Optometric Management Tip # 277 - Wednesday, May 09, 2007
I speak with many eye care professionals who firmly believe that Saturday hours
are just not that important to practice growth or net profitability. Indeed,
many practice owners believe that Saturdays are a complete waste of time. I
disagree, which is why the topic made my top ten misconception article.
Being open does not mean you must work
Letís be clear that the business advantages of having the office open on
Saturdays should not be confused with the desirability of working Saturdays. I
think thatís where much of the discord resides. I keep those two aspects
completely separate. Many practice owners naturally assume that if the office is
open, they are working. And that may be a necessity in some cases, but even then
I think itís better for the owner to not think that way. Even if the practice is
new or small, it is best for the owner to think like a CEO and to visualize a
business system that will some day not be so dependent on him or her. An
optometric practice, for example, could employ an associate doctor who works
Saturdays (and some weekdays) while the OD owner is off. Or the office may be
open and staffed with opticians and business office personnel, but no doctor at
The myths about Saturdays
There are many excellent and respectable reasons why an office may not be able
to be open on Saturdays, such as financial or personal, and I have no problem
when I hear those. But I usually hear statements that sound more like
rationalizing, such as the number of no shows that occur or the general lack of
business on Saturdays. I take exception to that because I see a great deal of
revenue generated on Saturdays. Iím not sure if practice owners feel guilty
about being closed or if they are truly misinformed, but to quote Randy Jackson
on American Idol, ďLetís keep it real.Ē
Here are some of the common reasons why practices choose to close on Saturday (I
- Doctors who want weekends free to enjoy their family or for other
personal reasons rationalize that the no shows and late arrivers make
Saturdays a waste of time.
- Staff members (who do not like to work Saturdays) report to the owner
that itís not worth being open. They find that patients generally donít ask
for Saturday appointments and when the office tried Saturdays in the past
there was very little business.
- The conclusion is that it costs too much in staff wages to be open.
If itís not practical for your office to be open on Saturdays or evenings
right now, it may be at sometime in the future. In some cases it comes down to
business goals. If a large, successful practice is desired (and I canít see why
it wouldnít be) then the owner must be open to all strategies that lead to
growth. Iím convinced that having convenient office hours is one such strategy.
The truth about Saturdays
The office schedule is a factor that gets right to the heart of marketing.
Marketing is defined as identifying and satisfying the customerís wants and
needs, and the more a business caters to those wants and needs, the more it will
attract customers. Our customers are patients, and the biggest problem I see in
most practices is lack of patient volume. If we could attract enough volume, we
could work on making each patient encounter more profitable, by raising fees or
dropping some vision plans.
Some aspects of marketing can be complex, but the customerís desire for
convenience is pretty basic and universal. If anything, that desire is getting
stronger over time and it increases as the consumer has more choices of
providers. Not everyone wants a Saturday appointment, but many do. Some people
have trouble taking time off from work or school. Some people need a babysitter
for a young child and must wait until a family member can help out. Whatever the
reason, lots of patients love Saturdays and they are generally booked further in
advance than any other day of the week.
Employees hate Saturdays
In many practices, staffing difficulties have led to closing the office on
Saturdays. I acknowledge that employees generally donít like working Saturdays.
That creates a challenge, and I care about the wants and needs of employees, but
I think the needs of the practice come first. Here are some thoughts on making
Saturdays more palatable.
- Hours such as 9am to 1pm offer good balance between meeting the needs of
patients while still allowing employees to have some of the weekend. It also
avoids the lunch break.
- Employees who work Saturday will have a day off during the week, which
is also a nice perk.
- Your office could have a rotating Saturday schedule which allows all
employees to have some Saturdays off. For example, on any given Saturday,
you have 2/3 of the staff on duty and 1/3 have the day off. Each staff
person works two Saturdays and is off one. This also facilitates trades if
someone needs a certain Saturday off.
- You could hire some part time staff who want to work Saturdays and
- Allow senior staff to be relieved of Saturday duties by a grandfather
clause, but insist that all new hires work Saturdays. When it becomes the
norm it is accepted.
- Offer a greater wage for Saturdays.
Independent practice compared to retail chains
Focus groups of eye care consumers have been asked what they perceive as the
strengths of optical chains when compared to private practices. One of the most
frequent answers is ďconvenienceĒ. That word can have a wide range of meanings,
but office hours are undoubtedly a big part of that perception. If private
practitioners want to compete with chains, they would do well to work on the
factors that consumers like about chains.
Best wishes for continued success,
Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Chief Optometric Editor, Optometric Management