I'm a big believer in optometric practices supplying uniforms for staff members as an employee benefit. We have done it for many years in my own practice and I recommend it to optometrists who want to build a more successful practice. Read on for tips on why you should consider providing uniforms and how to implement the concept.
In this period of tough financial times, it's natural to try to cut costs, but if you are interested in growing your practice, you must spend money to make money. It is hard to judge the return on investment when the benefit is intangible. In the case of uniforms, the main benefit is an improved perception of your practice. Do uniforms improve the image of your practice enough to justify the cost?
In my experience, a great looking staff is just as important as a great looking office and uniforms are an excellent investment. When uniforms are left up to the staff to buy for themselves, there is a tendency to wear older clothing a bit too long. And there is not usually a common design theme shared by all staff, but rather each person does their own thing. This results in some staff dressing rather shabby.
The success of a practice is strongly based on patient experience. That influences loyalty and enthusiasm, which directly relates to word of mouth referrals. The little touches cause people to like your practice on Facebook or write a positive online review. The effect is hard to measure, but it is quite real. These patient-friendly factors are why some practices grow quicker than others. It is why some practices generate millions of dollars in revenue and some do not.
I like to look at the characteristics of large, successful practices and try to make the average practice adopt them. I believe large, successful practices have a great looking staff wearing clean, crisp, fashionable uniforms that match in color or design.
An additional benefit of providing great uniforms is that staff attitude and self-confidence improves. Everyone feels better about themselves when they look better. Employees get an emotional lift when new uniforms are delivered.
My practice provides new uniforms twice per year and it is always a fun time that staff members enjoy. I don't mean to imply that our choice of uniform style or color meets with 100% approval; far from it. I don't think you can ever please everyone and it is challenging to consider all the sizes and personal preferences. But we listen to staff and we try to please. The good part is that once the uniforms arrive, everyone forgets about the personal issues and they just go with it.
What style uniform to choose
Uniforms should reflect the personality of the practice. There are many different looks that work very well and I can't advise you on what to choose. Think about your practice marketing goals and the image that fits with that. It could be medical, upscale retail, corporate, family-friendly, professional, formal or casual. Look at uniform websites for ideas. Ask some key people on your staff and some friends who are not part of the practice.
Most practices choose health care uniforms of some kind and a good source is to find a local uniform shop who can work with you. We like to order one sample in various sizes to let people try them on at our office. We also wash a set to see how it performs before buying.
You can go with a national brand like Cherokee, or go with more custom look like Land's End. You could choose special shirts or more of nurse's scrub. I find that having the practice logo embroidered in color above the breast pocket adds that professional indentifying touch. We also have name badges for each staff member with their job title.
The question often comes up about who should wear the uniform. Some practices do well if the staff members who sell eyewear wear fashionable clothing rather than uniform. Some offices prefer the office manager to have a different look than the other staff with a more business-like appearance. Male employees may need a different variation of the uniform than females. I think these matters are personal choice and there is no right or wrong. The practice owner should just decide. But having the maximum number of people all looking like a team goes a long way to creating a positive impression on patients.
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.