works well.”

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THE REWARDS

‘The Last Resort’

Fitzgerald finds working with neurologically challenged patients — “giving them back their life,” as she puts it — hugely rewarding, but along with the highs there are tough moments. “These patients have a lot of depression and emotional issues that you have to cut through to get them better.”
Fitzgerald established baseline testing for 1,400 metro youth football players over a period of three years. At first many parents didn’t see the need, but by year three every one of the players came in to get tested. She eventually donated seven laptops so these schools could do their own testing. The Pop Warner youth football league last year rated these schools’ testing system as the best it had seen.
It’s an anecdote that illustrates the complexity, and the importance, of CRVIM’s activities. “We do get very complex patients,” says Fitzgerald, “because sometimes we are the last resort.”

Do It Yourself: Develop a Niche Rehab Practice

  • BONE UP. Be prepared to learn on the fly. Says Fitzgerald: “Optometric education provides the avenues to do rehab, but I have logged countless hours in classes and reading … on … concussion and brain injury.”
  • LOOK AROUND. Fitzgerald advises finding someone who is doing what you want to do­—and learning. “It’s the quickest way to get where you want to go…We have a lot of doctors visit our clinic.”
  • BE USEFUL. Get into the community, says Fitzgerald, and “instead of telling people what you do — ask them what they need. Then help make it happen — often that is the ‘in’ to getting partnered with them.”
  • HIRE CAREFULLY. Fitzgerald says one of her biggest challenges has been finding staff that are competent but also compassionate.
  • PREPARE YOURSELF. Rehab can be taxing for both patient and therapist. Fitzgerald says of her patients: “They have a brain injury. We have to gently get them out of their own way so they can recover.”

After years covering some of the farther flung corners of the world of business journalism, Heath has more recently focused on covering the efforts of independent eyecare professionals to negotiate a fast-changing industry landscape. Contact him at [email protected]

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Best of the Best

This Colorado Practice Chose the Power of Collaboration Over Consolidation

Check out the ways they benefited from joining a doctors’ alliance.

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IT’S A DILEMMA independent ECPs face: Independence gives you the freedom to offer great service, but makes competing on cost hard. As a remedy, a growing number of them are joining one of the numerous alliances of doctors and ECPs that have sprung up in recent years. INVISION spoke with a Colorado practice whose positive experience with one such group has helped it thrive and serves as a testament to the benefits of collaboration, rather than consolidation.

THE IDEA

Drs. Cameran Drake (right) and Jenni Drake (left), sisters, ODs and co-owners of 3D Vision Eye Care in Broomfield, CO, are an example of the power of pooled resources. Says Dr. Cameran, “We have two different brains — she’s much more business oriented, whereas I’m much more patient oriented. It works out great.” But they know their limits. “Very few of us [ODs] went to school for business, so having resources for that side of your practice is something you can’t afford not to use.” When colleagues suggested the Drakes attend one of Professional Eye Care Associates of America (PECAA)’s networking dinners, they figured it would be a way to get some CE in while rewarding staff without much cost to themselves. They were pleasantly surprised at what they found. “We ended up getting so much out of the meeting we were hooked.”

THE EXECUTION

After attending a number of PECAA’s networking dinners and annual meetings, the Drakes signed up for its MBA (Member Business Advisor) program. Among other things, membership gives them access to advice on inventory and frame board management — areas the Drakes felt had been holding them back.

Whereas they would previously let opticians order what they thought was needed, says Dr. Jenni, “Having the inventory analysis gave us an idea of how to …make sure we were seeing what frames turned, what frames were profitable… and which ones we should get rid of.”

A turning point in their business came when they found an additional location that seemed promising. “We thought it was a slam dunk,” recalls Dr. Jenni, but the MBA showed them “it could have been the worst thing to get ourselves into.”

Members also qualify for unlimited telephone consultations. “When we have questions on how to bill for something, or the right codes to use, we utilize the billing/coding department. There’s no fee for that, just a quick phone call. We are also currently looking into health insurance through their alliance,” said Dr. Jenni.

THE REWARDS

The Drakes gets peace of mind knowing there is someone who specializes in any area they need help in, but who has no agenda. “You know that you can trust them as their only goal is to help you,” Dr. Jenni says. Not having to do a lot of research saves the doctors time, “which as business owners and mothers is invaluable.”

Some ODs are wary of alliances’ fees, but the Drakes cite the MBA’s input on the additional location as an example of money saved.
She cites the networking events as personal favorites. “It’s … reassuring to talk to people that are going through what you are. Once you realize that other private practices are not your competition you learn so much from collaborating with other members.”

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Best of the Best

You Should See the Video this DC-Area Practice Made for Their Website and Social Media

It showcases their eyewear in such a fun, fresh way it’s become the basis for all their branding.

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BEYOND ADVERTISING SPECIFIC products and services, a well-made video can give your branding cohesion and edge. Your customers are already liking and sharing that staff karaoke-night video, but sometimes it pays to call in the pros. One of the best videos we’ve encountered of late graces the website and social media of Georgetown Optician, a family-run business with four locations in the DC area.

THE IDEA

Telling a Creative Tale

According to general manager Pierce Voorthuis, Georgetown Opticians were looking for a branding and advertising boost, and reached out to Design Army, who set about redefining the brand. Central to this has been a series of videos designed to boost its online presence. “From the first few meetings Design Army came up with a great concept that allowed us to explore a creative tale showcasing our love of independent eyewear. This latest video is our third.”

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The video was always intended for online consumption, rather than TV. “The goal was to make a video so instantly fresh and exciting [it’d be] shared, and to create a whole campaign around the video shoot so we could utilize the content in store as well.” Watch the video at: georgetownoptician.com

THE EXECUTION

Invite to a Revolution

The video, “Join the Silent Revolution,” imagines “the quietest library on Earth,” in which a fearsome “Quiet Guard” maintains a silence so oppressive even the turning of a page draws nasty looks. But a cast of irrepressible characters with stunning taste in eyewear devise ways of communicating with each other using only their eyes, in the process showing off some very cool frames from the likes of Jacques Marie Mage, Kirk and Kirk, Kuburaum and Res Rei.

“The ‘Eyes Say More Than Words’ campaign speaks to the expressiveness of eyes and eyewear as a way of conveying emotion,” says Voorthuis. The video has a Wes Anderson-ish look and vibe, managing to feel both hip and inclusive. It’s clearly a quality production—and showcases the eyewear with style and humor. According to Design Army chief creative officer Pum Lefebure, ”We took visual cues from high school yearbook pics from the late ’70s: lots of plaid, bellbottom-inspired style, big hair — and of course, big glasses.” She recalled that Design Army’s approach was “to shock, entertain, and go bold with creativity to help this small brand make a big impact.”

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From concept development to post-production the video took about six months to make, at a total cost of between $70,000-$100,000, Voorthuis estimates.

Across its locations, Georgetown Optician’s brand identity was updated with imagery from the campaign, including in-store posters and window displays, custom cleaning cloths and more.

THE REWARDS

Overwhelming Feedback

Voorthuis says the team at Georgetown Optician enjoys hearing from customers who have discovered the video and loved the story. “We’ve had overwhelmingly positive feedback … we’re happy this ambitious project came together with a truly beautiful film.”

He says it’s hard to quantify the true value of a production like “Join the Silent Revolution,” as “the main motivation has been focused on branding. We’re in this business for the long haul.”

Do It Yourself: Create a Video for Your Practice

  • KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE. Voorthuis advises ECPs looking to embark on any ambitious marketing campaign to first think about what they are trying to convey to their market.
  • STORY TIME. The best videos tell a story. “To tell a story that stands on its own, can be consumed in various formats, and is instantly sharable, that’s the true goal of our campaign.”
  • JUST THE start. Once the video itself is complete, says Voorthuis, “It’s about fully capitalizing on every component from your film or photo shoot and using it to help brand and support your store.”
  • COME ON IN! Videos can have a practical use. Ziegler Leffingwell Eyecare in New Berlin, WI, hired a pro photographer to use a drone to record a flight through the office, to welcome potential patients.
  • OFFLINE. As long as you’re splashing out to bring high-quality video to your website or social media, maximize your spend and get the vid running on screens in your store window as well.

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Best of the Best

At Black Optical It Literally Pays for Staff to Travel and Stay Healthy

Owner Gary Black knows what work-life balance looks like—and how to achieve it for his team.

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AS AN EMPLOYER, one of Gary Black’s chief goals at his three Black Optical locations in Tulsa, Oklahoma City and Dallas is to eliminate — or at least reduce — the cost of living a healthy lifestyle, because, “We all know that when you feel great, you perform great.” Several years ago Black Optical implemented its wellness reimbursement program for employees.

THE IDEA

As Black sees it, the challenge for the small optical owner isn’t about “holding on” to talent. In part that’s because he doesn’t think that’s a realistic option for millennial employees, but it also reflects his view that the goal should be to develop — not merely retain — staff. “We want to develop people, while they help develop our brand. We hire with the intent that the candidate will be with us for the long haul, but we also realize this is not a reality for this generation.

Talented individuals want to explore opportunities, and gain experience in multiple fields.” With that in mind Black has set about creating opportunities for his staff to continue learning and to stay healthy.

THE EXECUTION

Gary Black

As Black was putting together the wellness reimbursement program a few years ago, he realized he needed a way to accommodate a staff member who enjoyed team sports, yet had no desire to set foot in a gym. So each member of the Black Optical team receives a $150 quarterly wellness reimbursement to use any way they see fit, whether it’s a gym membership, massage, holistic treatments, yoga classes, skydiving, or a 200-mile bike race entry fee. Says Black, “At the end of the day, I didn’t want to dictate what health and wellness means to our team. I also didn’t want anyone to feel left out by only offering one option.”

Team members are also offered a travel reimbursement every three years, which Black says, “eliminates lack of extra money as a barrier to explore and recharge our batteries.” An education reimbursement is in the works as well.

Black also offers more traditional benefits, including 401k with employer match, FSA accounts, and health/dental insurance coverage at $350 for singles and $500 for families. Staff are covered by a company-paid life insurance policy, and get 18 days of paid time off annually, which bumps up to 24 days after the third year.

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In order to receive the wellness reimbursement benefit, team members are required to complete a form quarterly. “It only takes about five minutes,” says Black, “but it does enable the team to shoulder some of the responsibilities.”

THE REWARDS

Black describes the main reward as “a happy team that feels appreciated and looks forward to contributing to the overall success of Black Optical.” He admits to demanding a lot from his team, and one of the main goals of his wellness program is to give them the time and money to disconnect when they need to, in a way that benefits them. “There’s this quote by Anne Lamott that has become my mantra lately: ‘Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few moments, including you.’ Needless to say, we work hard, though we encourage our team to step away as well.” Black encourages his team to put the money they save away for a rainy day. “As great of a place as Black Optical is to build a career,” he says, “the life goal is to eventually retire from this place.”

Do It Yourself: In-House Wellness Program

  • BE RECEPTIVE. “Listen to your team,” advises Black. “Get curious; discover what ensures their happiness and sense of security.”
  • MUTUAL BENEFIT. Staff get two pairs of free frames/lenses a year, plus unlimited pairs at 50% off for themselves and family. “We want as many frames on faces as possible, including our team.”
  • CALL IN THE PROS. Vendors like WellSteps and Sonic Boom can set up a wellness program for your business, but go with someone reputable — it’s a huge industry now and there are plenty of quacks around.
  • PHONE IT IN. Consider encouraging your staff to make use of the many wellness apps now available, such as Down Dog for yoga instruction or the mediation app Insight Timer.
  • HEADS TOGETHER. Business consultant Susan Steinbrecher recommends setting up a Wellness Committee to develop ideas and take responsibility for monitoring stress levels and causes in the office.

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