Article Date: 9/1/2006

If I Had to Do It Over
Have a Hunger for Knowledge

Don't ignore what may seem like unlikely sources to learn important business strategies. Donuts and coffee, anyone?

By Gary Gerber, O.D.

I PRACTICED OPTOMETRY for 22 years. Eleven years ago, I started a practice management and consulting company called The Power Practice. One of our core services is helping new doctors start their practices, and every time we begin working with a client, I'm reminded about what I should have done differently 

Everything Costs Something

My business-building epiphany happened when I was discussing the restaurant business. While I examined a friend, a successful restaurateur, in my office, he asked me about the cost of getting his pupils dilated. I told him, other than the drops, there wasn't any cost. Then he asked me, "What's the per-patient cost for those drops?" My reply was, "I don't know; it's probably insignificant." Then he told me about what he called "pouring costs" in the bars in his restaurants, and that led to a discussion about how he inventories produce. I couldn't take notes fast enough! But being wrapped up in running a practice, I stashed the notes away in my desk and forgot about them.

Several months later while paying some bills, my notes resurfaced. In fact, I was about to pay a bill for my mydriatic drops when I saw my notes about pouring costs. I then started analyzing all of the costs associated with running my practice — even the "insignificant" ones.

You Can Learn From Anyone

What I'd do differently isn't just about watching costs. I also would have sought the help of individuals from outside the industry sooner than I did. I studied with consultants from various and seemingly unrelated industries, including hospitality, scuba, law, photography and food franchise. All of them taught me more about running an optometry practice than I ever learned from another optometrist.

For instance, I learned the importance of "just in time" inventory as well as proper packaging and merchandising of photos from a photography shop. And no one understands the positive impact of hands-on customer service like those in the high-end hotel industry. All of this has applications in optometry practices.

Explore New Areas and Ideas

One key point to recognize is that most optometry practices run the same way and produce about the same revenue — that's how a bell curve is generated. My nonindustry mentors were all operating on the profitable fringes of their industries' bell curves. How they got there and stayed there fascinated me.

To ensure success, you need to venture out and spend time in a lot of different optometry offices. But don't stop there. Don't underestimate what you can learn from a Lexus dealer or Dunkin Donuts franchisee. Dollars to donuts, I'll bet if you're observant, you'll pick up more unique and profitable practice-building ideas over a cup of coffee with these business people than you will over lunch with a colleague.

Dr. Gerber is the president of Power Practice, a company specializing in making optometrists more profitable. Learn more at or contact Dr. Gerber at or (800) 867-9303.

Optometric Management, Issue: September 2006