As I look back on my own experience and that of many other optometrists and ask myself what single tactic has resulted in the most practice growth, I have to place moving to a new location in the top three. Most optometrists don’t think about moving as a marketing strategy, but it can be a powerful way to get your practice noticed. In this article, I’ll cover some important considerations about moving to a new office location.
Benefits of moving
One of the most common reasons for moving is to gain more office space and that factor alone can account for an amazing increase in practice profitability. The limited physical space of your office can definitely restrict your production. If you have good patient demand, more square footage would allow you to add employees and give them space to work. You could add more exam rooms and special testing rooms, which can increase patient volume per day and pave the way to adding another doctor. You can make your optical dispensary larger, which is greatly needed in most optometric offices, will increase optical sales and allow you to handle the increased patient flow.
In addition to more space, here are some other advantages:
You may be able to improve parking for patients and staff. People want convenience.
You can give your practice a better image. You can make the décor nicer and a larger facility is a sign of success that will be noticed by your patients and the general public.
Moving can improve staff attitudes and office culture. You may be able to give your staff some perks there are no room for currently. Employees respond well to having their own work space and a pleasant work environment.
Better visibility and signage. Many optometric practices are successful without much exposure, but there is no question that you are better off with it. Times are changing; let the public see your office.
Where to locate?
If you intend to keep your current patient base, you should limit your move to a very small area near your present office. The actual radius varies with population and geography, but think in the three mile range. Your present patient base is very valuable and you will retain all of them if you don’t move too far. This may limit the opportunities to the point of making a move impossible, but be sure to look. In some cases, additional space may be available in the same complex you are in. You may be lucky enough to acquire adjacent space and add on without moving. Or consider swapping your space for a larger unit.
If there is a new part of town that looks to have great growth potential, but is further away, I would think about opening a second office at least 10 miles away and leave the current office where it is.
What type of building?
This a matter of personal taste for the practice owner, but I encourage you to think out of your comfort zone. I think a free-standing building with the entire space being used for an eye center is a great way to go, but short of that, I think an upscale strip mall presents a great practice image. I’m talking about a very nice mixed use center with beautiful architecture, landscaping and lighting. An optometric practice that has a medical image with a medical practice name, but located in a retail setting which offers convenience and feels more approachable, is a great combination. We see more professional and medical offices of all kinds in this setting. Doctors don’t have to be buried in a multistory office building and that is especially true if you have a great optical.
How much space?
The key is to get considerably more space than you have now. If the average practice is about 1,800 square feet, I would think at least 2,500. It is smart to plan for growth, stretch the budget a bit and obtain more space than you need at the present time. You may decide to not equip or even finish all the space at first if you go really big. In many ways, the size of the office could dictate how much your practice can grow. Even though ODs are far more interested in medical eye care, I would make the optical very large, possibly up to one third of the total space.
When should you consider owning the real estate?
Buying commercial land and constructing a new building or buying an existing building should always be on your radar. There are many financial advantages to this arrangement and the only reason not to own your building is if the initial cost is too great or if you don’t need a large space yet and you plan to move in a few years. As soon as you approach 3,000 square feet or larger, the monthly rent you will incur becomes so large that is close to the same as a mortgage payment. In that case, you should try to buy the property. All you need is a down payment. Talk to a commercial loan officer at your bank and find out if you can meet the requirements.
Floor plan design
Since you already have an office, you should use the good and the bad of your present location to design the new one. You should work with a consultant or designer who is familiar with ophthalmic offices. Our needs are unique and most architects and contractors will need lots of input.
Build outs are expensive
Be prepared to invest a lot of money in the build out of a new office location. This cost varies greatly by amount of square footage and also by the finishing materials chosen, but it can easily exceed $100,000. The marketing power and practice growth of a new location generally provide a very good return on that investment, but try to get the landlord to cover more of the build out cost, since he gains some value in his property. Also, consider office space that had a previous tenant where you may be able to use some of the rooms and reduce your cost.
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.