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An In-Depth Look at Opening a Private Optometry Practice Cold

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A few months back, I wrote an article about opening a private optometry practice cold without an optical.

For my partner and I, this was the right (and best) decision we made for our business. I recognize this is not the norm so I recently spoke with Dr. Thanh Mai, co-owner of Insight Vision Center in Costa Mesa, California, about how he went about opening cold WITH an optical just a year and a half after graduating. 

Here is an in-depth look at what Dr. Thanh Mai had to say about opening a private optometry practice cold!

What made you want to open a private optometry practice cold?

I remember it clearly.

Staying up late into the dark of night. We spent hours, but it felt like minutes. Excitedly scribbling notes on a large poster like mad scientists, our version of the optometric dream.

  • What was our mission?
  • Who would we serve?
  • How would the practice serve our lives and not become our lives?
  • Where would we practice?

That was the template we utilized when we opened our practice, and it still burns a fire in my belly when I walk into my office.

Open cold or practice buyout?

We had looked around for practices to purchase first. None were quite the perfect fit regarding the location or demographic we would be focusing on which was pediatrics and vision therapy.

Vision therapy requires a good amount of space, especially for the motor activities, so that ruled out nearly all of the traditional offices that were for sale.

We had great mentors who encouraged us that laying the groundwork, creating the right culture, and crafting our practice in a methodical way could be extremely rewarding. The clear-cut way to achieve all those things was to start cold – building the foundation brick by brick.

Dr. Mai’s Tip: Know what you want your practice to look like before you start and don’t settle for something that won’t suit your vision!

How many partners do you have? Is everyone split equally?

I have one partner and everything is split evenly.

I highly recommend having a business partner.

It is so wonderful to be able to split the workload when running a practice – any practice owner will tell you patient care is just one part (sometimes seemingly small!) of running a successful office.

Having an instant sounding board, someone that brings additional strengths and clinical skills, and someone who shares the same vision for the office has been the best part of opening our office.

Do you provide full scope optometric care or do you focus solely on specialty care? Additionally, what has been the easiest profit pillar to grow in your area. 

We offer full scope but focus on pediatrics and vision therapy. The great part of opening an office relatively close to where we grew up is that all our friends and family instantly became loyal patients that we could provide full scope care to.

However, we don’t focus our energy into growing this side of the business, and our optical is very small (probably one-fifth the size of the average OD office).

Our biggest profit pillar has been vision therapy.

We’ve been so lucky in that many optometrists in the area trust us and have been referring vision therapy patients to us. In addition, we have other allied professionals such as educational therapists and psychologists who refer to us as well. We even allow a dyslexia specialist to come into the office to tutor students a few days a week.

Vision therapy patients are now referring other patients to us – it’s been a nice snowball effect.

Dr. Mai’s Tip: The key to success in opening a private optometry practice cold is providing a service that sets you apart from the rest!

How do you keep tabs on the optical? Do you do weekly meetings with the optician? Do you cut lenses in house or ship them out?

I think one thing most offices fail at is continually communicating between the staff and owners.

Dr. Dyer agrees, check out her article on why doctors need to be involved in their optical.

We have weekly meetings at the same time and day each week. We block it out from patient care. These meetings help us to stay on top of problem cases, train on new products/services, and constantly reinforce our mission statement.

I’ve worked in a dozen other offices, and I see that few have regular meetings. These meetings have been crucial for us to stay organized and accountable. We do not edge lenses in house at this time and might never.
Dr. Mai’s Tip: Set aside time for weekly meetings! Working ON your business is as important as working IN your business.

Are there drawbacks to having an optical? 

The upfront investment is large.

You’ll need a bigger office vs. an office without an optical. You’ll need more staff and they’ll have to keep tabs on so many things from working with optical labs, frame vendors, to billing insurance for it.

Do you provide private label frames? 

We don’t have private label frames at this time but may consider it in the future.

We did join Vision Source and they have been incredibly helpful.

Not just in lowering cost of goods but the camaraderie and helpful advice from our local group. The Vision Source administrators (shoutout to Alvin, John, and Kenny!) have personally come to the office and given great tips and personal attention to help us grow.

There are many other great groups, but for us, Vision Source has been wonderful for us in our area.

How did you get funding to open?

I was a year and a half out from graduating from optometry school when I applied.

We got a small business loan.

We had multiple bank offers and it was nice to have them compete for our business.

Any advice for new graduates who are interested in opening cold with an optical?

My advice is to begin with the end in mind.

Know what your ultimate goals and dreams are first and then formulate how you plan to get there. Find a mentor who has a lot of experience opening offices and private practices to help guide you and prevent pitfalls.

If you have any questions for Dr. Mai, please contact him at [email protected] !

If you are looking for a mentor to help you open a practice, link up with one of our COVD Mentors!

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About Miki Lyn DAngelo

Miki Lyn DAngelo
Miki Lyn D’Angelo, O.D. graduated with honors from the SUNY College of Optometry in New York, receiving the VSP Excellence in Primary Care and Excellence in Vision Therapy awards. She then continued her education by completing a residency in vision therapy and rehabilitation with Dr. Barry Tannen, OD. She has extensive experience in family eye care with a specialty and passion for pediatrics, vision training and neuro-rehabilitation with traumatic brain injury patients. She recently just opened a private practice cold with a partner on the Eastern End of Long Island. In her spare time she loves cooking and working on the farm with her fiancé.

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