Article Date: 1/1/2011

How to Grow a Practice When the Economy is Shrinking
o.d. to o.d.

How to Grow a Practice When the Economy is Shrinking

Start by learning the lessons taught by those companies that have grown significantly in spite of the recession.

By Walter D. West, O.D., F.A.A.O.
Chief Optometric Editor

As individuals and businesses alike struggle to deal with an unclear economy (e.g. whether it's actually recovering), one of the first things we should do is look for tools and techniques to help weather the worst of the downturn.

That said, I'm aware of many practices and businesses in other industries that have grown significantly in spite of the recession. It seems these businesses are impervious to fluctuations in the economy.

From autos to airlines

A few companies that have posted solid financial performances, despite the economic downturn are Southwest Airlines, American Honda Motor Company, Inc., and Netflix, Inc. While U.S. automakers have suffered from staggering losses, Honda has reported $1.7 billion in profits. Southwest Airlines showed a 15% increase vs. last year, hitting just more than 17 years of consecutively profitable quarters, and Netflix has reached a subscriber base of 8.4 million households. What's their secret?

Build solid relationships with your patients

Forging a relationship that goes deeper than the nuts and bolts of the product or service your practice delivers is a crucial component of success, especially when financial outlooks across the board are bleak. Relationships rooted in identity and emotion allow a practice like yours to be seen by patients not as “where they had their eyes examined last time,” but rather “where they will always go.”

Go big, or go home

It used to be easy for optometrists to aim for the middle. By being no more than average, many of us could provide service and quality that satisfied a significant portion of the market. While that technique may have worked in the past, it doesn't work any longer.

It is now essential that you, as a practitioner, be the best at something. A practice must, with no exceptions, determine what it is best at and execute strategies and tactics accordingly. Take Southwest, for example. They have always managed to combine low fares with great service — anything else is a distraction. By being the most affordable (not the lowest-priced), having the greatest customer service, or providing the most exclusive product, a practice can distinguish itself in the mind of the patient.

Be true to thyself always

This rule might be “easier said than done” for many optometrists, but it holds true. To succeed, optometrists must stand by what they believe. While it is important to test and reassess strategies, the overarching approach must be a steadfast focus on your plan, and the value proposition mentioned above that defines your businesses’ strengths.

While many large companies, like General Motors Company, appear in constant “reaction” mode, rushing to adapt in light of market conditions, companies, such as Honda, reap the rewards of embracing their long-term strategies. Finding consistency in your practice gives you success, and your patients an opportunity to find you in the future — and it's a great way to usher in the New Year. OM

Optometric Management, Issue: January 2011