December 3, 2007

Top 10 Reasons and Ways to Go Green

By National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI)

Should you use green (environmentally friendly) building materials the next time you remodel or build a new office? The National Association of the Remodeling Industry shares reasons and ways to go green.

1. Lowers energy consumption
2. Reduces operating costs by increasing efficiency
3. Conserves natural resources
4. Increases the value of the building
5. Improves indoor air quality and in turn, overall health
6. Reduces waste and emissions.
7. Lowers pollution causing less harm to the environment
8. Increases productivity of occupants
9. Improves quality of life and raises comfort
10. Saves money

Design Blunders: Display Background Color

Optical design and theatrical design have much in common. Both have a stage (background)
upon which the star (merchandise) is presented. Both rely on strong lighting to bring the audience’s attention to the star.

To make your frames into star performers, show them on a white or very light-colored background with the best lighting you can afford. Frames displayed against a dark background or mirrored surface are not seen as well because the background absorbs the lighting. There is too little contrast between eyewear and background.

Light backgrounds make the light bounce and reflect off the delicate details and subtle colors of the frames. It’s easier to bring out the jewel-like qualities of the frames on a light background.

Fortunately this can be an easy problem to fix. If your frame backgrounds are dark, simply paint them white. If your frame backgrounds are mirrored have a contractor install white panels over most of the mirrors, leaving an adequate amount of try-on mirror space exposed.

November 5, 2007

Designing for Sales

The latest feature article by Barbara in the October addition of Eyecare Business magazine.

Practitioners often struggle because the look of their office is at adds with the image they try to create with their marketing. The office environment become an obstacle to overcome instead of an asset that promotes the desired positioning.

Read this article in it entirety...

Common Design Mistakes: Poor Sightlines

The line of vision between a person and an object is called a sightline. In optical design controlling the sightlines of what patients will see as they travel from one room to the next is a nuance that is left out of many office designs. When done correctly patients don’t realize that their sightlines have been carefully planned and limited. What they perceive is a very neat, clean and professional office.

A good optical designer knows where the messy places are likely to be: lab, contact lens storage, business office, private office, staff lounge. In addition patients in the main waiting area should not be able to watch doctors and staff scurrying about in the clinic area. You need to anticipate which rooms and areas should be completely hidden or partially obscured, then position walls and doors to allow little or no view for the patient.
Concealing unsightly areas must be thought-out and designed into the floor plan right from the start. If you don’t like what patients can see after the office is built, it’s too late to fix it.

November 2, 2007

Food for thought from a recent SCORE, "Counselors to America's Small Business" newsletter

I found a fascinating interview with business writer and lecturer Dan Pink in a recent SCORE (Counselor's to America's Small Business) newsletter. He says, "you can’t compete by process or economies of scale, but you can differentiate yourself through design, storytelling, the ability to see the big picture, and empathy."

Q: You stress the importance of design in right-brain thinking. What does that mean?

A: It's not solely about image. Design is utility enhanced by significance. You understand who your customers are, what they need and why, and what it takes to give meaning to your product or service. For example, many studies have found that the environmental aspects of health care facilities can enhance the healing process. Now, these facilities are being built with more natural light, meditative gardens, and other features to enhance the patient's experience.

Q: How does the design concept apply to small businesses?

A: Small business owners should be more attuned to a high-concept design because for them, it's a matter of survival. How you position yourself and the processes by which you serve your customers are all design decisions because they differentiate your business from something that may otherwise be perceived as a commodity. Many functions that professional services firms used to provide are now automated—e-filing taxes or checking mortgage rates online, for example. A high-touch approach may be your only way to offer customers something they can't find anywhere else.

Q: How can a small business owner develop design literacy?

A: Do things to enhance your sensibility to design, such as keeping a design "diary." Jot down any examples of good and bad design—whether it's a store layout or a company's customer service process—and review them periodically. That kind of awareness sharpens your eye and enhances your level of understanding.

To view the newsletter in its entirety, visit:

September SCORE Expert Answers

October 2, 2007

Q & A - Customized Storage

Someone asked me a question recently about customizing a cabinet design for storing stock lenses in the lab. It prompted me to think about how many different items need customized storage in a typical optometric office. How can you be sure that the things you want to store will fit in your new cabinets? Here's the original question and my answer.

In designing our new lab we have the idea to utilize a cabinet as the stock lens drawer. We are wondering if there is already a concept design for this? We are thinking of have the shelves on an incline for easy viewing, and the shelves slide out.

I usually recommend buying an all metal stock lens cabinet from your lab equipment supplier that's designed to hold a lot of lenses. You can eliminate a base cabinet and put that unit in its place.

It is possible to custom design drawers for lenses if you work directly with the cabinetmaker on the detail. You'll need to give him a lens sample in the largest size you would be using, discuss your ideas with him and have him do a "shop drawing" of it.

The cabinetmaker's shop drawing is a very detailed technical drawing that shows how he will build the cabinet. He starts with the designer's cabinet elevations, then draws up each cabinet design after he has taken field measurements.

He may have to adjust some of the original dimensions to fit the actual space available. The designer and you as the owner or tenant should both review these drawings to insure that all the colors and materials are correct and that any changes made still reflect the intent of the design.

Once the shop drawing is done and appears to be correct, you may want to have a sample of one drawer made so you can try it out with the lens blanks and see if it needs to be further modified. These drawers would need extra heavy-duty glides and extra-strong joinery to be able to stand up to years of heavy use.

Anytime you want to put any special item or piece of equipment (like a computer tower or trial lens tray) inside a cabinet, do not assume that there will be enough room for it. Your designer and cabinetmaker will do their best to interpret your needs. However, unless you give them the exact dimensions you want or a sample of the item you want to store, you might be disappointed in the end result.

The more specific your cabinets need to be, the closer you must work with your cabinetmaker. If you provide samples to him, and then the item doesn't fit when he delivers the cabinets, you can make him re-do it to get it right.If you do not provide a sample of the item to him and require that he create a mock-up for you to approve before going ahead, you will have to just take what you get, whether it fits or not.

Your designer should note on the plans where specific items must fit and state that the cabinetmaker must obtain a sample of the item and provide shop drawings (and mock-up if needed) for your approval before he starts fabricating the cabinet. That's the best way to protect yourself from being disappointed in any of your cabinets.

Accessory and Lens Display

At GW Eye Associates in Carlsbad, CA this passage from clinic area to dispensary provides a convenient and quick stop for lens brochures, samples, products and accessories. Although my general rule for frame display is to have a white background, we can break the rule in secondary display areas like this.

The shallow adjustable glass shelves hold mostly items with a lot of color and mass, like the literature holders, lens cleaner bottles and such. Here a dark background makes those colors pop. Showing only a few frames on this rich purple background works fine here.

However if this display was showing only frames, the dark background would make many of them almost disappear. If you have a situation like this where your frames are displayed, there’s a fast and easy cure. Just paint the back wall of the display white or install a fabric-covered panel on it. Now you’ll be able to see all the frames in that display, even rimless and delicate metals.

One other design feature to notice is the “radiused” (rounded) corners around the open doorways. In this case the walls are entirely wrapped with wall covering, but a painted finish would look good too. This detail adds a lot to the overall atmosphere of the office design. It’s softer and more contemporary.

Little touches like this can make your office feel special and inviting. Patients may never comment on the rounded corners. All they know is that they love being in your office.

September 12, 2007

LED Lighting Revolution: Why Gucci Snatched Up These Light Fixtures

Oh, boy! I'm steamed! Months ago I specified new state of the art LED lighting fixtures for a green-conscious forward-thinking client. When it came time to ship the order, the manufacturer said, "Sorry, all of our inventory was sold to Gucci for their new store in New York."

I know that my client had personally ordered those fixtures over three months ago because they told him it was a long lead item that could take 12 weeks. We were able to get a different LED fixture as a substitute but it was not my first choice. That just chaps my hide, as they say in Texas!

The question is: why did Gucci throw their weight around to snap up all those fixtures for their newest store? Why are manufacturers scrambling and failing to meet the demand for these new LED fixtures?

LED (Light Emitting Diode) technology has been used in some products for years, like laptop screens and flat screen TV's. Until recently LED's were cost-prohibitive for general lighting products. Now at last LED lighting fixtures at justifiable prices are available to the commercial construction and consumer markets.

Why have designers been chomping at the bit for LED's? Take a look at the upside and the downside of using LED's in your next office.


When burnt-out fluorescent tubes hit the garbage can, the inert chemicals and glass in them end up in our landfills. They cannot be recycled. LED's are a sustainable lighting product, which nearly all other lighting products are not. Many of the materials used in their manufacture can be recycled.

The light source lasts for 10 years or more. That means no bulbs or tubes to throw out and replace. Nothing goes into landfills during the useful life of the fixture.

Initial costs are higher than conventional fixtures, but over the long run you get lower utility bills and zero replacement bulb costs.

LED'S provide a solution to the long-standing problem of heat produced by halogen lamps. Halogen display lighting held the title of "king of display lighting" ever since it was introduced. It produced the whitest and brightest light for merchandising difficult products like eye wear and jewelry.

LED's are clearly superior when it comes to the heat problem. Their heat emissions are practically non-existent compared to halogen or incandescent.

The color rendering (how true colors look) of the light was poor in early LED's, being either too warm or too cool. Bright, well-balanced white light is required to bring out the colors and details of eye wear.

Now you can get LED's with the kind of light that we could only get from halogens in the past. So, not only has the heat problem been solved, the color rendering problem has been solved too.


Although prices are gradually coming down for LED's, they are still more expensive than halogen lighting. But as more manufacturers jump on the LED bandwagon, prices will come down. If you invest in LED's now the lower energy usage can make them less expensive than halogen over time.

As of this writing delivery time is 12 weeks or longer for the few manufacturers who are actually producing these products. There is no telling when the supply will catch up with the demand, but eventually it will as the factories get into gear to produce mass quantities.

For years I scoured our trade shows and industry magazines for the retail designer's holy grail: lighting that was white enough and bright enough to make eye wear spring to life but doesn't produce all that heat.

Just like any other technological wonder the first products weren't perfect and were relatively expensive to boot. As manufacturers raced to solve the color problem, I knew it was just a matter of time until they got it right and brought the prices down. When they get the availability problem solved, we will be able to light our homes and workplaces with light that is good for us and light fixtures that are good for the environment.

From now on all my clients are getting LED lighting wherever it is appropriate. Oh, yes, I forgot to mention that many LED's can be dimmed without expensive transformers or special switches. That means you can have money-saving LED's in exam rooms and data collection areas too!

The manufacturers are working hard to get more product produced in their overseas factories now, so the lead times will shorten in the coming months. In the meantime I'll be pushing clients and their contractors to get their LED orders in super-early, before the plans are even submitted for permit.

Just because we're not a multi-million dollar fashion house, that doesn't mean we can't have the same state-of-the-art lighting for our offices and shops. So there, Gucci!

Learn more about LED lighting at these websites:

August 3, 2007

What is the smallest space for a refracting lane and exam room?

The smallest refracting lane/exam room I've ever done was 7'-6" x
10'. I spoke to this client recently and he says it's working very
well for him. He has a small writing counter and sink to the right
of the chair and the computer with digital eye chart monitor to the

This client was in a situation where he needed to fit 3 exam rooms
into the space that originally held 2 exam rooms. The narrow width
of the room actually works to his advantage because it only takes a
short roll on the stool between computer and writing counter.
Believe it or not, he even has a guest chair in there!

I've seen people make exam rooms as narrow as 6'-6" work but only
when the phoropter is wall-mounted. Most folks find that 8' x 12'
is a comfortable size for an exam room. However, it is possible to
work in a smaller space if you have to.

August 2, 2007


The elegant Paris department store, makes it's home
in this massive architectural wonder. I always enjoy shopping the
high end department stores in New York, like Bloomingdales, Barneys
and Saks Fifth Avenue, but I'll never be able to look at them in
quite the same way now that I've see Printemps.

The spectacular glass dome is the centerpiece and heart of the
store. Three tiers of exquisitely detailed balconies rise from the
main floor to ring the domed atrium. My hat is off to the Printemps
store design team. They have preserved the original architecture,
but added modern lighting in a way that enhances the grand style of
this building.

The different colors behind the railings are a high-tech addition
that you'll see in more and more new stores here in the states.
This LED (Light Emitting Diode) technology is harnessed and
programmed by computer to change color throughout the day.

LED''s are energy efficient and run cool, unlike halogen or
incandescent lights. The initial cost of LED lighting is higher,
but the light source runs for thousands and thousands of hours
(could be 10 years or more!) before you ever have to service the
fixture. Studies show that the average utility cost is much lower
over the life of the fixture.

The cost of these systems is still prohibitive for smaller
retailers, but like all technology today, the cost comes down as
each new generation of the product is created. I predict that it
won't be long before color-change lighting systems will fit into
the construction budget for O.D.'s who want to attract high-end

Here in the USA we have fewer opportunities to find spaces with
beautiful architectural detailing like this for an optometry
office. However, we can be inspired by these ideas and adapt them
to add a touch of high-tech wonder to new designs.

August 1, 2007

The Happy at Work Manifesto By Alexander Kjerulf

Much of what happens to us in life is beyond our control, but
Kjerulf tells us that being happy at work is a choice. His message
is simple, yet inspiring: When you decide to take steps toward
being happy, you can be.

July 3, 2007

A Most Unusual Display

As I was going through all my retail display photos from Italy, this one stood out from the crowd. It definitely caught my eye as I was walking along the street. Is it a shopper-stopper? Yes. Is it innovative? Yes. Is it effective? Maybe. Does it help to sell frames? Maybe.

I think it works better with sunglasses. The dark lenses give them more mass so they stand out from the display. The other frames get lost in all the twists and turns of the metal rods.

What is your opinion?

July 1, 2007

Fed Up With Spam? This can help!

Are you as frustrated as I am with Spam? This week I got an apologetic message from a client who was thoroughly embarrased by a spammer who stole his e-mail address. This creep sent everyone in this doc's e-mail address book a solicitation for porn, complete with a smutty photo! And somehow it was sent from the doctor's e-mail server so his address was in the "From" field. How horrible!

Luckily I hadn't checked my e-mail account that morning, so when I did I recognized the spam and trashed it. In the last few weeks not just one, but TWO of my e-mail addresses have been hi-jacked by spammers. One of them was a new address I had just set up! I hadn't even used it yet and in just 3 days I received 185 spams!

I thought using a contact form on my website would be a safe way for people to send me an e-mail without exposing my e-mail address to spam-bots that crawl around websites harvesting addresses. Boy, was I wrong!

I called my webmaster because I thought there might be some security breech on his servers. He explained to me that some spammers now have automated programs that will take your domain name and try dozens of name and initial combinations derived from the domain name when your real name appears in it. Sometimes they stumble on an address that works!

So, what can you do about spam? My webmaster recommended this book to me and it delivers good value at very reasonable $9.95. We've added the recommended security measures to my contact form and I now have a strategy for setting up hard-to-guess and "disposable" e-mail addresses.

World's Narrowest Optometry Office

This little shop made me shake my head in wonder when I happened upon it in Florence, Italy. I thought I had designed a few incredibly narrow spaces in my time, but this one has me beat. It couldn't be more than 8 to 10 feet wide!

It must be an optometrist's office because you can see the equipment in the back room. The marble floor looks like it might be centuries old. But then EVERYBODY in Italy has marble floors!

The displays are nice–simple openings no more than 12" deep with beautiful wood frames, some with sliding glass doors for security. The "trade-show" style halogen lights are also a pleasing design element as they march down to the back of the office.

The two-tone wood reception counter is good-looking. The display on the back wall is brightly-lit, which helps draw your eye to it.

I can't help but wonder why they didn't switch the positions of the display and the door to the exam room. Where does your eye go when you look in this door? Straight back to the exam room! If the display was in that position, you'd be looking at frames instead of equipment.

This is a good example of designing almost everything well in a very difficult space, but missing the boat on the back wall design. I hope you never have to deal with a space this narrow for a new office, but this is proof that it can be done.

June 4, 2007

An Architect Confesses!

You have probably read my views on the trouble with architects. (See Disasters article.) They tend to make their design more important than the merchandise.

Now here's confirmation in print from an architect who agrees with me and has seen the light.

The following is an excerpt from the May 2007 issue of Visual Merchandising & Store Design magazine featuring an interview with David Kepron. He is a principal at the Philadelphia based architecture firm, SPG3. Kepron earned his architecture degrees from McGill University in Montreal and is an active member of the American Institute of Architects.

What has been your biggest challenge as a designer?

"Early on, it was understanding that store design wasn't all about me, the design and the architecture. I had to learn to let go of a series of messages learned in college that, as an architect, I should be saving the world from itself. I've learned to see the customer, the merchandise and the brand as the stars and that the things I design play a supporting role in their show."

How do you measure the success of a store design?

"When walking in the store, if the customer can understand the product assortment, navigate the space with ease and have the brand environment resonate in a corporeal way, while the cash register rings constantly, then you've got success."

Kudos to Mr. Kepron. I'm thrilled to see that there are some architects out there who do understand what their role should be in retail design.

June 3, 2007

Productivity Zapper: E-mail Overload

Are you or your employees in the habit of constantly checking your e-mail?It's become the all-American pastime for many of us. But it's more harmful to our productivity than you might think.

Download this excellent article and talk about it to your staff. I have instituted the solution the author suggests in my office and have noticed a significant gain in our productivity and ability to focus.


The Low-Information Diet: How to Eliminate E-Mail Overload and Improve Productivity By Tim Ferriss

It's Monday morning and your To-Do list for the day is lengthy. You turn on your computer, log into your inbox, and spend the next six hours starting, stopping and backtracking, your To-Do list untouched. Tim Ferriss offers immediate solutions to improve your productivity and quiet the constant information interference.

June 1, 2007

Is Your Dispensary Suffering From Poster-itis?

Talking about overload I recently paid a visit to three offices that I designed some years ago. The owners were all very happy with the design and the increased growth and profits they were experiencing.

But two out of three dispensaries were suffering from "poster-itis"—too many posters standing all over the place. There were posters on the shelves, posters on the dispensing tables, on top of showcases and even on the floor!

All these posters made the dispensary look cluttered and crowded. Clutter is the enemy in the dispensary and poster-itis is usually the main culprit.

Posters on the floor or on top of showcases or displays are an absolute NO-NO! This does absolutely nothing to help you sell frames. So if you are guilty, lay down the law to everyone who works in the dispensary—no more posters on the floor!

The only place to use posters is on a shelf next to the brand of frames depicted. Here is the rule: You may only use ONE poster per shelf. Spreading multiple posters across the same shelf is another NO-NO!

Now if you don't care about selling more higher priced frames you can ignore this advice. If what you are after is a dispensary that looks like a bargain basement, go wild with the posters. Jam them in and don't leave an empty spot anywhere. It will look cheap and communicate to patients that they should expect bargain basement prices.

There is only one cure for poster-itis: Take them ALL out! Then pick out only ONE per brand name and put it back in next to that brand of frames.

The dispensary will probably look bare to your eyes when you get all those posters out of there, but believe me, the patients won't think so. Less posters means less distraction for the patients. They will be able to focus better on the frame styles and colors without a jumble of posters vying for their attention.

May 7, 2007

Best of Paris

These two photos show one of the best optical shops I found in Paris. It couldn't be more than 10 or 12 feet wide, but the curving walls and soffit above help to distract the eye from the long narrow shape. The window display on the left is small but very eye-catching. I often use these type of cubicle displays in my designs because they work so well for upscale eyewear.

The use of light maple and dark cherry wood for the interior is nothing new, but balanced very nicely. Using dark wood at the back wall makes that wall seem closer than it really is. A bevy of halogen lights in the ceiling give the whole place a warm inviting feel. I'm sure this place is a magnet for shoppers looking for high fashion frames.

May 4, 2007

French But Funky

You'll rarely see the words French and funky in the same sentence, but when you combine antique style chairs with in-your-face color and top it off with pop art, what else can you call it? This place has a hip, fun point of view that's bound to attract a hip, fun clientele.

The front window, though, is a disaster zone. The pink miniature couch is cute and colorful but there's just too much "stuff" in this display. Mon Dieu, mon ami! Less is more!

May 3, 2007

Parisian Sunday Strollers

Hot fashion sunglasses were everywhere in Paris, the bigger the frame, the blacker the lens, the better. Saw a fair amount of aviators too.

May 1, 2007

Effective Leadership = Higher Profits

An effective leader is the key to any successful team. In Get Everyone in Your Boat Rowing in the Same Direction leadership expert Bob Boylan teaches you how to push your team to its full potential.

If you asked your employees the question, "Who are we, anyway?", would they all know the answer? Would you get different answers or just a blank look? As a leader it's your job to communicate to employees:
1. What's important around here
2. Where we are headed
3. What we stand for

Boylan says when everybody knows and believes in these three things, you've got a group of people working toward the same goal. And that translates into higher productivity and more profits.

I love this book. It's a short and simple read with great ideas you can put into action in your practice right away. Maybe you're not a born leader, but you if you don't learn to lead your people, your practice will never reach its full potential.

Some wise man once said, "Your level of success in life depends on how well you can get things done through other people." This book will help you step it up a level or two. And what's more it's only $9.95 at Amazon -

March 5, 2007

Photos: Vision Source of Texarkana

This office was completed in November, 2006. Dr. Mark Allen reported a 21% increase in average revenue per exam within their first 3 weeks in the new facility.

Dr. Allen was very concerned about how to display and sell more high end frames without losing patients who were looking for more moderate priced frames. The solution was to create a high fashion boutique within the optical defined with a barrel-vaulted uplit ceiling and columns. The see-through showcases divide the reception counter from the optical.

The high end frames are shown off in cubicles that are individually lit with halogen strip lights. The moderate priced frames are presented on frame bars and glass shelves built in to the wall.

We'll have more photos of this office up on our new website soon.

March 2, 2007

Fabulous French-Italian Retail Tour April 4-23, 2007

I'll be in Paris and Italy for three weeks in April to scout out the best in French and Italian retail design! I'll be cruising through some of the finest optical shops (like Alain Mikli in Paris) and the best boutiques and retail shops in Venice, Florence and Rome.

Naturally, we'll do a bit of museum hopping too, but my main intent is to steep myself in world class merchandising, design and architecture for creative inspiration. In today's global economy people's tastes are getting to be more similar according to their income group than their geographic location.

Many of my clients are opening new locations in high income areas or wanting to attract more high income patients. People who want high quality merchandise also expect high quality interior design whether they live in Paris, France, Toledo, Ohio or Palm Beach, Florida.

On the other hand, stores like Target have shown us that great design isn't just for the rich. Target sells a whole line of Michael Graves kitchen wares and Isaac Mizrahi clothing and shoes. People with moderate incomes respond to great design, too.

I expect to come back from my trip with a boatload of ideas for display and design that I can translate and adapt to any income level. Of course, I will bring back photos too and you'll be the first to see them if you're one of my subscribers.

Not subscribed to my mailing list yet? Fill out the form on my home page and you'll get a free report too!

February 27, 2007

Websites Need Remodeling Too!

How's your website? Have you added more content, made any improvements lately? It's easy to hire a company to set up a nice looking website. Sometimes the website is part of a package that you get when you buy practice software or marketing services.

Most people are relieved when the website finally goes live. Then they get so busy with other things that new content is added on a very sporadic basis. The site may not have anything new for months at a time. Sound familiar? I'm guilty of this too.

The problem is that unless someone is assigned the task of sending update material to the web master on a regular schedule, it simply won't get done. One of the obstacles to website updating is that you have to get the web master to do it. Then you have to check whether what he or she did is working properly and get them to fix what is wrong.

This has been a big frustration for me and I decided that I was NOT going to be at the mercy of some web master's work load any more. After months of research I found a web site design program that we can handle in-house. (We're using Freeway Pro, which is only for Macs.)

Many of the internet marketing guru's recommend "throwing a bomb" into your website every couple of years and doing a complete re-design. So that's what we did. To save time, I hired a web master who knows the program in and out to do the initial design and set up.

Now my assistant and I are in the final stages of adding new material and fine-tuning everything ourselves. Our brand new totally re-designed website will be up by the end of March (maybe sooner!). We've given our business a fresh new look with a new logo and color scheme carried through in printed materials (business card, letterhead, etc.) and on the internet.

Sometimes you need to "throw a bomb" into your old image and start fresh again. When you remodel or move to a new location, think about the image you present in your printed materials and on your website. Your identity sticks in the mind of your patients only if it's consistent across the board.

I'm so happy to be in total control of my website at last. Now if I want to add a new photo or case study my assistant can do it and I'm right there to edit it as I see fit. And new content can go live the same day! No more waiting for the web master to do it! Your website may be larger and more complex than mine, but that doesn't mean you can't have better control over updating it.

If your website was built with DreamWeaver (one of the most popular web design programs) you can use a program called Contribute that allows you to make changes and updates only to certain portions of the site. Your web master can set it up so it's impossible for you to mess up the code on the essential elements.

The web is an important marketing tool that no practice can afford to ignore. When you have an easy way to do changes, you'll stand a much better chance of keeping your web site up to date.

February 2, 2007

The New Demographics: You Are Where You Live

People sometimes wonder how I can successfully design offices all over the country without setting foot out of my hometown Portland, Oregon. Now I'm revealing to you one of my "secret weapons" that I use to help me understand who your patients are. Knowing their lifestyle preferences, income, age levels and such enables me to design just the right style and color scheme that appeals to them.

My secret weapon is a website called "My Best Segments" featuring free demographic information from Claritas, a world leader in demographics and customer segment profiling. They have taken a mountain of data on consumers, filtered it into cohesive lifestyle groups and given them each a clever title like Money and Brains, Bohemian Mix, Kids & Cul-de-sacs, etc.

At the website you enter the zip code of the area you want to know about and up pops the top five groups living in that zip code. You can click on each group name to find out information like income, number of kids, favorite restaurants and TV shows, types of sports they like, even the make and model of car they are likely to drive!

Demographic characteristics such as education, housing and race/ethnicity are also available. So it's easy for me to get a good picture of the folks who are my client's typical patients and then tailor the office to fit their tastes and lifestyles. It's fun to put in your own zip code and see which group you fit into.

Think of MyBestSegments as a "photo album" of consumer markets. Each of the Claritas market segments has its own pages that display "snapshots" of the segment's demographic traits, lifestyle preferences and consumer behaviors.

Did I mention that all this great information is FREE? Try it for yourself:

Design Disaster: This Beauty is a Beast

Architects just don’t get it.

Look at this new office in Germany. It was featured in Interior Design magazine last month. This design firm made the whole place a monument to their nifty architectural ideas, but totally missed the boat on displaying the frames!

Those horribly outdated fluorescent back-lit displays are the way people displayed frames 25 years ago when I started in this business! It was bad then and it’s an even worse crime now! I can’t believe they didn’t use any halogen lighting for the frames, not even some measly track lighting!

I’ll bet that anyone who is reading this knows better than to use cheap ineffectual fluorescent back lighting for their frame displays.

The real travesty is that these guys spent all the client’s money on fun stuff like the way-cool eyeball in the ceiling, while doing absolutely nothing to help sell the merchandise!

What’s even worse is that the owner of this place must be getting a rotten return on his investment. He probably has no clue how much money he’s losing on this beautiful, but dysfunctional design.

If this is European optical design at its best, they are in big trouble over there. I must stop ranting now before my brain explodes!

Top Three Office Design Trends of 2007

High-tech, hospitality and HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act) drive the evolution of future optical interiors according to top designer Barbara Wright, of Barbara Wright Design. Here are Barbara’s top three design trends for eye care interiors in the coming year.

• Computers Everywhere
The paperless office is now a reality for many practices. For a new practice it makes sense to go paperless right from the start. Designers locate computer outlets in every room whether they will be immediately put to use or not.

• Multiple Data Collection Rooms and Workup Areas
One Data Collection room is not enough, even for the smallest office. Practitioners feel pressured to increase productivity but don’t want to sacrifice quality patient care. Having staff perform more data collection allows the doctor more personal interaction with the patient. The ongoing proliferation of new and better data collection devices requires two, three or more separate rooms or nooks to prevent bottlenecks and keep patient flow running smoothly.

• Flat Screen Video Monitors
Video screens dot the future office landscape because they are such excellent tools for patient education, product and service promotion. Large plasma screens put the message across in waiting areas; smaller flat screens replace the “old school” eye chart projector in the exam room and add MTV-style flair to frame selection in the dispensary. Adding extra electrical outlets for every possible future video screen location is a must.

• Reception Counter
When patients step up to the latest reception counter designs they may feel like they are checking in to a fine hotel. Reception counters often have granite countertops and gleaming brass logo signage on the wall in back of the counter. The new style reception counter has no untidy piles of paperwork or messy file cabinets in sight to mar the mood.

• Coffee House/Bistro Corner
No need to stop at Starbucks before going to the eye doctor. There’s a coffee bar in the waiting area. Some practices take it a step further and provide bistro-style table, chairs and a copy of the daily newspaper to make waiting a pleasurable experience.

• Restaurant-style Restrooms
Plain old utilitarian restrooms aren’t good enough if you want to impress patients. Now restrooms are equal to those at your favorite fine dining establishment with colorful ceramic tile floor and walls, elegant lighting and sturdy built-in stainless steel paper towel/trash unit.

• Adventurous Color Schemes
Richer darker colors on walls, multi-colored art glass pendant lights, tapestry upholstered chairs and elegant patterned carpet are just a few of the elements designers borrow from the restaurant industry to create an indelible first impression. Earth tones have morphed into the new botanicals: deep olives, pale artichoke, sage greens and other hues drawn from plants and dried herbs.

• Patient Record Privacy
Records must be filed out of sight of patients in lockable file units or in a room with a locking door. Computer screens showing patient records must be positioned so the general public cannot see them. Designers must anticipate visitor sightlines during the floor plan design stage to prevent privacy problems.

• Confidentiality at Check Out Counters
Containing conversations at check out counters is important for patient privacy. Multiple check out counters are becoming the norm in order to prevent bottlenecks at the front desk. Building walls between counters, dropping the ceiling above and providing background music to mask conversations help provide confidentiality in the new offices of 2007.

January 6, 2007

It's 2007 – Do You Know Where Your Numbers Are?

You should be getting your year-end figures from your accountant soon. Are you one of those people blessed with a knack for numbers who is eagerly anticipating gains over last year? Or are you one of those too busy running the business to bother with numbers?

The fact is that you can't improve what you don't measure. Now you're probably wondering, why is this designer going on about numbers? Isn't my accountant or bookkeeper supposed to keep track of that stuff?

Your bookkeeper can keep your checking account straight. Your accountant can do your taxes. But until you start tracking and comparing how your business is performing from one year to the next, you're like a ship's captain without a compass.

If you keep on sailing in the same general direction you’ll probably hit some land sooner or later. But it won't be the destination you hoped for. If you want your practice to sail into the port called success, you have to start by finding out your current position. Then you'll be able to set specific goals and figure out strategies and tactics to reach those goals.

When I talk to practitioners who want to move to a new office or build a new building, one of the first things I ask for are a few basic financial statistics on their practice. Then I can talk with them about how the right design for the new office can result in big gains in those numbers. We can't set measurable objectives for the new facility without having current numbers to start from.

Many times the gains turn out to be higher than they first dared hope for. I like to know the numbers so I can keep score on how well my designs perform for my clients. (By the way, I know the numbers on my own business and I use them to improve our performance year by year. I practice what I preach.)

Office design is first and foremost about higher performance and productivity, which as a bonus comes wrapped in an attractive package. When you have "before and after" numbers for comparison, you can figure out the exact return you are getting on the investment you made in the new office. If you have a nice-looking new office, but aren't seeing significant gains in your numbers, you have made a bad investment.

What are these magical numbers that you should know about your practice? Here are the very basic statistics that will tell you if you're going in the direction of your dreams or foundering in the doldrums.

1. Gross revenues
This is the easiest. Most people have at least a rough idea of how much money came in the door last year or last month. But it's much better to have an exact number to work from.

2. Growth rate
Compare this year's gross revenue with last year's. Did you take in 10% more (average), 20% more (better than most), 30% more (on the fast track!)? If your growth rate is less than 10% you are in the danger zone and you'd better do something about it pronto, like hire the best practice consultant you can find!

3. Average number of exams performed per month
Your office management or accounting software should be able to pull up this number for you without much fuss. If it doesn’t, have your accountant or bookkeeper figure out a way to get this number and report it to you monthly.

4. Average revenue per exam per month and per year
This is a simple calculation that even the most number-resistant business owner can and should look at every month. Just divide your monthly income by the number of exams performed that month.

At the end of the year average out all twelve months to see your average revenue per exam for that year. Here's where the story gets more interesting. Small improvements in either or both of these numbers can translate into a great deal more income over time.

Is your practice maxed out on productivity? If you are booked out two weeks or more and office bottlenecks prevent seeing more patients, then it's time to start planning a move up to a bigger office! A business that’s not growing is in danger of slipping backwards.

Is your dispensary set up right so the frames practically sell themselves? Or are your opticians handicapped by poor lighting and outdated displays? Improving the dispensary should always result in higher average revenues per exam, putting more money in your pocket whether or not the number of patients seen increases.

However, a dispensary upgrade should also result in more word of mouth referrals and more new patients. When you invest in a new dispensary, reserve some money for advertising and promotion of your new and improved look.

One of the most powerful words in advertising is the word “new,” so take advantage of having something new to promote! With a one-two punch of new dispensary plus promotion, your average revenue per exam can easily shoot up 20% or more.

5. Profit
When all expenses are subtracted from all income, this is the "bottom line" that the business gurus always talk about. If some of your other numbers show gains, but there is little or no gain in profit, then you need to do some serious pruning on those expenses. Or maybe take a look at whether you're spending so much on new equipment that it's eating up all your profits. Equipment junkies will hate to face that one!

There are many more sophisticated comparative statistics that a business consultant can help you glean from your accounting records. Then a good consultant will teach you how to use them to improve your practice and your profits. At the very least you must have a handle on the basic five above if your ambition is to join the ranks of the top practices in your area.

January 4, 2007

Bargain Alert: Leather Side Chairs $106.99

Spotted during my last Costco run: Beautiful dark brown leather-upholstered side chairs perfect for use at dispensing tables for $106.99 (Item #809625). If you want new dispensing chairs at an incredible price, this is it. Now be forewarned – these chairs are residential grade, not commercial grade, so you can't expect them to last as long as a commercial grade chair.

However if the style and color works with your decor and you want a low-cost way to spruce up your dispensary, these chairs are a great value. If your local Costco doesn't have them you can order similar chairs online at the Costco website. The online styles shown as of today's date range in price from $219. to $369. – still a bargain for well-made chairs.

January 2, 2007

Mystery of the Missing Profits

A while back I spoke to a client whose office I designed some months ago. When he told me that he hadn't met all of the financial objectives we set at the beginning of the design process, I was surprised and puzzled. The average revenue per exam had only increased 11%.

This troubled me greatly as I am used to glowing reports from clients that their average revenue jumped up 25%, 35%, sometimes more. I racked my brain thinking back over the dispensary design and couldn't find a reason why people weren't spending more. He was offering a bigger selection in a beautiful new dispensary with state of the art lighting. Something was not right.

I decided to call and talk to the head optician to see if there was something I could suggest that would boost the dispensary sales to the level where I knew they should be. Just a few minutes into the conversation, he gave me the key to solving the problem.

Turns out the doc wouldn't let him order the more expensive designer lines and in-demand brands! The doctor was afraid no one would buy them. He had a great new dispensary with a special area designed to sell high-end frames, but no high-end frames to sell!

It took another call and some convincing from me to get the doctor to remove the price-point handcuffs he had put on his optician. I had to remind him that optical retailing is the ONLY retail industry that has incredibly liberal return policies. If it doesn't sell, the sales rep will take it back. His risk was very low, and the upside potential very high.

With a little more coaxing he agreed to try just two or three high-end lines. "Work with the sales reps," I said. "They know what's selling in this area and will get you started with a good selection of their most popular styles." I promised to call back in two months and see what progress they had made.

When I called my client back I could tell from the happy tone of his voice that there was a big smile on his face. They had experienced the thrill of their first $1,000. sale and the higher ticket frames were practically flying out the door. What really shocked the doctor was that some of the patients he had pre-judged as tightwads actually wanted those high fashion frames and spent more with no arm-twisting.

Sure the moderate priced frames still make up the majority of the sales. But between the new higher income patients that he was now attracting and the existing patients who stepped up their style, his average revenue per exam had leapt up from $265 to $393. That's a 67% increase...and $25,600. more revenue in one month if you figure an average rate of 200 exams per month. He’s probably doing many more exams by now.

With this kind of result the entire cost of the new office would be recouped in less than a year. I suggested that he send a postcard to all the people he had examined in the new office before the new merchandise arrived. Offer them a little discount and invite them back to see the new styles.

I don't know if he followed up on it, but I bet that if he did, he is probably buying tickets for that Hawaiian golf tour vacation he's always dreamed of.