Article Date: 4/1/2010

More Than Just a Spring Cleaning

More Than Just a Spring Cleaning

Experts encourage you to get a fresh start with thrifty updates you can do yourself, inside and out.

By Erin Murphy, Associate Editor

In spring, everything feels fresh and new. How about your practice? Could it use a little spring cleaning, or may be a few clever upgrades? New OD asked the experts how you can make big improvements with a small investment. Here, they offer affordable ideas to enhance your practice's interior and exterior this spring.

Judge a Practice by Its Cover

Not ready for a big investment in your practice's exterior? No problem. You can do small, inexpensive things to enhance your image and attract new patients. And because exterior improvements tend to last longer than interior ones, you can consider them part of a rolling budget.

Start by taking an objective look. That's the strategy employed by John G. McDaniel, OD, MLHR, Founder, President and primary blogger at the full-service consulting firm Waugoo Consulting Group (waugoo.com). Dr. McDaniel appraises practices and offers marketing consultation, aprocess that often begins across the street.

“I stand as far away as I can to look at the building, and then I approach it by walking,” he explains. “The look is almost always bland, and it's often hard to tell what kind of business it is. But the good news is that there are plenty of ways to improve.”

Show Me a Sign

“Signage is your tagline to the entire external world. Even people who don't come in see the sign and judge you by it, so it's a mistake to scrimp on the cost,” Dr. McDaniel says. But new signs are expensive, so if your old sign is a little lacking, make easy changes now and save up for later. “You can draw attention to your existing sign to make it work for you,” he says.

Tackle the basics. Make sure the sign is clean. If it's in the ground, plant eye-catching flowers around it. Banners offer an inexpensive way to change an existing sign's appearance or add an element of change, according to Dr. McDaniel. Some clients order a printed banner to wrap the existing sign, hang below it or stick in the lawn.

“Dynamic is almost always better. To make changes a few times through out the year, add banners with phrases such as ‘Now Open Saturdays,’ ‘Frame Event,’ or ‘Now Scheduling Back-to-School Eye Exams,’” he suggests.

Become a Weekend Warrior

Paint, repairs and landscaping are relatively inexpensive, as long as you use your own muscle.

“If your practice is just starting to need a paint job, paint it yesterday,” Dr. McDaniel advises. “Paint it yourself — at least the front door. In fact, before you start, take a picture of your front door and look at it objectively. What impression are you giving?”

The entrance to your practice should stand out, be welcoming, offer comfort and shelter, and show signs of care. If your practice has multiple doors, use signs and other visual cues like plants and lighting to make it clear which one patients should use. Lighting is an inexpensive way to guide patients and enhance safety and marketing.

Dr. McDaniel tells clients, “If you've got something you want to show off, shine light on it. When it's dark and you're not there, make the exterior work for you. Run lights out to your sign or add solar lights. It's worth consulting someone to help you create a lighting plan that you can implement bit by bit.”

It doesn't cost much to fix maintenance issues, either, such as cracked windows or chipped stucco. These repairs are usually a few hundred dollars. Landscaping is another big-impact, long lasting investment that you can approach in affordable steps over time. Dr. McDaniel suggests replacing dead plantings, trimming shrubs and quite simply, making it interesting.

“If you think your landscaping is ‘acceptable,’ you're not gaining anything from it. It's a wasted investment,” he says. “Look at standout local businesses. Instead of routine commercial plantings and wood chip mulch, add some color and an interesting feature. Use containers, too. If you have a vibrant, upscale practice, be sure you also have a vibrant, upscale landscape.”

Be a Good Host

Once you've brightened up the exterior, it's time to take your critical eye inside. What needs a little sprucing up this spring? Think smart changes, not pricey ones.

“The average patient brings in about $250, so for every $500 I invest, I need to gain two new patients over 3 years,” says Scot Morris, OD, FAAO. Dr. Morris is in private practice at Eye Consultants of Colorado (eccvision.com), and he's operating partner of Morris Education and Consulting Associates (mecace.com) and Ocular Technology Solutions, Inc. (ots-consultants.com). “It's hard to quantify how many more referrals people make or how much more they spend because they like the environment, but there are certain things that people praise over and over again.”



Get the Ben Franklin Makeover

How can you make a big difference on a tiny budget? Try these ideas for under $100, from Tim Griffin, AIA, Principal at Practice Flow Solutions in Norcross, Ga. (PracticeFlowSolutions.com):

  • ■ Replace outdated reading materials.
  • ■ Go beyond the weekly cleaning. Wipe down all surfaces for dust, including the walls, artwork and cabinetry, and shine all your glass surfaces.
  • ■ Fix any loose wall coverings, molding or flooring.
  • ■ If your office has more signs than an interstate, pare down to put the focus on your key messages.
  • ■ Rent a steam cleaner for your carpets and seating.
  • ■ Change the air filters in the mechanical system.
  • ■ Brighten up your office space with new light bulbs (fluorescent lights slowly lose their intensity).
  • ■ Touch up paint where you see fading, soil or scuffs.

Here are some of Dr. Morris' low-cost favorites:

■ Plants: Plants are an inexpensive way to freshen up your office environment, and you don't have to have a green thumb. Just go to a nursery, ask what plants aren't easily killed and put a few of them in attractive (non-plastic) containers.

■ Music: Dr. Morris put in a wireless speaker system for his whole practice for about $400. He uses iTunes radio, which he points out “has a million channels, but not your local competitor's 2-for-1 ad.”

■ Paint: Yes — inside and out — paint is the classic quick fix. Dr. Morris says ditch the eggshell and use colors that complement your brand image and logo to set off different areas of your office.

■ Cleanliness: Although his cleaning service comes once per week, Dr. Morris gives everyone in his practice, including himself, daily cleaning duties to make sure the office is always in top shape.

■ Scent: People always tell Dr. Morris that they love the smell of his office. It's not a coincidence — his staff burns a vanilla candle for 20 minutes before the office opens.

■ Amenities: Dr. Morris says the patients' bathroom is the most important room in the office. For people to spend time and money, they need to be comfortable. Improve your bathroom with paint, flowers, pictures, luxury soap and lotion, a nice mirror, flattering lights and cleanliness that's checked several times a day.

■ Artwork: Art is expensive, right? Not if you don't buy it. Dr. Morris displays a different local artist's work in his lobby every quarter, and all it costs is the credit card processing fee if a patient buys a piece.

■ Magazines: Go high end, Dr. Morris advises. He gets titles like Architectural Digest to set at one, and he buys them through local school fundraisers to support the community and receive publications at a bargain price (12 subscriptions for $300).

■ Refreshments: The smell of burnt coffee is a turnoff, and so is the sight of a discolored glass carafe. Dr. Morris recommends a single-use coffee maker like a Keurig or Flavia. “For about $180, patients get custom coffee, the staff doesn't need to make it, and patients love it.”

All of these factors work together to make Dr. Morris' practice an inviting environment. “People are buying a sensory experience,” he explains. “I want us to feel good, look good, sound good and smell good.”

Polish the Optical Area

You've set the tone — clean, fresh and inviting — now it's time to make money. “Sales only happen if you merchandise well,” Dr. Morris says. But don't worry about the cost. “Merchandising doesn't have to be expensive. Tiny changes can make a huge difference.”

If you're sprucing up your optical area, here are a few simple upgrades:

■ Mirrors: “If patients are looking around when they're trying on frames, you need a mirror that's closer to where they're sitting,” Dr. Morris points out.

■ Location: Are your sunglasses in a dark corner, so once people put them on, they can't see a thing? Put sunglasses near a window or other bright light source. Also separate your men's, women's and children's frames visually with plants or furniture.

■ Lighting: A mix of lighting brightens the area and flatters people as they're trying on new glasses.

■ The all-important extra chair: Dr. Morris calls the waiting room chair in his optical area the most important piece of furniture in the entire office. Why? “If the husband's pacing, the wife's gone.” The chair and a stack of magazines ensure that spouses can relax while patients shop.

■ Signs, signs, everywhere a sign: “Instead of using the signs that reps distribute, make something that looks good for you. We just redid all of the office signage for a modest investment of $800,” Dr. Morris says. Signs in his optical area include men's and women's style guides. “Guys hate to shop, and they don't know what they're looking for, so we tell them how to improve contrast, performance and so on,” he explains. “Women typically appreciate finer details, such as information about face shape, colors and trends. They want to know the facts and spend some time, while men want to glance at the guide, get something and go.”

Women and Children First? Nope.

“When guys walk from the back of the office to the optical area, they plant a foot and turn to leave. We put what they buy right in front of them, so they literally walk into it,”says Scot Morris, OD, FAAO.
Men, women and children each get clearly separated regions in his optical area. Men get the hit-over-the-head approach, while kids and tweens get an area decorated with posters of TV and film characters. Women are more complex. “The women's area needs to be a destination,” Dr. Morris says. “Women like to search for the perfect frames. In fact, when we put the expensive frames in the back, our sales went up. It's the thrill of making as hopping discovery.”

Compare Apples and Oranges

What can you do all year long to keep your practice looking great and working for your bottom line?

“It's free to benchmark. Always think about what everybody else is doing,” Dr. McDaniel says. “But don't compare yourself to other OD practices — your patients don't. They compare you to every retail establishment they visit. Out of 100 practices, 90 need improvement, so take your inspiration from high-end stores and restaurants. You're being compared to places people go all of the time, so it's important to know how you measure up.” nOD



Optometric Management, Issue: April 2010