Practice Management

Anatomy of a New Practice: The New Retail Experience

By Carole Burns, OD, FCOVD

Nov. 14, 2018

This is the first in an ROB series that examines how new and rebranded optometric practices are embracing progressive ideas in retailing and the customer experience. 

This year we opened a fourth location of our practice, aimed at satisfying the ways people like to shop today. We offer a personalized, contemporary retail experience in which we also are able to provide topnotch medical eyecare. The new location is uniquely different from our other three, allowing us to experiment with a new approach built around the patient experience.

The New Retail Experience
In the pre-digital era, the relationship between brick-and-mortar retail stores and their customers was largely transactional— places to fulfill supply and demand, according to Forbes. As online commerce continues to grow exponentially, the role of the retail store is shifting from purely pragmatic to more experiential.

Last year, for example, Coach pulled its line of handbags and accessories out of 25 percent of its North American department stores—choosing instead to focus energies on its own stores. Chief among those stores is the new Coach flagship location in New York, which elevates the ordinary shopping experience with special touches like a monogramming station (replete with emojis), a 12-foot dinosaur fashioned out of Coach leather pieces, and Made to Order Rogue, which gives shoppers the ability to create a bespoke Rogue bag.

Applying the spirit of this new retail experience to optometry is the focus of our new practice in Lewis Center, Ohio, a city whose growth is exponential, and the median income is over 100,000.

Picture entering a sleek showroom that has a pleasant citrus scent upon entering, upbeat music, no reception area, no check-in desk, and no clipboard with forms.

The new office is eco-friendly and entirely paper-less with a high-end, high-style tone. Patients experience high, unfinished ceilings, beautiful chandeliers, and well-trained, smiling opticians ready to welcome everyone who enters.

Our Mission Statement & Growth Plan
Before we could deliver this new retail experience, we first had to cover the basics of planning for the new office. Fortunately, we already had a mission statement for the new office, as we knew it would be the same as it is for all of our other locations:

      This is WHY we go to work:
       In everything we do, we believe we change lives, one person at a time.

      This is the HOW we do this:
      We do this by going above and beyond in how we care and serve others.

      This is WHAT we do:
      We provide the highest quality vision care, create a unique experience for our patients, celebrate our employee’s talents, and generously give back to the community.

The WHAT of our Mission Statement includes creating a unique experience for our patients. This is where we are able to test all of the new protocols that improve the patient experience in our new office compared to traditional offices.

Starting cold with no patients, and just three doctor days a week, we were were able to meet all expenses, excluding doctor payroll, from the first month of operation. On month seven, we were able to meet all expenses, including doctor payroll. Our goals are that at 11 months we will have increased from three doctor days to five doctor days per week. By year three, our goal is to have two full-time doctors in the new location, which means 10 doctor days per week.

“Eye Spy” Experience
Our new location is on the third floor of a new medical center that shares space with a state-of-the-art fitness center and emergency room. Most patients entering have an appointment, and therefore, are welcomed by name. If they are seekers without an appointment, and just want to see the new office, they also are welcomed and shown around the showroom (what we call our optical).

Patients may browse the showroom on their own and take a hands-on “Eye Spy” experience, which guides them through lens options available for glasses and sunwear. That way they understand the choices we can give them to find the perfect pair of glasses and sunwear. In addition to Eye Spy, we have patients take a personal style quiz on a tablet, which the optician hands to them. The quiz, which only takes one minute to complete, determines the patient’s style personality, and then makes recommendations for the kinds of frames they would most likely enjoy wearing.

We have 1,000 frames hidden in our office, meaning held within drawers, labeled with designer names, which the patient will need to pull out to find, so that finding the perfect glasses becomes interactive and engaging, rather than a passive activity in which they simply wait to be handed frames by an optician. Together, the patient and the optician explore our eyewear.

Personalized Approach
Those with an appointment are never early or late. The experience is divided into two parts, the vision exam and the eye health exam. Because it is broken into two shortened parts, we are able to accommodate any arrival time. This adds to the experience, as patients are never made to feel uncomfortable when they arrive later than when they were scheduled. They simply are welcomed and treated like VIPs. A patient is never asked to take a seat and wait.

Upon entering our office, they are immediately escorted into an examination room by an optician. The patient is asked their favorite music, which is instantly played on a high-end speaker in the room they are in.

After the optician completes a brief history, acuity and autorefraction, the doctor is summoned into the examination room quietly via our digital intra-office communication system. The doctor completes the vision portion of the examination and prescribes the treatment plan, which includes eyewear for both work and home, as well as indoors and outdoors. The optician has remained in the room, and is an integral part of the treatment plan conversation. The digital technology downloads the refractive information into the patient record and the optician escorts the patient into the showroom, where the optician gives the patient an iPad to take their one-minute personal style quiz.

This process ensures the patient is in the showroom selecting eyewear within 15 minutes of entering the office. The optician gets to know the patient well, and truly understands what they need to perform their best at work, school and play.

Casual, Comfortable Atmosphere
There are no fixed dispensing tables in the showroom; instead there are drawers that pull out to become tables, at which the optician and patient can sit side-by-side discussing eyewear options. After exploring eyewear throughout the large showroom, the optician may pull out a table that appears to be a drawer, then stools are easily moved to create a casual, comfortable atmosphere.

The patient completes the financial transaction for their visit, including making eyewear purchases, before they leave our showroom and after they complete step one of their visit to our office, the testing of vision. After the testing of vision and selection of eyewear, an optometric assistant is summoned to the showroom via our digital intra-office communication system and they take the patient back to the exam room for the medical portion of the patient’s visit. This communication is quiet and appears on each staff member’s own thin lightweight tablet. There are no fixed computer stations and no phones in the office.

The patient’s eye health assessment begins with testing by the optometric assistant, and after the patient is dilated, the doctor is again summoned quietly through the intra-office communication system.

The experience is seamless. Since we communicate digitally, staff show up almost “magically” when the patient needs them. There is no audible calling for another staff member or doctor. The eye-health exam, including dilation and retinal photography, follows the same tone the patient experienced in the showroom. They receive personalized care that makes them feel like they are the most important person. They are never in a waiting room with others while waiting to dilate, but, rather, experience the office with their own optometric guide.

Superior Medical Eyecare
The patient’s eye health results from their medical history, visual field testing, tonometry, dilation and retinal photography are analyzed and presented by the doctor. Retinal photos are viewed on the doctor’s Microsoft Surface (which is carried with the doctor everywhere). The doctor sits next to the patient to view the photos, and educate the patient about their eye health, and recommendations, rather than standing across from the patient.

Any necessary eye health treatment and follow-up is then communicated by the doctor, then the optometric assistant schedules the patient to return for care.

Priming Referrals & High Online Ratings
At the completion of the examination, the patient receives a text while in the office, which asks them to rate us on Google with a single click.

They are given chocolate and a “Share the Care Card,” which asks them to refer their friends. They are then scheduled back for another experience next year.



Carole Burns, OD, FCOVD, and her husband, Mark Wright, OD, FCOVD, are professional editors for Review of Optometric Business. To contact Dr. Burns:  To contact Dr. Wright:

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