Top Three Ways to Differentiate Your Practice

By Maria Higgins, OD

Jan. 4, 2017

For independent practices, differentiating from corporate and online competitors is a powerful success tool. Here are three top ways to show patients how your practice is special.

Independent practices face daunting challenges from well-funded and often well-run corporate competitors. But independents who communicate to patients why they are special, and then provide compelling reasons for patients to choose their services and optical goods, can set their practice apart from the chains. Here are three top ways to focus your practice on a point of differentiation and grow.

For five years, I owned a practice called Unique Optique, located in an historic downtown in Frederick, Md., in the midst of a retail revival. My practice model was to provide unique and differentiated products and outstanding service in contrast to competition. I sold my practice to concentrate on sharing principles of success through differentiation, and I opened The Unique Technique.

When I was the owner of Unique Optique I learned how to differentiate the business through effective branding, as I built a practice that sold only unusual, independent-brand frames. We were the place to come to for a unique look that stands out from the crowd.

Optical in Dr. Higgins’ former practice, Unique Optique. Dr. Higgins says she tried to create a colorful, “funky” atmosphere that emphasized fun and individuality, and fashion-forward eyewear.

Focus on Pediatric Patients

How-To: Any OD can decide to focus on pediatrics, but you need to gain the right skills first, and then equip the office for children patients. You can gain this experience either through continuing education or mentoring by an OD more experienced in pediatric eyecare.

My first year out of school, I practiced in an office where they needed a pediatric-focused doctor. They were willing to brand me as such and helped me get the experience I needed. I took CE classes specific for pediatrics, I volunteered to do school screenings, I learned from the optometrist who was fazing out of the practice and I built up the vision therapy part of the practice.

We added a section of toys and tiny chairs to the waiting room, and got the needed equipment for my exam room. Seeing children is easier as you adapt to doing it all day. This aspect of practice may be especially applicable when you have children of your own because you are already immersed in that world and have more access to referral sources.

Dr. Higgins says she tried to create a colorful, “funky” atmosphere that emphasized fun and individuality, and fashion-forward eyewear. She notes that her patients often were asked where they got their unique eyewear, and they happily directed their friends and family to Unique Optique.

Point of differentiation: Parents want to give their kids the best eyecare possible. In a sea of general optometrists, many parents feel more comfortable knowing they are sending their children to a pediatrics-focused eye doctor.

Cost:  The cost of becoming a pediatrics-centered OD includes the cost of CE, your time to volunteer to do eye exams at local schools, equipment and additional needed education if you decide to offer vision therapy.

ROI: Becoming a pediatric-focused doctor opens up a whole new stream of revenue that you may not have captured before. It enhances the patient experience greatly for families with children, and allows you to grow professionally.

Seeing children requires a separate mindset, and different equipment.

You could hold an open-house and have vision therapy demonstrations and games.

>>Click HERE to see how another ROB contributor reaches out to families with children>>

Be a Medical Eyecare Specialist 

HOW-TO: If your passion is the ocular disease aspect of optometry, this avenue is easy. Learn all you can about the farthest reaches that your license allows. Advertise that you diagnose ocular disease. Use social media to post sample cases (being cognizant of HIPAA laws). Get all the latest instrumentation and advertise that.

Visit nearby optometrists, explain your capabilities, the equipment you have and how it can help their patients when a medical eyecare specialist is needed. Ask them for their referrals.

POINT OF DIFFERENTIATION: You can maximize the fact that many other ODs do not enjoy involvement in medical eyecare. Many don’t want to specialize in disease, and refer most of it to other doctors. You can be the eyecare practitioner they send patients to, rather than the ophthalmologist.

COST: Medical eyecare branding is costly as the cost of OCT/GDx/retinal cameras, and other high-level equipment, is usually high.

ROI: Revenues will be positively affected because the reimbursement for this level of care is also higher. Patients will have a better office experience with you as someone who won’t keep them waiting, will be a one-stop shop and will listen more intently to their problems and needs. You could have events that publicize your new equipment, do screenings of eye diseases, or just discuss all the eye disorders that you specialize in.

>>Click HERE to see how another ROB contributor emphasizes medical eyecare, focusing on high-tech medical care, and foregoing an optical.

Be a Fashionista: Funky, Hip, High-End & Fashion-Forward

HOW-TO: I did this at Unique Optique. The office was in a lovely space with brick walls, an original tin ceiling, hardwood floors and chandeliers. We carried only independent lines and leaned toward more colorful and unusual frames. We had an art gallery on the walls for which we had a gallery opening every two months to showcase a new local artist. We had a photo booth to use for fun, or to compare and share different frame options. The staff was trained as image consultants.

POINT OF DIFFERENTIATION: Our reputation told people where to come if they wanted special frames or a unique look.

COST: This will cost more depending on the space you are currently working with. You do have to walk the “high end” walk and look the part. Unique frame lines usually are not cheap.

ROI: Patients have much greater likelihood of referring their friends and family when they leave your office with eyewear they are proud to wear. We heard repeatedly about our patients getting stopped on the street to ask where their glasses came from. When the glasses are unusual, well-fit and colorful, they attract attention.

>>Click HERE to see how Dr. Higgins build a practice that carried only unique, independent-brand frames<<



Maria Higgins, OD, owns The Unique Technique, a business and marketing consultancy. She formerly owned The Unique Optique in Frederick, Md. To contact her:















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