Article Date: 12/1/2003

fix this practice
Designing Spaces
When redesigning an office, look past cost barriers to the big picture.
By Richard S. Kattouf, O.D.

Q I'm redesigning my office and because of the high costs of rent and equipment, my goal is to keep the square footage small. Should I have more than one full examination lane?

Dr. A. E. Lopez, via e-mail

A: First I'd recommend that you make a list of the rooms you want. (I give this exercise to my clients.) For example, you may want two 10'x10' mirrored examination rooms, one finishing lab, one doctor's office, one doctor's restroom, one reception room, one reception office, one business office, one record room, one data entry room, specialty rooms (vision therapy, low vision), one contact lens inventory, one contact lens insertion instruction room, two public restrooms and one optical.

Once my client lists his desired rooms, we use architectural software to create a schematic of the floor plan for the entire physical plant indicating any bearing walls. My client and I go over the entire layout visualizing the patient flow.

If either of us has any additions or deletions, then we make a second, third or fourth rendering of the plans using the computer software. This method enables me and my client to design the most efficient, best flow and most cost-effective layout.


Consider your options

Most practices outgrow their space sooner than they anticipate. Therefore, determine whether making a larger investment at this time will save significant dollars in the future. If you're leasing and space becomes available, you may decide to take the minimal amount to meet current demands. But years later you could find yourself overcrowded and unable to expand because no space is available and you have three years left on your lease.

If you own your building, then compare expansion costs to start-up costs. One way to offset the cost of building on to an existing building is to design the building for three tenants plus your professional suite. Then have each of the three renters sign five-year leases before you start construction. The bank will welcome you with open arms with these signed leases and the rent will pay your monthly bank loan. You can pay yourself rent with some corporate structure and even have the renters pay for the building while you develop a nest of cash by paying rent to yourself.

Think about the competition

As independent doctors, you want to beat your competition in every way you can. The imagery of your building, equipment and optical are key and represent a tremendous amount of positive non-verbal images that you can develop.

Learn from Dr. Blair

Dr. Blair (not his real name) had worked in corporate optometry and hired me to perform a start-up consultation because he'd never been an independent owner. Dr. Blair wanted to build a small, conservative office on property he already owned.

Using the architectural software, we designed a perfect floor plan. I explained the concept of renters to Dr. Blair and we built a structure with four suites. Dr. Blair had no bank payment from his private money. We developed a professional corporation whereby he paid himself rent. The rental income paid for the property in 15 years and Dr. Blair had a sizeable savings from paying himself rent.

Look at the big picture

Look ahead at the big picture. Bigger is not always better. Smarter is always the better course.

Dr. Kattouf is president and founder of two management and consulting companies.  For information, call (800) 745-EYES or e-mail him at The information in this column is based on actual consulting files.


Optometric Management, Issue: December 2003