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The Big Story: A Matter of Survival

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Imagine the worst thing that could happen to your business … Would you be able to recover?

Story by DEIRDRE CARROLL
Illustrations by MAR JEFFERSON GO

 

Running a business is hard workand sometimes the challenges and hurdles can nearly break you. So when a major catastrophe strikes, it can mean the end of business  for many.

Natural disasters, technology failure, unscrupulous colleagues, personal tragedy: The next few pages are full of eyecare providers that faced just the sorts of challenges that have destroyed many businesses. Even the best emergency planning strategy is put to the test when the world conspires against you, but here are their stories of how they persevered and brought their businesses back from the brink.

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When A Hurricane Strikes

G.R. McGuirt, OD
20/20 Vision Clinic, Lake Charles, LA
w2020clinic.com

Acts of God are hard to prepare for and even harder to recover from. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated coastal Louisiana around New Orleans. Less embedded in our collective consciousness, though, is the havoc Hurricane Rita brought to the same region just six weeks later.

Dr. G.R. McGuirt of 20/20 Vision Clinic in Lake Charles remembers. “Our town was already turned upside down with displaced people from New Orleans,” he says. “Hurricanes pop up occasionally, but hadn’t been a problem and we had protocols. Hurricane Rita was another kind of hurricane, though.

“Before she hit, we took down all the merchandise, boxed it up and sent it home with different employees in case a shopping cart came through the window or if one person was hit we wouldn’t lose everything,” McGuirt recalls. “We stacked chairs in back, turned off the computers and stacked them high, covered in plastic to keep them from water.”

20/20 Vision Clinic’s “lagniappe” snack bar20/20 Vision Clinic’s “lagniappe” snack bar was born during crisis and lives on today.

Fortunately, 20/20 Vision Clinic suffered little damage. “No broken windows and we only got some windblown water. We just dried out the carpets and pads,” he says. That is, of course, after he was able to get back to his office. The city had not fared so well.

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“The city was evacuated and closed for more than a week and it was wrecked for months,” he continues. “We had trees stacked 20 feet deep and 20 feet wide. The National Guard on the ground. We started coming back into the city a week after to check on things but there was still no electricity.”

They were closed for two weeks, which for a small business can be hard to recover from, but in a strange twist it resulted in one of 20/20 Vision Clinic’s strongest fourth quarters ever.

“I thought it was going to kill our year, but when we started back we were extra-ordinarily busy,” McGuirt says. “There was a lot of insurance money going a round. We saw all sorts of people with lost and broken glasses, foreign bodies and abrasions. We had long, full days under duress, but everyone pulled together. Business was incredibly robust for the rest of the year.”

The industry also came out to help.

“Somewhere in the two weeks, not knowing this would turn into our busiest fourth quarter ever, I was concerned about cash flow. Out of the blue, I received a call from the president of Vision Source [Glenn Ellisor],” McGuirt says. “He told me they were sending $2,000 checks to Louisiana ODs affected by the storm. Then the AOA sent $1,500. I was moved by both. It wasn’t expected, and it made a huge difference knowing we had support. Now, I’m quick to write a check when someone, especially a Vision Source or AOA doctor, has been damaged.”

But recovery had its challenges.

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“It was a highly stressful time and nerves were jangled. That’s when we started having a coffee and snack bar to give people a little relief, a little respite. We call it lagniappe (a little something extra). We still have it, and it’s always a surprising delight to our clients,” McGuirt says.

Dr. G.R. McGuirt and the current staff of 20/20 Vision Clinic.

Today, the clinic prepares for potential disasters differently. Their new building has an emergency generator and hurricane shutters. They keep water, food, clothes, cleanup equipment, and gasoline ready for their return.

“Cellphones have changed preparations a lot, too,” McGuirt says. “It’s much easier to communicate with and check in on employees now; it’s not just texting though, but the camera as well. When we need to evacuate, we go take a picture of all four walls in each room, a picture of every shelf, every open drawer. Pictures of every piece of equipment’s ID, make, model and serial number. Insurance pays, but only if you can prove ownership. The amount of small items adds up if you are not reimbursed. And it’s much better to take the food out of the freezer before it spoils. But take a picture first!”

“Does crap happen? It sure does. Be prepared,” he concludes.

 

 

 

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Best of the Best

How This Colorado Practice’s ‘Office Culture Blueprint’ is Boosting Referrals

And how they persuaded their team to embrace a new mindset.

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EYE CARE CENTER of Colorado Springs, CO, has a large specialty contact lens practice that owes its success in part to the referrals it receives from ODs and MDs in Colorado Springs, Denver, Pueblo and as far away as California. You don’t maintain a referral-driven practice without top-level service, and with so much on the line, sometimes it pays to codify what’s expected of staff. But no one responds to a laundry list of rules. “We have found we have to re-educate ourselves and any new team members we hire,” says co-owner Sara Whitney, OD, and this realization recently led the practice to develop its own “office culture blueprint.”

THE IDEA

Translating a vague desire to get the best out of your team into a set of tangible principles is harder than it sounds. “We made a feeble attempt to create a culture statement a few years ago,” recalls Whitney, “and we never finished it because we didn’t really know how to implement it.” Practice founder and co-owner Dr. Reed Bro eventually came across the concept of “above the line behavior,” an approach based on personal responsibility. Whitney says the beauty of this concept is that it encourages “behaviors that create a positive event for the next person in the chain.” The goal is to “resist the temptation to blame…to complain for the sake of complaining, or become defensive.”

Dr. Reed Bro and Dr. Sara Whitney

THE EXECUTION

Whitney, Bro and office manager Mindi Andrade developed what would become the office’s cultural blueprint over several months. It takes its starting point from a few core beliefs. These are matched with a set of encouraged behaviors and desired outcomes. Your core beliefs, Whitney says, “are the reasons you decided to start practicing optometry or open a business.”

Once these basic elements were finalized, the managers initiated a transitional phase in which they used the vocabulary that forms the core of the blueprint in day-to-day interactions with one another and with staff. “We did not present the blueprint to the team until we were comfortable that we were able to personally apply the core beliefs to any situation,” Whitney says. They launched it at the beginning of January, when people are making resolutions and personal improvements. “We printed up the culture matrix on a card for each member of the team.”

Whitney says you can tell right away which staff will be on board and who will resist. “We lost three team members around the time the blueprint was rolled out. It may have just been a personal decision for the employee, but it can cause you to momentarily doubt your decision to demand these behaviors.” It’s important to be strong and stick to your guns at this stage, she says. Remember that the key beliefs you identified as the basis for your blueprint are important. “They are the reason you get up in the morning and come to work,” she says. “Expectations … make some people uncomfortable. They will resist change, and you have to let them move on.”

THE REWARDS

Whitney says the blueprint has delivered its targeted outcomes: an enhanced sense of community, patient satisfaction, trust, loyalty, adherence to treatment plans, and referrals. But there are personal benefits too. “I think those who have embraced this new mindset will be able to see it spilling over into their personal lives.”

Ultimately, Eye Care Center of Colorado Springs’ aim with the blueprint was to cultivate behaviors that grow the business, and so far, that aim is being met. Says Whitney: “We have developed the mindset that being presented with a challenge is our opportunity to get ahead of the problem and to possibly even be someone’s hero.”

Do It Yourself: Develop an Office Culture

  • DON’T RUSH IT. “Take time to define your beliefs over a period of weeks or months,” says Whitney.
  • WALK THE WALK. “Live out behaviors that support your beliefs,” Whitney advises. “You are the biggest example of your practice culture.”
  • TWO-WAY STREET. An office culture doesn’t have to be static: Survey your team periodically and ask for feedback.
  • COMMUNICATE. If you don’t, a blueprint is just a list tacked to a wall.
  • STAY STRONG. A change like this might cost you an employee. But stay the course or it’s not worth the paper it’s written on.

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Best of the Best

Tennessee Practice Throws Itself an Epic Birthday Party, Creates New Tradition

This patient-appreciation event made 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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Benchmarks

Ways ECPs Are Benefiting from Short Intro Videos for Their Practices

Practice introduction videos have multiple benefits, and these days they’re a cinch to produce.

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Introducing yourself to potential patients and customers, eliminating the element of surprise for first-timers, and boosting your SEO and Google rankings: Producing a professional-looking intro video for your practice has multiple benefits and doesn’t have to bust your marketing budget. Check out this handful of practices that have embraced multimedia.

Precision Vision

Edmund, OK

Precision Vision in Edmund, OK, designed their video to help patients get to know the practice before coming in. “The video was structured to try and eliminate surprises,” says owner Dr. Selina McGee. It plays on the website and her Facebook page, boosting SEO across channels and driving traffic to the practice. McGee hired a videographer to shoot and edit the video for about $800. “I wanted it to look completely professional.” McGee’s main goal was boosting SEO, but now that she’s got the video up and running she concedes she could probably do an even better job of getting patients to see it. She’s also come to realize it has other potential benefits. “Customers always want to see the real you, so create something authentic that shows your personality,” she advises. “Have fun with it. Remember, your patients and customers can’t buy YOU down the street.”

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Spanish Oaks Eyecare

Cedar Park, TX

Spanish Oaks Eyecare’s video involved some luck. It was professionally done. “However,” says owner Dr. Dina Miller, “we were approached by [a crew] wanting to use our waiting area for a film. So in exchange they offered to do it at no charge.” The video walks the audience through Spanish Oaks’ office, with both exterior and interior shots, before showing Miller examining a patient and reviewing their optomap results. It ends with the patient in the optical working with her optician Bob. “During that part, we let people know how we’re different than most opticals and why ­— we carry only independent frame lines.” The video, whose main goal Miller says is to introduce Spanish Oaks to potential patients and customers, is posted on Facebook. “It’s a great way to … make yourself ‘real’ and familiar.”
She advises other ECPs to make sure the video features actual staff. “That’s one of the most important parts; making it personable. I was tempted to have someone else sit in for me but at the end of the day, I knew that would really take away from the video and its purpose.” And don’t be afraid to edit: Miller opted for voice overs, as they had felt uncomfortable speaking to camera, and added captions for things she wanted the audience to know (for example, the fact that her optician is one of just two people with an active American Board of Opticianry Advanced certification in her part of Texas). “Also,” she advises, “consider having parts where you and possibly your main staff talk to the camera about what’s important to you, what sets you apart from others — not the generic ‘We have the best customer service/patient care,’ etc.”

Ziegler Leffingwell Eyecare

New Berlin, WI

According to Dr. Dave Ziegler, Ziegler Leffingwell Eyecare hit on the idea of making an intro video as a way of giving “strong visual exposure of what it is like to be in our office.” And they found a striking way to do just that, hiring a real estate photographer to use a drone, which opens the video hovering outside the front of the office, then enters through the front door and flies throughout the office. “This flight path through the office is the way our patients experience our office during a typical eye exam,” he says. The video boasts a script written by Ziegler himself; he hired a professional to do the voice over for maximum impact. He felt it was important that the video should be less than a minute long; it’s now posted to the practice’s website, one among many features that he says win their website routine praise. Asked whether the time and expense that went into making the video were worth it, he replies that more than that, “it is necessary” for any practice, in his view.

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Dr. Bladh OD

Diamond Bar, CA

The folks at Dr. Bladh OD, a Diamond Bar, CA practice, understand the power of videos to increase a business’s Google ranking by boosting the amount of content that links back to its website. They signed up with a company called Promo! that allows them to make multiple 15-second videos. “The [Promo!] site has a ton of content with professional videos to use.” Once you edit it, the video is yours to keep. So the video is professionally done, but everything added to it is DIY.
“Video marketing gets so much more traction than pictures or boring blog posts,” reports Josh Bladh. The videos are similar, but each has its own emphasis. Most feature music and a few lines of text to get people’s attention. “Search engines are putting more emphasis on video content so this seemed like the best option to get our foothold with video before paying for anything professional,” he says.
The videos are posted to Facebook and Instagram. “We will add videos to blog posts on our website where relevant.”
In the practice’s experience, consumers typically need six to eight touch points before they’ll call and commit to an exam. So, using videos to boost these contact points for the service’s relatively low monthly fee makes sense. Bladh warns ECPs to do their homework before signing up for such a service, however, as some companies will give you a hard time if you attempt to use any unused video credits after letting your subscription lapse.

Anthony Aiden Opticians

New York, NY

Anthony Aiden Opticians went for a more adult approach in their video, a 30-second short about … a misunderstanding. It may seem like male fantasy, but optician Anthony Gaggi swears it’s based on reality. “My sister’s friend was a stylist; she was working alone one night and…” Well, we don’t want to spoil it; suffice it to say whether you find it hilarious, titillating or offensive, there’s no denying it conveys the store’s edgy, fashion-conscious style. “My goal,” Gaggi says, “was to bring a high-quality fashion video to my website.” The video is also displayed in the store’s windows. A friend who works in TV offered his services for free; Gaggi says clients love it.

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