December 12, 2008

Taking an Optical Floor Plan from Good to Great

How can you tell if the floor plan for your new optical or optometric office is good enough? Learn some of the strategies and tactics that we at Barbara Wright Design employ to turn an ordinary optical floor plan into an extraordinary productivity builder.

Optical Floor Plan Case Study 1

Project: New Building in Joplin, MO
Size: 4,841 SF
Exam Rooms: 4

Patients are mostly blue-collar with insurance, median income $49,000. The practice
also has some higher income patients but is not selling many high-end frames.
Lorry Lazenby, O.D. began designing a new optometric building with his architect. He thought the general plan was good but was concerned that he might have missed some things. He was not satisfied with the optical layout. Barbara Wright Design was called in to design the optical and consult on possible improvements to the overall floor plan.

The practice is very busy and needs to move a high volume of patients through the office without making them feel they are on an assembly line. The optical also needs to handle a high volume of patients and prevent the bottlenecks and back-ups experienced in the existing office. The practice is missing out on high-end frame sales due to lack of proper presentation.

The “Before” Plan Analysis
As a patient enters he is presented with the sharp corner of the reception desk. The wall behind the reception desk where the practice logo should go is angled away from the entrance and can’t be seen well by entering patients.

The restroom door is directly visible from waiting making it uncomfortable for patients. In addition the coat rack and coffee area are located right by the rest room door, a potential bottleneck if all three are being used at the same time. The hallway between the central core and waiting area is wider than necessary resulting in wasted space.

The general strategy of a “racetrack” layout for circular patient flow in an optometry floor plan is good. However, this layout causes patients to traipse the entire length of the space to get to the exam rooms. Then they return to the front via another equally long hallway, wasting precious minutes of time for both staff and patients.

In the optical there is inadequate circulation space between one of the dispensing tables and the corner of the reception counter. A storage closet is placed on a wall that would be better used for more frame displays. The optical is too small for this very busy office. There are no separate delivery tables or workstations for the opticians.

The Challenge
The two major challenges were to create a functional optical and to improve the clinic area layout so patients could move more efficiently from data collection to exam to optical.

The “After” Plan Solution
The reception counter faces the entrance and has a back wall for the practice logo, creating a more welcoming and very professional first impression on patients. The restroom door is accessed from the hallway, which has been narrowed so there is no more wasted space.

The “racetrack” is now a “dumbbell shape” with all staff rooms off a private back hallway. The patient path is considerably shorter. The two data collection rooms in the central core have dual openings into both hallways to funnel patients efficiently to all exam rooms with the fewest steps.

The optical has been enlarged to display 750 frames and has a locked showcase for high-end frames. The opticians have their own office with windows to view the entire optical along with walk-in storage and workroom for completed orders. There is a separate delivery table with a small hidden adjustment counter minimizing trips into the main lab.

The file cabinets are integrated into the business office. As the practice gradually goes paperless Dr. Lazenby can remove file cabinets and add more work counters along these walls as needed.

Switching the general layout strategy from racetrack to dumbbell greatly increases the efficiency of this office and separates the staff area from the public area. Increasing the size of the optical and providing designated space for different activities makes opticians more productive and patients more comfortable and less hurried. Providing a special high fashion display section showcases high-end frames to higher income patients without alienating the middle-income patients that are the backbone of the practice.

December 9, 2008

How To Succeed in 2009

The practices that succeed in 2009 will be the ones that are the best in their categories. That means they will be the best in selling, best in patient care and customer service, best in positioning themselves, best in describing themselves and best in creating a following. These excellent practices will take tons of market share away from "lesser" practices, potentially putting them out of business altogether.

This is so for two reasons. First, in a contracting economy, there is less business to go around so "survival of the fittest" applies. Second, savvy marketers know that this is not the time to cut the marketing budget or hold off on improving the look and feel of the physical facility. If anything you need to spend more on marketing in difficult times and go on with remodeling or moving to create a better atmosphere, attract new patients and boost your average sale.

Our current clients are doing things like:
1. Taking over the space next door, doubling the size of their optical and getting their displays built for 25% less than they would have paid a year ago. (The fixture manufacturers are hungry and willing to work for less.)
2. Buying new office condominiums at bargain prices with generous build-out allowances
3. Starting a brand new practice in a middle to upper income area with low rent, $30,000 build-out allowance and free rent for the first 4 months.
4. Buying an empty foreclosed medical building at a great price, using 60% of the existing improvements for their practice and spending less on construction.

All these folks are stepping up their game while most others are running scared. They are getting good value for their construction dollars. Within the next six months they will have stunning new offices that will attract new patients and tease more high end sales out of existing patients. Their competitors with old tired offices will go on grumbling about how bad things are and lose business to those with newer and better offices.

By the time these new offices open their doors, it's likely that the economy will be improving and these practices will get carried upwards on the rising tide. Consumers will want to make sure they are getting great value for their money as they cautiously open the pursestrings. Why should they go to a ho-hum office when there's a newer "wow-you" office in the area? Why should they settle for the same old experience in a so-so place when they can have a great experience in a really special place?

When it comes to my own business I am optimistic, courageous and action-oriented. I believe that when you strive to be the best and do not listen to the nay-sayers you always win in the long run. When the herd zigs, I zag. It's no surprise that our clients have the same attitude.

I love working with positive confident people helping them realize their vision of being the most successful practice in town. Next year there will be some practices who don't survive while those who differentiate themselves with true excellence will thrive. Which will you be?


Totally Digital Office
New offices will have computerized diagnostic equipment and office management software all linked together to provide quick access to information from just about anywhere in the office. In the optical every styling table will have it's own computer. Multiple data collection rooms and multiple check out stations are a must to prevent bottlenecks and keep patient flow running smoothly even in a small office.

Design for Patient Experience
In economically difficult times the best way to make your practice stand out from the competition is to provide a great experience for the patient. The newest and most successful retail store designs take all of the senses into account. Hearing, smell, taste and touch are incorporated into the visual environment to create a sense of comfort. Optical offices can use a similar strategy to create a unique and memorable experience for the patient that makes them tell their friends about you and keep coming back.

The volume of sustainable materials for office interiors continues to expand, making it easier to find paint, furniture, fabrics and finishes free of unhealthy chemicals. Many commercial carpets now contain yarns made from recycled fibers. Being green is becoming mainstream.

Energy-conscious Lighting
LED (light-emitting diode) lighting technology improves by leaps and bounds. Prices have come down some but initial costs are still higher than for conventional fluorescent or halogen fixtures. However, LED's prove their worth over time with long lamp life and 60% or better reductions in electrical bills. Getting good color rendition for retail applications is still an issue. Most LED's are too cool (color temperature 5500K) or too warm (2700K). Some are available now in a 4200K lamp that gives a good balanced white.

Nature-inspired Colors and Patterns
The greening of America extends to colors inspired by natural materials. Greens are great for health care environments because of their calming quality. Dark brown and walnut wood tones are increasingly popular and work well with greens or blues. Spice tones provide warm but toned down accent colors like curry or nutmeg.

Gray is returning after a long run of tan and beige tone nuetrals. The newest grays are warm (pink undertone) rather than cool (blue undertone) and look great paired with walnut wood.

Dark walnut and medium cherry wood tones are paired with a touch of lime green for a warm invitation to the latest Morgenthal-Fredericks Opticians in Manhattan's Plaza Hotel upscale retail mall.

The two-toned wood floor in the Peter Lik Gallery (in the same mall) is so incredible it nearly upstages the amazing art photos. It certainly got my attention. I don't think I'd put a floor quite this bold in an optical because it would take attention away from the frames that should be the stars of the show. But it works for this gallery.

October 27, 2008

David Yurman Line Price Range Update

The David Yurman line that I mentioned in a previous post actually has retail prices starting at $325. Most of the line retails for under $1,000 so it is within reach for a larger number of people than I originally thought. They will be coming out soon with frames that include real diamonds and other precious jewels and will retail into the thousands, but the initial styles are much less than that.

October 10, 2008

Vision Expo "Best of Show"

I had a very busy and productive three days at Vision Expo. Between meetings with current clients, prospective clients and magazine editors my dance card was full! With me at the show were Jennifer Anderson, our business manager and Jeff Cary, our architect. We were like the three musketeers scouring the show for the newest and best display products and frame lines. Here are my picks for "Best of Show."

New frame lines:

David Yurman - This jewelry designer is so well known and admired among the wealthy that he doesn't need to plaster his name or logo on the frames. And he actually designs the frames himself, unlike many designers who just license their name for use on a line designed by others. Yurman's frame designs have the same signature motifs and details as his jewelry, so those who know his jewelry recognize a Yurman frame immediately.

This is a very exclusive line with retail price points into the thousands, so it is definitely not for everyone. However, it is a great example of true luxury, elegance and sophistication. If your patients buy David Yurman jewelry, they will buy David Yurman eyewear.

Shanghai Tang - China's first brand name designer launched his first line of eyewear at the show. Each style is embellished with intricate metal details inspired by traditional Chinese jewelry, coins and art, each with it's own story. The combination of very wearable frame shapes with delicate symbolic ornamentation is a real winner. I loved these frames so much, I bought one for myself.

You only have to buy 28 frames to get their gorgeous showcase. It looks like a lacquered Chinese chest and comes with a red-tassled hand mirror. The silk brocade cases for these frames are a work of art on their own. Retail price points start around $300. With the great presentation and intriguing story behind these frames, you should have no problem selling them to patients who want something different and unique.

Andy Wolf - I don't often get excited by a men's frame line, but this one out of Austria really wowed me. The shapes are strong and masculine; some styles are thick and heavy but done with sophisticated European style that makes a man look absolutely great. Engineers, artsy and tech types will dig these frames.

Brand Identity Stand Out
Kio Yamato - If you carry this line, make sure your sales rep gets you the wonderful brand identity display piece shown in the photo. It is eye-catching and beautiful and really does a great job of communicating the essence of the brand. As you see in the photo you just place this display with the frames and you don't need anything else. Simple. Stylish. That's great merchandising.

The Shadowless Frame Display
Fashion Optical has been touting their "shadowless" frame display panels, but frankly, I didn't believe it until I saw it for myself. It works like magic. The panels look like textured glass, but they are actually acrylic made with a patented process. The t-shaped open temple frame supports show the frames very well, but normally has a lot of shadowing behind them.

The material somehow absorbs light and diffuses the shadows caused by intense halogen lighting and makes them disappear. Result? No more busy distracting shadows behind the frames. A great and unique product available only through Fashion Optical Displays.

September 4, 2008

Preventing Frame Theft

In a retail setting like a mall or even a strip shopping center theft is a problem that goes with the territory. These days even practices in a more professional medical setting can experience theft of frames (politely referred to by accountants as "shrinkage") The busier you get, the easier it is for dishonest people to get away with it.

One of my clients has his higher-end vendors help soften the blow from "lost" frames by getting the sales reps to give him a couple of no-charge personal frames every month or two. He says that he doesn't want to lock up his entire high-end inventory because he sells more if some frames are out and available for try-ons. That makes them more vulnerable to loss, but as long as the vendors help him out with personals he figures they both end up selling more frames in the long run.

So what can you do about it? Here are some suggestions.
• Sensormatic (or similar) inventory control system - has tags placed on each frame and an alarm that sounds if someone tries to walk out with a frame that hasn't been paid for. It entails having sensor stands on both sides of the door. The stands may not be all that attractive, but they send a message that you are not easy pickin's.
• Locking display cases and locking frame bars - It's not practical to lock everything up, but you should at least lock up your more expensive frames and sunglasses. It actually adds to their perceived value when they are presented behind locked glass doors.
• Surveillance cameras - some people put in fake ones that move as if they are panning around so people feel that they are being watched. Real surveillance cameras with a monitor in the lab are good for seeing if someone is in the optical, but a thief can too easily slip out the door with merchandise before you can stop them.
• Staff training - make them more vigilant with security training and a strict policy of always having an optician in the retail area whenever a patient is. Reward them with a bonus tied to decreases in the shrinkage rate.

20/20 Features Vision Source Texarkana!

Our design for Dr. Allen and Moser's new Vision Source Texarkana office building was featured in last month's issue of 20/20. The results achieved by this design have exceeded everyone's expectations, even my own!

Check out the whole story here

July 24, 2008

An Eco-Tech Optometrist

Advanced Eyecare and Optical
Spokane, Washington

When practice owner Todd Wylie, O.D. decided it was time to move to a larger office he wanted a one of a kind design that would combine his top two personal interests. Dr. Wylie enjoys the great natural beauty of the Northwest and wanted to bring it inside. He also wanted to build his new office as "green" and energy-efficient as possible while incorporating all the latest high tech equipment. "I don’t plan to move again at this stage in my career," he states, "so this was my last chance to build my dream office."

He leased a 5,550 square foot two-story building with an elevator that formerly housed a credit union. He knew he needed some expert assistance to bring his ideas to fruition and make the patient flow work smoothly on two levels. Read more.

How to Build an Optical WITHOUT Expensive Display Fixtures

When you're opening a small office, especially if it's your first office and you are opening cold, you are probably looking for a way to get it designed and built economically. You can go to one of the fixture companies and they'll give you a free floor plan. But the optical will consist of a layout with the fixtures they expect to sell you. And those fixtures can cost $25,000 or more.

Many of you don't want a "me, too" office that's just a box with fixtures stacked against the walls. So what else can you do? I've got the answer for you. Now you can have a Barbara Wright-designed office at a price that won't break the bank.

The Ready To Build Plan Package is a set of pre-designed plans for your space with a good-looking optical that's easy and inexpensive to build---no display fixtures required!

Your office can look just as great as the one in the photo. A local contractor built this entire display wall himself--no display fixtures, and no custom cabinets needed. It doesn't get any cheaper than that! Heck, if you're handy enough, you can build it yourself!

But you've got to know how to build it and what size to build it. You've got to know exactly which light fixture to put in and where to order it. That's why you need the Ready To Build Plan Package. All that information and more is right there on paper so you or your contractor will know just what to do.

Our Ready To Build Plan Package enables you to design it yourself with the help of your contractor or a local drafting person. These are designs proven to make your frames look so good, they practically sell themselves.

When you buy this package, you get personal consultation from me as a bonus. This is an option that you ought to explore if you want an office that works at a price that works for you.
Learn more at our website.

Or just call our office and make an appointment to talk with me. I'll explain how the Ready To Build Plan Package works and then you decide if it's right for you.

Call toll-free 888-422-0361


June 2, 2008

Tech. Stations Large and Small

One of the factors that helps a growing practice increase efficiency is having one or more technicians to do pre-testing and assist the doctor in many ways. Some ECP's describe their lead technician as the "quarterback" of the office who manages the movement of patients to create a smooth patient flow for the doctor.

Even a practice under 3,000 SF can benefit from having a small "tech station" where technicians can use a lensometer, do paper-work and keep an eye on the exam rooms. In larger offices a tech station is almost a necessity if you want maximum productivity for your techs. Give them a computer, a file drawer and any other equipment they need.

The placement of a tech station is critical. Techs need to see what is going on, who needs help, and who is ready to move in or out of an exam room. The need for these visual sight lines must be anticipated by the designer and created in the floor plan stage of the design. If a tech station has not been planned in from the start it's unlikely that you'll have space to add one later.

Get a Tax Break for Energy-Efficient New Facility or Equipment

Here's a tax tip for you gleaned from DHL's monthly newsletter:

Energy-related credits—Uncle Sam believes in energy efficiency and offers different types of tax credits to reward you. Whether you’re building a new facility or upgrading using energy-efficient components (e.g., Energy Star-rated appliances, solar panels, etc.), there are credits available to you. Look for these credits at the state level as well.

You can find the full article here:

Be sure to ask your accountant about these credits if you are buying new equipment or building a new office this year.

Which brand would fill shoppers closets if money were no object?

The following is an excerpt from the June 2008 issue of VMSD magazine:

That's according to a survey by the Nielsen Co. more than 20,000 consumers in 48 countries voted the fashion leader, known for its desirable logo on handbags and accessories, as the most sought-after luxury brand Chanel and Calvin Klein tied for second.

May 6, 2008

Morganthal Frederics NYC

This well-known optical chain has stores sprinkled throughout the city in nearly every upscale neighborhood so going into the Columbus Circle Center was a natural fit for them. The large photo graphics let shoppers know what the store is about from a distance before they can even read the name. The storefront is fairly conventional, reminiscent of a fine French boutique with tall double doors propped open in a welcoming stance.

The showcases and woodwork are of dark wood with light-colored interiors and built-in halogen lighting. This store sells both sunglasses and Rx frames and their inventory is more extensive than what meets the eye. The opticians have a large bank of shallow drawers filled with frames. The service is very personal and professional. They really do their best to determine what you are looking for and to find just the right style to make you look fabulous.

In fact, when my husband and I went to inside to check out the interior, the optician deftly pulled out a few pairs of Chrome Hearts sunglasses. Next thing you know my husband was trying them on and we were all saying, "Wow, those look great on you!" It was all I could do to drag him out of there before we ended up spending $1,000 on those sunglasses! That optician was GOOD!

Seriously, though, this really is a beautiful store and I could tell that no expense was spared on the design. The cubicles are very similar to the ones I've been doing for years. I like the way that the brightest lighting is concentrated on the frames and everything else is like a stage setting for the merchandise. Imagine if just a corner of your dispensary had a look and feel similar to this store. You'd be selling more high-end frames than you ever thought possible.

Solstice Sunglasses NYC

On a recent New York visit I carved out some time to see one of the newest upscale shopping centers at Columbus Circle (59th St.)

The Columbus Circle Center is not as large as those you find in Los Angeles, but it boasts two optical shops. Solstice is strictly sunglasses with mid-range priced styles displayed on the wall and higher-priced styles in locked table top showcases. Brand names are displayed neatly above each row of frames. I was impressed that the check out counter was kept relatively free of clutter.

The back-lit photos are dramatic and eye-catching. Even when the store is full of shoppers you can see these photos from a distance because they are above head-height. The all-glass storefront is a luxury that most optometric offices don't have, but the take-away lesson from this photo is that simple wall displays can be very effective. This designer wisely spent the construction budget on good lighting, graphics and elegant showcases.

Vertical frosted glass panels with a single small shelf on each panel make an eye-catching window display at Solstice. Only one brand name designer is featured at a time with a matching graphic above. This is a good example of how an utterly simple concept makes for great merchandising.

March 5, 2008

March Q & A

Q - Great Blog! I have read it and it is inspiring me to get ready to try to open up my own practice. I have been leasing space in a chain store for the last 5 years which is very successful. I have many patients who have asked me when I am going to start my own practice but I have been hesitant since I am close to one of our major employers and have a one year 3 mile non-compete clause.

I have many "high tech" machines such as the Optos, digital retinal cameras, and other automated machines and would love to start a paperless optical with a cool dispensary.

I recently saw a space for lease but I am afraid of the competition (a new Lenscrafters that will be opening across the street from the strip mall).

Do you think I should hold off on pursuing this lease with a Lenscrafters across the street or do you think a well-designed dispensary in a small office of about 1100 sq ft (about 3.7 miles from my current office) could compete against them? I have just begun to search for locations to open but have no idea where to begin.

A - A few years ago I had a client with the same concerns as yours about Lenscrafters. The office I designed for this doctor had been open for a few years in a mall and was doing well. Then he started sweating when he heard that Lenscrafters was building a new store in the same mall.

When I spoke to him a few months after they opened, he laughed and said that Lenscrafters had done him a big favor. They did a lot of expensive advertising to get people in to their store, but many of those people came to his optical to do some comparison shopping before they made a decision.

He made sure to carry some great designer lines that Lenscrafters doesn't carry. Sometimes his regular prices were lower than Lenscrafters for the same frame and lenses. The end result was that his sales and his profits went UP after Lenscrafters entered the picture!

So don't worry about it. The same thing could happen to you! Just don't try to go head to head with Lenscrafters. Make sure your optical has the "wow factor" and carry some different frame styles. Concentrate on making your patients have a great experience from start to finish. Figure out what your strength is as an O.D. (contact lenses, low vision, great chairside manner, etc.) and build your practice around it.

Create a good marketing program for staying in touch with your patients every couple of months, not every couple of years. Getting a new patient is the hardest part. Once you get them, do what it takes to keep them coming back.

A really cool optical with great frame styles will get people talking about you and sending you their friends. Find yourself a location with good visibility and then go for it. You may have already found a great location from what you said. If you can take your patient records with you, then you're on solid ground.

There is no better time than now to build a new office because housing starts are down and the contractors are hungry for work. You'll get a better price this year on your build-out than you would have gotten last year.

I recommend that people start with about 1,500 square feet if at all possible, but if the location is superior, then the 1,100 square foot space is workable. You might just outgrow it faster than you think. (A good problem to have.)

Pay attention to your patients! They want to come see you in a nice new office! The reason you're feeing hesitant is because you don't know where to start and how to make this all happen. You are exactly the kind of person for whom I wrote my new book, Optometric Office Design Process & Pitfalls. Get it , read it and it will help you get started the right way.Barbara

P.S. Check out the book here:

Ask the Expert

Q. - Do you recommend having the lab close to the front of the office or as a combination lab/staff lounge in the back to save space? I'm starting to hear the latter more and more. Also, do you think it's wise to equip the lab with an edger immediately or is it better to wait if budget is tight?

A- For smaller offices (under 3,000 square feet) we most often put the lab right next to the optical so the opticians will take the fewest steps possible going back and forth between the optical and the lab. When a practice is large enough and busy enough to have a full-time optician who spends nearly all their time working in the lab, then having the lab in the back can be beneficial. In this case we would put a mini-lab up front for minor repairs and adjustments.

In a small office the lab often has to serve as the staff lounge as well by equipping it with a refrigerator and microwave and some counter space for a coffee-maker. Once you have 2,000 square feet or more to work with you can usually find room for separate lab and staff lounge.

If this is a startup practice opening cold it doesn't make sense to spend money on an edger at first. That money would be better spent on the construction. You need to have enough frame sales volume to make edging a profitable investment. Your accountant should be able to help you figure out how many frames per day you need to sell in order to make the cost of the equipment worthwhile.

February 4, 2008

New book coming soon! Subscriber only discount!

My new book, Optometric Office Design Process and Pitfalls, will save you thousands of dollars and help you avoid the exasperating problems and runaway costs that other practitioners experience when they build a new office.

We’re in the final stages of setting up the web page for the book and it will be available as an instant downloadable e-book on or before February 15. We’ll be offering a subscriber-only discount for a limited time, so watch your in-box for the announcement.

You also get a valuable F*R*E*E* bonus – Barbara’s Best 25 Floor Plans – with the book if you order by the deadline.

First Look – Mother Nature Meets High Tech


Here’s a first peek at the office of Todd Wylie, O.D. in Spokane, WA, a 5,550 square foot 2-story building for a one-doctor vision therapy practice. That’s not a misprint: one doctor, 5,550 square feet. This view shows the main area of the optical, which occupies most of the first floor.

For the whole story of how Dr. Wylie developed such a successful practice with 10 employees and zero associate O.D.’s you’ll have to wait for the article to be published. We’ll let you know when and where it will appear as soon as we know.

When I first spoke to Dr. Wylie he said that he wanted a “Northwest woodsy feel” in the design of the office but also wanted to emphasize patient education and the latest technology. You could call it “Mother Nature meets high tech.” We used a combination of natural greens and browns with rich cherry and maple wood tones.

This optical is a good example of how to merchandise for a wide range of income groups—something for everyone at a glance. Frame bars hold the lower-priced frames, cabinets with open glass shelves present mid-priced frames organized by brand name, and curved cherry cubicles show off high-end frames, one designer per cubicle.

New Name – Optometric Office Design Ideas

We’ve got a new name for our newsletter that better describes what you will be receiving every month: Optometric Office Design Ideas. You will be the first to see a new office the moment we photograph it. I’ll continue to give you my tips and opinions on all things related to office design.

If you like this newsletter, please feel free to forward it to colleagues who are likely to be interested in office design.

January 4, 2008

Bad News for Builders is Good News for You

The media is having a field day with the latest economic figures released by the government. All the business commentators are talking about the country going into an economic slow-down (no one wants to use that bad word "recession" just yet).

They love to sound the alarm and play on the public's fears. It's good for ratings. When housing starts slow and home prices slide backwards the construction industry is the first to feel the pinch. People start cutting back their spending because of the bad news, and sure enough, the economy slows. Many practitioners see their numbers drop and start crying the blues, blaming it all on the economy.

However, well-prepared practitioners have nothing to fear. If you have had a good marketing program going all along, you might have to turn up the heat a bit to keep on the same growth curve. If you have no regular marketing program or if you just do it hit or miss, you could be in trouble with no quick way out.

Getting a good marketing program in place takes time. It requires testing for results and then tweaking to make improvements gradually. When you first start out with a new plan it's like the flywheel on an engine. It takes a lot of effort up front to get it spinning, but once it gets going it has momentum on its own. The time to get it in place and working is before the economy gets rocky.

Successful people don't sweat it when the real estate market and the construction industry are down. That usually means interest rates are down too, so they can see opportunity where others see lack.

What are smart practitioners doing these days? They're out finding new space to lease or buying an existing building or land for a new building. Contractors have had a long run of fairly good times and high construction prices in the last few years, but now that's all changed in most parts of the country.

For people who have all their ducks in a row this is a great time to build a new office. Contractors don't have as much work as they used to, so there is more competition for the work that there is and bids are lower. That's good news for the customer.

Let the rest of the world run scared. If you have worked hard to make your practice successful and are ready to take a step up, 2008 could be the perfect year to build the new office you've been wanting!

Construction Costs - Reality vs. Wish

When people call me to talk about building a new office, one of the questions I ask is, "How much per square foot have you budgeted for construction?" The answers mostly range from "I don't know" to $50 per square foot, which is way too low for an all-new interior build-out.

My rule of thumb for estimating construction costs is to figure $100/SF or more for interior only projects. If a client budgets for that amount and it comes in under, then we celebrate. For new buildings you can figure $250 per square foot or more.

Florida is one of the most expensive places to build, topped only by California and New York.. The last project I did in Florida, which was completed in the spring of 2007, came out to $125/SF. And that was for a very simple, no-frills design!

When you are planning a new practice you need to be informed on the realities of construction and design costs. People in the midwest and rural areas like West Texas can often get their construction done for less. But just about anywhere on the East Coast or West Coast it's always higher than you thought it would be. I'm hoping that my projects that are going out for bid in the next month or two will come in for less than last year's average. That's because there's less construction going on and more competition among the contractors now at the start of 2008.

You have to keep in mind that we work almost exclusively with clients in zip codes where at least two out of the top five lifestyle groups have a median income of $75K or more. When all the median income figures fall below $50K, we may not be the right design firm for the project. We don't go overboard with expensive finishes, but we do design to high quality standards that perform well for our clients for 15 to 20 years or more. Quality does not come cheap.

The point is you must do a lot of planning and research when it comes to opening a new practice or moving your existing one. Make sure you get realistic average construction cost figures for your area. If you are going into a higher income area that fits our profile, you can call me and I'll tell you what the latest "BWD Construction Cost Index" is.

Don't be discouraged if the numbers don't look like they will work out the first way you try. You may have to look for a smaller space or a place with lower rent. If you want to attract higher income patients, you can't skimp on construction costs, but there may be another strategy you can employ to make your project work.