Office Environment

Practice Lessons from Two Retail Shopping Experiences

By Ken Krivacic, OD, MBA

Sept. 26, 2018

About a month ago, I had a retail shopping experience that made me think about how our patients’ experience in our office is similar.

What could we learn from this experience to make our practices more appealing to our patients, and encourage them to purchase from us rather than a big-box retailer or online vendor?

The Sub-Optimal Experience
I decided it was time to purchase a new pair of athletic shoes to work out in. My first inclination was to go to Dick’s Sporting Goods, a big-box retailer of all things athletic. Why Dick’s? There were several reasons: I had shopped there before, they have a large selection of products and the stores are large and attractive with nice displays. My experience there was unremarkable. But they had a very large selection of athletic shoes that were categorized by the type of activity you would use them for – tennis, workout, running, casual.

All the shoes were clearly priced, and they even had sale items marked as such. But to try on a shoe you had to flag down the sales associate, tell them the shoe you wanted and the size. There was just one young man working the day I was there, and there were six or seven people trying on shoes. He was basically an order-taker, and once you found what you were looking for, you went to the front of the store to check out.

After trying on multiple brands, I decided on a pair of Nikes, and went with the moderately priced pair – not the most expensive and not the cheapest.

When I got home, my wife asked me how I picked that pair of shoes. The look on her face showed clearly that I had made a mistake. I told her I liked the way they looked (she frowned) and that they were the moderately priced pair (she frowned even more forcefully).

The outside of Dr. Krivacic’s office. He says that having an office with a pleasing appearance helps improve the patient experience.

The Optimal Experience
My wife recommended I go with her to where she buys her running shoes, a small specialty store called Run-On. The store is owned by the chain JackRabbit, but retains the small-store approach of personalized customer service. The store was much smaller than Dick’s Sporting Goods, but had a nice selection – there were the popular brands and also some brands that I was not familiar with.

Within a short time we were greeted by a salesperson who asked a few questions. Before recommending any shoe he wanted to know what I would be using them for and how often I would use them. He then had me walk away from him and then back to assess my gait – he said this would help him in making a shoe recommendation. He went to the back of the store and returned with three pairs for me to try on, and watched me walk in all three pairs. They all felt firmer than the Nikes I purchased at Dick’s, and I eventually bought a pair of Asics.

Even though I spent more money on this pair of athletic shoes than the ones at Dick’s, about $30 more, I felt better about the purchase because the salesperson had evaluated me, and based a recommendation for the shoes he selected on that evaluation.

Lessons for My Practice
The two shopping experiences reminded me of what we have to do in an independent optometric practice to compete with the big-box retailers and online merchants. Independent optometric practices are usually smaller offices than the big-box retailers, they are usually local-only and they don’t have the large advertising budgets that the big-box retailers and online vendors have.

As independents we have to learn to compete in other ways. I think we can learn a few things from seeing how Run-On competes with the bigger retailers in the sports retail business. Let’s look at information contained on Run-On’s web page for insight on how to make our optometric practices more competitive. Below is Run-On’s mission statement page with my comments following in blue on how we can apply their philosophy to our practices.

Be More Than a Store By Hiring Well
“Our Mission: To personalize the fit process, hand-pick the best products, and create unique experiences that grow active communities.
We are more than a store. We know a great customer service experience begins with hiring amazing people. Our employees live and breathe JackRabbit beliefs, and we practice what we preach. Both our customers and our employees come from all walks of life, and share the value of making a fit lifestyle fun!”

APPLICATION FOR OD PRACTICE
As doctors we can only do so much. A large portion of our patient’s time is spent interacting with our staff, so it’s imperative that our staff be a reflection of us. We need to hire right, and then continually train, not only in the tasks we assign our staff, but also in how we want our patients treated.

Go Beyond Selling Products with Advanced Technology
“We go beyond products. We offer great services that are meaningful to our customers. We are different than those other sporting goods stores, because we offer things like training programs and free fit analysis services. Connecting with people who are passionate about living an active lifestyle is always a joy for us.”

APPLICATION FOR OD PRACTICE
In our practices we need to separate ourselves from the type of service patients get at the other eyecare options. We can do this by keeping up with the latest in diagnostic equipment both in the clinic area and the optical, and by showing our patients our expertise in using that technology to deliver great care.

Do More than Sell By Improving Communication
“We do more than sell. Yes, we’re here to sell stuff, and provide so much more. We listen first to understand your goals. When we do provide solutions, we ensure it will help you reach your goal easier, faster, or feeling better. We cheer our customers on and make it fun to move your tail!”

APPLICATION FOR OD PRACTICE
We can also differentiate ourselves by being the best communicator possible. Always tell your patients what you are doing and why you are doing it. Patients appreciate a doctor who communicates. Make sure your staff follows the same protocol. Have your technicians explain to patients the test they are performing and why it helps the doctor. Have your opticians explain to patients the lens modality they record and why.

Be More than a Place
“We are more than a place. We are a destination. We offer unique experiences that get our communities moving in unexpected ways. We like trying new things!”

APPLICATION FOR OD PRACTICE
First, make sure your physical facility is attractive. Patients are more likely to select you as a provider for their care, and are more likely to purchase from you if you have an attractive office. Also try to differentiate yourself from the bigger retailers by offering things they don’t.

Have special events and make them fun for all. For instance, you could host trunk shows with a vendor rep giving a short talk about the history of the company that makes the frames, and what makes them different, a promotion where patients can bring in a backpack for needy kids going back to school and receive a small credit in your office, a seminar with a local ophthalmologist at your office to give patients information on LASIK or cataract procedures or vision screenings at a local school.

As owners of independent optometric practices, we are not the only ones facing challenges from outside forces in our industry. Run-On shows that a small business has to constantly compete with the larger players in an industry. We can use their philosophy and approach to help us, not only compete, but grow.

These articles may also interest you:

Why I WON’T Be Selling My Practice to a Private Equity Firm

When to Discount Your Practice’s Products–and When Not To

How & Why to Do a Staff-Planning Retreat

 

 

Ken Krivacic, OD, MBA, owns Las Colinas Vision Center in Irving, Texas. To contact him: kkrivacic@aol.com.

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