Finances

Finding the Best Practice Location: A Strategic Plan

By Diane Palombi, OD

Oct. 14, 2015

When opening a new practice,theright location, andyour marketing strategy to let patients know you’re open for business, arethe most important factors. Think strategically and plan carefully for long-term success in the location you choose.

Around 15 years ago, I approached this decision-making process by considering both my personal needs and preferences, as well as the necessity of a location with growth potential.

A combination of good location, local growth, and a strategy to connect personally with patients, really paid off. If you can find a community that grows six-fold in the course of your optometric career, you have to work overtime not to succeed.

I knew I did not want to travel too far from home since I had school-age children at the time. Lake St.Louis, the town in which I live, was an option. However, the neighboring town of Wentzville had some clear-cut advantages. Wentzville was going through some extraordinary growth. I had seen it happen to O’Fallon, another neighboring city, that grew from a small town to a city of over 50,000 in a relatively short period of time. Wentzville was not landlocked like Lake St. Louis, so the growth potential was the same. Another advantage: Wentzville did not have any optometrists at the time in the town proper. Now there are four opticals in town, including my old practice. I had inquiries from buyers, even before I was ready to sell my practice. The growth of the town, and of my practice, made the sales process fast and easy.

>>Click HERE to read how another ROB contributor, Maria Higgins, OD, approached her search for the perfect practice location.<<

Once I found my location, I had to decide how to market myself to Wentzville. I started marketing the practice even before I opened my doors. When applying for my business permits, I asked the City Hall clerk what vision insurance the city workers had. I also knew people who worked for the school district, so I could also find out which vision insurance those workers had. I gave patients the ability to use both of those insurance plans, along, initially, with the insurance plan offered by General Motors, which had a plant in the area.

ADVERTISE LOCALLY

Once open, I advertised in the local newspapers, telephone books and coupon flyers with limited success. I also advertised in church bulletins, which proved more successful. Having a presence in the school district was important to me, so I advertised in the high school newspaper, participated in the high school’s annual career day, and even had a few high school students interested in optometry as a career shadow me at work. My daughter was in the high school band, so I advertised in and sponsored the band calendar. In fact, my practice was a sponsor for all of my kid’s activities. In addition, I joined the Chamber of Commerce. I did not attend the meetings, but I supported their activities financially.

Growing from a small town of only about 5,000 in 1990 to a dynamic City of 29,070 by 2010, Wentzville, Mo., where Dr. Palombi practiced, is now the fastest growing city in Missouri. Dr. Palombi says the growth potential of Wentzville was a key factor in her decision to base her practice there.

KEEP IT PERSONAL

One thing I did for years that my patients really liked was to send out a Christmas card with a bookmark calendar that included our address and phone number.

Eventually, I had to discontinue the cards because they were hand-addressed and we did not have the time to do it any longer. I had several patients mentioned that they missed the calendar. With today’s technology, it is possible to automate the addressing of such cards, making this a good holiday season marketing option for practices.

STAY VISIBLE

I found what helped me the most recruiting patients was to be visible in the community. People often choose their doctors by the referrals of their friends. My local bank ended up being a good source of patients. It helps when the bank president and vice-president are your patients. In addition, the mayor of Lake St Louis was my patient. The fire inspector liked me when doing my building inspection, and became my patient, providing me with entree to the whole fire department. I also had several police officers as patients.

CONNECTWITH COMMUNITY ORGANIZATIONS AND SCHOOLS

School teachers and staff knew my children, so that also became a source of referrals, and some of my fellow church members became patients. My friends, my children’s friends and their families came to be my patients. My practice’s local location was convenient for them. Plus, they felt more comfortable with me than other doctors because they knew me personally. My patients felt so comfortable in my practice, I was asked to sponsored softball teams for the community, and donated to fundraisers, firefighter’s coloring books for district school children, and the like. It is harder to say no when you are the town’s eye doctor.

Now that I am retired, it is a little bittersweet when I visit Wentzville. My instincts about the growth potential of the town proved correct.

Thinking about long-term growth potential, and your ability to become a recognized member of your community, are keys to finding the right location. I’m glad I made the right choice.

How did you decide on your practice location? What factors were important to your decision? What lessons did you learn in the process?

Diane Palombi, OD, now retired,owned Palombi Vision Center in Wentzville, Mo. To contact her: dlpod1@hotmail.com

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