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Successful Texas Optical Seeks to Avoid Sophomore Slump in Launch of New Location

Bee Cave Vision Center was doing well on the outskirts of Austin, TX, when it sensed a growth opportunity brewing in an expanding nearby community.

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IN THE MUSIC BUSINESS they call it “second album syndrome.” Regardless of the reason, the result is a flop. But what does it mean to “build on success” anyway? In retail terms, the question might be: “Should I open a second store?” We believe the goal should not be to “duplicate” success, but to learn from it. Showing us how it’s done is Bee Cave Vision Center, which successfully added a second location just outside Austin, TX.

THE IDEA

Dr. Brad Dobson wanted to expand his original practice in Bee Cave, TX, but the real growth in the area seemed to be happening in neighboring Dripping Springs. “Our demographics showed a large part of our patient base was living in between the practices or in Dripping Springs, and we wanted a more convenient option for them and to make room for more growth in Bee Cave.”

THE EXECUTION

Dobson knew there was groundwork to be laid. “We had to be patient and allow our first practice to mature and to have a strong enough presence in the community. We waited for the second community to take off and then jumped in to grow with Dripping Springs’ changes.”
When the time came, the focus switched to finding a location. He designed improvements into the second practice, making sure to offer something different from competitors.
Communicating and discussing the new mission openly with staff was also crucial, he says, as scheduling and coverage became more challenging. “We have more patient care hours, which involved hiring more staff and making sure new schedules were working out.” The business adopted new software to seamlessly share medical records between practices.
“We’ve given the new location a boutique optical feel and offered even more diverse frame lines to give patients options that the competition or our first practice may not have.” The stores are not that far apart, so staff have found it practical to refer patients to the second location “to find that perfect match” in terms of frames.

THE REWARDS

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Dobson has been surprised by how quickly word has gotten out. “Our days have been quite busy and allowed us to get into the groove right away. It’s fun to practice in a new office setting after 15 years. ”
There are benefits beyond the optical realm, as well. Being able to invest in the second property while the first was still under a lease creates equity in a rapidly growing community.
Dobson quickly acknowledges that having the right people is crucial. “My staff has done an extraordinary job of learning new skills and growing the practice. We not only have staff members promoting both locations, but they also have more overlap in duties to cover each other. This has allowed me more clinic time so more patients can be seen efficiently.”

PHOTO GALLERY (11 IMAGES)

Do It Yourself: Opening A Second Store

1. LOCATION SCOUTING. “Make sure you are happy with who you will be seeing long term as well as the growth potential of the area,” advises Dobson.

2. NOT ALL ABOUT YOU. Which factors in your success are beyond your control? Does the artisanal mouthwash purveyor next door drive most of your traffic? How will you make up for that at the new place?

3. FUNDS FIREWALL. “Never,” implores entrepreneur.com, “count on your existing location for any funding; consider the new location a separate venture.”

4. ANOTHER WAY? There are other ways to expand. Before you take the plunge, have you thought about a revamped online presence, for example?

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5. CALL THE A-TEAM. There’ll be ups and downs (construction, new software, procedures and schedules). Can your crew cope?

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 heath@smartworkmedia.com.

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Best of the Best

Tennessee Practice Throws Itself an Epic Birthday Party, and Created a New Tradition

A Tennessee practice shows that an epic patient-appreciation event makes for a great business-building tool.

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ANDREW AND ELIZABETH HOWARD, optometrists and co-owners of LaFollette Eye Clinic in Jacksboro, TN, pride themselves on a level of service that has patients coming in from Ohio, Texas, and Florida. As the practice’s 30th anniversary approached in October last year, they decided a one-day trunk show wouldn’t reach as many people as they wanted. An occasion like this warranted something special.

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THE IDEA

“We like to capitalize on milestones as a way to generate interest, and the 30-year milestone was a great opportunity,” Andy recalls. When it comes to event planning, ideas at LaFollette are typically generated and fleshed out in-house by the practice’s eight-person Leadership Team, which collectively boasts decades in eyecare. But, they also enjoy looking at other practices and sharing ideas with other doctors. “This event was a mixture of the two techniques. We traditionally hold one or two open houses or trunk shows a year, but we had never held a week-long celebration,” Howard says.

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THE EXECUTION

It took the team several meetings to brainstorm ideas, then organize them. Various aspects were delegated to different leads on the team. Says Andy: “Involving the team builds engagement, loyalty and morale, and helped us keep our costs down.”

A “Diamonds and Pearls” theme was chosen. According to Andy, these are not only “modern and traditional anniversary gifts, but it’s also a great song by Prince.” The celebration itself featured giveaways, prizes, a 30-percent off sale, snacks and drinks all week, activities such as face-painting for kids, cornhole, and a “photo booth” with a retro-style instant camera for patients who used ’80s-themed props or their own new glasses for digital images that were shared on social media. In addition, demonstrations were held with reps from local crafters and artists’ groups — even a Lion’s Club member who brought in leader dogs for the blind. (A donation drive was held for the Lion’s Club.)

A local artist’s association was invited to bring in artwork; these were joined on LaFollette’s walls by “storyboards” highlighting the practice’s services, including photographs going back to the ’80s. Long-time patients and ex-staff members joined the celebration, and the optical even changed the music to ’80s hits for the week.

The costs were “minimal” given the scale of the event. A giant eyeglasses balloon sculpture was the most expensive item. “We had enough cupcakes for everyone, but they were made by a team member who is a wonderful baker.” All giveaways were donated by local businesses in exchange for marketing.

THE REWARDS

The biggest surprise to Andy was how many people showed up just to wish LaFollette a happy anniversary. Sales were up during the week, but that was secondary to the goal of celebrating and thanking patients, he says. “It was more fun than we’ve had in a long time; that by itself is worth the effort.” He adds: “Now we need to begin looking for another excuse to have a week-long celebration… We had too much fun to wait 10 more years!”

PHOTO GALLERY (10 IMAGES)

Do It Yourself: Hold A 
Patient-Centered Celebration

  • ALL HANDS ON. The key, says Andy, is involving the whole team. “So many people have different talents, and an event like this allows that talent to shine.”
  • CROSS-PROMOTE. Talk to neighboring businesses and see if they’ll contribute prizes in exchange for some free marketing.
  • GO WITH A PRO. Failing to plan is planning to fail. If you don’t have the HR depth that LaFollette has, consider using a professional event planner.
  • WIDE FOCUS. To foster a sense of community, think beyond eyewear. According to Andy, the leader dog for the blind was one of the hits of the week.
  • PICK A MOTIF. Choosing a theme gives you a hook to hang activities on. Practice turning 20? Ask your stylist for “The Rachel.”

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Make the Best Use of a Great Resource: Your Fellow ECPs

A Texas OD’s study group helps eyecare business owners ‘get outside the bubble of their own practice.’

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Dr. Carrie Alfieri thinks of her practice as being on a 20- to 40-year journey.

TO SUCCEED, IN PRACTICE, it is much easier to operate with help from outside sources,” says Carrie Alfieri, OD, founder and CEO of Pinnacle Eye Associates in McKinney, TX. “It’s too hard to operate in a vacuum.” It was this realization that led Dr. Alfieri to get involved in M2M (member to member) meetings sanctioned by PERC+IVA, an alliance of the Professional Eyecare Resource Co-Operative and Infinity Vision Alliance, two nationwide group purchasing organizations comprising independent eyecare practices. As the leader of a group that hosts M2Ms, her official title is Key Advisor (KA) for PERC+IVA. There are about 25 KAs around the U.S. “Think of it as a study group with a facilitator,” Alfieri says.

THE IDEA The M2M format was supplied by PERC+IVA’s leadership, but the study group concept is not new and has been around for over 50 years. “The problem with many study groups,” Alfieri says, is that “either they have very limited access — invitation only — or can be very expensive as you have to join a group or hire a consultant.” The beauty of the PERC+IVA meetings is that they are free to any member.
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“I like to look at my practice as a 20 to 40-year journey,” she says. “We all have different needs depending where we are on that time line. The idea is that there are plenty of patients around, we want to help each other by sharing not only best practices or processes that work, but also things that we have tried and failed. We can all learn from each other and no one is an expert in all areas. That’s the beauty of an M2M meeting: We can all learn how to do something better.” The basic goals are to help drive change, accelerate learning and aid implementation.

THE EXECUTION The main role of the KA is to lead a facilitated discussion that revolves around a central theme. Optometric technology, patient care, the business side, medical developments and many more topics are all ripe for discussion. “I like to think of it as doing a deep dive into a process and helping to connect the dots. It is almost like thinking out loud with a group and using a framework. The framework is the foundation, but the attendees add the details to really make the process shine and excel,” says Alfieri, whose qualifications to be leading such a group are solid: Pinnacle Eye Associates was recognized as a 2018 Best Practice for excellence in eyecare and advancing the industry by CooperVision.
Each KA group is autonomous. PERC+IVA allows any owner, be they an OD, MD or optician, to participate. Each KA creates a “safe” meeting environment that encourages mutual assistance and sharing. The KA can poll the attendees for the upcoming meeting and allow office managers or opticians to attend depending on the topic. On the other hand, if it is felt that the presence of staff might stifle an open and free discussion on a specific topic, that meeting may be limited to owners only. The group sends out invites to all local members and Alfieri often sends out some personal emails. Her group meets quarterly.

THE REWARDS As a group, Alfieri says she and her colleagues strive to challenge the status quo and work together to make their practices more efficient, profitable, technologically advanced, and superior in customer service. In-office, she points out, doctors are not often exposed to new products, technologies, or new or different processes of operating. “The study group allows doctors to get outside the bubble of their own practice and push their office to do better, achieve more, and stay ahead of current trends, ultimately giving patients the best care.” The first step, she says, is simply making the commitment to get involved. “You will be amazed at what you can learn and accomplish.”

Do It Yourself

  • GO YOUR OWN WAY. Not a PERC+IVA member? Network with ODs or owners at your state association and suggest starting your own group.
  • FOLLOW THE LEADER. Appoint a facilitator who can keep each meeting focused on a central theme. It’s easier said than done in a group setting.
  • MIX IT UP. Alfieri says her KA group was put together “with diversity in mind.” Members are from all walks of life and own various models of business.
  • GET A ROOM. Organize a dedicated venue that’s distraction-free. Alfieri’s group meets “in a room that has four walls and a door for privacy.”
  • RE-CAP. Consider a quick “review” at the conclusion of the session to lock in on what was discussed.

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A Norcal Practice Took A Trunk Show and Turned It Into an Annual Message of Thanks to Its Patients

Take a trunk show and turn it into a message of thanks to your customers.

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ARENA EYE CARE OPTOMETRY in Sacramento, CA, wanted to put on an event that would bring customers, staff and industry reps together, with emphasis on saying ‘thanks’ to patients. So, they took that industry stalwart, the trunk show, and put their own spin on it. They’ve been holding their annual Patient Appreciation Day for seven years now, and from judging this year’s response, it’s still going strong.

THE IDEA

Dr. Shephali Patel and Dr. Krister Holmberg, owners of Arena Eye Care Optometry in Sacramento, CA, were looking for a way to present customers and patients with a more varied selection of top-tier frames than their optical ordinarily carries. Patel recalls, “We wanted a recurring event that would include a trunk show but was patient-centric.” To set their new event apart, the first step was to give it a place on the calendar: they attached a fixed date (the second Friday in March) that clients could associate with the practice over time. They paid extra attention to giveaways and other forms of personal attention to attendees. Patel points out that she didn’t coin the phrase “Patient Appreciation Day,” but the event has become a part of Arena’s brand.

THE EXECUTION

Ahead of the day, Arena sends out newsletters to patients, puts ads in a local magazine and does a weeklong Facebook ad campaign.
The core of the event is essentially a trunk show, for which some of Arena’s favorite vendors are invited. “We have two sessions,” Patel explains. “Our office hours on Friday are 9-6, so we go 9-1 and have a break for lunch and then 2-6.” The practice continues to see patients during both. “In [each of] the two sessions we might have two or three vendors. They bring in their whole collections and we rearrange our optical for them.” Patel and Holmberg try not to invite reps with lines that are natural competitors. “We wouldn’t do Nike with Oakley … We pick things that are complementary.” Arena takes particular interest in technological innovations; this year they treated customers to a preview of PogoCam, a camera made by PogoTec that attaches itself to glasses.
To keep things fresh, Patel tries to rotate her invitations to reps. “We’ll cycle them so that it’s [one invitation] every three or four years.” Staff decorate the optical themselves and offer refreshments. Several frame lines are highlighted and there are giveaways and a raffle. This year Gucci and Tom Ford reps brought in over 100 frame styles. A Tom Davies rep also attended. Other brands featured included bebe, Joseph Abboud, Oakley, Marchon NYC and Lacoste.

THE REWARD

As for the turnout, “We’ve always done well with it,” says Patel, though results are hard to predict. “The best one we’ve had was during a rainstorm … sometimes it just doesn’t make sense … but we do a good job of creating excitement and inviting people back. I think that’s the key.”
While there are practical rewards — they sell more multiples than usual that day — mostly it’s about having fun. “It is a lot of work but a lot of fun for everyone: doctors, staff and patients.”

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