Being open on Saturdays is one of those management issues that is fairly split among optometrists. You have some ODs (like me), who make the case that Saturday appointments are in high demand by patients and it is important to have your office open. And there is the other camp that believes life is too short and should be enjoyed with family, so just say no to Saturdays. These two views may never agree, but they don’t have to! In this article, I’ll show you that it’s possible to have it both ways.
Your practice does not mean you, personally
I think it is smart for the OD/practice owner to separate the business from the person. In the beginning, when the practice is small, it may seem like they are one and the same, but as it grows, it is best to not have everything depend on the owner. Gradually, you will hire more staff and delegate more. You could be open on Saturdays as an eye clinic and not actually work them yourself.
The concept for owners who do not want to work Saturdays is to hire an OD to work them. And schedule staff or hire more staff to work them. One of those staff might be designated as the manager and handle any administrative aspects. There will be plenty of revenue to pay for this and still make a profit. If you think your current staff won’t work Saturdays, read on for ways to manage that.
Two main reasons to have Saturday hours
Reason #1: Customer service. If we think of your practice as a separate business, it is smart to look at strategic decisions from the patient’s point of view. I can attest that patients love Saturday hours, based on my own experience and that of hundreds of ODs I’ve worked with. In my practice, we have three ODs working every Saturday and we are booked solid many weeks ahead. Your competition is open on Saturdays and they are busy. Many patients can’t take time off work very easily and they appreciate offices that accommodate their needs.
Reason #2: More hours equals more profit. If you can see more patients per week, you will generate more revenue and profit. Saturdays let you do that because they don’t just shift existing patients to a different day, they pull business from the future because the day is so easy to fill and Saturday hours attract people who would go elsewhere.
Be open every Saturday
I occasionally hear from optometrists who tell me they tried Saturdays and it did not work out. In some cases, I hear there were too many no shows. This experience is so blatantly different than my own that I can’t help but discount it. I think that practice must not have done it right.
In some cases, a failed attempt at Saturdays is due to not making full commitment. If you want it to work well, you need to be open every Saturday. This helps staff to accept the concept of Saturdays as the real deal, and to offer it proactively to patients. If staff are hoping that Saturdays will go away, they can make it fail by not offering it and not booking it heavily enough.
One other point is to not think of Saturdays only as a day for exam appointments. It is a very important day for patients who just want to walk in and pick up their glasses or contact lenses. Or to buy another pair or to get sunglasses. Or to get an adjustment or have a repair. Being open every other Saturday does not make this easy or effective because the public can’t keep track of what Saturdays you are open. Having people come to your office and find that is closed is a big disappointment. In fact, the optical business volume is big enough that you could have some Saturdays where you are open without a doctor. You would have an optician on duty, but could get by with a smaller staff on those days.
How to get staff to work Saturdays
Once you make the commitment to being open on Saturday, let your staff know that they do not have to work Saturdays if they don’t want to. No one will be forced to work Saturdays. New employees may be hired with the understanding to work Saturdays, but existing staff will be allowed to keep a traditional schedule as part of a “grandfather clause”. Have an open discussion with staff about how Saturday hours are important for practice growth and for customer service.
Next, meet with each of your current employees one-on-one and in private. Every person has different needs and circumstances and it is best to get away from the emotion of a group mentality. Ask each employee how he/she feels about working Saturdays and consider these points:
• If you have employees who need full time hours, some may actually prefer to work Saturdays! That could give them a full day off during the week (while keeping full time hours), which is very nice to have.
• Some people have a spouse home on Saturdays, so that makes child care easy.
• Some employees feel that working until 1pm on Saturday does not really interfere with family time that much. They still have a great weekend and they get some hours in while everyone else lies around the house.
• You could offer to pay a premium wage or give a raise if the employee will change his schedule to include Saturdays.
• My practice uses a system where staff work two Saturdays and are off one. The office is open every Saturday, but we don’t need the entire staff present for each one. We call it A, B and C Saturdays with different people scheduled.
• When you hire new employees, always discuss the work hours during the interview and let them know that Saturdays are required. Job candidates generally say that is no problem at all!
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.