A Transformation Tale
This FL practice excels at both the optometric and optical sides of the biz. Here’s how they do it.
STORY BY HEATH BURSLEM
The recent history of Vision Health Institute in Orlando, FL, is a tale of transformation and a lesson in how to navigate that difficult phase that follows initial business viability. Drs. Mark and Karen Perry took their functioning optometric practice and turned it into a thriving vision-health and optical retail business that stands out, even in a market as crowded as central Florida.
Vision Health Institute
Owners: Drs. Mark and Karen Perry
Buildout Cost: $1.4 MILLION (including building)
Opened Featured Location: 2014
Area: 5,800 sq. ft.
Employees: 6 full-time, 3 part-time
Top brands: Ray-Ban, Marc Jacobs, Tom Ford, Oakley, Michael Kors
The Drs. Perry have been practicing in Orlando since 1990. Four years ago, facing rising rent and other costs, and eager to differentiate themselves, they ventured to a new location with a fresh model based on developing a premier brand. “We recognized that our small-practice model would be significantly impacted amid the changing healthcare dynamics.”
Being a single-doctor practice had limitations. If the business was to thrive, the Perrys knew it would need to expand its scope by offering more specialty services such as CRT and scleral contact lenses, dry eye disease treatment and therapy, as well as low-vision treatment.
Investing in a tech upgrade and moving to a 5,800-square foot facility allowed them to achieve these goals. The Vision Health Institute opened in January 2014 and hasn’t looked back. “Since opening the new practice, we have seen double-digit growth each year,” Mark Perry says.
Vision Health Institute has since expanded its scope even further, becoming a preceptor site for schools of optometry and boosting its research capabilities to participate in manufacturer-sponsored contact lens and solution studies.
The location was crucial. “Instead of being in a strip mall we are now on a busy intersection with a traffic light. We doubled our previous square footage along with a complete design makeover,” he says. “The adage ‘Build it and they will come’ was certainly true in our case.”
The expanded optometric activities have been matched by increased attention to service. Asked to articulate the business’ mission, he doesn’t hesitate: “To be different!” and advocates the “Disney philosophy” — under-promise and over-deliver. The patient experience begins with online registration (they enter their history, insurance and demographic information, which is downloaded into their EMR), continues as they walk through the 9-ft-high frosted glass doors and are ushered straight into pre-testing. It is maintained as they pick up their eyewear, right up to the moment when they receive a mailed hand-written thank you.
To enhance the patient’s sense that they’re in good hands, Optomap images are performed and emailed to them (see “Fine Story”), and externs from Western University and Salus University (PCO) work with all patients, demonstrating that Vision Health Institute is a teaching facility.
When it comes to eyewear, name brands tend to be popular among the clientele, many of whom are 35- to 50-year-old professionals looking for a chic touch. The sleek 2,000 square foot optical features crisp white displays, styling stations (see “Five Cool Things”) and a dispensing high-bar. The eyewear is mostly merchandised by brand. “We try to place the sunglasses from each line at eye-level to showcase them and educate patients on the need for quality sunglasses,” Mark Perry explains. POP is used sparingly. Vendor visits are scheduled during staff meetings, which gets everyone involved in selection and helps sales.
Efforts to keep staff engaged don’t end there. Vision Health Institute’s office pranks are nearly as impressive as its patient care, running the gamut from whoopee cushions to the kind of elaborate jokery that requires real preparation: When a tech called in sick one day, the second tech arrived to find an afternoon schedule jammed with time-consuming (and phony) glaucoma evaluations. Thirty minutes before these phantom patients were due, the tech was let in on the joke. “Otherwise she would have had a stroke,” chuckles Perry. Being a participant in Vision Source has created some great staff-motivation opportunities too, including a four-day cruise to the Bahamas. Such trips “increase camaraderie and certainly make for an enjoyable work atmosphere,” he says.
Basically, the Perrys want their staff (and patients) to get what they themselves have gotten from Vision Health Institute. “It’s not enough to just perform your job,” Perry says. “You have to embrace it, love it, develop it.”
PHOTO GALLERY (15 IMAGES)
5 Cool Things About Vision Health Institute
1. TIGHT TEAM. VHI’s staff outings have included mountain retreats, bowling nights, meals, Magic Kingdom trips and even cruises. Opinion leaders are invited to staff meetings for education and leadership.
2. SUPERIZE THAT LENS SOLUTION? A drive-through window optimizes convenience and allows speedy contact lens and eyewear pickup.
3. PERSONAL TOUCH. Handwritten ‘thank you’ letters are mailed to every patient one week after eyewear is picked up.
4. STYLE STATIONS. These standalone sites are equipped with touch-screen monitors, printers, credit-card processing and devices for measuring and adjusting frames so the employee can handle everything without having to leave the patient.
5. STUDY SESSIONS. VHI acts as a clinical investigator for Alcon, Bausch & Lomb and Vistakon, advertising and enrolling patients in contact lens studies (40 in the last six years).
Trying to decide what to charge for Optomap screening photos, VHI consulted seven practices who charged $39 to $59. “We decided on a fee of $19,” says Dr. Mark Perry. When I mentioned this to a group of 30 doctors, I heard ‘boos’ from the audience. I explained that doctors who charged $39 got a maximum acceptance rate of 85 percent. We were achieving 98 percent. More importantly, we were demonstrating this outstanding technology to all our patients; even those who elected not to have it performed. The Optomap image is our biggest ‘wow’ factor. Why would we want to show this to only 85 percent?” For the 2 percent that decline the procedure, VHI performs it anyway and explains why it’s so important. Perry says most patients now understand the importance of the scan and happily pay. “We email the images to all patients who want them. It’s not uncommon for us to email 10 a day.”
WHAT THE JUDGES SAID
I love the "heart" of this business. The owners have their priorities straight: customers and staff. Take care of both and your business will thrive. A handwritten letter to every customer? Bravissimo! This is a hugely positive experience for the patient, but let's not overlook the strong possibility that this cements a great feeling within the letter-writer, themselves. — Robert Bell, The Eye Coach, San Francisco, CA
Good variation of lighting adjusting to the client needs, encouraging browsing, highlighting product and visual comfort. — Jack Verdon, Verdon Architects, San Francisco, CA
The office is very clean and bright. — Jim Sepanek, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, DeRigo REM, Sun Valley, CA
This article originally appeared in the June 2018 edition of INVISION.
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