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Steve Vargo | 4/6/2018
I'VE STARTED MY OPTOMETRY PRACTICE, WHAT DO I DO NEXT?

Starting a solo optometry practice can be a daunting task, especially considering most optometrists do not graduate optometry school with a strong grasp of the business aspects of running a private practice. There are many things you need to do prior to your grand opening, but the work doesn’t end there. Once you’re opened your doors, it’s time to ask, “What do I do next?”

Staffing

Most new practices launch with a very small staff. Your entire staff may consist of you and one other employee. Depending on the pace of growth, you may need to increase staffing quickly. While these numbers may be skewed for a new practice only seeing relatively few patients, we suggest having one full-time equivalent staff member for every $150K in collected gross revenues. From a budgetary standpoint, staffing typically accounts for approximately 20 – 24% of collected revenues.

You will depend on this employee for a lot! Answering phone calls, placing orders, billing insurance, scheduling exams, dispensing, and a host of other tasks. Even with experience in the eye care field, this employee(s) will need a lot of feedback and training from you. As a new practice, you’ll likely have time. In fact, the recruiting and training process can take some time and you’ll want to start the process about 3 months prior to opening.

Equipment

To contain costs, equipment purchases are usually limited to the essentials for a startup. For example, a fully equipped exam lane, keratometer, autorefractor, non-contact tonometer, lensometer, visual field machine, stereo/color tests, etc. As the practice grows and revenues increase, you can reinvest back into the practice. An equipment “wish list” could include a digital retinal camera, slit lamp camera, pachymeter, topographer, etc. We usually suggest ranking this list according to which piece of equipment creates the greatest return on investment for the practice. At IDOC, we can assist with financial projections for equipment purchases. We also offer savings and discounts on equipment and technology through our vendor partnerships.

Marketing

Prior to engaging in marketing tactics, it’s a good idea to develop a sound marketing strategy. Crafting a marketing strategy should include market research on other area optometric practices and the people who live within a reasonable driving distance of the new location.  Creating a Facebook business page for the practice is free to do and you will be able to use the platform to gain some insight on consumers in the area.

Prepare a competitor analysis using internet research. How many other providers are in the area? What are the observable strengths and weaknesses of these competitors? How can you provide a unique offering in the market – Saturday hours? Bilingual team members? Alternative frame lines? Cosmetic procedures? What kind of online reputation do these competitors have on Google, Facebook and Yelp?

Aside from accommodating vision plans and a variety of medical insurances, develop a user-friendly website with real pictures of the practice space, claim and update the free Google business listing with information and pictures, and use Facebook to advertise and share your enthusiasm by posting pictures and videos of the new space.

Optical

When designing your optical, the frame displays and fitting area should be the first thing the patient sees and should be treated as integral to the office, not separated by walls, doors, glass partitions etc. This will make the optician (if you have one in the beginning), a part of the exam visit or make the eyeglass fitting easier if you only have a few employees with multiple roles.

Below is a list of ideas for creating a successful optical on a startup budget:

  • Start with only three or four vendors. You will get better terms by concentrating that first inventory purchase, rather than just a few pieces with many vendors.
  • Consider module or flexible display cases so you can expand or contract inventory without looking sparse or over stocked.
  • Take full advantage of your vendors, ask for cooperative ad dollars, merchandising materials, trunk shows, etc.
  • Start with 300-400 frames, depending on the vision plans you will be accepting.  Limit economy frames from the beginning, what you carry is what you will sell.  If you have demographic information to support it, you may start with some luxury product.

  • The mix may look like this:
    • Economy                                      25
    • Moderate                                   175
    • Designer                                    150
    • Luxury                                          25
    • Children’s and sports                25
  • Use barcoding and good inventory software from the beginning so you can be nimble at reacting to the demand.
  • Do as much community outreach as possible before opening, local employers, clubs, networking groups, etc. (you may find good staff members to recruit at these activities).
  • If you decide to take vision plans, get a listing of the employers that provide that coverage and reach out to them with an introduction flier to distribute to the employees.

Ultimately, you should make sure your newly opened practice has a functional number of staff, a solid marketing strategy, and a good base of equipment. This can all be daunting, though, so at IDOC, we’re here to help with your hiring process and equipment purchases. We offer expert consulting on all areas of your business, as well as exclusive vendor savings and much more — all designed to meet the individual needs of your practice.

Steve Vargo
Practice Management Consultant
Steve Vargo, OD, MBA is a 1998 graduate of Illinois College of Optometry. After working in a clinical optometric practice for several years, Dr. Vargo pursued his passion for practice management by earning his Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree from the University of Phoenix in 2008. A published author and speaker with 15 years of clinical experience, he serves as IDOC’s Optometric Practice Management Consultant and advises members in all areas of practice management and optometric office operations. Steve and his wife Melanie have two sons, Lucas and Ryan. In his spare time, he enjoys running, cycling, sports and music. A native Chicagoan, he is an avid fan of the Cubs, live music and deep-dish pizza.
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