By Maria Higgins, OD
Sept. 23, 2015
When you choose a location for your first practice, you have to think about a number of key factors, some business-driven, some personal.First, consider the affordability of real estate, and how much growth potential the location offers. Then consider whether the local demographics and culture matches your practice vision. Here is how I determined that Frederick, Md, a city of 65,239 people with a creative, independent spirit, was the right place for me to open to my doors.
The downtown area of Frederick, Md, the city where Dr. Higgins opened her practice. Dr. Higgins says she sought to find a city with a strong community of locally owned businesses,to matchthe creative mindset of her practice, which only sells independent brands.
Photo source: www.visitfrederick.org
Decide First on General Area
My sister and her husband live outside of Philadelphia, and they are starting a family, so I knew I wanted to be within a five-hour drive of them.
I also wanted a town I could walk around. I used www.walkscore.com, andsearchedfortowns that were very walkable. I also used the NOAA web site maps to see what locations had the most sunshine and least amount of precipitation to fit my preferences.
Describe Practice Vision to Yourself
I had a general idea of the brand of the practice I wanted to establish. I knew I wanted it to feel different and special, and not vanilla, like some medical practices can be. I knew I wanted to be a little shocking and a lot stylish.
I knew I wanted a neighborhood feel. You need to know yourself well before searching for a place for a new venture. Do you like a big city or a small town, the suburbs or downtown, the east coast or the west coast, do you need to be near the water or not, posh or affordable? Do you prefer an urban, suburban or rural location?
I knew that I wanted an urban, fashion-conscious practice. I knew that I did not want to take much, if any, insurance. I knew that I needed a certain clientele, and the city needed a certain income level to support that.
Editor’s note: According to U.S. census data for 2009, the median annual income for a household in Frederick was $64,833, and the median annual income for a family was $77,642. By contrast, the U.S. census reports the average U.S. household income at $50,500.
I wanted the town where I moved to have a strong community of local businesses.Local businesses are huge to us. We carry only independently owned frame lines. We try to use all of our small business neighbors in the marketing of our practice. It was integral to who we are to have many neighboring businesses that were also locally owned.
Decide How Much Cost of Living Will Matter
In my case, I did not take cost of living into account at all. I figured that if the location had the other demographics I was looking for, then it could support me financially, as well. I figured this was a wash, that the cost to live there would be offset by the revenue it would give me in return.
Create Initial List of Candidate Cities
I came up with a list of about 15 cities that I went and visited in person. I usually would go for a weekend and visit a few within a 20-mile radius.
I spoke to each of these city’s chambers of commerce and tourism councils, and asked to have packets of tourism information sent to me. I researched their demographics online to see their average income level and other financial data. I searched www.city-data.com extensively. You can look up very specific and odd facts, like places that have the most people riding a streetcar to work.
Determine Whether Trial Period Will Be Necessary
I did not have a trial period in Frederick. I sold everything in Pittsburgh, where I had been living and practicing, and moved here after spending two or three weekends here. That process worked for me. I knew it was the right town as soon as I visited. I rented the office space first, and then found an apartment a few weeks later. There was no looking back.