There’s nothing more exciting than working in an office that continues to grow and expand. Recently, our practice has taken a gigantic step and purchased a brand-new, state-of-the-art office that allowed us to merge our two offices into one, larger space.
Our two existing locations were located only 3.5 miles and 1 mile, respectfully, from our new office space. Each location had only two exam lanes, which didn’t allow us to be flexible with scheduling for patients or staff. Our new building includes six fully equipped exams rooms. This additional space allows us to see more patients within the same time frame.
Upon first hearing the news of the new office, my excitement for a brand-new optical space was overwhelming. Who wouldn’t want to have a shiny new office, new space to decorate and display our products, and the ability to wow both longtime and new patients? Immediately, my brain went to, “What can I buy?” because one of my favorite tasks of my position is picking out frames and product lines. It doesn’t hurt that shopping is one of my favorite pastimes, either.
The list of items that needed to be purchased started pouring in: chairs, desks, frames, lights. You name it, we needed it. Having never been part of building a location from the ground up, it was almost impossible to imagine everything that would need to be handled. Do you know what it takes? I certainly didn’t.
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Patient care still ongoing
Most optometry practices are small businesses, so you know how heavily each and every day of productivity affects the bottom line. Here are just a few of the bigger, more important questions we faced.
How could we possibly close our offices to make this move happen?
Could we run with one less doctor so that doctor could be available to make decisions?
Should we have our patients involved in the process?
What do we want this space to say about us?
Could we really manage to do all of this and still provide exceptional service to our patients?
The list of questions kept mounting. Despite all of these questions, we knew it was going to be spectacular once complete.
One of our major challenges during this process was that patient care did not stop to allow us time for decisionmaking. At the rate things were going, we needed 37 hours in a day.
During construction, working with a project manager increased productivity on both sides of the project, the move, and continued patient care. It helped to have someone else monitor progress, establish timelines, and remain at the work site to answer the thousands of questions that would emerge as construction moved forward. This allowed office staff and doctors to maintain normalcy at our existing locations. Internally, our point person was a staff member who was pulled from patient care during construction and finishing work.
Once construction was complete, there were endless amounts of details that needed to be decided. Which lighting fixtures would provide the best illumination, and scheduling deliveries and utilities setup, just to name a few. Having someone onsite made all the difference in keeping all of the balls in the air while the staff kept patient care top of mind.
Next: Designing the space
Designing the space
Knowing what you want and conveying those needs to others is a skill you must hone when designing an office. Having a clear vision and articulating what the space will be once complete is key.
Working with an optical design company proved to be tremendously helpful while looking through countless design magazines and websites. Talking through concepts and choices with people who know optical design is invaluable. We worked with EyeDesigns to help with our display and lighting selection. Of course, you always want to add your own style and personality because the physical space must reflect your culture of practice. There were many long nights, weekend trips to furniture display warehouses, Pinterest boards, and samples floating around our current offices to see what would work with what and to find our style. With paint colors of tan tones and burgundy, Venetian plastered accent walls, and a stone fireplace on the list of finishing work, we were clearly going for a warm and homey environment to help patients feel comfortable.
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Optical displays were the largest furniture decisions made. This choice was considered carefully because almost half of our practice revenue is generated from optical sales. The interesting part was that even though our square footage had doubled, our frame capacity was about the same with 500 board openings. With a more open floor plan, we didn’t necessarily need to carry more frames, just frames that had more of an impact. More vibrant colors and funky shapes were purchased so they could be seen from our reception area. Bright white LED lights were installed throughout the office—they made our out-of-the-ordinary frame selections really shine against the dark wood displays with white back panels. Patients perceive that the larger space means we have more frames, but we really don’t.
Deciding how to configure the dispensary layout came with its own set of questions. How many dispensing tables would we need? How far apart should they be to protect patient privacy? Did we need furniture fixtures to make the separation more concrete, or was the open space between tables enough? Every move required detailed thought because each decision made would affect all of the next-to-come decisions.
We opted to install three sales tables and two dispensing/adjustments stations based on our schedule template. Two doctors see patients for exams, and one doctor sees patients for specialty testing that wouldn’t require optical staff. Using that logic, each doctor would have an available seat for his patient in optical, leaving one overflow station for a particularly challenging or time-consuming optical consultation. Of course, this layout wouldn’t work for every office design.
Next: Changing up the frame lines
Changing up the frame lines
Moving our physical location was only part of the transformation that was taking place. Our practice was taking the opportunity to re-evaluate the products that we sell and carry. Because we found European-based manufacturing to be superior, we decided to move away from frames produced in China.
For many years, the office carried lines made by eyewear designers as well as name-brand or licensed frames. This was partly due to wholesale cost and partly because patients expect to find name-brand frames when shopping for eyewear. As eyewear purchase has become more commoditized, we have found it increasingly difficult to differentiate ourselves from larger, more advertised retail chains. Consumers believe that they are getting the same product from a private practice as they are online or at big-box stores.
I know some of you are throwing your hands up in frustration, screaming, “Of course they’re not!” I know that, and you know that—but how do patients know if they can purchase online for less than you paid wholesale the same frame you’re selling?
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If we want to deliver products and experiences that truly are different, we need to purchase differently. Carrying frames from smaller vendors has allowed us to concentrate on other important aspects during eyewear consultations, including distinctive design features, higher quality materials, and more customized elements that are sometimes lost when all patients can see is a name brand. Some of our top lines include Etnia Barcelona, Lafont, Lightec, ProDesign Denmark, and OGA. Because we primarily sell frames from brands that our patients don’t necessarily recognize, our staff conducts frame selection for our patients. We choose styles that we believe will work well for their prescriptions and take the opportunity to explain the features of the frames we are showing them.
What an awesome feeling it is when a patient walks into our office, and we know his frames were from our exclusive collection just by looking at them. Let your patients be bold! Help them be different and see themselves in a way they may not have seen themselves before.
Next: Same-day eyewear option
Same-day eyewear option
Along with changing our frame selection, our optical department decided to make lens banks available to provide same-day eyewear in case of a patient emergency. Due to size restrictions at our other locations, this was not a possibility. We are firm believers (as I’m sure many of you are) that everyone should have at least one pair of backup glasses with their current prescription.
As you know, patients sometimes disregard our recommendation, and when their glasses break, it then becomes our emergency. We are now able to make sure that the 5th grader who just broke his only pair of -5.00 D glasses will be able to get new glasses on the spot. Investigating new lens technology such as thinner index lens materials, digital lens designs, and more functional and fashionable lens compositions are always on the horizon, and we want to be the first to bring that technology to our patients.
More space requires better communication
Perhaps more than any of the physical space design decisions, one aspect of patient care that was going to be particularly daunting was that in a space much larger than we were accustomed to, no one could see everything. Our team would need to rely more on each other and to communicate more effectively.
Our doctors need to trust that everything is being taken care of for each patient in the office. The reception staff has quickly become more involved with patient flow: a technician liaison guides each and every patient through her experience in our office. Simple things like color-coded folders have helped to ease the transition of new patient flow. Morning meetings are a lifeline, and an in-office communication system is essential.
We use an instant messenger system so we are able to communicate silently throughout the day. Doctors will send staff a message if they need contact lenses pulled for a patient or if a patient is about to come out to consult with an optical staff member. The instant message allows us to be ready and gives us time to prepare that patient’s information—about a two-to-three minute window in which we can investigate insurance details or familiarize ourselves with their prescription needs.
Next: Make it work for you
Make it work for you
This experience of planning out the new office and combining two into one has been unlike anything else I’d ever been a part of. It makes me appreciate going to the office each day and gives a renewed sense of love for what I do.
My advice to you if you’re thinking of making changes to your location or optical dispensary? Ensure you take your team along for the ride. Make staffers a part of your optical family and let them share in the excitement and decisionmaking. They will be your biggest supporters (and you’ll need some positive energy during this process, I promise). Be flexible. Things are going to change frequently throughout the process. Set up your location for the size you want your business to grow, not necessarily where you are now. Most importantly, have fun and make your space somewhere you want to be every day, and your patients will want to as well.