By Ian G. Whipple, OD
Jan. 25, 2023
When I purchased a second location in July 2022, my goal was to deliver topnotch care and a stellar patient experience. I also wanted the second location to be profitable from day one, which we achieved. In order to reach those goals, I knew I would need the right office space.
Here are the major transformations we made to the space, and how we got our new space to be what we and our patients needed it to be.
Created Additional Space for Opticians
The new office came with a cluttered space for one optician. The space was tucked away and inefficient. Patients could not easily see the optician when they entered the office. This setup also wasted invaluable wall space.
One of the first physical changes I made was to add two new optician stations on the floor of the office.
Finding optician desks was the easy part. I ended up going with desks from National Business Furniture, which fit the desired look and budget. Getting power to these desks, however, has been a challenge.
The setup of the desks took about an hour. Supplying power to the desks to run a computer and frame warmer took around one full day of an electrician’s time.
Cost: I spent around $1,000 for both desks. Electrical costs were around $5,000, and involved running power through a conduit and down to the desks. Running power through the cement foundation is cost prohibitive at ~$30,000. I’m not a huge fan of having a conduit from the ceiling to the desks, but I could not find a reasonable alternative. We got a $5,000 bid for electrical work, which also includes track lighting and electrical wiring for a chandelier.
I plan to purchase two additional computers, frame warmers and optical tools for an estimated $5,000. So, the entire update of the optical is budgeted at $11,000.
Placing opticians on the floor will utilize the old, unused space on the walls. I plan to use that wall space for a dedicated contact lens insertion/removal station and to add another frame display. It also allows for two opticians instead of one, which will be invaluable as we grow.
Patients will appreciate this improvement by seeing a friendly optician from the moment they enter the office. The additional wall space also allows for more frame choice. Having a dedicated contact lens station will create an easier and more practical experience for new contact lens wearers. Previously, contact lens insertion/removals were performed in one of two exam rooms. It is possible that freeing up an exam room will lead to greater efficiency in exams as well.
Other Articles to Explore
ROI: I estimate that there is at least one optical sale per week that walks out the door instead of purchasing because our lone optician is busy and there is too long a wait. Reasonably, one additional sale per week could lead to $26,000 annually.
I estimate that we will break even from this particular office update in six months.
Replace Window Treatments in the Optical
The office had old metal window shades, which simply looked bad. There was little room to manipulate the direction light entered through the windows and light was often directly in the optician’s face in the afternoon. The optician would, therefore, close the shades for much of the day. This created a dark office feel, which was not complementary to the beautiful frames we offer.
I replaced these blinds with white shudders, which gives us way better control of directional light. I expect my staff will be able to keep more natural light in the office now and the overall office look has improved tremendously.
Cost: The time investment of making this change was around one hour of research. The cost of the three shudders with installation was just shy of $1,500.
ROI: The ROI of this change is difficult to calculate exactly. Improving lighting may lead to fewer frame restyles. We’ve all had that patient who thought they purchased a black frame only to find when they look at it in proper lighting it is a dark purple. The improved office look and lighting may increase the average optical transaction.
It’s also possible that this investment is simply a “feel-good-about-the-space-our-team-works-in” kind of improvement. On the day the shudders were installed, I received a text from each of our employees saying how much they love the new look. The pride in our office and improvement in our staff culture is an intangible, but valuable, return on investment.
I frequently take patients to the optical to show them the expected impact of updating their prescription. I’ll use flippers or trial frames to demonstrate their new prescription. I like that I’m now proud to open the beautiful shudders to show them outdoor distance vision.
The new office is located in a homeowners association (HOA), which has restrictive rules regulating signage. It took about six months to determine our options for changing our signage.
We had two external signs with the new office name and logo created, along with vinyl door lettering with the doctors’ names and office hours and internal signage including room names and directions (such as “staff only beyond this point,” etc.) to improve the flow of patients. By attaching labels to each room we will have better efficiency as an office. The visibility of the new signage outside will improve our marketing potential.
There is one more additional change we are making to our office’s signage. There is an oddly placed window from the front desk to a business office. It might work if it were a two-way mirror, but as a window it adds no value and allows patients to look into the business office (which, let’s face it, is probably cluttered like any other business office.)
I want to hide the insurance and reception desk behind a closed door to prevent patients from seeing through the window. As a part of this project, we are adding an opaque sign with our office logo in that window to close off the business office. This move provides additional value by making it clear which door to enter from the common space foyer, which is shared with a dentist.
The investigation process to learn what we would be permitted to do with our signage took weeks. The restrictive HOA rules were not easy to find and the process of approval was an administrative headache. Obtaining bids for the new signage was also more difficult than I expected. The sign company I used for the Farr West office, my first practice location, was not responsive, so I ended up using a different local company. They estimate six weeks from approval to installation.
Cost: The total cost of our new signage is $4,500. This includes $1,000 for installation and $500 for permits and approvals.
ROI: The ROI from this change will likely come from our ability to more accurately market our practice. There are still legacy listings and ratings/reviews in the digital space for the practice that used to be in this location.
There has been confusion among patients of the old practice about the transfer of ownership of the office to our practice. We sent a digital and print letter to each household for which we have addresses, but there are still some patients who didn’t hear or understand that the location is under new ownership and is undergoing rebranding efforts. The external signage will help immensely. Our new office is located adjacent to a regional hospital and the street has significant traffic. External signage may help attract new patients as they drive to the hospital.
Once permanent external signage goes up, we’ll be able to claim or close digital marketing accounts. This move will allow us to work on SEO and Google Ads for the new office. We are in aggressive growth mode for this new location and new patients will be key to our success. I expect immediate returns on this permanent signage.