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:

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