Eye Love Optometry, Dr. Park Hsieh, Pinole, Calif. Photo by Eric Rorer

The independent optical office is a dynamic dual-purpose space with a single vision. It is part boutique and part medical clinic where the focus on customer care is the common goal. As an architect, I see a huge spectrum of possibilities for the independent optometry practice which the big box, chain stores and online options cannot offer: Freedom, Flexibility, Independence.

As an independent eyecare professional, you have the freedom to express your unique view of your practice and products to your customers/patients. You know their vision needs better than anyone else, therefore you can be flexible to provide special services tailored to your clientele. You can also demonstrate your independence via personalized customer experience, distinctive atmosphere and fresh independent eyewear brands.

Many independent ECPs tend to focus on professional care, efficient patient processing and creating a healthy work environment for doctors, staff and patients putting a lot of hard work into building client trust through providing outstanding eyecare. The trust you built is also an invitation to enhance your client’s personal appearance with attractive eyewear by furnishing top eyewear consultation as well.

Unfortunately, as many as 1 out of 3 customers go elsewhere to fulfill their eyewear prescription needs. To an individual practice with $750,000 annual gross revenue, this would mean that $160,000 of eyewear revenue walks out the door each year.

Here are some common mistakes that contribute to this unrealized revenue.

MISTAKE #1: Not distinguishing your practice from other eyecare professionals. You are an independent—you are unique. Your individuality separates you not only from the big box stores, it also makes your business stand out from other competitors. This is best defined as self-branding. Your brand needs evoke the sincere feeling that you want your clients to experience when they visit. It is the essence of what your practice is about and so much of that is revealed through your office design.

MISTAKE #2: Not defining your ideal client. Not everyone is (nor should they be) your ideal client. Defining your ideal client makes crafting your services, eyewear selection and space design much more focused. Get beyond basic demographics of who your ideal client is. Ask yourself: What clothing do they wear? Where do they shop? Where do they hang out? Be imaginative. Once you have defined your ideal client, then design an experience targeted to that client.

If you need help developing your brand or defining your ideal client, then reach out to marketing groups acknowledged as leaders when it comes to specializing specifically toward eyecare professionals.

MISTAKE #3: Hiding your storefront behind eyewear marketing posters. Eyewear posters market eyewear companies but not your business. Yes, it will show you carry a particular brand, but so might the next guy. The office front communicates to potential customers the essence of what can be found on the other side of the glass. It is the first opportunity to connect with the public to present your services and products to your ideal client and draw them in.

MISTAKE #4: Fail to craft your client’s experience. I ask my clients to write a narrative of a typical customer’s journey from the moment they walk in the door through the exam, optical sales, to exit of the client out the door. Then I ask my clients to actually follow this choreographed narrative themselves. In doing this, one may find holes in service, missed transitions and ways to improve your client’s experience unique to your business.

MISTAKE #5: Not dedicating enough space to the dispensary area. It is well documented that 55 to 65 percent of the independent’s practice revenue is in the sale of eyewear, therefore 40 to 50 percent of the space needs to be dedicated to merchandising eyewear.

MISTAKE #6: Visually stagnate or haphazard display. Both extremes are problematic. Monotonous marching of identical dated cabinets provides less merchandising options and also causes your customer’s eyes to glaze over, while haphazard displays reflect poorly upon your professional services, sending the message that the shop is disorganized and doesn’t care about selling products.

MISTAKE #7: Poor lighting. Poor lighting can lead to less productivity, an unattractive atmosphere and fewer sales. The optometry office has multiple activities and a layering of lighting needs should adjust to each need to enhance your clients’ experience. It will make them feel calm, safe and secure in patient areas, encourage browsing in the optic area, and provide good light levels for exam rooms and work areas, all the while saving money with energy-efficient systems.

MISTAKE #8: The waiting area. The waiting area is a thing of the past. Why wait to engage your customers? Your patient has checked in for their appointment—here is a perfect time to introduce them to your services and get them browsing merchandise.

Providing great eyecare is only half the story for independent eyecare professionals. It is important to keep in mind that from the moment someone steps into your optical office, smart design decisions make a significant difference in the increase of revenue and the impression your clientele leaves with. You are an independent, so celebrate your uniqueness, and your clients will follow. ■

Jack Verdon is a licensed architect and the owner of the San Francisco design firm Verdon Architects, specializing in service retail spaces. He assists clients from concept design through construction, as well as lighting design, custom furniture design and project management. For more information, visit verdonarchitects.com or call (415) 680-4118. Access his Optometry Office Design Guide at verdonarchitects.com/optometry-design-guide.html.