Article Date: 6/1/2006

relocation
How To Relocate A Practice
Planning ahead can help reduce the inevitable headaches and mishaps of moving your office.
GARY GERBER, O.D.

It's been said that one of the most stressful events in a persons' life is moving. If moving from one house to another is an unsettling event, than moving your business, your financial lifeblood, has to be likened to an emotional earthquake. Moving a practice takes the stresses of a residential move and multiplies them to the order of mega-angst. What follows is a guide to help ease the pain and add an additional level of profitability to your move.

Should you go or should you stay?

Many events can stimulate a move to another office. Your lease may be coming up for renewal and the terms may not be favorable. You may have outgrown your space. The neighborhood may need a facelift or the location just didn't prove to support a vibrant and profitable practice.

Other less common reasons exist as well. We've had client's patients complain that parking is a problem or that an unchangeable traffic pattern makes the practice difficult to access. A change in the competitive make-up of your market might be another reason to consider moving. If you are the undisputed king of low vision in East Eyeville and a fellowship-trained, low vision whiz-kid opens up an office across the street, you may find your location roots aren't as deep as you thought.

Size matters

There is a relationship between practice size and gross sales potential. If you take the square footage of your practice and add three zeroes to that number, you get the approximate amount of sales that is the limiting factor as a function of size. For example, if you practice in a 1,200 square foot office, the size of the office becomes a limiting factor for growth when sales reach $1,200,000. Another general rule, larger facilities produce more revenue than smaller ones — both gross and net.

Regardless of the reason, the basic strategies for relocating are interconnected. The secret to decreasing the potential profit loss and ensuing sleepless nights is diligent planning.

Keeping current patients

Clients frequently ask us, "How far can I move and still have patients follow me?" The answer is quite simple: "Don't ask us, let us ask your patients." We've had great success surveying patients and asking a straightforward question, "If our practice were to move from Main Street to Park Place, would you continue to be a patient?" It's helpful to ask, "If not, why not?" Keep in mind that you don't need every patient to follow you for the move to be successful since (hopefully) one reason you're moving is to expand your business. As you drop your business into a new geographic area, plan on growth from that new surrounding community as well as a loss of current patients — likely with a net gain in patients and income.

Once you have made the decision to move, marketing that move to current patients is important. It's best to let them know as soon as you know. E-mail blasts, letters and in-office signs are a few methods you should use. However, be sure to list the reasons the move is a benefit to patients. The ability to offer new services that directly benefit them is something they'll appreciate and should be at the core of any message you send.

Messages should not be phrased as follows, "We're moving, will you be joining us?" Instead, come from the position of, "We're moving and we'll see you in our new location." Tell — don't ask. Assume patients will make the move along with you and they probably will.

One often overlooked technique to announce the move is the telephone. You can even record your message in your own voice (4patient-care.com). From there, software can data-mine your patient list and call each patient. This is usually less expensive and more effective than a bulk mailing. Personalized and friendly U.S.-based call centers are another alternative. Our clients have had good success with Datappointment.com.

Perhaps the best time to announce your move is during the patients' regular, scheduled recall. The phone call should be along the lines of, "Mr. Johnson, this is Mary from Dr. Bob's office. I'm calling to remind you about your appointment next Thursday at 4:15p.m. I also wanted to let you know we've moved our office to 123 Park Place, around the corner from the library. If you're not sure where that is, I can email you a map or you can visit our Web site at DrBob.com."

The point here: Make it easy and non-optional for patients to follow you. In a related marketing maneuver, make sure any referral sources, such as other doctors, are also fully in the know regarding your upcoming move. They should hear it from you, not your patients. Make sure these individuals are among the first to visit your new home.

We also recommend clients institute any pending fee increases while still in their current location. When you move, you'll probably have a cosmetically new and improved office, compared with your former location. Not having to raise fees helps you avoid the inevitable patient comments of, "Doc, no wonder you raised your fees. Look at this place!" In reality, most patients don't recall what your professional fees were from one year to the next anyway, but if you're concerned and plan a fee raise, do it sooner instead of later.

Take your time

If you're moving to an existing building that requires little construction, give yourself about one year of planning. As with just about all construction, plan to pay more and have it take longer than expected. Recommended lead times vary if you plan to build from the ground up in the new facility, but at least two years of planning time is a good idea. While it might not make them any less painful, expect the unexpected delays. It's almost a guarantee that your calendar and your contractor's won't be in sync. The parking lot won't be done when promised and the sign won't be right the first time. Be prepared — these things will happen.

Planning steps

As far as the logistics of your move, of course you should try to minimize downtime, during which you can't see patients. However, don't paralyze yourself in attempts to get this downtime to the absolute barebones. Given the many factors that will be out of your hands, the odds of staying with too precise a plan are small. Better to plan for a slightly longer move time and take a few days off to recharge your batteries and sore back.

Work together with your staff to make careful checklists and timelines of where items were before, where they are being moved to and what items need to travel together. Empower each staff member to be responsible for the items on their lists. For example, your receptionist should ensure that the phones show up and the phone company is there to install them. Your job as CEO is to ensure that the staff does their jobs — not do the jobs for them. If your practice is small enough to only have one or two staff members, call in outside help. Even a small office can be a big moving headache, so enlist the help of business-moving professionals.

Beyond the physical things, make sure the important intangibles are on your moving list too. Insurance carriers should be notified far in advance (your business insurance companies such as those that handle professional liability, business interruption, disability, etc., as well as those patient insurance plans you participate in). Bank accounts, credit card merchant accounts, practice management software vendors, alarm companies, Internet service provider, phone numbers, post office forwarding orders, utility companies, stationary and Web site content are among the other things you'll need to plan on changing.

When properly executed, an office move pays huge dividends It is virtually unheard of for a well-planned move not to work out.

In next's month's issue, Dr. Richard Kattouf discusses the specific tactical issues necessary for a successful relocation.

Dr. Gerber is president of The Power Practice, a company specializing in making optometrists more profitable. Visit www.powerpractice.com or call Dr. Gerber at (800) 864-9303.



Optometric Management, Issue: June 2006