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 By Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO, Editor May 9, 2007 - Tip #277 
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Saturday Hours

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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

Let's 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 that's 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 it's 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 all.

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. I'm not sure if practice owners feel guilty about being closed or if they are truly misinformed, but to quote Randy Jackson on American Idol, "Let's keep it real."

Here are some of the common reasons why practices choose to close on Saturday (I disagree):

  • 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 it's not worth being open. They find that patients generally don't 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 it's 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 can't see why it wouldn't be) then the owner must be open to all strategies that lead to growth. I'm 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 customer's 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 customer's 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 don't 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 evenings.
  • 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 "convenience". 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,

Read Past Tips Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week

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Send questions and comments to neil@gailmard.com.

Dr. Gailmard offers consulting services to eye care professionals through Prima Eye Group; information is available at www.primaeyegroup.com.

Please Note: The views expressed in Management Tip of the Week do not necessarily reflect those of the sponsor.

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