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The Year of Reading Seriously

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The Year of Reading Seriously

At INVISION, we believe that the same way that most great writers are voluminous readers of literature, most great businesspeople are avid readers of business books.

That’s why this month, we’re challenging you to undertake a very special project — dubbed “the Year of Reading Seriously” (or YRS for short).

The YRS is a journey that will take you exciting new places. One where the same-old, same-old simply won’t do. A state where your goal isn’t merely satisfying clients, it’s making them wildly passionate about your service It’s a vision quest to become a smarter marketer, a savvier retailer, and a competitor who stands out from any other in your market.

To reach this destination, you will read 52 books in the course of a year. You’ll create a vast mental library of business-changing ideas for your future.

What will it take? Reserve five hours a week to read the average 250-page business book. Then save an extra hour for taking notes. (Include favorite passages from the books, plus any ideas about your business — directly related to the book or not — you had while reading.) Over the course of the year, you’ll rescan these notes regularly to ensure the lessons you’ve learned have stuck.

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Can’t squeeze six hours per week from your schedule? Understood. Instead, commit to a half-YRS (a book every two weeks) or even a quarter-YRS (a book every four weeks). The fact is, whatever focused reading project you undertake will pay huge dividends. Guaranteed.

To get you started, the INVISION team has summarized the best advice from a few favorite business books we’ve read in recent years. Then we asked eyecare pros to write about books that impacted them. Finally, we’ll give you a YRS reading list with 52 suggestions from a wide range of business disciplines.

Ready to permanently reset your business outlook? Let the YRS be your catalyst. The journey of ten thousand pages begins with but a single word, and your Year of Reading Seriously begins … right … now.

The 22 Immutable Laws
of Branding

How to Build a Product or Service
into a World-Class Brand

by Al Ries and Laura Ries | Published: 1998

Summary by David Squires

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While this classic book is written from a macro perspective with case studies featuring national consumer brands, its principles still apply well to smaller markets. If you’re the only horse in a one-optometrist town, you probably won’t need these principles. Be a generalist and love all, serve all. But if you’re in a competitive market and want to differentiate yourself with a strong professional brand, the laws in Immutable Branding can help you achieve your goal.

THE LAW OF LEADERSHIP/CREDENTIALS
It’s better to be first than to be better. If you are first (or biggest, or highest-rated), make sure that is always mentioned in your marketing — for example, “Raccoon City’s Original Optometrist Since 1933.” If you’re not first — don’t worry, there are 21 other laws in this book that can help you overcome this disadvantage.

THE LAW OF THE CATEGORY
If you can’t be first in a category, set up a new category you can be first in. If you’re entering a market, don’t ask yourself “How is my new service better than the competition’s?” Instead, ask “First what?” Are you the first OD offering mobile exams in your town? The first vision-improvement clinic for athletes in your county? First eyewear atelier with monthly trunk shows and visits from top designers?

THE LAW OF THE OPPOSITE
If you’re shooting for second place in a market, your strategy is determined by the leader. Your goal is to turn their strength into a weakness. Too many potential No. 2 brands try to emulate the leader. This (usually) is an error. You must present yourself as the alternative. Beck’s couldn’t be the first German imported beer in America. So it repositioned Lowenbrau by saying, “You’ve tasted the German beer that’s the most popular in America. Now taste the German beer that’s the most popular in GERMANY.” How can YOU position yourself against your market’s leader?

THE LAW OF FOCUS
It’s the ultimate marketing sacrifice. You “burn” your way into customers’ minds by narrowing your focus to a single word or concept. Federal Express was able to claim the word “overnight” by sacrificing its product line and focusing on overnight package delivery only. By chasing after everything, you stand for nothing. One word you can’t claim? Quality. Everybody thinks they stand for quality. And, as a result, nobody does.

THE LAW OF EXCLUSIVITY
Two companies cannot own the same word in the prospect’s mind. How could you own “contact lenses” in your market? You could ensure that you have the widest selection. Or offer unlimited free trials so people can see which product is best suited for them. Or provide training sessions for customers who have never worn contacts. Or you might become the Ortho-K specialist in your area. (In a crowded market, could you own the word “Ortho-K”?)

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THE LAW OF THE NAME/GENERIC
Don’t include generic terms in your brand name. Intelligent Chip Company is a lousy brand name, but Intel Corp is a great one. In optical retail, Warby Parker is an example of avoiding the generic — there’s not an “eye,” a “vision,” or an “opt-” to be found in the company name. And if you expand your brand into a new area, create a new name instead of trying to milk the old one. Want a kids’ practice? Don’t call it “Zimmerman’s Children’s Optometry” if your last name is “Zimmerman.” Instead, come up with something completely different — O. Crisp’s, or 20/20 Roger, or maybe even Dr. Z’s.

THE LAW OF CANDOR
When you admit a negative, the prospect gives you a positive. Candor surprises people, and gets them to lower their guard. Let’s say your ad begins, “OK, we admit it. We have the most expensive eyewear in town.” The prospect thinks, “Most expensive? Well, they must be really good!”

THE LAW OF COLOR/SHAPE
Pick your brand color according to the emotion you want customers to feel, not your personal preferences. (But if you have a main competitor, use the color opposite of theirs.) Stick to that color exclusively. Men tend to prefer cooler colors, women warmer ones. People in warm climates prefer bright colors, those in cooler climates prefer muted ones.

THE LAW OF PUBLICITY AND ADVERTISING
The birth of brand is achieved with publicity, not advertising. (And publicity comes much more easily when you’re first in a category, as mentioned above.) If you’re the first sports vision clinic in your area, your first year’s budget should be spent on publicity — getting coverage in local media, free services to attract well-known clients. Once you’ve gotten on people’s radars, your strategy changes, and advertising becomes more important than publicity.

ALSO READ: The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing
by Al Ries and Jack Trout, Published: 1993, Updated: 2002


Be Our Guest

Perfecting the Art
of Customer Service
by the Disney Institute
with Theodore Kinni

Published: 2001

Summary by Dr. Tanya Gill

Dr. Tanya Gill of Oakland Vision Center in Oakland, CA, recently visited Disneyland with her young nephews and was inspired to read the Disney Institute’s Be Our Guest. “Disneyland is — in fact — a magical place,” she says. “How can we bring that magic into our eyecare businesses? ‘Practical magic’ — which is Disney-speak for customer service — is really the art of connecting all of the little pieces to make up the whole. The book takes you on that journey. Here are some of my favorite and easy-to-incorporate points.”

CREATE AN EXPERIENCE
We are now in a new age of competition called the Experience Economy. Frames, lenses, contact lenses and medical services are simply props to engage the patient in this new era. Patients are looking for value — but it’s the value of the experience that lingers in their memory.

“Disneyland is a magical place. How can we bring that magic into our eyecare businesses?”
DR. TANYA GILL

SPEAK TO THE HEART
We get so wrapped up in the daily tasks of our jobs, sometimes we lose sight of the bigger picture and our common purpose. I recently asked my receptionist what she did for her job. She thought about it and said “I answer phones and schedule appointments.” She was correct, but when I told her “your new job description is to help our patients see more clearly,” her face lit up, she smiled, and said, “Yes, that feels amazing!” Motivate people by speaking to their hearts instead of their brains.

BE FRIENDLY UP FRONT
You never get a second chance to make a first impression and it’s usually your front-desk person who makes or breaks this. The Disney not-so-secret tip for providing friendly service is to hire friendly people. Make sure your front-desk staff is naturally friendly.

CLEAN SELLS
Everything speaks to customers. A cluttered office definitely gives a different impression that a clean, organized one. Think about the difference in appearance and feeling you have when you walk into an Nike store versus a Payless shoe store. Maybe it’s time for a spring cleaning or a remodel?

A CAN-DO CULTURE
“My way or the highway” isn’t always the best answer if you’re trying to grow a business. Foster a sense of ownership and expand the pool of creative input by regularly encouraging employees to contribute ideas.

SWEAT THE DETAILS
Creating magic is a lot of work, and it’s entirely dependent on attention to details. Dusty eyeglass lenses in your dispensary? A messy nest of exposed computer wires? Forgot to say goodbye and thank you to your patient as they were leaving? These are the details, and they constantly need attention.

THINK VISUALLY
Language is not always spoken. Other common languages include color, shape and form. How about painting one of those boring white office walls a bright color to make it pop? Maybe tear down an eyewear brand poster and replace it with a piece of art that shows off your personality?

OPTIMIZE THE QUEUE
Waiting too long for the doctor is usually the most common patient complaint. Although the wait in your office is never quite as long as the line for “It’s A Small World,” patients still get annoyed. How can we make the wait time less annoying and more entertaining or educational? Maybe Wi-Fi in reception — so people can surf or get some work done — and a Bluetooth sound system in the exam room so patients can listen to their own music while they wait?


Decisive

How to Make
Better Choices
in Life and Work


by Chip and Dan Heath
| Published 2013

Summary by David Squires

What makes us so indecisive? And why, even when we spend so much time worrying over our choices, do we make so many wrong ones? Decisive attempts to answer those questions. Best-selling authors the Heath brothers (Made to Stick and Switch) point out the most common flaws in the way we make decisions, both in our lives and businesses, and present guidelines for choosing more wisely. Below, some of the book’s key ideas:

KNOW YOUR ENEMIES
The four villains of decision-making: 1.) Narrow framing: You encounter a choice. But you frame the choice too narrowly, causing you to lose potential options; 2.) Confirmation bias: You analyze your options. But confirmation bias pushes you toward information that supports your original preference; 3.) Short-term emotion: When presented with a choice, short-term emotion (unwarranted fear, or even a bad mood because your favorite sports team lost last night) push you toward a wrong decision; 4.) Overconfidence: You commit to a path. But often you will be overconfident about how the future will unfold.

NEVER OR NOT
Don’t trust “whether or not” decisions. In fact, a little alarm bell should go off in your head when you see that phrase, reminding you to consider whether you’re stuck in a narrow frame. If you’re considering a major equipment purchase, don’t frame the choice as “Should I buy this $50,000 piece of equipment or not?” Instead, frame it as “Should I buy this $50,000 piece of equipment or save the money for other purchases?” You’ll be surprised by the number of times that simply reframing the question changes your ultimate decision.

TAKE AWAY OPTIONS
Stuck in a narrow frame? Take away one of the options with the Vanishing Options Test. Instead of asking “Should I fire Bob or not?” imagine you have to keep Bob on staff no matter what. What changes would you make if you had absolutely no choice but to continue working with this person?

NOW WIDEN THEM
To widen your options, find somebody who’s solved your problem. Look for best practices in other businesses or “bright spots” from within your own life or business. Who on your staff has the fewest returns or remakes? What are they doing that might be different from other members of your staff?

CREATE A PLAYLIST
Your business probably has checklists. But does it have a playlist? A playlist is a ready-made list of questions you ask yourself to ensure you’re generating fresh ideas and not overlooking options in a specific situation. Common example: cutting your budget in response to financial pressures. What if your playlist for budget-cutting situations asked questions like “Is it possible the budget can be cut by delaying planned expenditures rather than by paring existing expenditures?” and “Resist the urge to cut everything by a fixed amount” and “Could we cut deeper than we need to in order to free up funds to invest in exciting new opportunities?”

DON’T DELUDE YOURSELF
Research is important. But beware confirmation bias — favoring information that supports your preexisting attitudes and beliefs. (In addition to being highly dangerous for your business, it explains all those delusional contestants on American Idol. “Do you really think my voice is that good, Mom?”) In research, too many people seek reassurance rather than truth.

TRY 10/10/10
To put a decision in perspective, use the 10/10/10 framework. How will you feel about it 10 minutes from now? And 10 months from now? And 10 years from now? Conducting a 10/10/10 analysis doesn’t assume that the long-term perspective is the right one. It simply ensures that short-term emotion isn’t the only voice at the table.

HOLD A PRE-MORTEM
For another angle on decision-making, try prospective hindsight, also called a “pre-mortem.” Your pre-mortem might begin: “It’s 2018, and sadly, we’ve just closed the doors of our business for the last time. Our effort to concentrate entirely on low vision was a total fiasco. It blew up in our faces. Why did it fail?” Balance this (and make everybody feel a lot less depressed) with a “pre-parade,” assuming a project’s future success.

BE REALISTIC
Try “realistic job previews.” Don’t tell a prospective employee how wonderful everything’s going to be. Tell them where they’ll be facing problems — angry clients, long days, working weekends, that kind of thing. Revealing a job’s warts up front “vaccinates” people against dissatisfaction.


Free Prize Inside

The Next Big
Marketing Idea

by Seth Godin
| Published: 2004

Summary by David Squires

Seth Godin’s Free Prize Inside is a modern business classic, and one of the most inspirational business books we’ve ever read. (Godin’s Purple Cow is right up there as well.) In Free Prize, Godin introduces “edgecraft,” the ultimate strategy for differentiating your business in a crowded marketplace.

WHAT IS EDGECRAFT?
Basically, the idea is to find an edge — to take your business someplace your competitors won’t dare — and then stake out your position there. Be the fastest, the slowest, the biggest, the smallest, the most this, or the least that. Ideally, your edge will be something central to your product or service, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. The ideas below were all inspired by Free Prize, and while very risky, we still think that in today’s increasingly crowded, ever-more-competitive markets, playing it too safely has got to be the riskiest approach of all.

EDGE 1: LOCATION
If your competitors are all in featureless office parks, why not set up in a big Victorian house on the edge of town?

EDGE 2: PAMPERING
What if you had a rule that no one was allowed to try on eyewear in your store without looking their very best? Have an in-house make-up artist. As your clients relax and are fussed over, present trays of eyewear or sunwear you think they might like. Bring back your customer’s favorites when the primping is completed. (Everything your client puts on is going to look fabulous in front of those freshly made-up eyes.)

EDGE 3: SELECTION
“Wide selection” is a weak edge. Legions of miserable eyecare business owners try to keep everything in stock. Though their finances wobble under the weight of all that inventory, in the end, the old logic wins out: “If my customers want something I don’t have, they’ll shop somewhere else.” What if you were to end the tyranny of stocking everything by going to the opposite edge and having a severely limited selection. What if, each month, you were to curate a selection of just a half-dozen absolutely fantastic frame styles? Give each item its own elaborate display — stand-alone case, props that tell a story, poster-sized images of the item, even a video monitor showing models wearing the eyewear. Provide a single inventory choice for each style — modern, classic, traditional, vintage-inspired — and change them every month. (You can even have customers vote on your website for designs or designers they want to see next.)

“In today’s increasingly crowded, ever-more-competitive markets, playing it too safely
is the biggest risk of all.”
DAVID SQUIRES

EDGE 4: TIMING
OF PROMOTIONS

What if you held your biggest sale of the year in the middle of the night? Or a birthday sale that lasted only 44 minutes, in honor of your 44th birthday?

EDGE 5: SERVING KIDS
Most eyecare business serve kids under 10. But what if you were to turn your kids’ eyewear section into a true “store-within-a-store” — a fairyland castle, or a life-sized dollhouse, with kid-sized and kid-styled eyewear displays throughout? (Better yet, create an entire store based on that principle.)

EDGE 6:
ADMISSION POLICY

As Groucho Marx said, “I do not care to belong to a club that would accept someone like me as a member.” Like most of Groucho’s jokes, this one has a big kernel of truth. Get some promotional pop from this kernel by admitting only a select few customers to your store. What if someone could get into your store only with a written reference from a previous customer?

EDGE 7: THOROUGHNESS
OF EXAMINATIONS

How long is the average eye exam in your market? Double it. OK, triple it. No wait, quadruple it. If there’s a test out there that will help your clients work better (or play better), offer it.

EDGE 8: TIME IN STORE
Tell people that, at your dispensary, an “Eyewear Compatibility Profile” is required for all clients. As part of this process, you’ll gauge head shape, skull irregularities, skin tone and ear size as well as style preferences in order to find their perfect frame. As they wait, give them the “Queen/King For a Day” treatment. (See “Pampering.”)

EDGE 9: SUBSCRIPTIONS
People subscribe to magazines. They subscribe to get razors, ties, coffee, wine and more. Why not eyewear and sunwear? Create a subscription service for your clients’ favorite designers — give subscribers a special price if they agree to receive new eyewear each quarter to build their wardrobe.


Essentialism

The Disciplined
Pursuit of Less

by Greg McKeown
| Published: 2014

Summary by Julie Fanselow

Is busy-ness the greatest enemy of your business? In Essentialism, Greg McKeown helps harried entrepreneurs blaze a path toward devoting their energies to the things that matter most. The book is subtitled “the disciplined pursuit of less,” which may sound a bit heretical in our go-go capitalist society. But the author makes a compelling case that less is better, at least when it comes to your to-do list — and once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, you will “make your highest contribution toward the things that really matter.”

PRIORITY MEANS ONE
When the word priority came into the English language in the 1400s — and for 500 years after that — it meant “the very first thing,” and it was singular. Only in the 20th century did we see the plural: priorities. But only one thing can be the most important goal for you and your business, at least at any one time. You can have five goals, but you can’t have five priorities. The essentialist doesn’t try to juggle lots of good projects. He goes big on one great thing, whether it’s opening a new location or adding a speciality that will improve your patient base and profits.

YOU MAKE THE CALL
“If you don’t prioritize your life, someone else will,” McKeown says. “And you will lose sight of what’s most important to you.” Zero in on something concrete. Not, “we want to be the top eyecare practice in our market,” but “we want to increase our profits by 10 percent this year.” This is your “essential intent.” Making and living by your one essential decision can eliminate a thousand later decisions.

WHAT MATTERS MOST
Whatever the decision, ask whether it advances your priority? If an action doesn’t help you meet your top goal, don’t do it. Of course, this means saying “no” a lot. An essentialist says yes only to the things that really matter, but she also understands the power of “a graceful no.” The nonessentialist says “yes” to almost every request or opportunity. The essentialist says yes to only about 10 percent of opportunities. If you can answer a resounding “yes” to the question — “Is this exactly what I am looking for?” — then go for it.

CLEAN OUT
YOUR CLOSET

Think of your business like an overstuffed closet: Organizers often say if you haven’t worn or used something in a year, get rid of it. Apply that to your business. Get rid of everything you don’t love. Will this line, service or activity help me reach my goal? If not, let it go.

TIME TO THINK
At Microsoft, Bill Gates regularly took an entire week away from his day-to-day duties to think and read. You may not be able to manage that, but you can put a little of what Gates called “Think Week” in every day. Instead of starting your day with 20 minutes on Facebook or cable news, read a business book (we’re giving you a ton of ideas in this story), a philosophy book, or even poetry. Mix it up. You never know where your next source of inspiration might be. And remember all day long: Multitasking is a myth. Allow yourself time to focus, and the quality of your work will improve. The nonessentialist is too busy doing to think about life. The essentialist creates space to think deeply about what he really wants to do.

WATCH YOUR LANGUAGE
Nonessentialists say: “I have to.” Essentialists say: “I choose to.”

CUT YOUR LOSSES
Nonessentialists hate to admit they’ve made mistakes and believe if they just keep trying, they can make anything work, even as losses pile up. The essentialist thinks, “What else could I do with this time or money if I pulled the plug on this now?”


The Power
of Full Engagement

Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key
to High Performance and Personal Renewal

by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz | Published: 2003

Summary by David Squires

The Power of Full Engagement attempts to undo all the rotten work advice you’ve absorbed over the years, ranging from the Protestant work ethic to the rantings of Vince Lombardi. (“Winners never quit?” Really? If that were true, every successful person would still be in the first job they ever took and married to the first person they ever dated.) If you love what you do, have no productivity problems, regularly complete both your urgent work and your important work, and comfortably manage all the commitments in your life, you’re excused from reading this book. The other 98 percent of you, start reading.

BUILD RITUALS
Our brains have limited reservoirs of will. Every decision you make draws from this reservoir. Since the mind is a lot better at saying “yes” than telling itself “no,” creating new automatic habits (called “rituals”) and mapping out a complete daily schedule is the best way to automate positive behaviors so you spend less time telling yourself “no.”

TAKE 21 DAYS
Twenty-one days. That’s how long you need to change an old habit. So choose a habit you want to change — going to bed late, wasting time on the Internet first thing in the morning — and for the next three weeks replace it with another ritual: hitting the sheets at 9:30, starting the day attacking an important project for 90 minutes.

SCHEDULE HABITS
It’s important to set a firm time schedule for your habits. Schwartz tells of a study in which a group of women agreed to give themselves daily breast-exams for 30 days. Half stated when and where they would do the exams, the other half left it open. At the end of the study, 100 percent of those who said when and where they would do the self-examination followed through, while only 53 percent of the others did.

TAKE A BREAK
Just because you can work intensely for four hours at a stretch, doesn’t mean you should. To be truly productive and to eliminate mistakes, you need to pace yourself. Think of completing tasks in 90-minute chunks (set a timer if you need reminding). True energy renewal can be attained with as little as a minute or two of deep breathing.

FILL THE SLOW TIMES
Look for slack periods of your day that you can make more useful. Your daily commute might be used for focused thought on key work projects, as well as a personal transition period into “work mode.” Similarly, your commute home might be used to think about family plans and projects and a transition to “home mode.”

STOP WHEN
YOU’RE DONE

Define clear stopping points at the end of the day, so when you’re with your family and friends, you’re really with them. Don’t answer work-related emails and phone calls. You’ve earned the break.

PICK YOUR
FIRST PROJECT

Before you go to bed every night, make sure you know what key project you will work on the next day before anything else. Too many people wake up, fire up email, encounter their first crisis before breakfast and bounce from emergency to emergency for the rest of the day. By picking one project to which you can devote your best, freshest period of work, you ensure that the urgent never overwhelms the important.

FINISH THE JOB
Get serious about completing projects. Old joke: There are two types of people in this world — those who finish things, and …

BRAINSTORM REGULARLY
When you ask people where they get their best ideas, almost no-body will answer “work.” There’s
a lesson there. Have at the very
least an hour of work time every week where you do unstructured brainstorming and big-picture thinking away from your practice or store. Bring a notebook (the paper kind).

WHAT DO YOU MEAN?
Stop asking what is the meaning of life. Instead, imagine life asking what is the meaning of you.


Differentiate or Die

Survival in Our Era
of Killer Competition

by Jack Trout |
Published: 2000 |
Updated: 2008

Summary by Steve Whitaker

Jack Trout’s Differentiate or Die is a favorite for Steve Whitaker of Whitaker Eye Works in Wayne, PA. “I pick it up and choose a chapter to refresh me every week,” he says, “and I always come away re-energized.” Put yourself in the right frame of mind when you read this book, he adds, and you’ll be surprised by the new ideas you gain — including lots of “stuff that will seem obvious and you should have implemented long ago.” Some lessons:

GET PAST COMMODITIES
There is no such thing as a commodity; only people who act and think like commodities. For example, think about a person who comes in with a certain popular frame in mind. But in daring to be different, you’ve decided not to carry such a widely available line. Through a few questions, you learn the person is looking less for a certain brand than a “geek chic” look. “Ah,” you say, “try this …,” and you present a modified cat’s-eye. “Now it doesn’t matter what brand I sold. What matters is I truly believe it has quality and at least some class, even if my cost was $30,” Whitaker says. “And if it’s unique, now your customer has something a bit different from her friend. Momentum carries. Get them to think they like theirs better, and they will. That’s what it’s all about.”

MAKE CUSTOMERS CURIOUS
How can you tell if you are differentiating? When your customers know more about you and your products than you know about your customer. (It’s really good to know as much as you can about your customers, too, of course.)

RAISE YOUR PRICES
High-quality products should be more expensive and offer prestige. Price is rarely a differentiating idea. “Quality will trump price differentiation nearly every time,” Whitaker says. “I see this all the time specifically with Lindberg — a rimless line that is pricey by anyone’s standards. ‘Wow, that’s expensive!’ ‘Anne, the investment speaks for itself. They are nearly invisible, they weigh less than 2 grams. There are no screws, the culprit of all other eyewear. It has won countless design awards! Feel them. Try them on! No more ears and nose pain!’ I always thought the first thing we should think before we address an ‘expensive’ objection is ‘compared to what?’”

KNOW, THEN OWN
Know, then own, the attributes of your company and products. Always extoll the virtues of your products. Never let up.

DIFFERENT WINS
Whitaker says: “If you are different and your presentation of your product is different, you will beat and outlast those who neither know the product or lack the passion — and you may be selling the same product! I sell what other optical shops don’t have in a way that they aren’t trained.”


Married to the Brand

Why Consumers Bond with Some Brands
for Life

by William J. McEwen |
Published: 2005

Summary by Josh Bladh

Married to the Brand explores why consumers bond with brands for life — but “brand” is more people than product. “This book taught us that patients are committed to our doctor and/or staff, not the brands that we carry,” says Josh Bladh, office manager for Dr. Taylor Bladh in Diamond Bar, CA. It’s a quick read, he says, “that dives into the psychology of consumer relationships and what brands have done to further the commitment of the consumer — from the first encounter (date), to the brand experience (engagement), to the brand relationship (marriage). Our favorite quote from the book just might be, ‘Lasting, meaningful relationships are always reciprocal.’” Here are other take-aways Josh Bladh got from the book:

IMPRESS EARLY
The first encounter your patient has with you is rarely face to face. They Google your name on their insurance carrier and read reviews about you or your office before initiating contact. This is the consumer/patient looking for a promise you will take good care of them. Enthusiastic customer reviews and a beautiful (and functional) website make a huge difference in creating a positive first impression.

SEEK COMMITMENT
The goal isn’t brand awareness. The goal is a brand marriage! Marriage comes from engagement with the consumer. When your patients enter the office, do they see familiar names and faces? Or is your front desk a revolving door from a temp agency? Do you comment publicly on social media sites with patients? Do you respond to reviews? All are opportunities to engage your patient base.

HAVE A DIFFERENTIATOR
Whatever your differentiator is, make sure your patients know it! One of our differentiators is sports vision training. We have trained many professional athletes and have a hallway full of signed photographs with personal messages to Dr. Bladh thanking him in helping with their success. Our doctor also finds opportunities in the chair to ask questions to patients and see if sports ever comes up. It’s never a hard sell — that’s not how we do things — but he’ll share stories about success that we’ve had with our athletes and let the patient express the interest moving forward.

“When patients enter your office, do they see familiar names and faces? Or is your front desk
a revolving door from a temp agency?”
JOSH BLADH

AFTER THE COUPON
There has to be an emotional connection. Coupons and deals can initiate a first date, but will the connection continue after those promotions are gone? Promotions walk the line of bribery unless you can engage the patient into something more meaningful. We offer something as simple as a 2-ounce bottle of lens cleaner for each frame purchased.

LET YOUR PRIDE SHOW
After the marriage, will your patient mention their visit with pride? If a patient gets a compliment about their glasses, will they simply say “thank you” — or will they go out of their way to mention your office? The experience and delivery of your promise will dictate their response. Give your patients reasons to mention you by name.

GET BETTER REFERENCES
This is where your efforts really bear fruit — when you receive that review of, “I wouldn’t go anywhere else” or “I don’t know what I would do if my eye doctor ever retired.” We offer in-store credit to people who refer their friends and family to us by giving both the new patients and those who referred credit toward any pair of sunglasses.

STAY CONSISTENT
Everything you do has to reaffirm the promise that you are giving the patient. If your brand promise is health and your ability to care for your patients’ health, consistency is the key. Your soap dispensers should contain antibacterial soap with no lotion or fragrance mixed in. Your staff should know the difference between an HMO and a PPO. You should have a personal relationship with primary care providers in your demographic. Advertising should scream “health,” because that is your promise.

ADAPT OR DIE
In all marriages, relationships must be fostered. The same is true of the patient/doctor relationship. Foster your relationship with your patients by listening to what they have to say. Engage them throughout the year and structure your marketing accordingly. The truly successful practices are always adapting. Our doctor’s favorite line is “Adapt or die.”

The Ultimate
One-Year
Reading
Challenge

The 52 books on this list are not necessarily the “best” business books ever. They’re just really good books from a range of disciplines that we think will make you a better business owner. Items on this list range from very recent to more than 30 years old, with a prejudice toward more recent works. In many cases, listed books have updated editions, so be sure to get the latest version. Oh, one more thing: Consider this list a starting point. Feel free to add/subtract books to suit your interests. That’s it. Start reading!

SOCIAL MEDIA

The Thank-You Economy (2011) | By Gary Vaynerchuk | Care first, then sell later to succeed online.

The Power of Visual Storytelling (2014) | By Ekaterina Walter and Jessica Gioglio | Use images and video to draw more customers.

Likeable Social Media (2011) | By Dave Kerpen | At the social media party, don’t be a pushy, sale-sy bore.

Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook (2013) | By Gary Vaynerchuk | On social media, pace yourself, and pick your spots.

MERCHANDISING

Why We Buy (2000) | By Paco Underhill | The “butt-brush” effect and more adventures in retail anthropology.

Buyology (2008) | By Martin Lindstrom | A neuro-scientific view of the modern consumer.

The Paradox of Choice (2009) | by Barry Schwartz | Fact: too much choice stresses customers out.

Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want (2007) | by James H. Gilmore and B. Joseph Pine II | Authentic experiences keep customers coming back.

MENTAL SKILLS

The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working (2011) | By Tony Schwartz | Worn out? Here’s how to work at your best … forever.

Decisive (2013) | By Chip and Dan Heath | Bad decisions follow a formula. Here’s how to end them.

Willpower (2011) | By Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney | Your will is a muscle that can be trained. Whip it into shape now!

The Power of Habit (2012) | By Charles Duhigg | Understanding how bad habits are formed is key to eliminating them.

ATTITUDE

The Little Big Things (2010) | By Tom Peters | Hyperbolic, hyper-kinetic, but still inspirational.

Rework (2010) | By Jason Fried | Lot of fresh common sense for the modern business.

The Pursuit of Wow! (1994) | By Tom Peters | To rebuild your business, you must first destroy it.

Now, Discover Your Strengths (2001) | By Marcus Buckingham | Work goal: avoid what drains you, do what nourishes you.

MANAGEMENT

First Break All the Rules (1999) | By Marcus Buckingham & Curt Coffman | Hire talent, not experience. Build strengths, don’t fix weaknesses.

Leadership and Self-Deception (2000) | by The Arbinger Institute | To manage better, change the way you read others’ actions.

The Gifted Boss (1999) | by Dale Dauten | Make people love working for you.

Difficult Conversations (2000) | by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton, Sheila Heen | Stop fearing those tough talks with this insightful guide.

CUSTOMER SERVICE

Customer Satisfaction Is Worthless, Customer Loyalty Is Priceless (1998) | by Jeffrey Gitomer | How to serve your butt off.

Be Our Guest (2001) | By the Disney Institute & Theodore Kinni | More INVISION Brain Squad members recommended this book than any other.

Delivering Happiness (2010) | by Tony Hsieh | Secrets from Zappos’ customer-service (and corporate culture) revolutionary.

Hug Your Customers (2003) | by Jack Mitchell | A top retailer’s guide to providing memorable experiences.

VISION AND IDENTITY

Purple Cow (2003) | by Seth Godin | Your inspirational template for becoming truly unusual.

Free Prize Inside! (2006) | by Seth Godin | Make your business stand out with the art of “edgecraft.”

Blue Ocean Strategy (2005) | by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne | Beat competition by creating a brand-new market.

Start with Why (2011) | by Simon Sinek | What inspires belief in customers and employees? Your vision.

MARKETING

The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding (2009) | by Al and Laura Ries | Whip your brand into shape with these rules for standing out.

33 Ruthless Rules of Local Advertising (1999) | by Michael Corbett | Maximize your advertising bang-for-the-buck.

The Fortune Cookie Principle (2013) | by by Bernadette Jiwa | How to develop an appealing brand story.

Your Marketing Sucks (2005) | by Mark Stevens | Most ads are crusty, cliche-ridden nightmares. Here’s how to avoid the trap.

OPERATIONS

The E-Myth Revisited (2004) | by Michael Gerber | Organize your business to run itself. (Check out the edition for physicians, as well.)

Good to Great (2001) | by Jim Collins | Be humble, and know what you’re best at — then focus on that.

How the Mighty Fall (2009) | by Jim Collins | Made it to the top of your market? Here’s how to protect against decline.

Think Big, Act Small (2005) | by Jason Jennings | Like Good to Great, but with a focus on smaller companies, like yours.

SALESMANSHIP

Sales Bible (1994) | by Jeffrey Gitomer | The holy tome of modern selling.

Book Yourself Solid (2006) | by Michael Port | Fill up your appointment book, even if you hate marketing.

To Sell Is Human (2013) | by Daniel Pink | In the new sales landscape, honesty, transparency and fairness rule.

Secrets of Closing the Sale (1982) | by Zig Ziglar | To get what you want, give your customers what they want.

MORE TO READ

Blink (2006) | by Malcolm Gladwell | Why first impressions matter way more than you think.

The Dip (2007) | by Seth Godin | The opposite of quitting isn’t continuing. It’s doubling your efforts.

Drive (2011) | by Daniel H. Pink | What motivates employees is much different than what you think.

The Four-Hour Workweek (2007) | by Tim Ferriss | OK, some dubious claims here. But useful on productivity and the power of experimentation.

Getting Things Done (2002) | by David Allen | This whole-life-organizational system has become the modern standard.

Glengarry Glen Ross (1984) | by David Mamet | What you don’t want to do in sales management. But an incredible play.

Made to Stick (2007) | by Chip and Dan Heath | Craft a story that customers believe in and won’t forget.

Never Eat Alone (2005) | by Keith Ferrazzi | Learn how to connect with “super-connectors” in your community.

Hey Whipple, Squeeze This! (2003) | by Luke Sullivan | An ad exec dissects his creative process. Insightful and funny.

The Nordstrom Way (1996) | by Robert Spector | Customer-service lessons from the legendary retailer.

Don’t Think Pink (2004) | by Lisa Johnson and Andrea :earned | Tips for marketing that resonates with women.

Retail Superstars: Inside the 25 Best Independent Stores in America (2009) | by George Whalin| Creative independent stores show you how to be different.

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Cover Stories

How To Do Everything

We challenge you to implement one of these 23 ‘How To’s in your practice before the year is out.

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We recently consulted members of the eyecare community and a handful of business experts, asking them to tell us about some aspect of the business they’ve got down really well, and to boil that activity or practice down to its key components. What started out as a list of standout skills soon blossomed into an ECP’s guide to … pretty much, everything! Well … to a whole lot of really cool stuff, anyway. We’re pretty confident that reading this you’ll learn a few new tricks, and see at least a few of your current methods in a new light. We challenge you to implement one or two of these 23 practices — at least in some form — before the year is out.

HOW TO ENGAGE AUTHENTICALLY WITH YOUR COMMUNITY

Julie Kubsch, Specs Around Town, Bloomington, IL

Julie Kubsch, owner of Specs Around Town in Bloomington, IL, believes that if you engage with as many people as possible you’ll find someone who needs or wants your services — or who will know someone that does. Among the groups and events she has found most rewarding are: Bloomington-Normal Sunrise Rotary (“‘Service above self’ is the motto of Rotary and if you live it, it’s amazing what you can accomplish,” she says.); McLean County Chamber of Commerce (networking events); local radio station WGLT/NPR (“a perfect avenue for reaching clients that are fun, unique and love supporting local businesses”); and the downtown Bloomington business owners group’s monthly happy hour, hosted by a different business each time (“Nice resource to discuss downtown concerns, learn of other businesses in our area and creates a sense of family in regard to small, independent businesses.”) While financial benefits are the ultimate goal, Kubsch says, “hearing a comment like ‘Every time I ask someone where they got their glasses they say Specs Around Town!’ is good for the heart and soul.”

HOW TO MAKE THE BEST SANDWICH BOARDS


Heather Harrington, Elevated Eyecare, Denver, CO

By her own estimation, Heather Harrington at Elevated Eyecare in Denver, CO, makes the best sandwich boards in the business. We took her at her word and asked her to break down her approach — and the feedback.

  • INSPIRATION: Harrington gets hers from patients, the time of year, “and our office’s love for the overall health of the eye and clarity in vision.”
  • KEEP IT FRESH: She changes hers up twice a month or so.
  • MATERIALS: Harrington prefers chalk, with everything drawn in freehand.
  • LOCATION: In addition to placing them outside the business, she always posts all boards to her socials. “Of course!” she says. “Lots of hard work and thought goes into the boards for the month.”
  • RESPONSE: “Nothing but great things!”

HOW TO MAKE YOUR WEBSITE SERVE YOUR BRAND AND YOUR BOTTOM LINE

Selina McGee, OD, Precision Vision, Edmond, OK

Dr. Selina McGee at Precision Vision in Edmond, OK, has an eye for design but not the skills to translate that into a website. For that, she relied on marketing partner Gunnar Hood at WSI-Summit. (See what you think here www.pvedmond.com). She focuses her advice thus:

  • Find a web designer who can translate your ideas into reality.
  • Choose an appropriate platform: Precision Vision’s site is hosted on an SaaS platform called Duda, selected by Hood. “We like it because it is hassle free, supports SEO really well and accommodates all of our design needs.”
  • Use web analytics tools. Google Analytics, Google Search Console, heat mapping and other tools help monitor site performance, search engine optimization and social media reach.
  • Set goals. McGee’s were for the site to function as an extension of the office experience; to be phone-friendly; and to educate.
  • Include educational content. This captures views from beyond your area. “An article about bumps on eyelids is ranking well nationally.”
  • Don’t tinker constantly, McGee says, but consider a change if your site no longer reflects your brand and message, or isn’t meeting patients’ needs.

HOW TO KEEP YOUR WINDOW DISPLAYS FRESH

Jenni Leuzzi, Mill Creek Optical, Dansville, NY

At various times, the display windows at Mill Creek Optical in Dansville, NY have been graced by stuffed cows wearing shades; chickens eggs hatching kids’ glasses; a tipped-over picnic basket full of suns; and a vintage Fisher Price display. Here’s what owner Jenni Leuzzi focuses on:

  • For inspiration, in addition to holidays and seasons, Dansville has a full calendar of festivals and events. Check your town for something similar. She combs magazines and Pinterest, while some occasions suggest themselves: On Harry Potter-related dates: round frames in the window.
  • She stores a lot of props for re-use. Among these are old wooden boxes and crates, which can be draped in material. Items are found everywhere: “Garage sales, antique shops, Home Goods, Amazon, my basement…” Always be looking for something that can be used… or re-used.
  • The goal is to draw attention to your shop; don’t let your display become part of the unchanging scenery of the street. Leuzzi redoes her windows every three or four weeks.

HOW TO DEMO PRODUCTS & SERVICES ON FACEBOOK LIVE

Nancy Rausman, managing editor at EyeCarePro (eyecarepro.net), a consultant for the optical industry, says Facebook live is a great way for practices to build relationships, share expertise and products, and show the personal side of their business.

DO:

  • Provide value. Keep the focus on demonstrating services or displaying eyewear.
  • Write a compelling description. Before your audience decides whether to join you, they will read this.
  • Test lighting, sound and picture by selecting the privacy setting “only me” (in the “share with” section select “more” and scroll down).
  • Interact with your audience. Tag friends and patients to let them know the talk is happening; respond to chat; welcome people by name.

DON’T:

  • Forget to publicize your talk in advance.
  • Be overly promotional. This isn’t a commercial. No one wants to listen to 10 minutes of self-praise.

 

HOW TO EFFECTIVELY COMMUNICATE CHANGES TO CUSTOMERS

Marc Ullman, OD, Academy Vision in Pine Beach, NJ

During summer, Academy Vision in Pine Beach, NJ, takes off every other Friday. Here’s what Dr. Marc Ullman and the team do to keep people from driving all the way there only to find them closed.

  • Two or three weeks in advance, a message is posted alerting customers on Facebook, Google, the front door and website, and the phone message is updated.
  • The message itself is typically worded along the lines of: “Hello our amazing patients, the staff at Academy Vision will be taking time to enjoy our families this week.”
  • Messages are pinned along with all events to the top of social pages.
  • The door signage is professionally done. “It’s important to show we care about how you view our office, and the importance of spending time with family.”
  • Ullman reminds ECPs that “not everyone is on social media” — be prepared to field a few complaints.

HOW TO HIRE RIGHT EVERY TIME

Diana Canto Sims, OD, Buena Vista Optical, Chicago, IL

“Bringing new staff on board is pricey and time consuming; we have found our system works wonders funneling in the best candidates,” says Diana Canto Sims, co-owner of Buena Vista Optical in Chicago, IL. Here’s her rundown of the process:

  • A link is posted to an application with an invitation to schedule a phone interview at a day and time chosen by the candidate from a number of pre-determined slots. The slots are chosen ahead of time with a program called Acuity Scheduling. The application functions as the candidate’s resume.
  • For those who pass the phone interview, a face-to-face interview with a tour of the facilities. When they are also given a “logic and reasoning written test.”
  • Paid working interview. Conducted after they have passed the face-to-face. “We see their work ethic, reliability, team-playing ability and how they treat patients.”
  • Lastly, a candidate is selected from those funneled to the top. Some final advice, allow for trial and error, says Canto Sims. “It took us 11 years to perfect.

HOW TO START AN ABO TRAINING PROGRAM IN YOUR AREA

James Armstrong, Alberta Eye Care, Portland, OR

“Since opening our optical almost seven years ago, the most obvious challenge has been finding and retaining staff, particularly qualified opticians, and our office was not alone,” explains James Armstrong of Alberta and Cathedral Eye Care in Portland, OR. The shortage in the labor market has led to higher turnover and overhead costs, so Armstrong reached out to Portland Community College, and pitched the formation of an ABO training program in their medical career training department. “The idea was met with enthusiasm, but obstacles also presented themselves.”

  • Be able to demonstrate the demand in our local market.
  • Find an instructor. “It took two years of networking and reaching out to industry partners before the connection was finally made that led to finding Andrew Bruce, a master optician with decades of optical management experience, as our instructor,” shares Armstrong.
  • Know how to navigate the classic optometry vs. ophthalmology politics. “PCC has had an Ophthalmic Medical Technician program for years. I argued adding the ABO training program could only strengthen the college’s position in the eyecare field but those running the OMT program were concerned our program would potentially steer candidates away, or lower the future job prospects of the OMT graduates.” It took six months for Armstrong to convince everyone involved that opticians are not technicians and vice-versa. “What seemed like an obvious argument to myself and everyone else in our industry proved to be a very challenging hurdle for this program to overcome.”
  • Be patient. “Three years after I approached PCC about this program, Optician ABO Prep is officially a go and accepting students for January 2020!”

HOW TO WORK FASTER

Caitlin Wicka, San Juan Eye Center, Montrose, CO

Caitlin Wicka of San Juan Eye Center in Montrose, CO, isn’t sure why her ability to work with multiple patients at one time is so rare. Here’s what she does know about squeezing the most out of a workday:

DO:

  • Give trays to customers shopping for frames. “This allows them to look while you help change a nose pad or dispense.”
  • Offer guidance on store layout before a customer begins browsing.
  • Use the Ultrasonic cleaner as a way to make time to help someone else.
  • Look up insurance and patients before you sit with them.
  • Know your inventory and what you can order relative to the Rx you’re looking at.
  • Slow down, if it means making fewer mistakes.
  • Get your workspace set up with the tools that you most commonly use.

DON’T:

  • Chat with patients. “Let them talk to you, don’t talk at them.”
  • Deal with vendors/reps ahead of customers. “If a rep comes in, get them to help your patient look for glasses.”

HOW TO ANNOUNCE A FIRING TO THE REST OF YOUR STAFF

The basic rules of firing apply here. Firstly, do it quickly. Secondly, provide enough information to demonstrate the decision wasn’t arbitrary, but not so much detail that you look like you’re trying to embarrass someone. Be low-key, brief, stick to the facts and avoid emotion. Alison Green, author of the “Ask a Manager” blog, offers the following sample script for an email that she recommends be sent to the whole staff on the day of the firing.

”Unfortunately, Jane’s last day with us was today. We wish her the best of luck, and we’ll be moving quickly to hire a replacement. Until her replacement is hired, please see Fergus with questions about teapot research and Lucinda for any other questions.”

Green adds that “Your staff will generally understand that you’re not going to share every detail with them in cases like this,” while reminding managers that the key is to ensure that your staff understands how performance problems are handled.

HOW TO HANDLE AN EMPLOYEE WHO WON’T TAKE THE HINT

Back to “Ask a Manager” blogger Alison Green for this one: She advises that in fact it’s not your job to manage an employee’s reactions; if they don’t get it, it might be time to show them the door. “If an employee’s refusing to hear clear warnings, you don’t have to keep hammering the point home.” But before you pull the trigger, she does advise that you revisit the language you’ve been using with the employee. Have you been clear? “Sometimes managers think they have, but when we dig into exactly what they’ve said, it turns out that their wording has been mushier than they thought. In particular, managers are sometimes reluctant to say words like ‘If you don’t do XYZ, I will need to let you go.’” So, don’t be fuzzy. A manager/owner’s responsibility in this situation isn’t to keep issuing warnings — it’s to ensure that their warnings are clear. If not, Green says, “It’s time to move to a conclusion.”

HOW TO GET WHAT YOU WANT, AND NEED, FROM A SALES REP

Lorie McBroom, Bakersfield Eye Care, Bakersfield, CA

5 Bakersfield Eye Care in Bakersfield, CA, had tried several colorful frame collections that didn’t do well, so adding Etnia Barcelona felt like a bit of a gamble. Optical manager Lorie McBroom recalls telling the rep, “‘I love the brand, but it would be amazing if we could have 90 days to try it out to see how it would work. And the rep said, ‘Let’s make that happen.’” The line was a hit. “It’s worked out for us, as well as for our vendor, just to ask for the things that you want.” Something else McBroom has learned is that reps are a great resource for recommendations beyond their own brands. A good example of this is Matsuda, one of the first high-end lines they added. Its rep wasn’t familiar with Bakersfield, but another salesperson — who’d already brought Etnia Barcelona and Garrett Leight to the shop — vouched for what Bakersfield Eye Care was up to. By the time the Matsuda rep finally visited in person, “we had already sold through most of our Matsuda we bought at Expo, including a show-stopping frame that retailed for over $1,500,” says McBroom.

HOW TO SELL FROM THE CHAIR

Chris Lopez, OD, Roberts Eyecare Associates, Vestal, NY

To the eye docs reading this: We get it — you’re NOT salespeople. But there are ways to boost eyewear sales from the chair without feeling like you’re selling, and without dragging discussions of fees/costs into the exam room. Here are a few, provided by Dr. Chris Lopez of Roberts Eyecare Associates in Vestal, NY.

  • A key point from a sales point of view comes after refraction. Says Dr. Lopez, “If there is a moderate-significant refractive change, I demonstrate the change for the patient using their current prescription and the new one with the phoroptor. That’s a main selling point.”
  • Ask patients about their lifestyle. What recommendations present themselves? Says Lopez: “A prescription is what I deem necessary to provide the patient with the sharpest and most comfortable vision possible. A recommendation is what I think the patient could benefit from but which is not necessary.” ODs are within their rights to make both, he says. Discuss your recommendations as you walk patients to the handoff.
  • Ask all presbyopic patients if they’ve heard about multifocal contact lenses, an option that can get them out of reading glasses or bifocals/PALs. Many Baby Boomers and younger presbyopes are very conscious about their appearance. Being able to solve their near vision problem and helping them look young will make you a hero.
  • Raise the potential benefits of anti-fatigue lenses and daily disposables with appropriate patients during the exam. “With more and more patients reporting eye strain or tired eyes towards the end of the day, anti-fatigue lenses have earned a spot in my patient education armamentarium,” he says. “And I put any young patient (children and teenagers) into a daily disposable contact lens if it’s a new fit. It’s best to start healthy habits from the get go.”
  • “Always. Always. Have I said ALWAYS yet? I always ask patients at the end of the exam if they have any questions for me, or if there is anything that I haven’t answered for them. It gives them an opportunity to express all of their concerns and it allows you to once again educate and solve problems.”

HOW TO OFFER FREEBIES THAT MAKE YOU MONEY

Nancy Revis, Uber Optics, Petaluma, CA

“We are known to have fun free stuff,” says Nancy Revis, owner of Uber Optics in Petaluma, CA. She studied graphic design and marketing, so fun giveaways come naturally. “I had matchboxes made with our logo. Nice pens with our logo. We had beer coozies made that say ‘For your beer goggles.’ We always have fresh red vines and have a kitchen-size fridge full of beer and sparkling water. We have mints and chocolate all over the shop … especially mints because we are all in each other’s faces, so that is important.” Revis isn’t above setting the occasional sugar trap, either: “Now the little kids remember that I have red vines on the coffee table so they drag their parents in when they are walking by. I have totally sold sunglasses from them being dragged through the store for candy.” Selling suns doesn’t get any sweeter.

HOW TO BOOST WORD OF MOUTH BY DELIVERING A ‘WOW’ EYE EXAM

Robert M Easton, Jr, OD, Oakland Park, FL

Dr. Robert Easton in Oakland Park, FL, offers comprehensive eyecare and, when indicated, topography and a wellness OCT at no extra charge. Patients are shown the results in the exam room on flat screen HDTVs. He points out that topography is an excellent way to pick up a range of disorders. And “if a patient has a family history of glaucoma and/or deep cups, and/or high normal eye pressures, I want to be sure their Ganglion Cell Thickness is normal and I’ll run an Optovue Wellness exam. Furthermore, before I refer a patient for cataract surgery or Lasik I run an Optovue Wellness exam to rule out any retinal issues prior to surgery.” He adds that patients are more likely to accept treatment recommendations when he blows up their tests on a flat screen TV. “Because I do this as part of the comprehensive eye exam, I do not charge the patient. Many patients have referred their family members because of our thoroughness.” Business is so good, in fact, Easton doesn’t advertise.

HOW TO MANAGE FIRST TIME PRESBYOPES/PROGRESSIVE WEARERS

Kim Hilgers, Monson Eyecare Center, Owatonna, MN

A “no surprises” approach for first time progressive wearers is advocated by Kim Hilgers at Monson Eyecare Center in Owatonna, MN. Here’s her advice:

  • “I start by explaining that the ground won’t be clear when they look down because the viewing area is only 14-18 inches in the distance. I talk about steps and curbs (and vacuuming) being a challenge. I like to make a drawing to show them the reading area isn’t all the way across the lens.”
  • “The OptiKam has an amazing virtual lens demonstrator that the patient can hold and see more realistically what to expect.”
  • “Varilux Physio and Physio Drx are my go-tos. I’m kind of obsessing about Varilux X series right now for higher presbyopes.”
  • “I would say 95 percent of first-time progressive wearers are first-time presbyopes. I implore my doctors to speak to them about this as early as possible in their journey of presbyopia, to make MY job easier.”

HOW TO FIND/MAKE THE BEST USE OF AN OPTOMETRIC EXTERN

Mark Perry, OD, Vision Health Institute, Orlando, FL

Whereas internships are usually narrowly focused, months-long paid arrangements involving an employment agreement, and specific duties, externships (the word combines “experience” and “internship”) last a day to a few weeks, are unpaid, informal, have no major deliverables and often involve a student shadowing a doctor or simply observing what goes on. Dr. Mark Perry at Vision Health Institute in Orlando, FL offers the following advice to those thinking of bringing one (or more) on board:

  • Be dedicated to the profession, willing to instruct and help them adapt to patient encounters — lead by example!
  • Make sure your office is accommodating (and busy enough) to the optometry school, as well as the student (medical model of practice, latest equipment, etc.).
  • Start with your alma mater — contact the director or manager of the externship programs.
  • Be prepared to spend time with them.
  • Get staff to embrace and engage with the students.
  • Be prepared to learn from them!

HOW TO HANDLE VERY YOUNG CHILDREN

Nikki Griffin and Sara Mabie, OD, EyeStyles Optical and Boutique, Oakdale, MN
Nikki Griffin, owner/optician at EyeStyles Optical and Boutique in Oakdale, MN, fits babies as young as three months, so she knows a thing or two about doing it well. Her advice for opticians:

  • Fit them for now. Not yesterday, not a month from now.
  • If you don’t have the right size, admit it and refer to someone who does. Otherwise you’ll drive those people online.
  • Watch for endpieces that stick out too far.
  • Fit a frame to sit high.
  • Toddler tip: Use two penlights to get a PD. One to shine on their eye and another for them to shine at you.

Lastly, for optometrists looking to work with more kids: “Think like a kid,” advises EyeStyles’ OD, Dr. Sara Mabie. “A toddler might see a symbol of a rotary phone in a turtle. Be flexible — sometimes even getting on the floor for the wiggle worms. Have a variety of bright flashing toys to pull out, not a creepy puppet. Their attention span is short so change objects often. Oh, and keep moving!”

 

HOW TO GIVE AN EDUCATIONAL TALK

Taylor Little, OD, Eye Care Center of Colorado Springs, CO

According to Bob Levoy, author of 201 Secrets of a High Performance Optometric Practice, “the average optometrist has all the qualifications needed to become an effective public speaker. It’s really just an extension of in-office patient education.” By getting on the speaking circuit, you’ll be harnessing the power of your knowledge to bring in new patients. One doctor who’s already using this approach is Dr. Taylor Little at Eye Care Center of Colorado Springs, CO. Dr. Little urges other ODs to:

  • Decide on your expertise and have a direction before you start organizing your lecture.
  • Look for smaller events that need volunteers first.
  • Practice aloud beforehand.
  • Utilize pauses.
  • Choose a way to increase engagement with questions or surveys.

Levoy reminds ECPs not to turn the event into an advertisement. “The optometrist whose only motivation for public speaking is to obtain new patients will come across as self-serving … Establish yourself as an ‘authority,’ not as someone who is ‘looking for business.’”

HOW TO TELL A JOKE

Sometimes the route to “Yes” is through a customer’s funnybone. But before you clear your throat and dust off your knock-knock jokes, here are some thoughts from the guys in white jackets who know how to be funny:

  • Be self-deprecating, but don’t overdo it. In his sales blog at yesware.com, a sales productivity platform, Lou Carlozo counsels that sales humor at your own expense is safe, but don’t make yourself appear incompetent. You can joke about your hairline but don’t undermine your product line. He adds that self-effacing humor builds trust to show the real human being behind the salesperson; it creates a sense of authenticity.
  • Queens, NY-based standup comic Hari Kondabolu had this to say to The New York Times’ tip columnist Malia Wollan on the topic of joke-telling: “People should not be able to telegraph where a joke’s going.’’ Kondabolu says stock or street jokes — the kind you read in a joke compendium — are almost never funny. So, work on your ability to slip jokes naturally into conversation (i.e., don’t start with “Want to hear a joke?”).
  • If you must tell a joke involving an animal, ducks make for the funniest quips, according to a global survey done by scientists at the University of Hertfordshire, Wollan reports.

HOW TO BANISH BAD VIBES

Morgan Bartel, Collins Diamonds, Liberal, KS

Morgan Bartel, the owner of Collins Diamonds in Liberal, KS, told our sister publication INSTORE that “It’s store policy that we have no bad attitudes, conversations regarding politics, religion or anything that could cause any negative vibes. We believe in the law of attraction, which means that whatever thoughts/words we put out there or allow to be said within our store bring about either good or bad feelings. We have given numerous customers the opportunity to step outside and rethink their attitude. Some have immediately changed their tone, while others took their given opportunity, started looking at the bright side and then re-entered our store with a much more positive spirit!”

HOW TO FIRE A CLIENT

Tania Sotelo, Balfour Vision Optix, Brentwood, CA

It’s smart to set and maintain a chain of command and have a policy on what to do with people who disrupt your business. Staff tasked with carrying out the order should make it clear to the patient that it’s the doc’s call, and invoke their name, ideally in a brief conversation or call, but it can be done in an email. “Dr. Smith feels it’s time for you to find a new doctor, as we don’t seem able to meet your needs in our office,” Tania Sotelo of Balfour Vision Optix in Brentwood, CA, says. “We have a letter we mail to them stating we unfortunately have not been able to meet their needs and feel it’s best for us to terminate the business relationship,” she says. “We give them a 30-day notice for emergency services only and offer help finding another doctor if needed.”

HOW TO DEAL WITH A NATURAL DISASTER WITH HEART

Texas Smith, OD, Dr. Texas L. Smith & Associates, Citrus Heights, CA

Northern California’s Camp Fire killed 85 people and destroyed nearly 19,000 homes last year. Survivors who made their way to Dr. Texas L. Smith & Associates in Citrus Heights, CA, were seen and given Rxs for free. The idea began when VSP started providing vouchers for eye exams and glasses after the fire. “Several patients came in with the vouchers and I would ask them if anyone in their family needed eyecare,” explained Smith, who later reached out to VSP for more vouchers, and eventually just began providing survivors with needed care and Rxs at no charge. Smith has a history of quietly giving back. He has volunteered eyecare for homeless veterans, which, as a Vietnam vet himself, he says is “a no brainer.” He also volunteers with the VSP Mobile Clinic at Loaves and Fishes in Sacramento. “Optometry has been very good to my family so I need to pay it forward. Just doing my best to make a positive difference,” he says. Fires, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, it seems Mother Nature has no shortage of disasters. Are you doing your part?

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Cover Stories

VEW Special Buying Guide 2019

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HIGH ROLLER SUITE

These products didn’t come to play, they came to win, and you can bet they pay off big.

All-In

Made with Japanese titanium, the Gardin from GÖTTI SWITZERLAND brings high style and character to a simple look with a ’90s vibe. The Suites

$498

gotti.ch/en

Overlay

Striking and double-take worthy, the angular model CL40105 from THéLIOS is an oversized square that includes the brand’s signature dots on the temples. The Suites

$550

Spinner

Fully automated, but also available in a standalone, manual version, the Velocity Spin Coater from COBURN TECHNOLOGIES is an industrial, hard coating system that gives ECPs a way to transport lenses from Point A to Point B. The process includes a multi-stage precleaning system, a secondary cleaning system, coating and curing, with the lens returned to the job tray. Booth #LP6075

Price upon request

coburntechnologies.com

House Edge

From Wizard mode for novices to Professional mode for the optical vets out there, the compact and multifunctional LEXCE Trend from SANTINELLI now features an on-board auto-clamping 3D tracer, high-definition CAD Blocker (for multi-function shape editing) and drill hole imaging (optical tracing with hole detection). Booth #LP11087

Price upon request

santinelli.com

Gold Standard

Designed by Shane Baum and featuring polarized CR-39 lenses with hydrophobic coating and a proprietary 12-layer anti-reflective UGR12 coating, the LEISURE SOCIETY model Oceanic (LS 121) in black with 24K gold will raise the bar for your offerings. The Suites

$1,200

leisure-society.com

 

POKER ROOM

No risk, no reward. With the eternal battle for the big pots becoming harder and harder, having these products in hand could mean doubling up on your buy-in fast.

Exotic Bet

CHRISTIAN ROTH’s Iconic Series-4001, in collaboration with Stephanie Pfriender Stylander, brings back the era-defining images of Kate Moss in Series-4001 from 1992. This style is handmade acetate with exclusive wire core. The Suites

$350

christianroth.com

A Dime

The model Studio 10.1, from MYKITA’s Studio 10 collection, flies like a butterfly with beveled edges and defined lenses. This combination frame is made from stainless steel and acetate. The Suites

$675

mykita.com

On the Lam

In keeping with the idea that Derek Lam designs reflect “luxury without formality,” the optical model 295 from the Fall/Winter 2019 collection is an 18K gold-plated, stainless steel and acetate frame with silicone covers on the nose pads. It is shown here in green mélange. Booth #19057

$450

modo.com

Payline

The ClearChart 4X Enhanced Digital Acuity System, shown here, and ClearChart 4P Polarized Digital Acuity System, both from REICHERT, now contain LEA SYMBOLS and LEA NUMBERS, which, as the standard in pediatric acuity testing, are easier for children to identify. With a software update, these are compatible with the company’s Phoroptor VRx Digital Refraction System and SightChek Digital Phoroptor. Booth #MS9043

Price upon request

reichert.com

G-Play

The official sunglass for Manchester United players and coaches, the MAUI JIM Compass is a modified aviator with dual mirror lenses. The left temple tip includes the Manchester United signature devil, and the left lens includes “MAN UTD” up top. The Palazzo, Suite #35-212

$349

mauijim.com

 

TABLE GAMES

This is where most of the action is; the bread and butter plays, if you will. These products are sure to grind out wows day after day. ECPs can crack the nut fast with these picks quickly becoming best sellers.

Color Up

The DJ5013 from Reese Witherspoon’s DRAPER JAMES is an acetate combination frame with an attention-getting stripe detail. The frame also includes the brand’s signature magnolia on the temple tip. Booth #16065

$187

altaireyewear.com

Jackpot

The square-shaped Floyd (6458/9) from GIGI BARCELONA is made with high-quality acetate and CR39 lenses.

$249

gigibarcelona.com

In on the Action

REVO returns to its roots with its double-layered, NASA-based lens technology and 1985-themed packaging. The Dexter is a large square wrap style with elastomeric nose pads, temple tips and lining. Booth #16087

$249

revo.com

Hot Streak

Named after the Florida beach town of the same name, the Flagler, from COSTA, is a masculine Monel frame with acetate temples. Booth #20065

Starting at $209

b2b.costadelmar.com

Eye in the Sky

Show patients what they need to know about the level of UV protection they’re actually getting with the C-UVProtect, from ZEISS. Lenses that offer a higher level of UV protection will appear dark if they block UV according to the World Health Organization standard of 400nm. However, lenses that offer less UV protection will have a clearer look. Booth #LP8065

$495 (VEW Special)

zeiss.com

 

PENNY SLOTS

Whether you’re a fish or a whale, you don’t need to make bank to get down with these business boosters.

Overlay

Keep those glasses in place with the model Brooks, from KOMONO (shown here on the frame model Jessie). This chunky acrylic cord has adjustable rubber grips.

$19

komono.com

Load Up

Help your patients protect their glasses while boosting your biz. The Buy the Glasses cases (item ST-BTG) from RON’S OPTICAL come in four color schemes and can be ordered in sets of eight or 24 pieces. Booth #21087

$6

ronsoptical.com

Natural

Offering protection from UV blue light, the DHA-rich formula of ProDHA Eye, from NORDIC NATURALS, encourages normal tear production as it preserves retinal and macular health. Booth #MS2059

$49.95

nordicnaturals.com

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Cover Stories

Endings: Owners Share How and Why They Closed the Curtain on Their Eyecare Businesses

No two exit strategies are exactly the same.

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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.

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