Article Date: 10/1/2001

From Eggs to Optometry

The pathway to better business skills has been bumpy, to say the least.
Jack Runniger, O.D.

"My assistant phoned a patient who'd made an appointment for the following week," an optometrist told me.

"We found that you never paid for your last examination and glasses 2 years ago," she told him. "We can't give you another appointment until you pay what you already owe."

"I guess you'd better cancel my appointment," he replied. "I can't wait that long."

Obviously, no matter how great a clinician you are, you can't afford to stay in practice if you don't get paid for your services. You must also be a good businessman. The problem with this is that you probably chose optometry as your vocation because you were a lot more interested and proficient in science than in business.


A futile salesman

That was the case with me. The mind-warping entrepreneurial failures I suffered in childhood convinced me that I'd best select a profession to provide sustenance.

My father was a high school teacher who was never happy with the remuneration his profession afforded. Therefore, he decided that his number-one son (me) should learn the attributes of a successful businessman, so that I could one day achieve the financial success that had escaped him.

His first effort came when I was 10 years old. To develop my sales skills, he had me sell magazines door to door. They sold for 10 cents, and for each one I sold, I received a commission of 2 cents. After 3 days, I'd earned a grand total of 8 cents.

My dad came to the erroneous conclusion that the problem couldn't be his elder son's lack of ability, but a flawed product. So when we visited relatives who lived on a farm, he purchased 20 dozen eggs for me to peddle from my wagon.

As I recall, I was able to sell about six dozen. The remainder of the eggs were about evenly divided between those that I broke and those that rotted before I could sell them. Guess I should've stuck to magazines.

A slight change of pace

Dad finally recognized that he'd probably go broke if he kept financing my entrepreneurial enterprises. From then on, he steered me into salaried positions such as mowing lawns, caddying, working in a grocery store, etc.

However, he'd implanted the entrepreneurial bug in me, so when I went off to college I searched for easy ways to make money.

Thus I was easy prey for the fraternity brother who sold me the house laundry concession for $150. "You'll make good money, and later you can get the $150 back by selling the concession to an incoming freshman," he assured me.

Two months later, Pearl Harbor was attacked, and soon most of us went off to war. Among the casualties was my $150.

The fraternity house candy bar concession was another of my college business attempts. Gross sales were excellent, as the candy sold like hot cakes. Only difficulty was that the machine offered a great bargain -- for every nickel placed in the slot, the machine delivered the candy bar of choice -- and refunded the nickel along with it.

Success from failure

These failures served the purpose of convincing me I'd probably starve as a businessman, and led me to the fortunate decision to study optometry.

And then I discovered I had to learn to be a businessman anyway.

C'est la vie.


Optometric Management, Issue: October 2001