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Endings

Owners share how and why they closed the curtain on their eyecare businesses

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They say all good things must come to an end. In this industry, we often focus on the numbers when it comes to the sale or closing of a business… What sort of revenue did they have? What kind of deal did the owners get? How much did they sell for? But for business owners, there is an entire emotional and psychological journey when they are exiting the businesses they have poured money, sweat, and often, tears into.

No two exit strategies are exactly the same, and in the following pages we profile four business owners who have transitioned, or are looking to transition, out of ownership. What was their motivation? What did the process look like for them? How did they communicate their exit to their patients and staff? How did leaving their business make them feel? And what do their lives look like post-ownership?

LIFE SOMETIMES HAPPENS

Bryan Finley, LDO | Island Opticians, Palm Beach, FL | DATE CLOSED: May 2016

Bryan and Amie Finley

The original founder of the business, Stuart Villars, worked at Lugene Opticians on Worth Avenue, the luxury-shopping destination in Palm Beach, until they closed unexpectedly. Shortly after, he opened Villars Opticians on Peruvian Avenue, one block north of Worth. The business moved twice, but always stayed on Peruvian. In 2010, Mr. Villars decided it was time to relax a bit, and listed the business for sale. I was living in Oklahoma but saw the listing at a continuing education event I attended for licensing requirements in preparation for a move to Florida. I contacted Mr. Villars about purchasing it but, unfortunately, my then wife wasn’t interested in moving to Palm Beach, even though it was a tremendous opportunity. Mr. Villars sold the business to Christopher Moné, who renamed it Moné Optical Gallery.

After a short time in Florida, my marriage ended and I moved back to Oklahoma. I met Amie and we married. Again, I was looking for work opportunities in Florida when I saw a listing for a Moné Optical Gallery in Palm Beach. I told her: “No way, surely not!” She was excited about the prospect of owning our own business, so we contacted Chris Moné and struck a deal. We took over ownership and re-opened as Island Opticians on our first wedding anniversary, providing independent eyewear to the people of Palm Beach.

Although a bit stressful due to seasonality (Palm Beach has about 2,000 year-round residents but swells to 9,000 in winter), we loved our little 300 sq. ft boutique … But then life started to happen. Three months after opening, one of our daughters told us she was going to have a baby. Then, four months after that, another daughter called with the same news! Suddenly, we were going to have grandkids 1,500 miles away. Not long after the grandkids were born, our parents started having some medical issues. We tried traveling back to Oklahoma frequently to see the kids, grandkids and parents, but eventually we decided it was important and necessary to be near our family on a regular basis, so we made the difficult decision to sell the business after only two years.

We listed the business for sale on several optical forums and sites. After several inquiries, we reached an agreement in principle to sell to an optician, so we finalized all of our moving plans. One month before the sale was to be finalized, our buyer and her financier went in a different direction. Suddenly we had no buyer and no backup plan. With no time left to find a new buyer, we went into liquidation mode. We quickly had mailers printed to send to all of our clients and potential customers, with an aggressive going-out-of-business campaign. Everybody loves a good deal, even affluent people, so we were able to sell the majority of our product in one month. I ended up staying in Palm Beach a few weeks longer than Amie; she had already committed to a start date on a new job.

Since we were an LLC, the transition was fairly simple. We just had to notify the state that we were ceasing operations. As for communicating our plans to employees — no employees, so that was easy!

The first lesson we learned was: Have a good long-term plan and plenty of capital! Realize that starting or selling a business, should the need arise, doesn’t happen quickly; have patience. Be flexible. At the end of the day, integrity is the most important thing you offer as a proprietor.

Our advice for others is to have a Plan A, Plan B and Plan C!

QUICK Q&A

What was your greatest concern about giving up ownership?
Would we recover our investment? Would we ever have such a unique ownership opportunity again? After being owners, could we be happy working for someone else? Can we trust someone else to take care of our long-time clients?

Is there a patient encounter that stands out when they found out?
Many clients called in that last month to express their disappointment. Tears were shed. Mr. Villars, upon hearing the news, called to express how crazy he thought we were, but I think he was mostly sad to see the business close. One client offered to buy the business if we’d stay!

How would you describe the emotions you went through?
It was a bit heartbreaking. I felt like I was letting Mr. Villars down, and I was sad that my “retirement plan” wasn’t going to come to fruition. But we were both excited to spend more time with family.

Would you do anything differently?
I wouldn’t have been in such a hurry to sell.

What did you do to help overcome doubt?
We just reminded ourselves of the importance of family, and that things don’t create happiness.

How do you feel about the outcome?
We’re okay with how things have turned out, and plan to return to Florida, but as retirees instead of owners! We miss owning Island Opticians, but there is a certain level of anxiety that comes with ownership that we don’t miss.

Now what?
We tried working in private practice again, but just couldn’t get past knowing how to get things done better than our employers, because we’d been both opticians and owners. So, we decided to become brand ambassadors for some of our favorite independent lines. We still work together and are able to plan our travel schedule around our family activities. We do things a lot differently than most frame reps; we bought an RV that we live and travel our six-state territory in. This way, we’re “home” every night. We’re still technically owners as independent contractors, but have a little less anxiety now!

 

HANDING OVER YOUR BABY

Shimul Shah, OD | Marysville Family Vision, Marysville, OH | DATE SOLD: September 2018

The practice began as an ophthalmology practice. I purchased it in 2012. I practice general optometry and the patient base is very family oriented.

Accepting it was time to end ownership was a slow, painful realization that finally took a friend telling me that I would be just signing up for years of being unhappy and financially unsettled if I didn’t. It took a lot of introspection to realize I wasn’t able to accomplish what I wanted. I am very risk averse when it comes to money, and the one thing you need in growing a business is the ability to invest in it financially.

I had started asking around a little but was not actively looking for an exit strategy. When two different people gave me the same name to reach out to, I thought I should give it a try. I was hesitant to make promises and was willing to hold off until I knew that the practice, patients and my staff would all be treated with care.

A lawyer generated a Memor­andum of Understanding to get my intentions on paper and list what I wanted and was not willing to budge on. An accountant helped come up with a price and negotiate the sale. The biggest help was my family, who served as my sounding board.

Shimul Shah, OD

When it came time to communicate the change, I spoke with each employee and made sure they knew that a part of my agreement with the new owner was their position, the hours they would be working and the pay. I needed them to know it was something I had to do for myself and that I had made every effort to make sure they were taken care of.

We sent emails to all patients letting them know the business was turning a page but the doctor, staff, products and service were not changing. They seem accepting of what has occurred.

One surprise is that I find myself slightly disconnected from the profession at the moment. I went to a conference recently where I found myself wanting to attend and listen to practice management talks but didn’t know how I could implement anything now that it wasn’t my position to worry about those things anymore. I want to refocus on patient care, but changing gears has been challenging.

The process of deciding to give away ownership of something is a grueling one. I had to really think about my life and what I wanted out of it, and whether the good outweighed the bad. I learned on a deeper level what my strengths and weaknesses were and how each contributed to the conversation, and the ultimate decision, to start placing my efforts elsewhere and to pass the practice on to more willing and able hands.

My advice to others is to have good advisers in your corner. Be specific and diligent about what you want, but know that without compromise you will probably never find anyone that’s good enough to take over your “baby.”

QUICK Q&A

What was your greatest concern about giving up ownership?
Being an employee in a space where I’m used to being in charge. Secondly, I was nervous I would lose the passion I’d had for the practice’s success.

Is there a patient encounter that stands out when they found out?
Every encounter I’ve had has been positive and supportive! I don’t think patients care so much about the behind-the-scenes stuff as long as there is continuity of services.

How would you describe the emotions you went through?
I felt a myriad of emotions ranging from failure to anxiety, sadness, and excitement. At times, I felt I was abandoning my patients, staff and Marysville. At others, I felt like I was letting down all the people that had so much faith in me. Now that it’s over, I feel peace, stability and anticipation for the future.

Would you do anything differently? No.

What did you do to help overcome doubt?
I reminded myself that the current situation was unsustainable. I could potentially keep going for another six months, maybe even a year, but ultimately that would just be delaying the peace of mind I was so desperate for.

Are you happy with the outcome? Yes

Now what?
My plans include making more time for traveling, cooking, reading, and spending time with friends and family. I may get involved in the political and legislative branches of optometry and see how I can use my talents to help optometry grow in a different context.

 

PRIVATE PRACTICE TO PRIVATE EQUITY

Carol Record, OD | Drs. Record & Record | Charlottesville, VA | DATE SOLD: February 2016

Steve Record and I graduated from SUNY Optometry in 1982. It was the heyday of extended wear contact lenses and retail optometry was just beginning to advertise for eye exams, eyeglasses and contact lenses. We moved to upstate New York and worked retail optometry as our first jobs. We saw many patients and fit lots of contact lenses. We wanted to work in private practice and eventually own a practice, but not in upstate New York. The population was not growing. We felt we needed to move south to a town that was experiencing growth; preferably a college town.

After exploring established practice opportunities in Virginia, none seemed quite right. Once we accumulated enough capital to open a practice we moved to Charlottesville and opened cold. We opened in August 1983 and were the first in town to advertise our services for eye exams and contact lenses. Looking back, it is hard to believe we survived and actually made enough to pay our bills. Fortunately, we were able to live off the income we made from optometric employment and both had part time jobs working one hour away. Within five years we gave up all outside employment.

Our practice grew from zero patients, to two offices, four doctors, and over twenty employees. We embraced medical eyecare, added new equipment each year, and were fortunate to experience growth every year we were in practice.

Before we knew it, our children graduated college and we were advised that we had enough money saved to retire whenever we wanted. We were in our late 50s. I still had the mindset of growing the practice, perhaps adding an additional location, but Steve wanted to retire and I did not want to do it alone. We sought the advice of Al Cleinman of Cleinman Performance Partners to map out our options. We learned there were fewer buyers able to purchase a large practice as a whole. The better option was to sell each location. We were also informed it usually takes a few years to sell, so we retained him to help us transition our practice.

Selling a practice takes time and there are lots of facets to it. Finding a buyer willing to provide a fair deal is perhaps the hardest part. Legal and accounting documents will be needed. Will you work for the new owner? For how long? What will your employment contract look like? What will you do with the real estate? We were lucky to have an unsolicited offer from MyEyeDr that we could not walk away from. Cleinman, having brokered many practice sales, knows a good offer from a bad one and advised us as such. He also walked us through the details, along with our attorney, financial planner and accountant. From the time we decided to look for a buyer to the time we actually sold took about 2.5 years and MyEyeDr purchased all the assets.

We have many colleagues who are transitioning their practice. In all cases, the employees are informed of the sale of the practice once it is definite that the deal will go through. In our case, we informed our employees one month prior to closing. Since Steve and I were employed by MyEyeDr, MyEyeDr informed our patients of our new affiliation. As it came closer to the time when I would retire, I thanked my patients, hugged them and told them it would be the last time I saw them professionally. Often it was my retired patients who said “You can’t retire. Who am I going to see for eyecare?” Most patients thanked me for their care and congratulated me.

I consult with doctors at least once a month about practice transitions. The first thing I tell them is “no matter who you sell your practice to, your practice will change.” Second, I inform them that “the best deal for your practice is the deal that is best for you.” Everybody’s situation is different. The longer you work in the practice after the sale, the more valuable the practice is.

For the doctor who is unsure they should sell their practice I’d ask first, “What do you plan to do after? Will you continue to work? Will you change careers?” If you plan to retire I can assure you, you will be surprised at how busy you will be. Volunteer opportunities abound. New hobbies and games are ready for you to explore. New friendships will form, and the extra free time you now have will let you experience life’s moments with greater joy and enthusiasm.

QUICK Q&A

How would you describe the emotions you went through during the process?
I was consumed by worry about giving up control… but I found it quite liberating to see patients and go home. Once I left the office, work was behind me.

Would you have done anything differently?
I speak at Cleinman’s Practice Transitions Conference and have learned a lot about transitioning a practice. There are various options you and your new owner may have that I was unaware of. This type of meeting did not exist when I sold. I wished it had. The transition will go a lot smoother if you allow someone who has experience in practice transitions help you.

What did you do to help overcome doubt?
I reminded myself that the business of health care was changing and eyecare was no exception. Colleagues I respected and considered good businessmen were also selling their practices to private equity. Health care professionals may not think of their practices as businesses, but they are and business models change.

Are you happy with the outcome?
If you are anything like me, your practice is something you are very proud of. It is very emotional to give up what you have taken years to build, you want to be sure your patients will be cared for the way they need to be taken care of. Fortunately, the next generation of optometrists are very bright and take very good care of patients. Throughout the sale process, even up until the last week, I wondered if I was making the right decision. My husband encouraged me it was the right thing to do. Now, I am so happy I sold.

How are you spending your time post-ownership?
I have been fortunate to continue my optometric affiliations by serving as secretary treasurer of AOA’s Optometry Cares Board, co-chairing the HEHC community grant program, speaking on optometry topics, and up until last fall, serving on the disbanded Essilor Advisory Board. Not a day goes by however, where I don’t think about starting a venture to bring new optometric services to the members of my community.

 

LEAVING A LEGACY

Michael Cohen, OD | Four County Family Eye Care Center, Winslow Township, NJ | Sold business: TBD

our County Family Eye Care Center opened on Sept. 11, 1973 in the Winslow Professional Center of Tansboro/ Berlin/ Winslow Township, NJ, three months after I graduated from Pennsylvania College of Optometry. My father, Dr. Philip Cohen, learned about the center from a patient of his who was friendly with the building’s owner. We decided it looked like a good place to open a new optometric practice, signed a lease, and began planning to lay out and equip the office.

My wife and I made address labels on a typewriter and had announcement cards printed. We mailed out thousands of cards and on the day we opened, I prayed for good business. In those days, if I saw one or two patients a day, I considered myself lucky. I spent most of my time watching General Hospital and writing a digest for my wife, who was keeping us afloat teaching at a local school. I grossed $33,000 that first year. No insurance. No credit cards. Cash only. I made patients’ glasses by hand in my optical lab.

A couple years later, the owner lost the building in a bankruptcy. I decided to look for real estate to purchase and build a new office on. A patient and local realtor, Ursula Christinzio, found me a location nearby; a vintage 1850s farm house sitting on 1.5 acres on the highway at an intersection with a county road. I opened Four County Family Eye Care Center on June 1, 1979.

I’ve been in optometric practice in Winslow Township for 45 years offering comprehensive eye exams, diagnosis and treatment, and contact lens and eyeglass fitting. We counsel patients about LASIK and do the follow-up care, treat glaucoma, and make referrals to many ophthalmic sub-specialists in the region. I have three full-time staff and three part-time. My office manager started working for me at 17 years old; she is now 47. People tend to stay on for years; it is better to pamper your staff and keep them happy, than it is to abuse them, lose them, and train new people!

Michael Cohen, OD

I realized it was time to think about ending my ownership and retiring when my wife informed me that she hates the cold and would like to spend winters in a warmer clime. Also, I noticed that most of my patients my age are now retired and very few of my peers were alive and well and still running their own practices.

My ideal exit strategy would be to find an honest, talented, skilled, clever, caring, and compassionate OD who would be willing to purchase both the real estate and my practice and allow me the luxury of still seeing patients.

I worry that, if my staff get wind that I am thinking about retiring, they will look for employment elsewhere. Hiring and training staff is costly, time-consuming, and fraught with peril. Also, is it fair to hire someone when you are planning on leaving? When I have confirmation I am throwing in the towel, I’ll meet with my employees and lay my cards on the table.

I lead a very busy life now. Selling my property, as well as my practice, is time-consuming. I’ve spoken to a number of professional practice brokers, all of whom concur my gross revenue does not justify them getting involved. They all said I should sell it myself and I would like to continue seeing patients for two more years, provided my health holds up.

Every day, my long-time patients query me about my plans. I’ve been honest with them. I’d love to slow down but I don’t see any way out. Everyone encourages me to stay on … then they tell me how much they enjoy their retirement. My advice to other ODs looking to transition out of ownership is to try and build a business that has sufficient gross revenue to justify a professional broker skilled at doing all of the things that I must now do myself.

QUICK Q&A

How would you describe the emotions you are experiencing as you begin this process?
I am feeling quite inadequate to meet this challenge. I have a fear of failure.

Is there anything you wish you had done differently to prepare for this?
I did it my way! I have always been true to myself, my family, my staff, my patients/friends. If I have to turn off the lights, lock the doors, and not look back, I really have no regrets. I’ve helped a great many people over the years.

What do you do to help overcome doubt?
I talk to friends who are older than I am and find out how they were able to live so long and so well. I attend religious services weekly to meditate through prayer. I’ve discovered that Tai Chi and Quigong help me divest myself of my monkey brain. I call this my standing meditation. I occasionally use a therapist friend to bounce ideas off, when I cannot seem to move a big rock that is blocking my progress.

What would make you happiest with the final outcome?
I would love to see someone take the baton and run with it after I am gone.

How do you plan on spending your retirement?
Workout at the gym ten hours a week, travel to new places, spend time with my children and grandchildren and maybe spoil them a bit. Find people less fortunate and extend a helping hand. Go to synagogue on Saturday mornings, read the classics, watch great shows, eat great food at the best restaurants, and take in some Broadway shows now and then.

Since launching in 2014, INVISION has won 23 international journalism awards for its publication and website. Contact INVISION's editors at editor@invisionmag.com.

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Best of Eyecare

The Big Survey 2019 – The Basics

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THE BIG SURVEY 2019

Who is the American ECP? How does he or she do business? What are the main challenges they face? Our inaugural Big Survey set out to find the answers and 505 owners and managers of American vision businesses answered our call. Here are the results.

The Basics

We find it’s always best to start at the beginning … the basic stuff that makes up so much of your business’ identity. The Who, What, How and Where are all here; we’ll get into the fun stuff — like how much and what’s selling ­— later on.

1. Need to swing on chandeliers? Head to Missouri: 60 percent of stores have these fixtures.
2. They don’t take kindly to strangers asking questions in South Dakota. It, along with Louisiana and New Mexico, were the only states not to be represented in our survey.
3. Michigan ECPs are some of the hardest working in the industry: 25 percent work more than 50 hours a week.
4. Eyewear trend capital? That might just be New York where 21 percent of ECPs thought of themselves as being primarily in the fashion business (as opposed to health or retail), the highest level in the land.
5. Move over Austin. Connecticut was tops for self-declared weirdness with ECPs there giving themselves an average score of 8.2 out of 10 on our oddball scale.
6. Ohio ECPs have been listening to our sales experts – 44 percent use role-playing in training staff.
7. Florida had the most male owners and managers in our survey at 76 percent. Washington state had the most female owners at 86 percent.
8. Is there something in the water in the Midwest? ECPs in a band of states from Illinois to Ohio to Missouri were the happiest vision professionals (along with their cousins in NJ), with half or more (50-57%) ranking themselves 9 or higher out of 10 for professional satisfaction.
9. North Carolina vision businesses have among the highest turnover rates in the country, with 72 percent saying their staff stay less than 4 years.
10. Californian ECPs were the least likely to own their places of business with 82 percent renting. Must have been those pesky legal limitations…
11. Kansans were most likely to be open on Sunday with one in four stores and practices open on this traditional “rest” day.

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1. How many locations does your business have?

One
74%
Two
13%
Three to five
8%
Six or more
5%

2. Please indicate the type of location that houses your store:

Free-standing building
43%
A strip mall
22%
Business park or office building
16%
Downtown storefront
9%
Lifestyle center
3%
In a hospital/medical wing/health center
3%
The Internet
1%
Mobile practice
1%
A mall
1%
Other
2%

3. Do you own or rent your business property?

Own
39%
Rent
62%
NA (For online and mobile only businesses)
2%
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4. How well are things going in your business this year?

COMMENT: As our heat map shows, there’s very little to be blue about for an ECP right now. Note that white indicates states with statistically invalid responses. Figures in parentheses represent the number of survey responses.

5. How would you describe the market where your store is located?

Large city
15%
Medium-sized city (250,000-1 million people)
24%
Small city (25,000 to 250,000)
29%
Country town (up to 25,000)
13%
Resort area
1%
Other
1%

6. How long has your business been in operation?

COMMENT: Businesses that have been in operation for 11-20 years seem to be this survey’s sweet spot. Not only did they slightly edge out other lengths of time in business, as seen above, but those in business for that long also reported the highest proportion of revenue between $500K-$1.5M (50%).
Wondering what the rest of this group’s demos looked like? Well, 59 percent classified themselves as a private practice with a strong focus on retail, 49 percent were in the South and 39 percent operated out of a freestanding building in a small city or suburb. Forty-five percent of owners in business for that long reported salaries over $100,000 and, best of all, the majority reported their satisfaction with their professional life at an 8 or higher (66%).

7. Which description of your business do you most closely identify with?

Hospital or VA setting
1%
Medical model private practice, no retail
1%
Medical model private practice, small dispensarybuilding
22%
Private practice, strong focus on retail
53%
Corporate optometry location
3%
Eyewear boutique, employed or leased OD
10%
Eyewear boutique, no OD
9%
Mobile optician
1%

8. How big is your (main) location?

Less than 500 sq. ft.
4%
500-999 sq. ft.
10%
1,000-1,499 sq. ft.
24%
1,500-1,999 sq. ft.
17%
2,000-2,499 sq. ft.
15%
2,500-2,999 sq. ft.
11%
3,000-3,999 sq. ft.
8%
4,000-5,000 sq. ft.
6%
More than 5,000 sq. ft.
5%

9. Check the paid services you offer:

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The Big survey

The Big Survey: Marketing and Operations

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47. Which gets the largest portion of your marketing budget?

Print
13%
Community events (including sponsorships)
12%
Direct mail
10%
Other social media marketing
8%
Paid search (PPC, Google Ads, etc.)
7%
Facebook
7%
Email marketing
7%
Radio
5%
SEO
5%
Television
2%
Billboards
2%
Other
3%
Don’t advertise
19%

 

NOTE: There’s a saying that the only way to grow in business is to innovate or advertise. We suspect the 19 percent of ECPs who said they don’t advertise are relying on word of mouth to sustain their business. Still, it appears to pay to be more active: 25 percent of the ECPs who told the Big Survey the last two years had been their worst ever also don’t advertise. That compares to just 14 percent of those who said those years had been their best ever.

48. WWhich of the following social media/business networks do you actively use on a professional basis?

Facebook
88%
Google
50%
Instagram
46%
LinkedIn
19%
Twitter
13%
YouTube
7%
Pinterest
5%
Other
5%

49. How many in-store events (incl. trunk shows) do you hold a year?

0
46%
1–2
37%
3–4
12%
5–11
3%
12 or more
2%

50. Is your marketing mostly intended to build brand awareness or prompt an immediate action from customers?

Brand building
38%
Direct response
41%
Not sure
21%

 

NOTE: ECPs are better served by advertising that makes their business top of mind when a customer needs medical help or frames, says Wizard of Ads author Roy H Williams. Sometimes a direct response campaign is needed, but be sure “to make a highly impressive offer or you’ll be…disappointed.” Using such campaigns, be sure you aren’t simply training your market to wait for the next big sale.

51. What is your Google My Business (Review) rating?

5 stars
39%
4.5 stars
32%
4 stars
9%
3.5 stars
3%
3 stars
1%
2.5 stars
0%
2 stars
0%
1.5 stars
0%
1 star
0%
Don’t have one
16%

52. How many Google Reviews does your business have?

0
12%
1-10
24%
11-20
20%
21-30
9%
31-40
9%
41-50
6%
51-75
5%
76-100
5%
101-150
4%
151-250
3%
More than 250
3%

53. The economy is in its longest expansion ever. History says it must come to a stop sooner or later. Are you doing anything now to get ready for the next downturn?

The 5 most popular answers were:

  1. Reduce/eliminate debt
  2. Save money
  3. Streamline inventory
  4. Create budget-conscious frame/lens packages
  5. Growing/strengthening patient base

Want actual specifics? These are some respondents’ standout strategies:

  • We are fine tuning the patient experience to increase patient retention in the future.
  • Increase marketing.
  • Opening a second location in a more affluent area.
  • Reducing inventory away from giant companies that expect you to buy more than you can sell.
  • Limiting hiring and paying down debt aggressively.
  • Selling the business and retiring.
  • Praying.
  • Getting expenses under control now.
  • Trying to cut debt and increase margins without affecting quality.
  • Staying debt free.
  • Putting money into savings every month and being careful about how much we spend on frames.
  • Buying less and keeping less back stock.
  • Controlling inventory and staffing.
  • Carrying a budget frame lens package.
  • Added in-house edging to manage overhead costs and offer less expensive lenses.
  • Consolidating costs, expanding customer loyalty/dependence on private label brand to capture benefits-only and prescription-only customers.
  • Staff training to improve customer service and patient experience.
  • Building the war chest to buy when others start to fail.
  • Ensuring reserve account is at a high enough level.
  • Staying open later, making fewer purchases, consolidating buying groups, looking at services (phone, internet) to see if we can trim.
  • Creating eyeglass packages to compete with online retailers based on price then we’ll blow them away with service for a similar price.
  • Taking a hard look at our demographic and reevaluating frame brands and lens offerings so we have the proper mix and are purchasing the best way.
  • Buying extra frame and lens stock at good discounts. Also, actively asking current patients for referrals.
  • Retaining 15% of net profit for the economy downturn. I have nine months of business expenses saved.
  • Preparing to sell package deals and considering a sale to private equity.
  • Moving towards a medical model.
  • All cash buying.
  • 11% of each transaction is put away for a downturn.
  • Postponing future expansion.
  • Limiting extra inventory; reducing look alike styles.
  • Voting.
  • Building a nuclear bunker and buying lots of canned food.
  • Been selling CBD products in office for two years.
  • Direct shipping eyewear to reduce cost in office.
  • Invested in private label brands and have more flexible terms with our frame lines.
  • Offer package plans starting at $29 and up; many patients already    use this.
  • Controlling inventory. We are already seeing a much slower year this year.
  • Holding more cash.
  • Not accepting vision plans! Private pay and medical care are the most reliable in depressed economies.

54. Check the features your business has:

Customer bathroom
85%
Sofa/sitting area
66%
Satellite radio
33%
Free wifi/charging station
32%
Bar/beverage area
29%
TVs used for promotional purposes
28%
Paperless patient registration
24%
Kids’ room
23%
TV for entertainment purposes
21%
Viewing window into the lab
16%
iPads for patient or display purposes
15%
Chandeliers
10%
Selfie wall
8%
Store pet
7%
Fireplace
5%
Fish tank
4%

55. How long since you last remodeled?

1 year or less
19%
2 years
14%
3-5 years
34%
6-10 years
18%
More than 10 years
15%

 

NOTE: It’s been over 6 years since one-third of our ECPs remodeled. That’s leaving it a bit long, says Lori Estrada of Fashion Optical Displays. “The rule is to remodel/refresh every 5-7 years, but only the more progressive doctors seem to do that. A remodeled dispensary typically sees an increase of (at least) 15 percent,” she says.

56. What days is your business open?

Sunday
7%
Monday
92%
Tuesday
98%
Wednesday
96%
Thursday
98%
Friday
96%
Saturday
55%

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The Big survey

The Big Survey 2019 – Management and Staff

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Published

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35. What is the top staffing challenge you face?

Recruiting
33%
Keeping staff motivated
25%
Boosting productivity
18%
Retaining top talent
14%
No major staffing challenges
2%
No staff
2%
Training/education/changing billing protocols
2%
Aging staff
1%
Payroll costs/staff insurance
1%
Other
2%
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38. Which staff position is hardest to fill with qualified people?

Insurance biller
8%
Salesperson
7%
Optician
38%
Optical manager
4%
Associate OD
6%
Receptionist
13%
Scribe
1%
Tech
9%
N/A
14%

39-40. If you have full-time employees, did any quit in the last 12 months? If so, what was the reason?

41. What is the average tenure of your staff?

42. How often do you hold staff meetings?

43. Where did you find your best-ever employee?

Online advertisement
17%
Staff reference
15%
Peer/vendor reference
14%
Recruited from another optical store/inherited from ex-owner
10%
Former patient/customer (or referred by)
9%
Recruited from another retail location
5%
Ad in the paper
5%
Family/friend, or reference from family/friend
4%
Employment service
4%
Walked in/cold contact
2%
Career fair/local association/campus
2%
Previous co-worker
1%
Sign in the front window
1%
Served me as a waiter/waitress
1%
Other
1%
NA
9.36%
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44. What techniques do you use in your staff training?

Sessions with sales reps
25%
Lectures/seminars/courses/outside trainers/webinars
24%
Role playing
11%
Buddy training
10%
NA
10%
Staff trips
10%
Outside reading assignments/self-study/personal goal-setting
6%
Mystery shopping
1%
Brainstorming/lunch meetings/’bitch’ sessions
1%
One-on-one with doc or manager
1%
Case studies/scenarios
0.5%
Conventions
0.5%

45. What takes up most of your time?

Patient/customer interactions (incl. pre-testing, CL fittings, exams)
32%
Working on the sales floor
17%
MVP/insurance/EHR/billing/paperwork/general admin.
14%
Managing staff
12%
Strategizing, marketing and planning
9%
Active patient/customer development
7%
Managing boards/inventory/buying
5%
Everything: No individual task stands out
2%
Lab work
1%

*A special thanks to the respondent who replied “Taking surveys…”)

COMMENT: Digging into the findings, it seems the medical side of the industry is the most demanding in terms of staff management; optometric practices were three times more likely to report it as their top time burner than opticals with no OD. Intriguingly, owners of non-OD boutiques were far more likely to spend their time strategizing, marketing and planning; a nod to the ever-shifting shape of today’s retail world?

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46. What’s the most inappropriate or strangest thing you’ve caught an employee doing on the job?

From the sublime (“Unraveling a Bird of Paradise leaf”) to the ridiculous (“Smelling things out of habit”) to the…. even more ridiculous (“Admiring parmesan cheese”), the responses we got to this seemingly innocent question left us a little disturbed. Here’s a mildly alarming snapshot of the things that weirded our respondents out most about their employees. (What’s with all the toenail clipping….?)

The 6 Most Commonly Cited, in Descending Order:

  1. Sleeping
  2. Clipping/painting toenails
  3. Sex/self-gratification/ porn/sexting
  4. Doing drugs/drinking
  5. Applying for another job/secretly working second job on computer
  6. Stealing

Here’s a selection of some of the most memorably weird things employees have been caught doing on the job:

  • “Selling Amway”
  • “Porn in the bathroom connected via bluetooth to headphone in the lab. It was very loud….”
  • “Feeding baby bunnies she snuck in.”
  • “Putting a miniature live frog in her mouth.”
  • “We once had a (short lived) female employee who was dealing with a ‘sensitive health issue in her genital area’ place a fan in front of her chair and sit in it with her legs spread around the fan… all at the front desk!”
  • “We had an employee who was searching for a ‘Second Wife’ on CraigsList. Needless to say, that employee did not last long.”
  • “Eating snacks out of her bra while in the exam room scribing for the doctor.”
  • “They brought a blender from home and were making smoothies in the breakroom on the clock.”
  • “Making sinkers out of metal blocking material.”
  • “Telling a patient that they didn’t need glasses just as patient exited the exam room with a prescription in hand.”

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