Optometry has changed forever. While some practices are struggling to turn a profit, others are raking in the dollars. Whether you’re an independent or a corporate, there’s plenty you can do to unlock potential in your existing business.
It was not so long ago that operating a profitable optometry practice was relatively easy. Most optometry businesses provided a service that was in demand; patients were prepared to buy products and services (provided there was some sort of relationship between quality and value); and businesses grew if they didn’t make any horrendous errors. For most practices, competition was not a major consideration.
Quite simply, economics. There was an opportunity in the market and business moved to take advantage.
Planning is the key to success – the direction of the business is clear as are the steps on how to achieve your goals
Competing in a crowded and complex industry requires a more rigorous approach and a determination to overcome new challenges.
The quest to find strategies that create change can’t start with an inventory of best practices or problems. Our goal must be to create a business model that is forever changing, adapting, and taking advantage of opportunities and trends. If we get this right there should be fast, painless change with no major surprises, crises, re-organisations, or trauma. It will be very exciting and stimulating.
AVOID THE MONSTERS
A core enemy of success is a creature called complacency. It is insidious and pervasive. It is very easy to be comfortable and accept what is, rather than question and move forward.
Complacency has three friends: inactivity, nostalgia and denial. They support complacency in holding back change when it is most needed.
How do we deal with these little monsters? We need:
- A management system that allows the practice to identify improvements and make them without undue restriction
- A work environment that is the best it can be, and provides staff with the tools, knowledge and inspiration to be the best
- A culture of achievement, implementation, and reward
- Acceptance and acknowledgement of informed risk taking
- A quest to identify how everything can be improved, rather than question if anything needs improvement, and
- A commitment to promise only what can be delivered, and deliver what was promised.
A Solid and Effective Machine
You will never win Bathurst in a 1990’s Daewoo. You will not win the Sydney to Hobart yacht race in your neighbour’s 10 year old catamaran.
You and your staff cannot provide premium services from a practice that has not changed for 15 years and does not have finely tuned, well-developed systems set up to support excellence in service delivery.
As a business owner, one of your primary tasks is to make sure your staff have the backing and resources in equipment, tools, environment, IT, systems, and policies that will make practices run perfectly. There is no point tying ribbons on a pig. Fix the basics first.
If you are not actively working on your practice and patients, you can bet someone else will be trying to take your market share. Give your patients what they want and they will not leave. Do it better than your competitor and your practice will grow. Understand your market and make sure you are fine tuned to it. As a practice owner, this is your job.
Shared, Clear Purpose
In 1968, Frederick Hertzberg put forward a now widely recognised principle: “Your staff will be most satisfied with their jobs when their jobs allow them to achieve”.
The hardest thing is to give someone authority and let them go with it, particularly if you own the business.
As a practice owner you need to trust your staff, provide the things that allow projects to move forward, and remove obstacles that get in the way.
Provide constant feedback to your staff about how they are progressing towards goals and arrange celebrations when you hit milestones.
The value of planning has been known for thousands of years. Why some still refuse to do it is a mystery.
General Dwight D Eisenhower noted:
“I have found that in battle, plans are useless, however planning is indispensable…”
In 500BC Chinese General Tsun Tzu, noted in his book, The Art of War:
“He will win who prepares himself ”.
A successful practice needs an edge. Planning is the key to success – the direction of the business is clear as are the steps on how to achieve your goals. You can use your plan to communicate and assign responsibility to others, to compare changes in the environment, as a guide to managing resources, and a measure of progress towards goals.
Data and Analysis
Take time to understand what is going on inside and outside your practice. Set up simple measures and reports to get a snapshot of where things are at. Read trade magazines and media, log in to forums on the internet. Get media feeds to your mobile phone.
Also, focus on your market. Understand what is going on in your local area. How is it changing? What do people think? What is happening in retail and health care locally? Network and speak to people.
Information is the basis for decision making. The more information you have as a manager, the more effective your decisions will be.
Know the marketing strategy of your competition. This is often obvious and sometimes publicly stated… know what drives their business – how and why they do what they do and their core competitive advantages.
Understanding the environment surrounding your practice ensures you can direct the resources of your practice appropriately to best position your own practice.
FOCUS ON IMPLEMENTATION
In my experience the best practices in optometry are masters of implementation. They make changes happen. Implementation or change management is a topic for at least two days of education in itself, but besides patient care, almost nothing is more important.
Start with something small but useful. Get together a small crew of keen staff you know will get behind the project. Be clear about the outcome, set a target for completion, and set aside time to work on it – a sense of urgency and impetus is important.
MAKE SMALL WINS IMPORTANT
Pay attention to short term wins and small gains because they:
- Provide evidence that the change was worth it
- Reward the change agents
- Help fine tune the vision and the product – provide concrete data and evidence of viability
- Undermine resisters and sceptics
- Keep everyone happy, and
- Build momentum – turning neutrals into supporters and creating active helpers.
A good short term win is obvious, needs little explanation, and is clearly related to the change.
TRAIN AND EDUCATE
You and your staff are different because of what you know and it’s vital that you build on that difference with continued education and training. When local success story, Tom O’Toole, was asked why he invested so much in training when staff would inevitably leave he replied, “That’s true, but what happens if I don’t train them and they stay?”
INVEST IN MARKETING
To grow your practice and maintain a market advantage you cannot afford to neglect marketing. For most large businesses, marketing is a major activity and expense. It should be the same for optometry practices.
You need a marketing plan that ties into your practice objectives and strategies. There are many ways to market your practice and they do not have to cost big dollars – local direct marketing tactics that are low cost but more time intensive can be very effective in targeting potential patients who are close to you.
Electronic and social media are critical and will give your practice the opportunity to engage directly with patients on a very frequent basis. It’s not intrusive if done properly. You can also work on creating a database of potential customers to market to.
BE THE BEST YOU CAN BE
A successful practice can no longer be taken for granted, however it is achievable. The game has changed and it’s not easy, but you don’t have to change the world. Just be the best you can be and the best in your local market. You will succeed.
Adapt to Meet the Market
Recognising this attitudinal shift, Luxottica has adopted the fast and frequent buying cycle of fashion retailing.
“Previously eyewear customers were happy with two drops of newness each season, explained Peter Murphy, Director of Eyecare and Community at Luxottica. “Today the desire and need for instant gratification has evolved so there is constant new product hitting stores each week, including at OPSM. With more demanding and knowledgeable consumers who are seeking immediate gratification with the latest and greatest products, our goal is not to only meet, but to exceed their expectations.”
“A challenge of taking OPSM into the future is to maintain our values while focusing on the everchanging needs of customers. Often retailers are not dynamic in meeting customer expectations, for instance providing them with services when and where they would like. Over the past year or so, OPSM has expanded its opening hours to make appointments available when the customer wants to be seen. Typically, this means catering to office workers from 7am – 7pm in our CBD stores, as a bare minimum. It also means having more optometrists available on weekends to meet eye care needs, whether that is in suburbia or regional country locations. This is in contrast to a decade ago, when most of our optometry appointments were only available from nine to five, Monday to Friday.”
Build a Strong Culture
For this reason, three years ago, ProVision developed a three day training program for its members.
“While ‘culture’ had become a common buzz word to describe the reasons associated with an organisation’s success or demise, we knew our members had little understanding of the key aspects of developing a culture and even where to start,” explained Mr. Ellis.
“So we developed our program to help each practice clearly articulate their vision, mission, and core values – the foundation of any meaningful culture. We also provided members with insight into how to recruit, develop, engage, and retain the right people, including performance management; and then we linked culture to strategic priorities and key performance indicators.”
He said culture training had a transformational affect on a number of practice owners. “One practice in Queensland decided to close their practice on the last Friday afternoon of every month. The team shares lunch, reflects on what they could be doing better to live up to their vision, mission, and values, and each team member is asked to single out any colleague who deserves praise for a particular good deed.
“One of the most pleasing aspects has been the recognition by practice owners that culture requires an inclusive process from all practice staff. It’s not something that can be developed in isolation and pushed down to ensure compliance. To that end, practice owners actively involved their staff to help formulate their values and behaviours,” said Mr. Ellis.
Perhaps culture is best captured in the words of ProVision members Janine and Simon Hobson from Young Eyes. “We utilise open, honest, and respectful communication. We challenge each other to improve our knowledge and performance. We build team spirit by treating customers, stakeholders, and each other with respect. Buying into the importance of culture has certainly strengthened us as a team and we are seeing tangible positive outcomes!”
Invest in Technology
This is something that George and Matilda has invested in since its inception, says Managing Director, Chris Beer.
“We believe a focus on patients and their experience is critical to the success of any practice. Independent practices have a lot of untapped potential and opportunity to grow, but there are only so many hours in the day, and that time is taken up with caring for patients, and rightfully so. This makes technology critical, but independent practices often don’t have the means to use it in a way that has significant impact and often it may be foreign or even scary to many practice owners.”
Mr. Beer believes investing in technology is necessary if you want to keep up in an ever changing market. “One big area of opportunity is leveraging data science to help provide more personalised, tailored marketing to our patients. Our platform allows us to send hundreds of different variations of our marketing campaigns, providing more relevant, compelling information to the patient. This leads to much, much higher response rates and ultimately has a significant impact on revenue.
“George & Matilda Eyecare can give independent practices this expertise, without making them change what makes them unique. It gives them back more time, while partnering and supporting them to grow.”
Recruit and Develop
“Optometry is a people business. At EyeQ Optometrists, we often talk about relationship optometry. Everything we do involves building relationships; with patients, with our practice team and with everyone we come into contact with, including suppliers and other health professionals. Finding the right people to join your team is an activity that takes time and thought,” she said.
When it comes time to recruit new team members, she advises, think about your practice, patients, and current team members.
“Cultural fit is a key consideration – it is the glue that binds a team together – its values, goals, and practices. A poor culture fit will cost time, money, and opportunity for the business. A person with the required technical skills or experience may appear to be an ideal candidate but if they don’t fit well with your team and reflect your practice attitudes, they will cause an unhappy environment and impact on your practice success… you may lose patients and valuable key employees.
“Hiring for cultural fit doesn’t mean hiring people who are the same. A diverse workforce and one that is representative of the demographic of your practice is important. Team members who feel they fit well with the business have greater job satisfaction, are more likely to remain, and show better performance overall.”
Ms. Wegrzynowski suggested questions to ask when interviewing include:
- What values are you drawn to and what’s your ideal workplace?
- Why do you want to work here?
“Another important consideration is team development. No matter the level of skills, knowledge and experience, a regular performance discussion ensures that areas of development are identified together. This is important for not only new employees who are learning skills, such as optical dispensing, but also the experienced ones who may take on a mentoring role – that in itself requires new skills.
“We are in the people business and to really enjoy your practice and create a successful and lasting business, you need to find and nourish the right people who share the joy,” she said.
Benchmark To Drive Change
“Until patient outcomes are measured on a large scale, it is very difficult to determine where to set pertinent benchmarks. This extends to all aspects of optometry practice, from eye disease detection rates as compared to expected prevalence, to quality of referrals and communications, and Medicare utilisation for eye care services.”
The impact of continued professional development on individual optometrists is another area that should be benchmarked according to Mr. Larsen.
“There is no process to check that that the activities undertaken by a practitioner are directly related to their professional learning needs, or, perhaps even more importantly, any method to measure the impact of the learning activity on the individual’s quality of practice and resultant outcomes for their patients… However, there is no reason why this cannot be achieved, especially when all of the data on our eye care performance is at our fingertips, in small practices as well as large. That includes our individual and collective Medicare billings, our disease detection, referral rates and more. How we assess and manage that data performance is the key – and that is how we determine and set the pertinent benchmarks.
“Referral rates should be in alignment with population statistics on disease prevalence. Furthermore, clinical processes should be refined based on benchmarking and data obtained about patient outcomes. And through this, all optometrists should have access to up to date benchmarks for clinical care, to understand expected standards.
“We are pleased to have made a very solid start to this benchmarking process at Specsavers, enabling all of our optometrists to access their own data and review it against a broader local and national cohort. This paves the way for self-reflection and self-selected professional development, all geared to improved patient outcomes,” said Mr. Larsen.
Connect With Your Market
Katrina Camacho, Marketing Executive at Eyecare Plus, says it’s important to participate in social media. “People are influenced by a brand’s reputation and presence online, so it’s important to use your social media as a channel for you to build trust in your products and services.
“Social media enables you to find people who don’t know about your brand, that may be looking for a product or service related to your business. It also enable you to target and retarget people – by advertising on social media platforms like Facebook, you can specifically target a demographic based on attributes like gender, age, interests, and family status with messages that are absolutely relevant to them. It also allows you to retarget people that are most likely to click on your advertisements with the aim of converting them to bookings.”
To attract traffic to your website Ms. Camacho recommends linking your posts directly to your website. “If your posts generate clicks, it will help boost your website’s search ranking,” she said.
“Social media is called ‘social’ for a reason – it lets you share great quality content and engage with your online community. There’s a high chance your competitors are putting effort into building a social media presence, so if you’re not participating and building your own platform, you’re providing a bigger opportunity for them to get in front of your patients and prospective patients.”
Engage and Excite
“Looks aren’t everything, but when it comes to optometry boutiques, they mean a lot. We all know that an in-store experience is nothing if it’s not backed up with great product, and the same is just as true on the contrary. Without an appealing interior and inviting atmosphere, other elements of a brand experience are easily overlooked. By creating unique in-store environments that appeal to the local audience, we encourage a community and an ongoing positive relationship with patients and customers.
“At Bailey Nelson, we believe it’s not only possible, but essential to offer a stylish and beautiful retail space without compromising on clinical standards. Our full range of optometry services is extensive, including contact lenses and the recent additions of Optos and visual fields in select stores. Despite clinical standards, however, practices have the potential to be so much more than austere, sterile environments. We aim to strike a balance between a warm and inviting exterior while maintaining a unique minimalism, distinctive to the brand. The key to nailing in-store aesthetic and a smooth customer journey, in our opinion, is through clean and clear branding with uncomplicated product offerings, a simple pricing structure, transparency and straightforward processes. If these elements are done effectively in-store, patients are more likely to return for their future eye tests and shopping experiences.
“Bailey Nelson’s coastal heritage is woven through our stores, with many of our light boxes featuring photos of Bondi Beach, ensuring our story and purpose remains clear in everything we communicate. We also adapt facets of the design and feel of each store to the location it’s in, with references to the local area in our decor, signage and imagery.
“For example, we’ve integrated the work of local artists into our stores with murals and feature walls in a number of our boutiques. Inner-west resident and artist Elliott Routledge AKA Numskull painted our Newtown store; Jen Sievers embellished our High Street, Auckland boutique; and the work of Abbey Rich adorns the walls of our Fitzroy store.
“If the ultimate goal is to make patients feel comfortable and to provide them with an enjoyable and unique eye care experience, the overall in-store environment is crucial.”