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Positive Reception

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I’m old enough to recall my mother struggling to find room in an overflowing ashtray to stub out her cigarette as the dental assistant arrived to usher us in to the dentist’s office. I also remember that visit not going well, and my mother muttering something about how she should have stuck with the last guy. Whether the issue was the ashtray or the service I don’t recall. The distinction doesn’t actually matter: According to the Patientpop blog, a 2009 survey conducted at outpatient clinics in New York City found a direct positive correlation between aesthetically appealing waiting rooms and patient opinions about doctors’ visits.

We’re confident that overstuffed ashtrays are not a concern in your optical in 2018, but if you feel your waiting area could use a lift to add to your patients’ overall experience, we’ve rounded up eight things to keep in mind, gleaned from the “experts” and the real experts — our loyal Brain Squad members.

REFRESHMENTS
5 Poking around the waiting area at Uber Optics in Petaluma, CA, you’ll find Red Vines, beer, wine, sparkling water and more. “We have a ton of red and white wine that we bust out about 3pm,” says owner Nancy Revis. “Lagunitas Brewery is a couple miles from the shop and we have a ton of customers that work there and bring us beer. We have a Keurig and half and half in the fridge.” (Which reminds us: Waiting areas make fertile ground for cross-promotional activities.) Never to be outdone in this area, Dr. Cynthia Sayers at EyeShop Optical in Columbus, OH, has a full coffee bar and home-baked treats on Dessert Friday. “We always have a good array of coffees with flavored creamers and water for our patients. It is a place for families to hang out if everyone is not scheduled.”

ARTWORK

Displaying the work of local talent creates a community feel. Jennifer Leuzzi at Mill Creek Optical in Dansville, NY, added a kiosk of jewelry made by local artists. “We also had the ceiling painted by a local girl inspired by a shop I visited in Germany. She hid a few things in it so we ask people to look closely.” At Uber Optics, Nancy Revis got the family involved: The art was done by her father-in-law, Johan Revis.

LAYOUT
5 Think about the customers you see most. Are you in an office park or near a school? Have you thought about a niche for laptop-touting professionals or a kids’ corner? Do you want people waiting throughout the store (with, as Dr. Scott Keating at Vision Trends in Dover, OH, puts it, “the optical smack in their face”), or in a comfortable, discrete area? A good rule of thumb we picked up from Revis at Uber Optics: If you’re comfortable there, your customers will be too. It’s important her shop feels like home, because, “I live there. It is my second home. I want them to come in and feel comfortable too.” Also, remember that the waiting area isn’t all about the customer. “It’s more an area for the person that isn’t shopping; the one there for support,” she observes.

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Furniture
5 On this one, you’re probably better off going in one of two directions: Sheer comfort with a home-like feel, or an eye-pleasing consistency with the rest of your space to support branding. This way you’ll be enhancing a sense of professionalism, keeping your patients comfortable, or both. What you don’t want is an ugly middle ground – used office furniture that inspires neither comfort nor confidence. Furnishings play a big part in making your waiting area distinctive; Brain Squad members mentioned everything from sofas and bean bags to futons and repurposed church pews.

COMMUNITY CONNECTION
5 You know your clientele better than any big box could ever hope to. Successful waiting areas reflect this relationship. One of the most outstanding examples we’ve seen is Buena Vista Optical in Chicago, IL. “We cater to Hispanic Familias (I am Latina, so I can talk about the elephant in the room),” says co-owner Diana Cantos-Sims. “We have two waiting rooms. We may have one patient on the schedule but if she is getting contact lenses, she brought her siblings, cousins and grandma. Catering to Hispanic families, we learned that they go to doctor appointments with their entire family and this is a great opportunity to educate them all and have them make appointments for everyone.”

KIDS (Big & Small)
5 Don’t pretend they’ll sit and be good. “Color therapy!” says Heather Harrington at Elevated Eyecare in Denver, CO. “We have coloring pages for all ages.” Our personal favorite? Etch-a-Sketches. “Our patients cut if they find themselves in the reception area longer than a few minutes,” says Leah Johnson at Central Texas Eye Center in San Marcos, TX. “But they can go back to childhood with our Etch-a-Sketches. Super fun and unexpected.”


TECHNOLOGY
5 Beyond Wi-Fi, are you charger friendly? Tablets with access to healthcare information and self check-in kiosks are growing more popular. Educational videos are encouraged, but don’t overdo it: A study by Gary A. Nyberg and Christine Guzzo Vickery, found only 41 percent of respondents want to watch TV in a waiting room. The top activities were reading (95 percent) and using mobile phones (57 percent).

WAIT NO MORE…
5 Dr. Ted McElroy of Vision Source Tifton, in Tifton, GA, thinks it’s best to minimize the wait. “We have clocks attached to the clipboards with each guest’s information. We set the timer for 17 minutes. If it goes off, they’re given a complementary Optomap. We apologize and tell them we’re ‘buying your pictures for your wait.’”

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America's Finest

Want 15 Years of Growth While Keeping Your Team Close and Building the Optical of Your Dreams? This Tennessee Practice Can Show You How

They knew if they treated patients right, the business would succeed.

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Spring Hill Eyecare, Spring Hill, TN

OWNER: Rob Szeliga, OD; URL:springhilleyecare.com; FOUNDED: 2005; YEAR OPENED FEATURED LOCATION: 2018; ARCHITECT AND DESIGN FIRMS: Rob Stensland, Optometric Architects (architect); Amy LeAnn Szeliga (interior designer); EMPLOYEES: 13 full-time, 4 part-time; AREA: 8,300 sq. ft.; TOP BRANDS: Dailies Total 1/Multifocals, Kate Spade, Costa, Shamir, neurolens; FACEBOOK: facebook.com/springhilleyecare; INSTAGRAM: instagram.com/springhilleyecare; BUILDOUT COST: $1.6 million


ROB SZELIGA MOVED to Spring Hill, TN, about 30 miles south of Nashville, with his family as a teenager in 1993. They were in the vanguard of an influx that has seen the population grow from 1,200 to over 40,000. He graduated from Southern College of Optometry (SCO) in 2005 and opened Spring Hill Eyecare “ice cold.” He and his wife Amy had a clear idea of what they wanted the business to be: a practice that offers the total package and only refers when surgery is needed. “I spent 100 percent of my time and energy growing my practice — not filling in elsewhere,” he recalls. “Luckily, I had strong support — a wife teaching elementary school and my mom and two sisters as my first employees. We knew that if we treated patients right, the practice would grow.” They started with 1,200 square feet, their newborn son Jackson literally growing up in the office. “My second lane didn’t have a phoropter, it had a crib,” says Szeliga. By their 10th anniversary they already had one major expansion under their belt and needed another.

Spring Hill Eyecare owner Rob Szeliga OD with his wife Amy and family.

The Szeliga’s found their dream location in a vacant 1870 farmhouse, but the structure would require demolition if it was going to work. “Without the proper approach, this would not be well received in a community growing as fast as Spring Hill, and quickly losing its small-town charm,” recalls Szeliga. They posted a letter on their blog explaining their plans, and this honest approach elicited overwhelmingly positive feedback online.
In the months before the house and barns were demolished, Szeliga would leave work, change clothes and get busy reclaiming their great features, including 11 fireplace mantles, original barnwood/beadboard, old doors (now frame boards), giant parlor doors, live edge maple breakroom tables milled from original trees, wavy glass muntin windows, and a cast-iron tub flower bed. The new building’s layout centered around preserving a giant, centuries-old oak tree.

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The juxtaposition of the salvaged fixtures and curios with the practice’s modern equipment lends a unique vibe to the exam rooms, each of which has a theme, including “garage” (the practice’s logo painted on a 1940s truck door) and “music” (with 100-year-old instruments) to name just two. Spring Hill Eyecare’s dry eye treatment center is called The Greenhouse after the one on the original property. “You go in the room with dry eyes facing old rusty tools,” says Szeliga. “When you get up from the massaging chair your view is of lush plants and flowers; you leave refreshed.”

Catering to the town’s expanding demographic, the team sees everyone from InfantSEE babies to geriatric patients. Among its numerous specialty facilities is a 900-sq-ft. sports vision/vision therapy center.
Szeliga used to spend about $400 a month on newspaper ads, but he says that all changed when, for a one-time fee of that same amount, he hired a patient to install a marquee sign under the practice’s street sign. “When the sign is not describing an upcoming event, we try to keep it full of puns or statements about pop culture, particularly eye-related ones.” He says simply keeping this sign funny and relevant generates enough community feedback and new patients that he doesn’t bother much with traditional marketing anymore.

Word of mouth is Spring Hill Eyecare’s other main form of advertising, much of it generated by creatively cultivating ties with the community through charitable and other events.  Examples include Kids’ Day and a Pre-Parade Hot Chocolate Party every year before the Christmas parade. “We even begged to get the parade path extended to go by our new location to keep this tradition,” Szeliga says. Spring Hill Eyecare sponsors many schools, teams and causes, but they also enjoy creating their own charitable events, like their “Give A Gobbler” Thanksgiving turkey campaign. The team “gobbles” loudly for donations. “For larger donations even our doctors gobble!”

One of the foundation cornerstones of the 1870s farmhouse that once stood on the site is displayed in the optical.

Szeliga says that while there are ECPs with flashier sites, he’s proud of the genuine feel he’s achieved with Spring Hill Eyecare’s online presence. “Too many websites have just generic stock photos … Our most popular posts are those involving personal photos or stories about myself, my family and my team.”

He credits the trust he has established with his prized team for much of Spring Hill Eyecare’s success. And it’s a quality he repays handsomely. A believer in continuing education, he has taken his team to the state optometry meeting for the last 10 years and to IDOC’s Orlando meeting the last five. But it’s not all work and study. “For our 2018 Christmas party I rented a Hummer limo for a Christmas lights tour and created a jigsaw puzzle to reveal clues about their Christmas gift: a four-night cruise to the Bahamas to celebrate an excellent 2018,” he says.

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Crucially, through all the rapid growth, the practice has never lost the close-knit feel of the early days. “While I no longer have family working at my office,” says Szeliga, “we’ve been able to keep the family atmosphere for 13 years.”

PHOTO GALLERY (26 IMAGES)

 

Five Cool Things About Spring Hill Eyecare

1. TV STARS. Szeliga’s repurposing of the old farmhouse that once stood on the site of the practice was featured in DIY Network’s Nashville Flipped series.

2. GOOGLE TOUR. Its website features a Google virtual tour: the photographers liked the building so much they shot extra rooms in exchange for being able to feature them on their website.

3. NEVER LEAVING. The coffee bar has two TVs, charging stations, customized coloring books for grownups, mini-fridge and a Keurig coffeemaker.

4. ACCOLADES GALORE. Office manager Melanie Jenkins was named Tennessee Paraoptometric of the year in 2018, SECO Paraoptometric of the year in 2019 and AOA Paraoptometric of the year in 2019.

5. WALKING ADS. At a community event this year staff had low-cost suns made with their logo and a sticker: “Redeem for $25 off a pair of sunglasses.” Only a few people did, but “others [wore] them around town,” says Szeliga. Next year’s target: high school marching bands.

WHAT THE JUDGES SAID

  • Outstanding community engagement throughout the planning and construction of their new location. Honoring the legacy of the former structure by incorporating materials and elements is a testament to their respect and concern for the community they serve. Nathan Troxell, PPG, Monroeville, PA
  • Spring Hill Eyecare has built an optical business that’s people- and purpose-focused, and they’ve fostered a growing business by organically growing their practice, while remaining true to providing quality eyecare in a welcoming environment. Stirling Barrett, KREWE, New Orleans, LA
  • The space is bonkers! Overall one of our faves! Leigh and Todd Rogers Berberian, Todd Rogers Eyewear, Andover, MA
  • The focus on local, independent optometry is evident across all aspects of the business. The website shines. It is easy to maneuver, has all the info one would be looking for and the imagery is great. I felt like I knew the practice and the doctor after visiting. The themed exam rooms are also a great idea as they create a relaxed, eclectic environment for their high-tech functions. Beverly Suliteanu, Westgroupe, Ville St-Laurent, Québec, Canada

 

Fine Story

Beneath a window in Spring Hill Eyecare’s optical, customers will find a hefty, timeworn, earth-stained rock that, while adding natural charm, clearly bears the marks of human shaping. It was one of the foundation cornerstones of the 1870 farmhouse that once stood on the site. The stone was hand-cut in the 1860s. Says Szeliga, “Opening my practice cold was a lot like the process of forming this hand-cut stone. It took patience — and patients! Like the old house, we started with a strong foundation that was built on two pearls I learned early: ‘What’s good for the patient is good for the practice,’ and ‘See everything we do from the patient’s point of view.’ Trends and tech are constantly changing…but we continually grow based on our strong foundation.”

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Benchmarks

Harnessing the Power of the Selfie to Boost Social Media Engagement, Drive Foot Traffic … and Have Fun

These five practices added an extra dimension to the optical experience and became genuine destinations.

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ONE OF THE defining characteristics of our modern retail world is that no purchase or experience, whether it’s buying sneakers or sitting down to a gourmet burrito, is really complete until it’s been photographed and posted to social media. iPads are even showing up in clothing store changing rooms. Like it or not, people are going to bring cameras into your store; the question is how to take control of that experience. Selfie walls or stations are a great way of doing this; they grow your social media following, increase customer engagement, drive foot traffic and boost your store’s fun quotient. There are sophisticated options out there—fully integrated systems for retailers, like Halo by Simple Booth, or The Digital Booth’s rental services, which are great for events—but you can get results using a smartphone and a colorfully branded sliver of free wall space in your optical. These five practices show us how it’s done.

Falls City Eye Care
Louisville, KY

Falls City Eye Care boasts two features that get customers taking snapshots of themselves. One is their trusty Polaroid camera—patients and friends are urged to snap a couple of photos, post one on a cork board in the optical and take the other home. The other is a 12-foot sculpture of a pair of frames in the front yard made especially for owners Dr. Michael and Theresa Martorana by a local artist. Falls City Eyecare now sees a steady stream of small groups and individuals stopping by to take selfies with the giant specs. City ordinances prevent them from labeling the sculpture, but customers usually find ways of slipping in a store-related hashtag themselves, Theresa says. “We were easy to walk right by on a busy fun street. Once the sculpture was created and painted, we became a destination.”

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Eye Love Optometry
Pinole, CA

EYE LOVE OPTOMETRY’s iPad-based selfie photo station allows photos to be taken and sent to smartphones and e-mail or shared on social media. Branded galleries can be made public, while owner Park L. Hsieh, OD and his team are sent marketing reports to track performance. Patients are given a “Selfie Card” that says, “We love that you love EYE LOVE OPTOMETRY! This is a ‘SELFIE CARD,’ so share your photos of your new eyewear with friends on INSTAGRAM/FACEBOOK.” The station uses Simple Booth’s Halo software, which makes the service fully customizable. “The appearance of the selfies taken are all consistent and in line with our desired brand,” says Hsieh. The sharing function leads to re-engagement long after the experience is over, he adds. “It’s a wonderful word-of-mouth marketing tool, which I think is invaluable.”

Eye Candy
Delafield and Mequon, WI

Eye Candy has smartly branded, professional-looking selfie stations at both of its locations in the Milwaukee area. The stations themselves are alcoves bound by three floor-to-ceiling walls, each covered in custom vinyl wallpaper with the Eye Candy logo. Owner Paula Hornbeck says her original inspiration for the design was the photo wall at the Oscars. When customers pick up their new eyewear, staff ask if they can take a picture for the store’s social media. “Some are shy and decline,” says Hornbeck, “but most are flattered and we encourage them to show us their personality. They take a seat on the stool provided and we take candid shots of them rocking their new look with our iPad. Some are silly, but they always look like they’re happy and having fun.” Family members are invited to join in the photo session. The images are used on Eye Candy’s Facebook and Instagram accounts. Hornbeck says the selfie stations are a definite plus for the business. “Friends and family will go on our FB and IG to see their loved one’s new look and hopefully get excited about coming in to get their own.”

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The Eyeglass Lass
New London, CT

What became The Eyeglass Lass’s selfie wall wasn’t originally designed for that purpose. Owner Siobhan Burns wanted to do something with the wall, which is visible from the street. “Local artist Rob Guess covered the wall with funky, graffiti-style eyes. The next day I asked someone to pose in front of it for their ‘glamour shot’ and boom: the selfie/eyeball wall was born.” It’s a low-tech affair. Says Burns: “This one woman show uses portrait mode on her phone!” Simple as it is, the feature “has turned into something great; people recognize frames from posts on social media, and ask if they can have their picture taken before I get a chance to ask them,” Burns says. “If we only see airbrushed models with frames superimposed on their faces, we don’t stop and think, ‘Oh yeah—I could wear that!” Besides which, “It’s another special thing that will stick out to your clientele that wraps up the individual experience they’ve had working with you.”

Optical Connection
Studio City, CA

Armen and Rita Kanberian at Optical Connection had an empty wall they didn’t know what to do with. They decided they wanted an area dedicated to fun. “We imported this beautiful patterned wallpaper from the U.K. and custom ordered our neon light hashtag, #wellframed. This has been such a great hit with clients, especially during our fun trunk shows and events,” says Rita, adding that the feature is now a firm customer favorite. “Having a place to have fun and see yourself try on different frames is what we love… We had a client who bought a dress with glasses and came in just to take pictures.”

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Best of the Best

At This Wellness-focused Pennsylvania Boutique, Eye Health is Just the Start

Combining eyecare and eyewear with a range of self-care offerings, they treat not just the eye, but the rest of the body as well.

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WHEN SISTERS DR. Giulia and Paola Tinari opened Sorella Optique and Eyecare in Paoli, PA, a suburb of Philadelphia, their aim was to go beyond treating vision and eye health in isolation. They see eyecare as an integral part of overall wellbeing and wanted their practice to reflect that.

THE IDEA

Both sisters have been involved in overall health and wellness since their college days. “We’ve always had a strong belief in healing from within and getting to the root cause of any problem,” says Paola. “We think it is important to blend Eastern and Western medicine when treating not only the eye but the rest of the body. When you practice a healthy way of living, then incorporating it into your business is second nature.”

THE EXECUTION

The emphasis on wellness is evident in the products and services offered at Sorella, the advice Dr. Tinari dispenses, and the overall patient experience. “We created a soothing environment so patients feel at ease the moment they step into the office,” says Paola. “Dr. Tinari stresses the importance of good nutrition, not only for ocular health but overall health, and recommends supplementing with various antioxidants including lutein and zeaxanthin, bilberry, asthaxanthin, omega-3, and vitamin C.” Dr. Tinari likes to keep up with studies in nutrition and often recommends anti-inflammatory products to help reduce inflammation especially in diabetic patients or those with a family history of eye diseases like macular degeneration. Sorella offers vitamins at the office for patients to take home and are looking to bring more into inventory.

The practice’s website also links to PRN, an online vendor of a range of vitamin formulas designed to bolster many aspects of eye and vision health, including products targeting the health of the macular and retina regions of the eyes, and “Dry Eye Omega Benefits,” a formula designed to ease symptoms of the condition, among many others.

Sorella’s dry eye practice also makes use of the MiboFlo Thermoflo treatment. Says Paola: “Dry eye is very prevalent in today’s society. MiboFlo targets inflammation in the meibomian glands. Just like getting a deep tissue massage, this treatment offers patients relief by breaking down inflammatory byproducts and improving their tear film.”

Alongside their independent frame lines, Sorella Optique and Eyecare makes space for body care products such as Zents, a line of organic lotions, soaps, body washes and other items containing ingredients ranging from oolong tea to sandalwood and orris. The products claim to relieve conditions such as psoriasis and eczema, as well as provide de-stressing effects.

To get the wellness message out, the practice relies heavily on its active Instagram presence and has plans to launch a monthly blog that patients will receive via email.

THE REWARDS

The Tinari sisters find the ongoing self-education and patient-education that a devotion to wellness entails enhances their lives as businesspeople and as ECPs. “We recognize that people today have an interest in bettering themselves. We love offering patients alternative ideas to help heal and be preventative in their journey to wellness,” Paola says.

Like any niche, wellness is a passion, says Tinari. “What is it that you are passionate about in our field? If you love seeing pediatric patients and dread geriatrics, then stop, focus on what you are into. You may lose a few patients but gain so much by doing what you love all day long.”

Do It Yourself: Create a Wellness-Oriented Practice

  • HEAL THySELF. “Take care of yourself first,” says Paola Tinari. “If you are burnt out, your patients can sense it and your business will suffer.”
  • CROSS-MARKET. Setting yourself up as a wellness-focused practice opens up joint marketing opportunities; sound out a local spa or vendor of body care goods.
  • UP YOUR SERVICE GAME. In this field, excellent customer service is even more important than ever. Be prepared to always “do what is best for the patient.”
  • pick the right tEAM. Not everyone’s cut out for this line of work. Positivity and creativity are key, says Tinari. “Get rid of toxicity and your business will flourish.”
  • EDUCATE. Create a blog or newsletter to keep patients updated on the latest products and services.

 

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