A LITTLE more than six years ago, I decided to leave a successful O.D./M.D. practice, at which I’d been employed for more than 10 years, to start my own practice. (I found an existing medical building that contained unfinished space and housed five other medical practices.) Having my own practice worked out well, but I can’t count the times I said to myself, “If I ever do this again, I’d…” About a year ago, I went through the “new practice” process again when I came to the conclusion that my practice space had not grown to its anticipated potential.
Here, I discuss the seven steps I took in relocating my practice to right my previous “coulda, woulda, shouldas.” (See “Move-in Checklist,” p.28.)
1 I GOT A REALTOR
I found my first office space by driving around areas I was familiar with and then calling a realtor who oversaw a property I was interested in. I went over the proposed lease contract with a lawyer friend of mine, but there was little to no negotiating. In retrospect had I enlisted a personal realtor, I may have been able to save some money and found an even better location for my private practice.
This time, I worked with a realtor I met at a Utah Optometric Association meeting. His questions — “Why do you want to move?” “Do you want a space built to suit or to refinish an existing space?” — enabled me to better determine the type of space I wanted. The realtor showed me several locations I’d have never seen otherwise. In addition, he provided traffic count data for the proposed new location that showed my practice would be much more visible to passersby than my other location. Further, the data he had regarding patient demographics and projected growth in coming years were important factors in determining whether the potential space was a move forward or a lateral move.
Next, the realtor was not only able to negotiate a turnkey construction deal, but he also negotiated the first six months of the lease for free! The former was critical to me. The last thing I wanted was to interrupt the flow of seeing patients with bidding contractors, subcontractors and building inspectors.
2 I HAD THE ARCHITECT TO MY CURRENT PRACTICE
I actually did this the first time around, so its benefits are worth noting. Specifically, my architect examined the parts of my current space that I wanted recreated in the new space, so that we were on the same page with regard to construction. (You don’t want slightly different dimensions of exam rooms or cabinets in places not needed.)
Further, I looked carefully at the plans before I signed off on them to make sure ceiling heights, doorways or archways and curvature radius measurements were correct. (Any good architect knows what criteria need to be met for local building code requirements and Americans with Disability Act standards.)
It’s crucial to imagine yourself walking through the new office: Is the patient flow appropriate? Are hallways wide enough? Do the doorways and bathroom layouts look appropriate? (Often times, bathrooms will be arranged to accommodate plumbing rather than placing sinks and toilets where they would be most convenient.) Finally, I carefully reviewed with the architect the number of and specific placements of power and Internet outlets.
3 I CLOSELY MONITORED CONSTRUCTION
In my previous practice, a break-room closet door couldn’t be closed because both sides of the doorway were built out from the wall at slightly different lengths. I didn’t realize this until we had already moved in.
To avoid such issues, I considered doorway heights and such prior to construction, and closely monitored the construction (visiting the site every couple days). It’s a lot easier to fix miscommunication during construction vs. after the fact.
4 I GAVE PATIENTS ADVANCED NOTICE
When I left the O.D./M.D. practice to start my own private practice, I failed to give notice to my 10 years’ worth of patients. This caused them confusion and frustration, and it caused the practice tons of open spots in the schedule until my patients slowly found me.
To avoid this, I sent snail mailings and emails to patients letting them know about the new location and when, specifically, I expected the new space to be ready for them. For appointments made prior to construction, I sent recall cards with the banner “new location,” the address and anticipated opening date. Further, I sent custom confirmation texts the day prior to exams that contained the new location via my EHR software.
Also, I used the practice’s social media channels, such as our Facebook page, to post on the progress of the new office and its anticipated opening date. It seems like a lot of extra work, but your patients will share in your excitement of watching the new office come to fruition, and you’ll be grateful to have your patients, who you’ve provided care to for so many years, be there as soon as you open.
5 I REMEMBERED THE FRAME BOARDS
When I opened my first practice, I ordered far more frames than I needed to fill my space. In retrospect, opening cold, I should have looked closely into frame manufacturers that offered consignment purchasing. In my most recent situation, I slightly decreased my frame board space, so I halted any frame buying until construction on my optical was finished. Obviously, if you are increasing your optical space, you’ll need to ensure your boards are full.
Regardless of your optical’s size, I highly recommend coordinating with your frame reps to have them visit your new space to determine what your needs are and to verify your new address in their systems for shipping and billing. (As a side note, I found that this an ideal time to incorporate frame board mapping to organize the move and to track frame purchasing and inventory in the future.)
6 I ACQUIRED SIGNAGE SOONER VS. LATER
In my first location, signage was not something I needed to undertake, as I was in a large medical building that already had it. In my new location, it was required at opening in the lease. (Keep in mind that some landlords require permanent signage within 90 days of occupancy. Every lease differs in penalties for the failure to have signage — there may be a monetary penalty or possible termination of the lease, although the latter is unlikely.) This is something you may want to negotiate at the time you’re revising the final lease prior to signing.
I ended up bolting a temporary banner to my new space. My landlord agreed to it, as I was in the process of getting approval for the sign and the fabrication from him. (Keep in mind that your building may need signage on more than one side.)
In terms of selecting signage, I recommend doing some online research. Pinterest, for example, can be a great source of inspiration. Also, be sure to get multiple price quotes, as signage can be very costly. (A nice aluminum, backlit sign can easily cost you $5,000.) When obtaining a bid from a sign company, ask whether the company or you are responsible for securing the permit from your municipality. The company I chose included filing for and obtaining all necessary permits.
- Transfer gas, power, phone and Internet.
- Change address with bank, state tax commission, UPS, mail carrier, insurance and billing clearinghouses and drug, frame, lab and contact lens reps. Also order checks that show new address.
- Change property insurance
(and coverage if necessary).
- Change EIN address
7 I MOVED ONE ROOM AT A TIME
When I moved to my previous office, I had things being delivered by contractors and UPS constantly, and I could only hope that everything was in place by the time I opened.
This time I decided to take control of what was moved and when. Specifically, I moved the practice room by room with some very kind friends. Doing so minimized clutter and helped immeasurably with keeping everything organized.
SUCCESS CAN BE PLANNED
From start to finish, planning is the most important aspect of a successful build, move and transition. Yes, it will be stressful, but proper planning at the outset, along with careful decision-making and asking lots of questions up front can make it less so. In the end, all the preparation is well worth it. OM