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ECPs share the most important days in the history of their business

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Life often presents us with definitive, formative and hairpin moments that shape all our experiences — the good and bad — from that point on. Marriage, the birth of a child, the death of a parent, a graduation, the loss of a job, can all drastically change the direction of our lives in a near instant. The same sorts of seminal events can happen in a business. We asked ECPs to share the most single most important day in the history of their business and how it affected things to come. Read on to hear their stories.

D’Ambrosio Eye Care | Lancaster, MA

THE DATE: October 2004

The day D’Ambrosio Eye Care moved out of a hospital suite and into its own, free-standing facility was the practice’s very own big bang.

“We exploded,” is the still-vivid recollection of director of optical services Jocelyn Mylott.

There are all kinds of innovations, from the incremental to the dramatic, that you can apply to your business to boost growth, but few changes have as much potential to instantly turbocharge your performance as a change of address. In D’Ambrosio’s case it was a matter of recognizing that they had reached the limits, in terms of growth potential, of their existing site, tucked away as it was in a larger building.

“We had rented a suite in the hospital and we had outgrown the space. Thinking back we had about three ODs and the MD owner; and now we have at least double the capacity,” Mylott says. And the growth didn’t stop there — now that they can accommodate more patient traffic, they have added new computer software and HR, and brought in a large number of new staff. “This was all back in 2004. It was the start of our growth in general.” It wasn’t long after their move that D’Ambrosio expanded to three locations — soon they’ll be at six and counting.

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Kenneth D. Boltz, OD | Dublin, OH

THE DATE: MAY 16, 2016

Ask Ken Boltz, OD, why the day he opened his solo business after three decades in group practice was the most important day in the history of his business and he’ll rattle off three reasons: “Much simpler, more enjoyable and much more fulfilling.”

“Opening a brand new office allowed me to get back to what I enjoy most,” Boltz says. “Helping patients see their best while getting to know them personally, forming a stronger long-term bond with them.”

As he was preparing to open, Boltz visited a number of offices, looking for ways to improve upon methods, equipment, floorplans, etc. “Opening a new office allowed me to take all that I had learned and do it even better. New equipment — a computerized phoropter, improved retinal imaging, new OCT and more. We attended both VEW and VEE to select the frame vendors we wanted to do business with. That allowed us to focus more on independent frame vendors that were unique and that our patients love.”

And, freed from the constraints of design by committee, Boltz seized the opportunity to design his waiting room to look more like a living room than a doctor’s office. “My new office is much more enjoyable, simpler and easier.”

But for Boltz, reflecting on a key turning point doesn’t mean he’s content: “We continue to look for ways to improve every day. I love what I do and hope to continue to practice for many more years.”

 

Eye Care Pavilion | Davenport, IA

THE DATE: March 1, 2015

An office move is enough to make an impact on a business, but what happens when that move coincides with a major staff overhaul? Jason Stamper, assistant manager at the Eye Care Pavilion, can tell you. The most important day in your business becomes “when our office moved to the opposite side of town. Our clientele changed, as well as 75 percent of our owners/doctors. Two decided to retire when we moved, and another retired just six months later.”

A change like that could seriously handicap a business, but Eye Care Pavilion saw it as an opportunity. “We had been at the previous location for almost 30 years. It was a beautiful older building, but was in bad need of an update. While our new location is smaller, we’re much more efficient with the space.” Now each doctor has two exam lanes and because they relocated close to a lot of medical practices, they’ve seen a noticeable rise in their medical visits.

But what about the patients? “Overall the reaction was good,” says Stamper. The move was only 6 miles but some didn’t migrate at first. “Now in our third year, we are starting to see many who left come back.” And the practice is building on that momentum: “We started advertising on TV again…and we also partnered with a local pro sports team as their official eyecare provider.”

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Hudson River Eye Care | Tarrytown, NY

THE DATE: August 7, 2013

“My most important day was the first day we opened our first private practice,” says Larah Alami, OD. “It’s like the day your first child is born, you can never go back to your previous self.”

In fact, Alami remembers that time well. “For six years, I worked in a variety of private and commercial practices.” But as an employed OD, she didn’t see much of the optical and business sides. “As a business owner, I’ve come to love frame-buying, learning about…lenses and coatings, learning how to bill, and generally being the office manager of our practice.”

She loves the things other business owners may not be so fond of. “Every day, I wake up excited to go to work. Beyond the typical patient care, I spend…hours in the optical and working on the managerial side of things, and I love it,” she shares.

That’s not the only place she is bucking the trend. “One of the things that drove me to go into practice for myself was working in too many mediocre practices where the owner was solely concerned with profit,” she explains. “The employees didn’t care, the equipment was broken or missing, the office hadn’t been renovated in 20 years, there was no focus on quality products or service, and the general atmosphere was depressing. I take pride in creating a happy, modern workplace that serves both employees and patients.”

 

Dr. Texas Smith and Associates | Citrus Heights, TX

THE DATE: SUMMER OF 1980

Texas Smith, OD, at Dr. Texas Smith and Associates likes to keep things simple so he can focus on what he does best — using his more than 50 years of experience to provide top-quality eyecare. And there’s one day in the long history of his practice that stands out; a day when things got dramatically simpler: “The day we went all cash. Exam and half on products prior to any orders. I have no accounts receivable.”

When patients ask whether he accepts credit, Dr. Tex explains his agreement with Bank of America, “We don’t do credit and the bank won’t fit glasses or contacts.”

Dr. Tex says that many years ago he had an employee that had worked for a local dentist. One afternoon she asked why he had accounts receivable, since his fees were much lower than dental charges, half of which were collected on the first visit and the balance upon completion of the dental work. “That day I changed my office policy to payment for exam and one half optical fees prior to ordering Rx,” says Smith. “The majority of our patients pay the whole bill on the day of exam.”

“I have no accounts receivable, no employee time spent billing, no patients sent to collection,” says Smith, adding: “By the way, you lose the money and the patient when they go to collection.”

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HD Optical Express | Lansing, MI

THE DATE: November 5, 2014

Here’s a “greatest day in my business” recollection that generously recognizes the heart and soul of any successful practice — the staff. When Dr. Daniel Nash, OD, purchased HD Optical Express in 2014, things got off on the wrong foot when he discovered unpaid bills left behind by the previous owner. However, says Cassie Nash, “With hard work and sacrifice, it only took a few months to start generating enough income to be able to hire Elizabeth Nagy, an ABO-certified optician.”

Things started looking up almost immediately.

“Elizabeth,” Cassie says, “is intelligent, positive, courteous, and responsible; she delivers quality customer service that significantly contributes to the HD Optical reputation and legacy. Dr. Nash is a wonderful optometrist who cares greatly about his patients, and finally the optical side of our business matches the quality of his eye exams.” In particular she cites Nagy’s ability to educate patients on lens options, which has boosted upgrades and sales, and led to an increase in overall patient satisfaction. “Hiring her taught us that having a well-rounded and educated optician on the front lines is just as important as having a great doctor,” Cassie says.

 

Rockford Family Eyecare | Rockford, MI

THE DATE: Mid-February 2016

Here’s one to warm any OD’s heart. The greatest day in the life of Rockford Family Eyecare? That’s easy, says owner Dr. Theodore Sees: “The first day we had a full day of appointments and they all showed up! As a new office [the practice is less than four years old], I still remember that day and it feels like it has stayed that busy since then,” says Sees.

Basically, this was the day the team at Rockford exhaled and started to think of themselves as having arrived. Adds office manager Melanie Turos: “We felt that this was the most important day because it meant so much to both the doctors and the staff, both those who worked at the office from opening and those who had joined the company as we grew. It changed the way we approached business because we started looking at our office as an established office rather than a new office.” Rockford Family Eyecare, she says, had always tried to schedule both new and established patients, “but now we needed to brainstorm new ideas for growth within the office.”

Sees reports that growth remains rapid and staff is trying to keep up the best it can. “It has been so wonderful to watch our business’s growth from the very beginning!” he says.

 

Eye to Eye Optometry | Mexico, MO

THE DATE: Thanksgiving 1999

On that day Jim Williams and his wife, Dr. Kristi Williams, drove by a building for rent. “The owner met us and we signed a provisional lease,” shares Jim. “That was the start of our own business.” Most surprising about the Williams’ story is that they hadn’t been planning it. “We hadn’t been actively thinking about opening our own business, but the cards all fell into place,” he says.

“I was working as an independent contractor for an optician office,” adds Kristi. “The owner was getting older and wasn’t interested in investing in the space. He suggested if I wanted changes, I should buy the office and do it myself. It sounded great but scary as well. So, we bought the practice, but not the real estate. We outgrew that space in about five years but made do until the right opportunity presented itself.” Which it did that fateful Thanksgiving.

Last year brought a further evolution. “We moved into a larger space that we own, designed and did a lot of the work ourselves,” says Jim. “I’d like to say we would have done this sooner. Or should have. But we were really fortunate to have been offered this opportunity. It was worth the wait. We have a great staff, business, and patients. We are living the dream!”

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Visualeyes Optometry | Sherman Oaks, CA

THE DATE: April 20, 2017

“Moving into my new office space a year ago was my most important day,” says Visualeyes Optometry’s Lee Dodge, OD. “It marks the success we have had and moving into a larger space that we can grow into represents the success that is yet to come.”

The new address is less than a mile from the space they had occupied since 2006, but it is light years away from how they used to practice. “I have double the space, so I have more room to expand and the optical is larger, so we have more frames,” explains Dodge. He also has more exam rooms, doctors, patients and staff. And his patients? “They love the new space, except for one. There is always one,” he laughs. “I’d say all of them migrated. Maybe 99 percent? We even got a few old patients back that stopped going to our old place because of the parking.” Win!

 

Bright Eyes Vision | Hartsville, PA

THE DATE: August 2016

Sometimes it’s the bad days that shape your business. That was the case at Bright Eyes Vision when they were faced with a patient who did not understand her insurance and tried to blackmail them to give her contact lenses for free or face a negative Yelp review.

Dr. Sue Miller explains: “This patient had an insurance plan where their contact lens benefits were different if the lenses qualified as “selection” or “non-selection”…she needed astigmatic lenses, ‘non-selection’ at that time.” After Bright Eyes put her lenses in she refused to pay and made the threat. “We are a cold startup and reviews are even more important to us, but so is not being blackmailed,” explains Dr. Sue, who practices with her daughter Dr. Heather. The patient had a friend put a negative review on the business’ Facebook page and Yelp.

Bright Eyes responded to both reviews at length and now has a contact lens agreement that everyone who wants contacts must sign. A hard lesson learned but “we have not had an incident since,” says Dr. Sue.

 

Eye Candy Optical Center | McMurray, PA

THE DATE: June 19, 2009

“The day I found out the business was for sale, I said “I would like to buy it,” says Dr. Monika Marczak. That was followed by a cold sweat and a cry in her car. But she knew she wanted to preserve her team and that everything would fall into place. She purchased what is now Eye Candy Optical Center in August 2009 and has had the same team since — there has been zero turnover!

The previous owners were already negotiating with more experienced ODs. “Because I came into the game late, I only had two weeks to present a Letter of Intent. I went to all the banks, I begged, I pleaded, and they all said no,” she explains. “A patient knew the president of S&T Bank, who…took a chance. It was because of people’s trust in me and my vision that I was able to obtain the loan.”

“It was the scariest decision but the ride has been nothing but exciting,” she exclaims. And she has the support of that long time staff. “They know that my first instinct was to save their jobs, not own my own business.” But she is also quite pragmatic when it comes to their longevity. “My payroll is higher than industry standard and I provide medical insurance and 401K match so it’s difficult to leave me!”

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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Here’s How Eyecare Pros Are Spending Their Advertising Budgets

The pie is getting sliced ever more finely.

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IN INVISION’S FIRST annual Big Survey, we asked more than 500 ECPs which medium accounts for the biggest chunk of their ad and marketing spending. Print is still on top, but the marketing budget pie is getting sliced ever more finely — and nearly 1 in 5 ECPs claim to be passing on the plate all together.

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%

 

Looking at the above results, it’s seems likely 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. Also worth considering: In a separate question, we asked ECPs to name the most significant thing they were doing to drive sales five years ago that they’ve stopped doing. The top answer? You guessed it—advertising in traditional media. Check out the survey to see how your spending fits in to this complex picture.

The 2019 Big Survey was conducted from August to October and attracted responses from more than 500 American ECPs. Look out for the full results in the November/December issue of INVISION.

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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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Best of Eyecare

25 ECPs Share Their Elevator Pitches

25 ECPs put who they are and what they do for a living in a sentence or two… or three.

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OK… You’ve slipped into the elevator just as the doors are closing. The woman on your left is wearing poorly fitting frames that are totally wrong for her. The gentleman to your right is squinting as he tries to find the button for his floor. You sense a golden opportunity, but the floors are already ticking by. You’ve got until those doors open again to tell these potential clients what you do and how you can help them. It’s time to dust off your “elevator pitch.” Our Brain Squad members are rarely at a loss for a few well-chosen words, so we asked them their best pitches. Here’s what they had to say to those future customers and patients on the subject of… you.

Hi, My name is Diana Canto Sims. I am an eyeball doctor turned eyewear designer for the diverse and the bold. What do you do? — Diana Sims, Buena Vista Optical, Chicago, IL

We help you create a look that is as unique as you are. — Doreen Erbe, Snyder Eye Group, Ship Bottom, NJ

I create complete custom eyewear by hand in Glenview. This includes the frames as well as the lenses. — Kevin Count, Prentice Lab, Glenview, IL

I am the owner and doctor at an eyecare office focused on pampering our patients.  — Nytarsha Thomas, OD, Visionelle Eyecare, Zionsville, IN

I can easily knock 10 years off your look and I promise people will notice! — Jennifer Leuzzi, Mill Creek Optical, Dansville, NY

We sell unique eyewear from all over the world.” (Then give a few specific examples of exotic materials. However, never oversell or seem pushy. Just plant the seed!!!)”  — Scott Keating, OD, Vision Trends, Dover, OH

You know the eyes are the windows to the soul right? Sometimes the windows cannot see; I help with that. I am an optometrist.” — Selina McGee, OD, Precision Vision, Edmond, OK

I refine one of your five senses. I give you vision and insight into your health, with a twist of style, all while having a good time in the process. — Cynthia Sayers, OD, EyeShop Optical Center, Lewis Center, OH

I explain that I run a practice for an eye doctor and that our goal is to make sure each patient sees well and is educated on the products and materials we wear ourselves. — Amy Pelak, Proview Eyecare Optometry, Corona, CA

I help people love their new eyewear, and owning 31 pairs of glasses and sunwear, I know I can find the right pair for you. — Kathy Maren Comb EyeCare & Eyewear, Western Springs, IL

I talk about the unique things our practice offers like sensory and vision therapy. We carry a variety of frames for the whole family. From durable kids, to the fun and funky for mom and dad. We’re not your average eye doctor.” Heather Nagucki, Brodie Optometry, Perrysburg, OH

I compliment someone on their glasses. I may ask them where they got them and always say something nice about their doctor or optician. I know everyone in town after 50 years in Sacramento. If the patient discusses a bad experience then I drop a business card.”  — Texas L. Smith, OD, Dr. Texas L. Smith & Associates, Citrus Heights, CA

I help people see and look better.  — Jason Stamper Eye Care Pavilion, Davenport, IA

I tell them I try not to look like an optometrist! — Dave Schultz, OD, Urban Optics, San Luis Obispo, CA

When I meet people I always try to tell them I’m like a pharmacist for your eyeglasses. — Bob Schmittou, New Eyes Optical, Wyandotte, MI

I’m an optician. Once the eye doctor is done with you I will help you with any optical needs whether glasses or contacts. Basically, I make you look good! — Scott Felten, Fox Valley Family Eye Care, Little Chute, WI

We get to help people see to their fullest potential. It’s the best job in the world! — Caitlin Bruno, Binyon Vision Center, Bellingham, WA

I’m like a pharmacist. I fill the prescription written by the doctor. But in Michigan, your optician doesn’t have to have a license the way your pharmacist does. That’s why there are so many people walking around in ugly glasses that can’t see.  — Dave Goodrich, Goodrich Optical, Lansing, MI

I bend light for a living. — Jon LaShorne, Kirkpatrick Eye Care, Madison, IN

I frame the windows to your soul with beauty. — Frances Ann Layton, Eye Associates of South Georgia, Valdosta, GA

I have no elevator pitch. I just let people know why I love doing what I do.” — Pablo E. Mercado, Mount Vernon Eyecare, Dunwoody, GA

Nice glasses! I bet they cost you a fortune. I’m an optician. Here’s my card. Next time you’re in the market for a new pair, give me a call and I’ll save you money.” — Mitchell Kaufman, Marine Park Family Vision, Brooklyn, NY

Everyone knows what a pharmacist does … so I equate my career as a licensed optician to that. I take a prescription from a doctor and I interpret that prescription. I advise and educate the patient on how to use the prescription written. I generate a product from that prescription and then dispense that prescription as a piece of medical equipment.”  — William Chancellor, Eye Can See Eyewear, McDonough, GA

We help people see the important things in life.” — John Marvin, Texas State Optical Inc., Houston, TX

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