(1) Embrace An Easy to Use Online Booking System: Create an online scheduling system that is easy for patients to use and doesn’t require the creation of an account.
(2) Utilize Technology to Increase Appointment Booking: To capture walk by traffic when your office is closed, create an easy to use kiosk-booking tablet directly outside of the office for patients to easily book an appointment on the spot.
(3) Get out of Your Comfort Zone: During your down time, don’t be afraid to get out of your office and introduce yourself as the new eye doctor in the facility.
(4) Leverage Creative Advertising: Encourage translators to sit in the exam room to experience the process firsthand. Many of them may book an appointment for themselves right after!
(5) Work on 5-Star Reviews: Simply provide quality, friendly, and exceptional eye exams and encourage your satisfied patients to give you an honest review.
Building a new sublease office inside a retail store brings some unique challenges, but can be even more rewarding when you see your office thrive after years of hard work. Like any new business, attracting new patients may be a struggle at first. I experienced this firsthand when I opened my sublease office inside Sam’s Club in San Bernardino CA, just over 7 years ago. If you are on the street, you don’t see my office. In fact, if you are in the store, you may not see it either as we are located in a discrete corner. This proved a bit difficult for advertising and attracting new walk by traffic. However, by engaging in a number of creative practices, I was able to grow this office from a patient base of zero to a thriving optometry office! Below, I will share the five strategies that formed the core of my success plan:
(1) Embrace An Easy to Use Online Booking System
Arguing that a digital presence is key to modern businesses is not exactly groundbreaking news. For my practice, it began with a user-friendly, easy to navigate website. I wanted patients to be able to book appointments in real time, something my patients have frequently noted that they love. This booking system is easy to use and doesn’t require the creation of an account. Patients can change and cancel appointments with ease.
Additionally, my booking system has a two-way text reminder that allows for seamless reminders to patients, helping promote excellent communication.
If you don’t have time to build your own website, there are many different companies that cater to optometrists and others in the medical profession. Digital Healthcare Professional is a great company that will work directly with you to create a custom website for an affordable price.
(2) Utilize Technology to Increase Appointment Booking
Upon first opening my office, I was open only three days per week. I spent my time elsewhere to supplement my income. However, this meant there were four days each week when someone could walk by and want to make an appointment, but won’t be able to make an appointment because the office was closed. You probably already know that walk-by traffic is critical for retail success in the early stages of a sublease.
Not wanting to miss opportunities to capture new patients, I consulted with my brother, an engineer. We built a kiosk-booking tablet directly outside of the office that allowed patients to easily book an appointment on the spot without having to make a call or go online. This kiosk refreshes after ten seconds of idle time to protect sensitive information.
Ultimately, this was a great way of pairing technology with convenience. The kiosk syncs with my exam calendar, allowing real time booking. Patients also get a confirmation email and reminder text, all of which are automated. This allowed bookings without the need of hiring a dedicated staff member to be physically present. I stopped losing walk-by traffic, and it was totally free! Here’s what the kiosk looked like when we first opened:
"Not wanting to miss opportunities to capture new patients.. We built a kiosk-booking tablet directly outside of the office that allowed patients to easily book an appointment on the spot without having to make a call or go online. This kiosk refreshes after ten seconds of idle time to protect sensitive information, this was the biggest patient traffic driver when we first open"
(3) Get out of Your Comfort Zone
If you know me, you know I love meeting new people! This definitely helped with my marketing and, since my office was initially slow, I had plenty of free time, as I was just seeing 0-3 patients a day. Instead of wallowing in my misery, I created a “free vision screening” desk outside my office.
When I had no patients scheduled for a large chunk of time, I would stand outside the office with my staff, greeted people walking by, and introduced myself as the new eye doctor. My optical had this vision screening device in the closet, and I thought it was a great way to put my time to good use and get to meet people. I offered the walk-by traffic a complementary “Vision Acuity Test and Color Vision Test.”
The process was very simple. I would strike up a conversation with passing customers, asking them about their most recent eye exam or if there was any vision insurance I could look up for them. Each member would get a free vision acuity report with a note that the screening doesn’t replace a comprehensive eye exam. Surprisingly, I found many members to be quite receptive. We ran several vision screenings each day and converted quite a few into new patients! At the 6-month mark, we experienced a large uptick in patients with virtually no marketing cost. By the end of the first year, we were so busy that we retired this screening device, but I always look back upon this time with fondness and gratitude.
(4) Leverage Creative Advertising
Many of my patients speak only Spanish, so they often bring a family member or friend into the exam for translation. While I am moderately fluent in the language, I encourage translators to sit in the exam room to experience the process firsthand and translate when needed. This serves two important purposes. The most obvious is assisting with communication.
However, the other purpose is that the friend or family member can see a quality eye exam and consider booking for themselves in the future. In fact, after the exam with their family members, they often book one for themselves as well, along with their kids, their parents, cousins, and entire clan. My empty schedule of 0-3 patients a day quickly turned into 5-8 daily after only a few months, due to family and friend referrals from those who sat in the room and helped with translation! How cool is that?
Remember that one of the most powerful means of advertising is word of mouth. People trust the opinions of others close to them. And they should! Providing a quality experience that people appreciate will create that strong word of mouth that helps get people through the door. After all, don’t you prefer recommendations from family and friends? Treating people with exceptional care will cause them to spread the word for you.
(5) Work on 5-Star Reviews
Aside from word of mouth, YELP has been a big driver of new patients into our office. Since patients can’t see my office when they drive by, having a strong online presence is critical. I don’t advertise on YELP. Instead, I have worked hard to cultivate a 5-star rating on the platform.
How do I do this? Part of it is simply providing quality, friendly, and exceptional eye exams. Strengthening ratings on YELP has kept a steady stream of new patients coming to us for eye care while having the easy booking system has truly sealed the deal. I don’t have hundreds of YELP reviews, but within a five-mile radius of my office, I have the highest rated reviews and get a constant flow of patients coming in from finding me online.
If you are just starting out, I highly recommend encouraging your satisfied patients to give you an honest review online (YELP and Google reviews are popular platforms). It may sound awkward at first, but if the patient is expressing gratitude in the chair, this is a great time to let them know they can share that with the world! Once a patient finds your 5-star review online, make sure you have an easy, intuitive scheduling system on your website for them to book their appointment.
"Aside from word of mouth, YELP has been a big driver of new patients into our office. Since patients can’t see my office when they drive by, having a strong online presence is critical. I don’t advertise on YELP. Instead, I have worked hard to cultivate a 5-star rating on the platform"
While getting patients in the door is important, ensuring that they continue to return as repeat customers is imperative. This is where consistently providing quality service is the most important aspect of running a business. I enjoy the work I do, take excellent care of my patients, and often bend over backwards to make them happy. This seems to work in creating our brand inside a retail space. Patients walk into my office and they feel the different vibe and energy that is different from the large retail store itself. We constantly get patients telling us how much they love coming to our office and how much they look forward to visiting year after year.
Over the years, my practice has grown quite a bit. However, I still ensure to take time to actively listen to patient needs and fully address their questions. I always remind myself how important it is to treat patients with kindness and empathy. We translate this into every aspect of our practice.
There is no guaranteed method to create a successful retail sublease office; however, I have found these five core strategies to help me rapidly grow my practice from one with no existing patients into a bustling medically oriented practice. I encourage you to try at least a couple of these strategies if you are about to open a new sublease or just want to grow your existing practice. You’ll be pleased with the results. Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions during any stages of your sublease practice!