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.