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Q&A with Justin Bazan, OD
Meet Justin Bazan, OD, owner of Park Slope Eye in Brooklyn, NY.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in central New York in a small town called Utica, and I spent the first 17 years of my life there. My dad was an engineer for the Air Force base, and my mom was a grade school teacher for the city school district.
Why choose private practice?
Private practice was a burning desire. My first job in optometry as an employee I thought was going really well, but I got fired. My vision of handling patient care and the business wasn’t in alignment with the retail/commercial model that’s common in New York City. The 15 minutes for an exam, the inability to maintain good communication with patients, the lack of practicing to my full scope-I was a glorified refractionist. Once I was terminated, I decided to open my own practice. At the time, the cold start seemed to be the best way to go. It was 2008, the start of the recession. It was slow going in the beginning, but it was busy enough that we were able to pay our bills and ourselves. But it was slow enough that I was able to spend time learning the business side in greater detail. It is a lot of work, but you’re going love doing it because it is your business, it is your baby.
What were the three biggest challenges you faced growing your practice?
The first is finding good people who care almost as much as you. Then it’s a tricky balance of how to retain those people. Another is learning the business side. How you run a business is very different than seeing patients. The third biggest challenge we’re having now is growing pains. It’s a good problem to have. But the real estate situation in New York is not ideal. To me, the office is starting to feel crowded.
Why an art gallery in the office?
I like art. I remember going to the art institute with my parents, and we’d pick artwork up from its lending department and we would always have art on the walls of our house. It was a way we could make the office not only look cooler, but we could work with community artists. We host an opening event, sometimes we host a closing event when we sell off the art. The art has a description, the name of the painting, the artist, and a price. Patients can buy the artwork right off the walls. It’s a no-commission gallery; the artist gets 100 percent of the sale.
Why provide a free community event space?
Not anymore. We built a vision therapy room this year, and that chewed up all that space. In the beginning, we had a large 20 x 20 space in our optical area and asked how we could help the community. One mom asked if she could have a “mommy-meet up” one day. I said sure. Then I realized after we bought chairs and had a projection system that groups could use the space for presentations. The first few years we were booked up with book signings, CPR events, art shows, parents groups. But in the last few years, there has been nothing. When we started with vision therapy, we needed a dedicated room so we built out a 12 x 13 room. We needed the room for a service we provide daily versus a community area that was used on occasion. One generates a heck of a lot more money than the other. [Laughs]
What do you do for down-time?
I love optometry, so it’s rare that I say “no” to things. Right now, I have the means to travel across the country, go conferences, write articles, and do interviews because I have the time. I don’t have a family, so I have the freedom and flexibility to do these things. When I make the time to enjoy stuff, I’m usually out exploring whatever city I’m in. Here in New York, I’m usually at a restaurant or a show. I like live music. I like food; I don’t know how to cook, so I’m at a restaurant. I don’t think I’ve touched a stove in over a decade.
What’s your guilty pleasure food?
Ice cream. I eat healthy, but I buy the little pints of HÃ¤agen-Dazs or Ben & Jerry’s. I try not to eat most of it in one sitting, but sometimes that little pint is going to get consumed in about two seconds.
Why do ODs fall off social media marketing, and how can they stay engaged?
They don’t build it into their routine day-to-day operations. One of the reasons our office is so successful at it is because we make it part of our opening procedures. It’s unlock the front gate, turn on the light, post on social media, so it gets done every day. If more ODs stuck it in their opening procedures, you would see a greater success rate.
Do you still not have an office phone?
We haven’t had a phone since 2011. We figured out why people were calling us, and none of it had to be handled live with a person. They called to find out more information about the office and insurance plans we took, and the most common reason was to make an appointment. In 2011, we implemented an online scheduler, which alleviated the majority of phone calls. Then we made sure our online presence had an FAQ that had the most common questions we used to get on the phone. Another reason for calling was to find out if glasses or contact lenses are ready. Now any time we make an order for glasses or contact lenses, we are very clear that we will email the second it comes in, and them a realistic estimated time of arrival. Then we go old school and write it down on business card with our email address. We have a Google voice line which allows people to leave a voice mail, but there’s no phone in the office that rings. Doing so eliminated a whole position, which helps keeps our staff payroll down. In New York, staff isn’t cheap.
Do you still serve beer?
Absolutely. We’ve had beer since our grand opening, and it has been part of our office environment ever since. We offer a choice of beverage to all patients, and beer is sometimes offered. We usually wait until after 5 p.m., and we offer beer from local breweries. The New York State Liquor Authority says you can’t sell alcohol; however, you can give it away if it’s not tied to a purchase and the person is of age. So, we’re clear on all fronts.
Do you have any regrets?
No. None. That’s an easy one! [Laughs]
What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
Oh man, I can definitely not get honest with that! [Laughs] The next craziest thing, I went to a nine-day reggae festival in Spain. It was in a little town called Benicassim. We rented a house on the cliffs over looking the ocean a few miles away. We had 10 friends with us. We did the reggae festival all day, all night, and took breaks in between to chill on the beach.