All the time we are asked the all important question… “How do I get started with designing my optical space?!”. Well we thought it might be helpful to answer some frequently asked questions for you right here in our blog! Check out the answers from our CEO Jan Ennis.Blog_Home-Page-1000X562What is the first step in getting started with determining the right design or atmosphere for ones’s optical?

This is a very broad question and one that is far less important in optometric practices than “proper layout and flow” for the entire practice.  Optometry has changed in many ways in the last few years and the very first consideration to be given is the list of room requirements for the overall space.  The areas of “pretest”, “special testing” and “fields” need to be given serious consideration for both room requirements and process flow.  A well thought out professional space can eliminate the need to move later if sales volumes increase beyond initial expectations.  While we still see people “remodel” their dispensaries, we too often see new practices that have been poorly laid out before we are ever contacted to assist.  We are then given the task of making the optical space attractive and profitable while we see how money will be lost and space considerations for professional services have often been overlooked.  It is very difficult (and time consuming) for us to then insert our professional experience into the process to help the client avoid potential space consideration problems in the future.

There are a number of companies specializing in optical design that take a far more holistic approach to design than simply putting the face on the dispensing area.  As critical as that area is, it has to first create the professional image of the practice and then function as the “retail face” of the business.  We typically design a practice such that there is never a “view” from the retail area to the “professional services” area.  This allows the practice to function properly by not sending mixed signals to the patient about the market position of the goods or services being provided.  It also allows the practitioner to move freely from room to room without distraction from the retail area.

The atmosphere for the dispensary works best if it is done in an approach that we call “professional commercial”.  A space that is too retail looking or too extravagant looking can either overpower the presentation of the merchandise or it can diminish the value of the professional services that are being rendered.  In order to help the client determine the atmosphere for a space, we like to understand the demographics of the practice, the type of location for the space, which direction it faces and also the other types of businesses in close proximity.  Our clients operate in medical facilities, retail shopping centers, standalone buildings and malls.  Each of these types of structures presents us with a different view on how we might direct a client’s approach.

While we have a number of clients that are extremely creative and lots of us have “DIY” desires, you can simply avoid some very costly mistakes by consulting and working with those of us in the industry that have tried numerous approaches to merchandising and found what does and does not work.  We get many great ideas for new items from clients, but can also steer people away from ideas that did not really work as well as they “looked”.

What is the biggest mistake you’ve seen, in terms of budget?

Not having a proper budget is the single biggest mistake regarding budget that anyone can make.  The second biggest mistake is thinking you can do it cheaper than people that do it professionally all the time.  After 40+ years of manufacturing and construction experience, there are too many variables to define for someone to effectively work to an unrealistically low budget.  Banks that do practice loans are a great source of “logical” information for construction and fixture budgets.  They see the original budgets that loans were granted for and then have the data for the actual payments made.  Construction costs are available in industry publications and can vary (+ or -) by region.  We typically see that a properly designed practice in most areas of the country will cost between $105 and $115 per square foot to complete today.  These costs represent the “Total Package” of general construction, store fixtures, seating, lighting, etc.  Equipment and inventory are obviously separate portions of your overall budget and selection of premium finishes can obviously increase the square footage costs.

The budget discussion above simply sets the stage for the true requirements in order to produce a proper budget.  A simple floor plan is an absolute joke for budgeting purposes.  Far too often we see doctors get “complimentary” floor plans for a new space and then race off to do a budget.  A floor plan has absolutely no consideration given to the single biggest component of “extra” costs….FINISHES.  A floor plan does not specify floor coverings, paint colors, seating, lighting, casework finishes, HVAC (if needed), etc.  I could not possibly tell you how important it is to define either (a) a maximum budget that drives these design considerations or (b) final decisions that are not restricted by budget to all have these things defined before you begin construction.  One of the biggest killers of a good construction budget is not having ALL DECISIONS done prior to construction start.  I have seen “change orders” add far too much cost to a great project because a client constantly changed their mind about small things once contractors started building.  A well budgeted, fully planned space becomes a well-executed project.  The only way I have seen this work well is when enough time is allocated to fully design the space for both retail and professional considerations, all the details of finishes are complete and enough time is given for any required permitting and general construction.  Following this best practice will allow the practitioner to focus on their primary field of endeavor.

Did you have any more questions you needed answered? Send us a comment and we will write another post answering your questions!