Article Date: 2/1/2007

Layout 1

Office Design Diary: CHAPTER 1
This article is the first in a series on one group's experience in building a new practice.

Since 1978, Vision Source Midwest City's 3,500 sq. ft. facility has resided in part of a medical complex in the heart of Midwest City, Okla. The original optometric office, circa 1962, was designed with four exam lanes but we expanded these lanes to six in 1978 to meet our ever-growing patient load, at the cost of doctor and staff office space. Now, 28 years later, we are ready to move the practice. This article discusses the first part of our journey.

Reasons for relocation

We decided to move based on these three reasons:
• Lack of space
• The migration of our patients
• Curb appeal.

With three doctors working in the office each day, six exam lanes allowed for only two lanes per doctor. So, we planned to have 10 exam lanes in the new office to improve our efficiency. This allows three lanes per doctor, with an extra lane in the minor procedures room, which will house our yttrium aluminum garnet (YAG) laser and Surgitron EMC Ellman unit used for minor procedures, such as verruca removal. In addition, our new office plan provides for our reception, dispensary and contact lens areas to double in size. Location is a critical consideration in building a new office. Because the economy of our suburb is quickly moving southeast of our location in Midwest City due to the development of a large shopping area in the southeast part of town adjacent to an Air Force Base — this base contributes heavily to the economy in Midwest City — our location needs to be convenient to the base and retail areas nearby. Another reason to move our practice: The new housing market in Midwest City is almost exclusively to the east of our cur- rent location. When we studied the demographics of our current patients, we found that these housing areas were home to the majority of our patients.

Since our office is part of a complex, it's difficult to distinguish our office as its own business. Our current building is 29-years-old and beginning to show its age due to the architectural style of the building. With our new building, we will have much better curb appeal and visibility, as it will house only our office and will be distinguishable from the street. In addition, as owners of the new office, we will be free to make improvements and landscape the grounds to enhance the visibility and appeal of our office.

Finding the perfect location

Once we decided to move, our next step was to find the right location. Since most of the new growth in Midwest City (both residential and business) is to the east and south of our current location, we started our search in that direction. Two miles to our east, Douglas Boulevard is a main north-south road that is quickly developing into a busy commercial area for retail stores and professionals.

Because this is currently the hottest growth area in our community, we found that available land was limited and very expensive. So, we shifted our focus one mile farther east to Post Road, where we ultimately decided to move. Several pieces of property in this area were available in prime locations at reasonable prices. In fact, a four-acre plot directly across from Midwest City's newest high school caught our eye. In addition, three new dental offices are

located just to the north of our lot, and a new learning center is being built in the same style as our office immediately to the south. These businesses help to establish this as a professional area in our city.

Locking up land and financing

The land we were interested in was a four-acre lot. An investor purchased the land for his learning center but only needed half of it. We heard from our realtor that he was very concerned about the type of business that would be next to his new learning center. In fact, we found out he refused several purchase offers from businesses, such as car lots and convenience stores, even though the owners of these establishments were willing to meet or exceed his purchase price.

Before we called to inquire about the land, we went to the county assessor Web site to determine the purchase history of the property. We were able to tell when the aforementioned investor purchased the land and for what price, so we knew what would be a fair offer. We contacted the investor and let him know we were a privately owned group optometry practice interested in purchasing the available property. He said he felt very comfortable having a professional group next to his proposed learning center. This made negotiations simple and painless. The end result: We were able to purchase the property for substantially less than his initial asking price and for less than market value due to the professional nature of our business.

Three or four months passed between the time we agreed on a purchase price with the investor and the actual purchase of the land. This is because the land had been zoned residential and needed to be rezoned as commercial before we could make the purchase official. The investor handled this process, as our agreed upon purchase price was contingent upon the successful rezoning of the property.

During this time, various workers carried out land surveys, soil samples, water table levels, chemical testing and inspections on the property. Meanwhile, we began the process of financing the building. As a well-established business in Midwest City, it was not difficult to find banks and lenders willing to fund our project. Several lenders contacted us offering financing. Since rates were consistent from lender to lender, we ultimately decided on a lender based on convenience. We also had several patients who work at the bank we decided to use.

The lender required financial information on our business and personal tax returns as well. Because only two of the four doctors that own Vision Source Midwest City will have ownership of the new building, we established a property manage- ment company to own the new building. So, a lease agreement was required between Vision Source Midwest City and the property management company that would own the building.

Planning the practice interior

Much thought went into the layout and design of the new office. We knew what we liked and didn't like about our current location, but we also wanted other perspectives. We visited several newer optometric offices in the area to get a starting point for our office. We took a camera and started touring, taking pictures and asking questions at offices around the state. We looked at lighting, room size, floor plans, architectural details, patient flow, building materials and color schemes. We also visited with the doctors of these locations and inquired about what was working well in their practices and what was not. We asked these practitioners if patient flow functioned as they expected, if the layout worked well and what they would change if they could do it over again.

From these visits, we were able to establish a working model for our new office building. We started with a list of everything we wanted in the new office including rooms and equipment. This allowed us to

determine an approximate size for our building. Using large sheets of graph paper, we cut "rooms" to scale to place on poster board. This enabled us to try different layouts, see how each would fit in the new building and how they would affect patient flow. We tried multiple building shapes and floor plans to determine the best fit for our practice. Once we established a general layout, we used a computer program that we downloaded from the Internet to draw the building to scale. Then, we selected an architect and engineer and passed these drawings on as a baseline.

In Chapter two, we'll discuss our process of selecting an architect, engineers and a builder. (Incidentally, we decided to switch builders before any construction was even started.) We will also share some of the unexpected difficulties that we ran into early on in the construction process. Delays are the name of the game!

Optometric Management, Issue: February 2007