December 30, 2006

Optometry and Dental Office Together?

From Ask The Expert:

Q. Have you ever built a joint optometry and dental office?

A.I have been involved in a number of projects where an optometrist and dentist are side by side. It seems to be a natural fit that works well for both practices. Last year I did a project for a husband and wife – he's an optometrist, she's a dentist. They purchased a building and put both their practices into it.

I did the interior design for the optometrist, another firm did the interior design for the dentist and we coordinated our design work on the shared entry and public restrooms. I think both clients got the best results by using designers who specialize in their respective fields.

A bit of wrestling went on between the two designers because both of us were fighting to get all the space we needed for each of our clients. It took quite a few revisions of the shared areas and the location of the demising wall separating the practices before we reached a solution that was satisfactory for both. The client's marriage survived the conflict in good shape because they let the designers duke it out (in a very professional manner, of course), rather than having husband and wife butt heads over design issues.

I've done other projects where an O.D. shares a waiting room with another type of practice. I think that some separation of the two practices is generally better than combining them. Business-wise, each practice needs separate accounting and office functions.

If you want to consider combining optometry and dentistry, you need to think through how everyday operations would work. Would patients (and possibly staff) get confused with two kinds of practices going on in the same space? You may want to talk with a practice management consultant before deciding what your best set up would be.

November 11, 2006

Why Would I Want To Use You?

Q. Why would I want to use you? Most of the optical display companies will do free floor plans. My builder will do all the other drawings from there.

A.That's an excellent question so let me take the time to give you a thoughtful answer.

You are right, anybody can give you a plan. It's like the old joke about doctors: "Do you know what they call the guy who graduates dead last in his class in medical school?... they call him doctor." Yes, anybody can draw you a plan.

My plans do two things better than anybody else's plans: 1) make the most money possible, every year, for the life of the office and, 2) give patients and staff a great feeling about being in the space that goes beyond the lighting, the colors, and the style.

Some people think so much of my designs that when they want to sell their practice they advertise it as a "Barbara Wright designed office." Once a practitioner has had me design a space for them they often have me do their second, third and all their succeeding offices. (My clients tend to be very successful people.)

My initial design helps them to outgrow the first office so they can step up with confidence to a bigger one. This is true especially if they value their time during the planning process, want to increase their profit per square foot and value the feel of their space no matter what the size.

These days managed care is forcing every practice to operate at peak efficiency or be left in the dust. Your level of efficiency is either built-in or botched in the floor plan design. If you make mistakes in your floor plan, you'll have to live with them for the next 10 years or more because they are too costly or downright impossible to correct later.

Some people, however, save a few dollars, get a free floor plan design and never realize what it cost them. They may have saved a few thousand dollars up front by not using me but passed up the typical 20% to 30% increase in profit possible from one of my designs vs. the free one done by a “no-name” designer.

Let's be conservative and say that the average additional profit from my design is just $200. per day. If a practice is open 20 days per month that's an extra $4,000. per month or a total of $48,000. possible profit increase in the first year alone. Over a 10-year office life span, that means $480,000. that never materializes, all because they tried to save a few bucks.

I recently spoke with a client whose office I designed four years ago. He reported that the practice experienced a 25% increase in the first year alone, but subsequently has grown another 25% in the second and third year, as well. It looks like the fourth year will be the same story. This phenomenal growth went way beyond his expectations.

Those “free” designs are offered by fixture manufacturers with the expectation that you will buy the company’s pricey products. Most practitioners realize that the plan is not really free and that it's liable to be worth little more than what you paid for it.

If you are in a moderate to low income area, have a very small space to work with, have no concerns about staff turnover, and have no intention of optimizing your profit per square foot of floor space... then you don't need me.

If optimizing your profit and the feel of your space is critical for you then I am the best deal going and we should talk further. This is especially true if your time is worth the $500+ per hour that I suspect it is and your specialty is not office design; it takes precious few mistakes to blow both your budget and your time.

If you still want to try doing it yourself, my book Ophthalmic Office Design Guide can help you. But if you want to be certain your new office will be a model of efficiency that pulls in maximum revenue for you, then give me a call toll-free: 888-422-0361

Let's discuss your project and your goals. Then you can make an informed decision on whether investing in top-notch office design makes sense for you.

November 10, 2006

Which Building Shape Is Best?

From Ask The Expert:

Q. My building started out 60 X 40. Told the builder I needed about 3200 sq ft. I would prefer the building be made longer, wider or both to make the size.The builder wants to make the building the size I need by adding a 25 by 30 extension on the back (he had his architect draw this in with a kitchen, Dr offices and Flex Future Lab). I faxed this plan to your office and want to get your help with my design.

My question is this, am I correct that a square or rectangular building will work better (better design potential and less heating/cooling problems because the addition has 3 exposed walls) than a building with an addition on the back. Next, if I can't have the exterior design changed, because of building position, set backs or what ever, how much of a problem do you see designing a well working building with the back addition.

A. Regarding the plan you sent, an L-shaped building footprint would not be my first choice. An "L" shaped plan cannot be as efficient as a rectangular or square shape. It will require more hallway space. That creates extra steps for you and your staff.

Heating and cooling an L-shaped building should not be a problem as long as your architect gets a good mechanical engineer to design the system properly. You might want to consider having a system with 2 or 3 zones that can be regulated separately.

If there is no other choice because of setbacks or other factors, I can certainly work with that shape and give you the most efficient patient flow possible within those confines. Putting staff rooms (lab, breakroom, private offices, storeroom, etc.) in the back leg of the "L" is usually the best solution. We'll keep all the patient traffic in the main part of the building so you'll still be super-efficient where it counts.

A rectangular or square shape is preferred because it enables me to make the best use of every square foot. It requires less hallway space which means more space devoted to patient care and less steps for you and the staff. The closer the shape of the building is to a perfect square, the easier it is to achieve the coveted one-way circular patient flow that is a big contributing factor to high productivity.

Sometimes the final shape of the building is dictated by factors that we cannot change, such as set-backs, irregular lot shape, easements, driveway requirements, etc. If that's the case I will wrestle the footprint of your building into the most advantageous size and shape possible despite the restrictions.

I'm delighted to be working with you and I'm very glad you brought me on board at the beginning of the project. Now I'll be able to coordinate my work with your architect to make your patient flow perfect and your dispensary a visual drawing card for your practice.

October 21, 2006

C.L. Training in a Small Office

Q. Just wondering, I am buying a 1002 sq. ft office and wondering if I should have a separate CL fitting room or incorporate it into my dispensary??? I will have two exam rooms with a pre-test room.

A. When you put two exam rooms into a 1002 sq. ft. office it is definitely a challenge to find space for a C.L. Fitting/Training Area.

From the patient's point of view, learning how to insert and remove contacts can feel awkward and uncomfortable. Doing this in the dispensary in view of other patients would only add to their discomfort. Therefore, I do not recommend it.

Here are several better possibilities for the location of your C.L. Training Area:
1. A nook or widened space in a hallway, away from the dispensary
2. A small table in one of the exam rooms

You don't need a separate room for C.L. Training, but you do need a place that is semi-private and away from the front office (Reception/Waiting/Dispensary) area.

October 10, 2006

Color Scheme Struggle

From Ask The Expert:

Q. I am struggling with my selection of a color scheme and time is running out. I have purchased used mahogany frame boards and I like classic design features. Would a selection of earth tones be in my best interest? I am considering a sand neutral for the majority of the public areas and white for the exam rooms. I am also considering a brick red to compliment the sand on one wall in the dispensing area.

What do you think? I am also concerned because my contractor wants me to go ahead and paint before selecting counter tops and floor coverings and I think I should do it the opposite due to the fact that you can always match paint up to your other selections.

Your book has helped me immensely! Thanks! Chris

A. The professional way to create a color scheme is to start with the carpet. Choosing a multi-hued carpet with an overall pattern or texture is the easiest path to a good color scheme because the carpet designer has already chosen colors that look great togther. Once you have a carpet that you love, you can pick out colors from the carpet to match or blend your plastic laminates (Formica) , paint, wallcoverings and other floor coverings like tile or vinyl.

Selecting paint first and then trying to find a carpet later is a recipe for disaster. Your idea of a sand neutral and brick red accents with mahogany cabinets can work very nicely, but I strongly recommend that you find a carpet that has the sand and brick colors in it first. Then you can match up the paint to the colors in the carpet and it will all look good together.

White is a color that can be very tricky to work with. There is a wide range of shades of white with subtle differences that the untrained eye may not pick up from looking at a paint chip. There are warm whites, cool whites, creamy whites, greyed whites and more. With your sand and brick color scheme you will have to be careful to stay on the warm side of the spectrum with your sand tone. I'd recommend going with a cream or ivory shade of white.

The wrong shade of white could make your office look harsh and cold. You would benefit from getting some professional assistance in putting together your color scheme. Don't let the contractor bully you into putting paint colors on the walls before you have selected your carpet and other elements (plastic laminates, tile, vinyl, wall covering, etc.)

Paint colors are the LAST thing to select because you must be sure you get the exact shade that will blend with all your other choices.

September 10, 2006

I Want A New Office...Where Do I Begin?

From Ask The Expert:

Q. I am a solo ophthalmologist who has been in practice for 6 years and have rented space within a family practice office. I have now outgrown the rented space and would like to move on up to about 1600-2000 sf for me with room for a dispensary and another office or two to rent out. What is the best way to start looking and creating the office of my dreams? (or the one that I can afford). I know this is a vague question but I 'm at a loss for how to begin this journey.

A. You need to do some business and financial planning before you'll be able to really start down the road to your dream office. Knowing what you can realistically afford is the first step. Otherwise you have no way of evaluating whether a location is a real possibility for you.

I'd suggest speaking to a few different practice consultants about what you want to accomplish. Then select the one who seems best able to guide you in putting together a business plan for your practice.

You will most likely need a loan to build your new office and the bank will require a good business plan (and the track record of your current practice) in order to approve the loan. In the course of putting together the business plan you can do some preliminary scouting for office space and find out what the rental rates are in your desired area.

Good luck with your new office!

August 2, 2006

New O.D. Wants to Start Practice

From Ask The Expert:

Q. I am a fairly new licensee ( 2 years ) from Boca Raton Florida. I am anxious to open up an exciting new practice. Only, I feel its so far away and overwhelming. I received some cards in the mail and ran into your info. I went to your website and see you offer design services. How would it work with you being located in Oregon?

Q. We work with OD’s like you all over the country. All we need is an accurate plan of your space to work from (often the landlord or building architect provides this for you). Photos of the space are helpful, too.

I really enjoy getting new OD’s off to a flying start with a creative design that will fit within the typical tight budget of a first practice. Opening your first practice can certainly seem like an overwhelming task. That’s why it’s important for you to select your designer carefully. A well-designed dispensary should practically sell the frames for you and you need someone who is experienced in optical design to do that.

You will find my Office Design Guide book very helpful. It gives you a great overview of all the factors you need to consider for your new office, plus 100 floor plans. You can order it here:

July 17, 2006

How Much Will My New Office Cost?

Q. How much will my new office cost?

REMODELING PROJECTS are the most difficult to "guess-timate" before you have actual plans in hand because the amount of work can vary so much. If you are remodeling a small dispensary you probably need to budget at least $20,000. to do enough to make a real difference. Medium to large dispensaries can cost $30,000. to $50,000. or more.

BUILDING OUT AN INTERIOR SPACE varies according to labor costs in your area. Generally it's more expensive to build on the East Coast or West Coast and less expensive in the Midwest and South. Figure on spending $75. to $100. per square foot on the average for a nice office with good quality materials, custom cabinets and state of the art dispensary lighting.

BUILDING FROM THE GROUND UP starts at about $125. per square foot (not including the land) for a simple building in a medium or small size town with lower construction costs. You could easily spend $150. to $250. per square foot and more for a building in or around a busy metropolitan area.

You can ask contractors in your area what a typical commercial building costs in your area, but the numbers he quotes you will not include the specialized display fixtures and lighting you'll need in the optical area. Be sure to add on $25,000. to $50,000. more for your optical.

May 10, 2006

How To Pick Exterior Color for a Building

From Ask The Expert:

Q. I own a small (2,800 square foot) professional building. We remodeled the interior last year and I want to repaint the outside, which is stucco. How do I pick a color for the outside? I want something that's a little bit different than the typical beige, but I don't want it to turn out looking too bright or too dark. Can you help?

A. Selecting an exterior color is a two step process. First you need to select three or four colors that appeal to you. You may want to get some professional advice at the paint store to help you your select your possible colors. Buy a small can of each color.

Next pick a wall that can be seen from a distance and paint a good size swatch of each color (3' x 6' or 4' x 8') on the wall with some space between the colors. Let it dry and look at the colors several times over the next few days. Check how they look at different times of the day: morning, noon, dusk. Look at them on a bright, sunny day and on a cloudy day.

You'll be amazed at how different a color can look from one day to another or from one time of day to another. Make sure you look at the colors from a distance, the way people driving by will. After a few days of observation you will be able to decide which one looks the best to you.

May 6, 2006

Orphan Dispensaries and the 11th Hour Save

It happened again this week. An O.D. who shall remain nameless called me in a panic. He's in the middle of construction on his new building and he was not happy with the dispensary design that the building architect did for him. He thought he could do it himself and started by ordering a few showcases. Now he doesn't know how to do the rest and how to put it all together so it won't look like an afterthought.

It sounds unbelievable that someone would put all that time and effort (and money!) into his building project and then leave the dispensary design til the end. They wait until they are stressed out and in a bind to get help from an optical design specialist when they should have done that in the first place.

This type of project I call the "11th hour save" because that's what I have to do for the client. Step in at the last minute and save the day like some cartoon superhero. These can be the most difficult design projects to do. We have to work with what's already been done in a piecemeal fashion, design whatever is missing, and pull it together so it all works and looks wonderful to boot! And we have to do it all in half the time it normally would take.

Maybe I have not done enough to educate people on how to work with their design and building team to avoid these kind of problems. The design of the dispensary is such a critical part of any new office. When it's done right it helps to create maximum profits for the practice. It's too important a profit center to treat like an orphan.

I am not out to trash architects here. Just like any other profession, there are good ones and bad ones. If you want a really special looking building, you need a talented architect to design the building shell for you. But if they are not intimately acquainted with the complexities of optical retailing and optometric practices, letting them do the interior design and especially the dispensary sometimes leads to disaster.

Don't let this happen to you. If you are in a position to build from the ground up, do your homework. Assemble a team of experts and let them do their best for you. Don't wind up with an "orphan dispensary" and a frantic search for a superhero designer to save you at the 11th hour.

April 14, 2006

New Office Photo - Couple of Eyes

Just received this photo of a new office that I designed right here in my home town, Portland, OR. The practice is called "Couple of Eyes," owned by husband and wife optometrists. When they first came to me they were thinking of leasing 2,000 square feet for their very first practice, opening cold. I advised them to scale down to 1,500 square feet or less to keep their initial construction costs and overhead down.

They wanted a very contemporary interior with a minimalist style and colors that would reflect their Asian heritage. I had to do a bit of searching to find just the perfect shade of brick red for the back wall. The reception counter is faced with metal laminate. Natural slate flooring in the entry provides rich texture and color.

Although the look is very "hip" we did not want patients to think all the frames are higher priced. Simple locking frame bars signal that the optical has moderate priced frames as well as high fashion frames. The contractor, Norwest General Contractors, did a great job and actually finished on time. That doesn't happen every day!

April 12, 2006

Display fixtures: Catalog or Custom?

Q. Should I buy display fixtures from a catalog or have my local contractor make them custom?

A. There is an upside and a downside to both approaches. You must weigh the choices and decide what is best for your particular situation.

CATALOG FIXTURES - Most fixture manufacturers will do a free dispensary layout for you and give you an exact price for the whole package. Fixtures can go with you if you move to a different location and it's easy to add more pieces in the future by just placing an order from the catalog. However, display fixtures are fairly expensive and some people want their office to have a different look than what can be achieved with pre-made fixtures.

CUSTOM FIXTURES - Your local cabinetmaker can build your dispensary fixtures if he has a well-detailed set of plans from a designer or architect experienced in optical design. The cost of your dispensary can vary greatly depending on how much custom cabinetry is required and you won't know the actual cost until the plans are done and you get the bids.

The quality of the work can vary also. It's up to you to choose the contractor wisely and refuse to accept any sub-par work. With custom fixtures your office will be one-of-kind and could cost less than if you bought all fixtures.

Many offices have a combination of the two. Free-standing showcases with built-in lighting and locking doors are complex pieces best left to a specialty manufacturer who builds them all day long. Your local cabinetmaker may not be able to give you the high quality you need in a showcase. However, much of the other cabinetry in the dispensary can be handled by a good local cabinetmaker without a problem.

April 10, 2006

How Long Will Construction Take?

How long will it take to build my new office?

Interior build-outs should take about 6 - 8 weeks, but always add another two weeks or more on to whatever date your contractor promises. Contractors rarely finish on time, even the good ones!

For the average small to medium size professional building a good contractor can do it in 6 months or so, but don't be surprised if it takes longer.

Do I Need A Building Permit?

Q. Do I need a building permit?

If you are doing minor cosmetic changes without any effect on the structure of the building or changes to the plumbing, heating or electrical systems, you probably don't need a building permit. If you are building walls, adding or moving electrical outlets, light fixtures, plumbing fixtures, etc. you DO need a permit.

Q. What if I just go ahead with the work anyway without getting a permit?

In small towns and rural areas, the building department is usually more lenient than in a big city and you may be just fine. But in larger cities and towns the building department is more likely to come down hard on those who try to get away without a permit.

They can actually shut down your job and stop any work from progressing until you get a permit. They can make you tear out the drywall to see if your electrical outlets have been installed according to code. It simply is not worth the risk and aggravation. If you suspect you need a permit, go to your local building department, discuss your project with one of the planners or inspectors and find out for sure.

The worst case I ever saw a client go through involved having to enlarge and upgrade a restroom to meet current ADA (Americans With Disabilities Act) requirements. Against my advice this client did extensive remodeling to an existing office on the second floor in a professional building WITHOUT a permit.

They opened for business and all went well for about 2 months. Then a city official stopped in and asked for their business license, which they did not have. When they applied for the business license, the city figured out that there was no building permit issued for this new business. They were caught!

They had no certificate of occupancy, which you get with your final inspection approval. The city shut down the practice and made them apply for a permit and do the restroom upgrades, which I had included in my plans. I knew the restroom had to be upgraded but they didn't want to believe me.

Don't let this happen to you. Get a permit!

April 6, 2006

How Long Does It Take To Get Plans Done?

Q. How long does it take to get plans done?

A. For an interior build-out a complete set of architectural plans takes an average of 6 - 8 weeks for your architect or designer to complete. It can take longer depending on how many revisions it takes to get your approval on the final drawings.

For a building it can take 4 months or more depending on how long it takes to get preliminary approvals on the site plan before the actual construction drawings can be started.

March 6, 2006

Determining Size of Optical

From Ask The Expert:

I'm planning a new building about 4,000 square feet in size. I want to have an optical of about 700-800 square feet with four dispensing tables and 1500 frames. We'll have two doctors and four exam rooms to start, possibly adding another exam room or two in the future. What do you think about the size of the optical?

A. A good rule of thumb for the ideal size of the optical is 15 - 25% of the total square footage. Yours calculates out to 20%. In my experience your optical is a good size (actually larger than average) for a two doctor practice. Most other offices in this size range of 4,000 SF have six exam rooms, often with a somewhat smaller optical area than yours.

If you plan to do a lot of serious marketing specifically to increase your optical sales you might think about making it larger. However, I’ve learned from my clients that the physical setup of the office can usually handle more patients quite easily. The thing that can limit growth is lack of space for the increased number of staff members required to handle the higher volume of patient traffic.

This has to be a decision based on your overall vision and plan for your practice. Do you think those four dispensing tables will be adequate during busy times? How many opticians will you have working at the same time during peak hours? Will you provide space for more work stations for additional staff people in the future as the practice grows?

If you think you’ll need five or six dispensing tables, then you probably need a larger optical. If the four tables you are planning will be enough, then you probably don’t. Another idea that you could consider is having a separate delivery counter with frame warmer and tools in addition to your four dispensing tables. Then those tables can be used exclusively for styling and selecting frames.

Of course all this has to fit in to a realistic construction budget. If you enlarge the building and then can't qualify for the larger loan required, you will have lost a lot of valuable planning time and effort.

Some of my clients "hedge their bets" in this area. If your building lot is large enough you can plan for a future addition if and when it is needed. In this case, we layout the floor plan for the future addition and create an easy way to connect the old with the new when the time comes. If you build for now but plan for the future, then you will not be spending more money than necessary on initial building costs.

I think that this will give you plenty to mull over. Take the time you need now at the beginning stages of your building project to consider your options and their financial impact carefully.

February 27, 2006

Opening First Practice

From Ask The Expert:

Q. I'm opening my first practice cold and I found a location I really like, but it's a little over 2,000 square feet. Is that too big? If it is, can I build most of it now and do the rest later?

A. The ideal size space for a first practice is 1,200 - 1,500 square feet. If you take a space too much larger than that you could end up with with monthly overhead costs that are too difficult to meet in the first year or two. If you are going solo, 2,000 square feet is really more than you need to start your practice.

Successful solo O.D.'s usually start in a small office under 1,500 square feet and build up their practice gradually until they are "bustin' at the seams." Then they move up to a bigger office between 2,000 and 3,000 square feet or so. They don't move until they know they've got a good patient base and the cash flow to handle a larger monthly outlay.

When you first start out, it's vital not to bite off more than you can chew! Find a smaller space in the best location possible. Get yourself enough of a construction budget to build an office that gives you a professional image in the clinical area and some retail pizazz in the dispensary.

If you take a larger space and leave some of it unfinished, it doesn't save you a whole lot of money in construction costs. The higher rent could seriously hamper your chances of making it a success, not to mention the extra stress it would cause.

Be conservative with your first practice and then you will get to move up to a larger office when the time is right.

January 7, 2006

Barbara Wright Design Website Map

If you are looking for office design information, inspiration or ideas see our website:

Barbara Wright Design Home Page
Designing your new office shouldn't be a struggle. Find help here.

Is This You?
If you fit any of these descriptions, you might be the type of person we like to work with.

How We Work Together

Describes how the design process works and why you'll get superior results using local talent plus specialized expertise.

Photo Gallery
One picture is worth a thousand words. See dozens of our office designs here in styles ranging from classic to contemporary.

Office Design Book
It's the only manual of its kind written just for eye care professionals, loaded with over 100 floor plans plus designer tips and tricks for every room in the office. Order it online through PayPal.

Free articles you can download, plus links to magazine articles on office design

Design Services
Our design services range from consultation to floor plans to complete construction documents. We are flexible and will work with you in whatever way you need.

About Barbara
Biography and educational background of Barbara Wright

Contact Us
Quick and easy contact form for Barbara Wright Design

Barbara Wright Design Photo Gallery

If you would like to see photos of some of the optometric offices I have designed you can jump to the photo gallery at the Barbara Wright Design website.

January 6, 2006

Ask The Expert Your Question

Don't forget you can ask me any question about optometric office design right here on this blog.

Just fill in the "Ask The Expert" form at the top left.

Is there something you'd like to see on this blog or on our website that isn't there yet? Just let me know. I'm here to help.