Connect with us

Columns

Colorado ECP Shares Her Business’s Powerful Coronavirus Crisis Plan

Yes, it’s scary out there. But savvy eyecare pros can find ways to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic.

mm

Published

on

TWO WEEKS AGO, I burst into my business partner’s office, Dr. Joe Borden, and lamented that all my Spring travel and cycling races had been cancelled. He looked up, shrugged, and suggested that this would pass soon enough.

In addition to owning a small eyecare practice in downtown Golden, CO, I race a bike for a professional cycling team headquartered in Atlanta. I was due to spend much of early April pedaling soft circles along the Mediterranean coast, drinking Tempranillo and slowly easing my way back to good form. Like the plans made by so many of us, it all evaporated overnight.

Even then, standing in Joe’s office and venting my sadness, I hadn’t imagined the consequences of the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 here in the United States. He, too, seemed largely nonchalant about the forecasts made by epidemiologists and financial experts. In retrospect, that was both silly and naïve.

As global financial markets spiraled into bear territory in record time and cases of the virus began to surge in the U.S. by mid-March, we recognized the urgency in both keeping our patients and staff healthy and reconfiguring our business plan. Where the bottom ends up will depend, of course, on the trajectory of the pandemic. We know, however, that a recession is likely. The virus quickly snarled supply chains in China and then whacked demands for goods and services as businesses were forced to close and individuals hunkered down at home. Manufacturing sectors have been weak for a while and global oil prices are in a downward spiral. It seems impossible to emerge from this without second and third quarter losses that would meet the definition of a recession. The most vulnerable are small to mid-sized businesses, operating on shorter lead times with less working capital.

That sounds pretty bleak. It doesn’t have to be.

Savvy entrepreneurs can find ways to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic, even if they face the temporary closure of their practice.

Advertisement

First, have a crisis plan. The number one priority for us all has to be the healthy and safety of our employees and the patients coming into the office. This means adopting stringent sanitation and personal protective measures. In my office, every employee must wear gloves during periods of patient contact, whether pre-testing, dispensing or providing direct treatment. They must wash hands and change gloves between patients. Patients are triaged prior to coming in for an appointment to screen for indications of illness, and may not enter the premises if they have a fever, respiratory symptoms or have been in close contact with a person having a confirmed case of the virus. We have closed walk-in care. Every surface in the office, including all optical frames, are sanitized between each patient. No one in the office is allowed to handle cash, and patients run their own credit cards. And, when we felt the community risk was simply too great and the American Optometric Association recommended the cessation of routine care, we locked the doors.

In short, we recognized early on that we had to look at doing anything to reduce exposure that wouldn’t impact mission-critical work, even if it meant assuming additional costs. We anticipated overreacting, and assumed a 15 percent increase in expenses, in part because cleaning processes between patients reduced patient counts and required additional labor resources, and because we had greater expenses in sanitization products and equipment due to all the protective measures.

Basically, my partner and I used the CDC’s guidelines, and customized them for the demands of the specific business. We review CDC guidelines weekly, make accommodations to the health and safety plan, and then disseminate that information to the staff.

In order to offset losses, we moved from a progressive posture to a sustaining one. We cut new initiatives and identified early on those cross-trained employees who could fill multiple roles. That allowed us to determine quickly what tasks could be dropped or deferred and how to best reduce staffing levels. It should be automatic that if today we only have three people instead of seven, everyone knows exactly what to focus on.

All those internal shifts make clear the need for communication, both with staff and with patients. We emailed several thousand patients to let them know about the existing cleanliness practices, which are being beefed up with constant training and enhancements like multiple handwashing and hand sanitization stations throughout the office. We asked that patients keep scheduled appointments with those reinforcements in mind. Optometry offices should already have preventative measures around things like cleanliness in place, so there’s a marketing benefit to supplementing those activities with the message that you care about customer’s health and wellness.

It’s important to communicate possible closures. When we reached the point where we believed a temporary shutdown was imminent, we called all of our patients on the recall list for the next three months. We reminded them that they were due for upcoming routine care, and that our office might be closed for a short time. We encouraged them to make appointments prior to closure and, for those patients waiting on the renewal of insurance benefits, we offered a temporary extension on expiring prescriptions so that they didn’t risk running out of contact lenses or would have an available set of back-up glasses. This not only benefitted our customers who hadn’t considered the need to stockpile vision care products, it also meant an increase in revenue at a time when we needed it to offset the impacts of shutting our doors.

Advertisement

We began communicating with our patients in the service industry. Realizing that many felt uncertain about their long-term employment, we suggested that they use benefits as soon as possible. Many were so focused on possible income losses, that they hadn’t considered using their vision and dental benefits while still active. It’s important to market to the situation and to look for the unique business opportunities created by the current economic uncertainties.

Lastly, if all those strategies fail, small business owners can get working capital to survive and prevent mass layoffs. Small business loans have rapidly expanded. Interest rates are as low as they could possibly get. In fact, even businesses with solid financials might examine the options if they are considering expansion, as you now have the opportunity to secure financing at a very low cost of capital.

Businesses can also look into opening lines of credit to create reserve funding if needed, or getting a merchant cash advance. While these funds usually come at a higher cost of capital than a traditional loan, they are quick. In a cash crunch where speed is more important than the cost of capital, these can prove good alternatives.

Hopefully, the impacts of this pandemic will be short-lived and containment will help us to return to life as normal sooner rather than later. I’m looking forward to sitting in Spanish cafes next year. Meanwhile, using market tools, advertising, publicity and carefully crafted strategy can keep your patients thinking about you and waiting to come back.

Rebecca Furuta holds a Master’s Degree in Public Health Policy from the University of Colorado Boulder, and works as a sports vision specialist and ABOC/NCLE optician at Avenue Vision in Golden with Dr. Joe Borden, with whom she co-founded the eco eyewear lifestyle brand, Yeux & Eye (yeuxandeye.com). Email her at [email protected]

Advertisement

SPONSORED VIDEO

SPONSORED BY ESSILOR

Introducing EssilorLuxottica 360

A new program powered by Essilor, Luxottica and EyeMed that is designed to help your practice improve traffic, visibility and patient experience while maximizing profitability. Learn More at 360.EssilorLuxottica.com

Promoted Headlines

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Subscribe


BULLETINS

Get the most important news and business ideas for eyecare professionals every weekday from INVISION.

Instagram

Most Popular