Competitive Advantages for Your Practice: You Can Buy Them
February 4, 2015
As you analyze your practice within your local eye care marketplace, you should think about your competitive advantages. What exactly is a competitive advantage? It is the reason a customer chooses one business over another. In order for any business to succeed, you need several strong ones. As you read this article, make a list of the competitive advantages for your practice and think about how you can gain additional ones.
To begin, ask yourself: Why should a patient choose my practice over any other in the community? As you try to respond to that question, be objective and grade your own responses as weak or strong in the eyes of the public. Many competitive advantages are in the way you do business and do not cost anything at all, but other competitive advantages are actually for sale. You can go out and buy them. Your practice needs some of both types.
Prioritize your investment plan
I view the cost of buying a competitive advantage as a business investment. You will expect a good return on that investment. But there are so many possible products and ideas to spend money on, how do you know which to do first and how much money to spend? That is a decision for the CEO and owner of the practice. Develop your priority list or wish list and decide what will give you the best return.
As for the investment budget, you should be safe, but also know that business investments require some degree of risk. Make sure you will be OK financially even if the investment does not have the return you hope for. Look at your cash flow and your reserve funds. Try to project if the new item will generate more income and if so, how much? Consider borrowing money from a bank or leasing by looking at the monthly payment and deciding if you will be able to pay that amount. You can’t buy everything for your practice at once, but try to make one or two large investments per year. Speak to a financial advisor or CPA about your plan.
Competitive advantages for sale
Consider these concepts and how they would rank on your priority list. Each one is a competitive advantage.
A nicer office. The image and décor make a big impression on patients. People like to visit a place that is pleasing to the eye and they like to send their friends and co-workers there as well. This item could include hiring an interior designer, paying for the furnishings and materials and it may include new optical displays. Another way to pursue this competitive advantage is to move to a larger, nicer office location.
New high-tech instrumentation. The type of instrumentation you use in providing eye care defines and differentiates your professional services. Patients don’t really understand diagnostic instruments, but they can tell when you do something impressive that they have never seen before. There are many options: retinal imaging, OCT, computerized refraction systems, corneal topography, macular pigment testing and many more.
A bigger staff. This is a competitive advantage because it leads to better customer service and a better patient experience. Push to hire more people as soon as you can. Invest in training by providing your own training and sending staff to major conferences. Additional staff allows you to delegate more and as a team, you can increase production.
In-office optical lab. Faster service is a big competitive advantage, plus you can increase your profit margin on eyewear.
A new EHR system. You may not think of your software as a competitive advantage, but it is part of the patient experience. If the doctor must spend more time looking at the computer screen than the patient, the experience is not very good. If the eye exam process takes a long time, in large part due to inefficiency with the current EHR system, patients become bored and tired.
The most advanced contact lenses. Offering patients the best in lens materials and bifocal and toric designs is a big competitive advantage. Don’t just leave the patient in the same brand they are currently wearing. Offer them something better.
New frame lines and better optical merchandising. Investing in new frame brands brings a lot of excitement to a part of your practice that is very important to patients. And staff members become very excited about the newest and latest, and enthusiasm sells. Bring in some new lines even if there is a high minimum buy-in. Try a more upscale line at a higher price point.
The only way to grow your practice is by having more competitive advantages than other eye care providers. Go ahead and buy some.
Best wishes for continued success,
Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week
Dr. Gailmard's new book, Practice Management in Optometry: A Blueprint for Success Based on the Optometric Management Tip of the Week, is now available on Amazon.