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Partnership Proves to be Perfect

Former colleagues with shared vision team up

Mary Ferris, OD, and Angela Loeb, OD, crossed paths at the Indiana University School of Optometry (graduating in 2007 and 2010, respectively) and were mission trip acquaintances and coworkers before they became business partners last year. And while they both encountered individuals who told them to avoid a partnership, Dr. Ferris and Dr. Loeb are proud to prove the naysayers wrong and demonstrate what a great partnership can look like. “You should know the person really well—we’ve known each other for over a decade,” Dr. Loeb says. “I know what she’s thinking before she says it,” Dr. Ferris adds.

Their practice, Rainier Eye in Chehalis, Washington, is built on a sturdy foundation in private practice with a desire to better serve patients and create a better work/life balance. They opened their doors in June, and they are eager to be involved in the community from each patient interaction to each neighborhood event.

DETERMINATION IGNITED BY CHANGE

For 11 years, Dr. Ferris and Dr. Loeb worked as associates in the same office. Then, in January 2022, the practice was sold to a corporate entity, and changes began. The coworkers agreed that they needed to pursue their plan B.

This wasn’t the first time that they had considered opening a practice together. Dr. Loeb had asked Dr. Ferris back in 2021, but she says that she wasn’t ready yet. “I had gained a lot of skill sets working there for 13 years, and I was more involved than other employees with decisions and staff training,” Dr. Ferris recalls. “We built our skillset without yet realizing the why.”

By the summer of 2022, they considered purchasing a few practices, but they couldn’t compete with the funds from private equity. “We had a patient base, and we knew what we liked, so we decided to just build and to make it grow,” Dr. Ferris says. They started a search in November 2022, working with their non-compete and solicitation causes. They thought Chehalis would be a perfect match, about 20 miles south on the freeway, but in an area where many of their patients lived. The community is charming: there’s a downtown Renaissance committee dedicated to preserving historic buildings, the Chamber of Commerce has created a strong bond among local merchants and the people who live there share a great pride in supporting local small businesses.

construction
The space is transformed

The building that became the future office’s home was painted orange in the listing, and the doctors didn’t want to waste time visiting it. But they squeezed it in while visiting other spaces, and they were pleasantly surprised by the 2,400 square foot opening. “It was the perfect layout and flow,” Dr. Ferris recalls of first seeing the space, a former chiropractor/physical therapy office.

Demolition party
Demolition party

They signed their lease in January stayed on target with their timeline to open in June. A group of their friends from the Junior League of Olympia came to help with a Saturday afternoon demolition party to remove cabinetry and doors, which they donated. The contractor got started in March, starting with moving a wall to even out two exam room spaces. Even with a trusted team, Dr. Ferris urges colleagues to keep up with periodic check-ins of your construction space because mistakes can happen. She discovered that sinks had been installed on the wrong wall, which required a plumbing re-do. “It paid to check in, and after that, we all learned to be explicit in communication.”

There are four exam lanes in the space, a contact lens room, lab and break room, among the spacious reception and optical areas. There’s special space designated for Dr. Ferris and her low vision work, as well as Dr. Loeb to work with patients on myopia control and specialty contact lens fittings.

The original paisley wallpaper and carpeting was removed and replaced by off-white walls, navy and forest green accents and broad, plank-style wood flooring. Sliding barn doors lead the way into each exam room. Dr. Ferris describes the style as farmhouse meets Northwest with lots of plants. The center of the office lets in natural light through the high ceilings and windows. “It’s homey, and it’s a beautiful space where we want to be and where patients can feel comfortable and at ease.”

OPENED RIGHT ON TIME

Rainier Eye opened its doors for eye care services on June 19, 2023, to a mostly full schedule. That’s in thanks to offering online scheduling and their outreach efforts in person and on social media early on and through the construction period. “It really did turn out beautiful with the vibe that we envisioned. We get nothing but compliments on the space,” Dr. Loeb says, adding that they’ve been well received by other small business owners, as well, who have been helpful, welcoming and caring.

Dr. Ferris and Dr. Loeb said that they quite naturally adapted each of their ownership responsibilities. Dr. Loeb has been handling most duties in the optical, curating a beautiful and unique frame collection with an emphasis on independent eyewear brands, an area that she’s always been passionate about. Dr. Ferris has focused on marketing and outreach. They team up to handle the books and finances. “Both of our eyes are on the numbers.”

Both doctors agree that one of the best parts of the partnership is knowing that they each have a basic understanding of every single aspect of the office and its processes. “We can step away and take a vacation without worrying about the business,” Dr. Loeb says.

They offer their services in English and Spanish, another personal touch to help patients feel at ease and understood during their exam. For now, both doctors continue to do fill-in work as a requirement of their loan, but they look forward to making the full-time move to their own practice.

MAKING MOVES FOR GROWTH

A unique find as they cleaned out the office was signage from a former optical that had once inhabited the space. They plan to display the golden Olympia Optical Boutique aviators in the office. Learn more here.

For the first few months, they purposefully scheduled a slow schedule to adjust to the learning curves of new software and a new team. Now, as the processes become more routine, they expanded from two equipped exam lanes to four, added more appointment spots and members of the team, too. Their original team members, their optician and technician, were previous coworkers. “They are excited and want to be a part of something new,” Dr. Ferris says. “There is risk, but they have trust in us to follow us.” Since then, Dr. Ferris and Dr. Loeb added a receptionist, an office manager, remote biller and are interviewing for a checkout receptionist and apprentice optician.

Dr. Ferris and Dr. Loeb were out in the community getting to know the local businesses and people who live in Chehalis even before they opened their doors. In March, they participated in their first Ladies Night, where downtown merchants stayed open late, had special promotions and goodies for shoppers.

They are relying on lessons learned and experiences in other offices to make their business the best it can be from intentional technology purchases and placement as well as cloud-based software for exam efficiency. They’ve thought about all the little details to make the best experience for each patient, such as including a changing table in the bathroom for families and  eliminating the need to wait in line after eyewear selection with a portable card reader ready at the dispensing desk.

Their success and growth can also be attributed to the strong network of support they received along the way, in the community and from those in the profession. “We are grateful for our peers who helped us through this,” Dr. Ferris says. “I really appreciate that our generation of ODs seems to be about lifting each other up instead of cut-throat competition. We all rise together.”

Check out the Rainier Eye practice blog for more info on their office, renovation and opening.

To read more design inspiration stories from WOclick here.

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