By Nytarsha Thomas, OD, of Zionsville, Indiana
My husband, Tobe Thomas, and I recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of my practice, Visionelle Eyecare. I’m reflecting back on what we’ve learned, the obstacles we’ve faced and the positive outcomes that have come from this opportunity. This business venture has given me the chance to do things my way, on my terms. When you suddenly become the primary doctor, as well as a human resources manager, receptionist, marketing expert, financial analyst, optician and therapist, you learn a lot about the practice and yourself.
Sure, there have been days when I wanted to quit because a patient was unreasonable, a staff member failed to show up for work or there were barely enough patients on the schedule to pay the bills. But for every moment like that, I have had twice as many moments where patients have walked in and said that our office is the most beautiful eye care facility that they had ever seen. I’ve had a patient tell me that I was the best and most thorough doctor that they had ever been to. I’ve received stellar reviews online, and there have been days where we’ve had more patients than we can possibly handle, all from word of mouth!
Here are some challenging areas where we are focusing on for the future.
Staffing: We’ve experienced a bit of staff turnover during the past year. Millennials are applying for our entry-level positions, and many of them are still figuring out what they want in life. We’ve experienced that as soon as they are trained, they often decide they want to change their path. That’s pretty costly for a new company. The challenge is to figure out how to motivate them because, in addition to wanting to make a high salary quickly, I believe they want to know that they are making an impact on the world.
Competition: We have a few established practices near us, most of which have been open for 15+ years. It’s a tough act to follow, especially when the competition has seen our potential patients since they were children. But they are also a motivation for what we aspire to be in the future. We have been able to market ourselves as a luxury eye care experience—complete with wine, snacks, aroma therapy, and a nice relaxing dilation room—in hopes of creating a niche in an otherwise saturated market.
Online and discount shopping: We noticed patients were spending less the last two quarters of the year. Being a new practice, this is a bit of a challenge when you don’t have years of revenue to fall back on. Although it isn’t a large percentage of our patients, one trend we have noticed is patients going online or to big box stores to save a few bucks on their eyeglasses and contacts instead of shopping local. We’ll always explain the benefits (free warranty, top quality products, and free cleaning/adjustments etc.), but to some patients the savings outweigh the benefits. It’s a very small percentage, but we’re working on reducing it.
A year after my cold-start, I can say I agree with my colleagues who had warned me that it wouldn’t be easy and that it’s tough. But those moments that make me proud, like when we receive a warm compliment or a referral and recommendation from another, make the sleepless nights worthwhile and make me want to keep improving. Would I do it again knowing what I know now? I would say ‘Why not’!