Professional Development

What a Famous Scene from the Film “The Internship” Taught Me About Optometry

Dr. Pang's practice team, whom he says are "all agents of our success because they are all committed to provide exceptional eye care to our patients."

Dr. Pang (far right as you look at photo) with his practice team, whom he says are “all agents of our success because they are all committed to provide exceptional eyecare to our patients.”

Part one of two-part article on key practice lessons learned from “The Internship”

By Albert Pang, OD, FIAO

July 10, 2024

One of my favorite movies is “The Internship.” If you haven’t seen it, allow me to set the scene.

In the movie, two salesmen who’ve hit the end of their sales careers decide to apply for an internship at Google in the hopes of landing dream jobs at the tech company.

After many twists and failures in their internship, Vince Vaughn as Billy in the movie, quits his internship and goes back to being a salesman. After his friend Nick, played by Owen Wilson, encourages him, he agrees to return to Google and face his final challenge.

The ultimate challenge is to sell Google ads to small businesses. Billy and his team enter a pizzeria to sell the ad service to its owner, Sal. During this conversation, Billy provided me with a playbook with a few lessons about the business of eyecare too. Here is the excerpt of their conversation.

Sal: Listen guys, we’ve always done things the same way: Yellow Pages, flyers, San Jose Mercury News.

Billy: Now, look, we ‘re all creatures of habit, am I right, Sal? We all like what we know, there’s no question about it.  But you know what the scariest thing in life is? The thing in life that frightens us the most. Change.

Nick: I guess most people are guilty of getting set in their ways. I know I need change, so come along and give me a little kick in the back to get me moving.

Sal: All right, listen guys, I know where you’re going, but I am not going to change anything. Like I already told your friends, I am not going to change anything, we are getting by okay.

Billy: With all due respect, if you fight for your limitations, you get to keep them. Do you hear yourself? You’re getting by “okay”.  “Okay”? “Okay” isn’t good, “Okay” isn’t great, “Okay” isn’t fantastic!  Look, I don’t want to get sideways with you, you are as big as a barn.

Nick: Looks like he was carved out of a mountain, for God’s sake.

Nick: But you are an artist, okay, this is great pizza! Picasso with pepperoni.

Billy: Don’t even get me started on the sauce…All I am saying is, why should Papa John’s make all the dough when papa Sal gets the better sauce?

Sal:   You know what? You are sounding like him; (pointing to Frankie) he wants to open up a Sal’s in Los Gatos. 

Frankie: The bigger chains are killing us. We barely stay afloat.

Sal: When you franchise, you lose quality, you lose the taste that people trust.  You want to know why my sauce is better?  I’ll tell you why, cause I go down to the farmers’ market every day. I buy them tomatoes myself, I walk down the street, I get the basil, the oregano.  Look, guys, I know these people, I’m part of the fabric of this neighborhood, that is good enough for me.

Billy: Sal, that’s better than good enough, that is the best! We are not suggesting that you abandon the neighborhood here, all we are saying is what if your neighborhood got a little bit bigger.

Nick: (Showing Sal his google reviews) These are all just people that love your pizza.

Neha: Talk about words of mouth huh?

Stuart: Yeah, they’re talking about you, Sal; don’t you want to talk back to them?

Lyle: Do you know there is almost as many people from Los Gatos searching for Sal’s as there are from Palo Alto?

Neha: Yeh, they pop in when they are in town, but if there was a location closer to them, they’d be regular right?

Stuart: Boom, check it out right here, I found a great commercial spot right on Los Gatos Boulevard. Just hit the market.

Yo-Yo:  That is 0.3 mile from the nearest farmers’ market, you can smell the tomatoes from the front door.

Neha: Farm to table!

Billy: We are not asking you abandon the artistry.  We are just telling you to expand the reach a little bit.  But look, Sal, at the end of the day, the kids, they got their computers, they got their information, it’s all accurate.  I get it, and I know you do too.  I tell you Sal, I can’t blame you for being a little afraid. Hell, we were scared for a long time out there, grinding it out with our heads down.  And Lord knows I’ve fallen over more than a time or two.  But I promise you something, you lift your head up…and take a breath, there is a lot of great possibilities out there.

Obviously, they got the contract from Sal.  But this conversation also helped me find the winning strategy when I was an independent optometrist. It showed me how I could compete and be profitable in an environment with all the franchises, chains, and big box opticals.

Lesson 1: Overcome our Fear

“The thing in life that frightens us the most. Change.” Billy hit the nail on the head with this quote. As small independent practices, we constantly think about surviving among all the big players. For us to survive, we try follow the winning strategy that others are following.

For most of us, 60 percent of our income comes from optical sales, 20 percent of income from professional fees, 10 percent of income from contact lens sales and a two-to-three times mark-up of our optical goods. Many optometrists are just “grinding it out with our heads down” without knowing why.

After 30 years of practicing, I see the common problem affecting most practices: a fear to change. As a collective, we are not changing our business model, we are not changing our marketing strategies, we don’t make any upgrades to our practices, and worst of all, we do not practice any differently than we did when we started 30 years ago. Sadly, when we do not change, we will be obsolete and be replaced.

Changes are the scariest thing in life, but refusing to change is a death sentence for a practice. Open your mind, get out of your comfort zone, take a deep breath and make changes. Once we get use to change, we will be out of this “scare city” mentality, and instead, see a tomorrow full of success and opportunity

Lesson 2: Recognize Your Passion & Strengths

Sal is a pizza artist, the “Picasso with pepperoni.” He makes the best sauce in the neighborhood because he shops for the freshest tomatoes, basil, oregano. He trusts his farmers give him the best produce because he knows every one of them; he is part of the fabric of the community. He leverages the relationships he has with his neighbors to ensure a better product.

Likewise, the strength of independent optometrists is our good relationships with our optical laboratories, our frame suppliers and all the small businesses that we do business with. We trust them to give us the best products and services. When we need their help, they are ready to give us a helping hand.

When we have billing questions, we can trust them to give us answers. When our systems have a hiccup, we can count on them to show up and fix it right away. As a small community of small businesses, we know how difficult it is to run a business and we’re always ready to extend a helping hand. We can trust them, and we must make ourselves trustworthy in return ­­— pay them on time and return a helping hand when they need it.

Sal is a pizza artist because he is passionate about his pizza, he also cares about his customers. “When you franchise, you lose quality, you lose the taste that people trust.” That is why he wakes up early in the morning, goes down to the farmers’ market to get his own ingredients, and makes his sauce fresh, in-house every single day.

He refuses to use pre-packaged sauce; everything must be made from scratch and made fresh daily. That is what an artisan pizza maker does. He cares about quality; he prides himself on delivering a consistent taste day in and day out. Do we have the same passion as Sal?

Do we carry the best products in our optical? Do we cut corners in our service to save a few dollars? Do we deliver our excellent services consistently by hiring the right people and training them the right way? Do we have the passion to make that secret “sauce,” so that people want to come back to us every time they need eyecare?

Let’s find our passion and insist on following our hearts the way an artist does.

Albert Pang, ODAlbert Pang, OD, FIAO, practices at Trinity Eye Care in Plano, Texas. The practice is part of the AEG Vision family. To contact Dr. Pang:

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