Article Date: 9/1/2008

How to Find the Right Capacity
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How to Find the Right Capacity

A lobby with only one chair looks as silly as a lobby with 12 empty chairs.

GARY GERBER, O.D.

Restaurant one has 12 people dining in it. Restaurant two has 41. All things being equal, which one is more popular? If you said, "All things are rarely equal," you've given the best possible answer.

As it turns out, restaurant one has a line out the door and a one-hour wait. That's because it has room for only 12 people. Number two can easily accommodate another 120 people. Yet, without knowing capacity, most people would answer that number two is more popular. The perception here is that the more customers equates to a more popular establishment. Knowing the entire picture and changing the question to, "Where would you rather eat?" it's obvious that number one clearly provides a better dining experience.

How many chairs do you have in your reception room? More importantly, how many of them are customarily used? Are you a restaurant one or two? If you're already a one, the next practice-building step is to gradually increase capacity while maintaining your well-deserved status of "the place" for eye care. This might be as simple as adding a few chairs, gradually expanding office hours, or it might mean a move to a larger space.

So, if adding physical space and appointment slots works here, why not consider the opposite for a restaurant two type of practice?


ILLUSTRATION BY CAM WILSON

If you are indeed a less-than-packed restaurant-two sort of practice, what can you do to increase the number of patients sitting in your reception room? Volumes have been written about ways to attract more patients. In this case however, the correct question is, "With the fixed number of patients I currently have, how can I appear to look busy and simulate what happens in the first restaurant?"

The space time continuum

All kidding aside, if patient volume is lacking, removing a chair or two might be the easiest way to achieve your goal of appearing to look busy. If the space in which the chairs were located looks awkwardly barren, fill it with some creative artwork or point-of-purchase materials.

Also, consider condensing your thinly scheduled appointment book to give the illusion that you're one busy O.D. This concept is especially important in new practices where patient volume is typically initially lean.

Customer space planning is an art that major retailers have perfected to a science. For instance, in a busy Apple Retail Store, the placement of merchandise, the space between it and the way it's displayed, while seemingly quite simple — it's all displayed on plain and otherwise barren tables — is no accident. The distance between devices is precise and intentional. Put the iPods and iPhones closer together, and an invasion of a customer's personal space may ensue, decreasing the time he'll spend exploring the device. Place devices too far apart, and the store is less than "optimally crowded" to attract more customers.

Our consulting company has applied some metrics to this concept and found that about one seat for every $350,000 in gross sales is the preferred amount of seating. Of course, when you're just starting out, having one seat in your lobby would look silly — but then again, so does having 12 with only one person sitting there. This metric best applies to established practices and with observation and tweaking, can help you achieve that packed, yet organized, busy restaurant aura most of us hope for. OM


DR. GERBER IS THE PRESIDENT OF THE POWER PRACTICE, A COMPANY SPECIALIZING IN MAKING OPTOMETRISTS MORE PROFITABLE. LEARN MORE AT WWW.POWERPRACTICE.COM, OR, CALL DR. GERBER AT (800) 867-9303.

Optometric Management, Issue: September 2008