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  September 4, 2013

MD Group's Optical Department Grows from Half Million Dollars to Nearly $10 Million

By John Sailer


"I work with my team to make sure I have the right people in the right place," said Debbie Bacon, director of optical services for Barnet Dulaney Perkins.


PHOENIX, Ariz.—Six years ago, Barnet Dulaney Perkins Eye Center (BDP) had about $500,000 in sales from its seven optical dispensaries. This year, the ophthalmology group is on track to end up with sales of just under $10 million from the 11 optical departments it now operates across 14 locations.

What changed? Growth began when BDP hired Debbie Bacon to manage its optical dispensaries. Prior to that, little focus was placed on the dispensaries, which the ophthalmology group was required to maintain in offices where they carried medicine. "We've managed to take that and put some structure behind it," said Bacon, director of optical services, who came to BDP from a big box optical store where she had worked for about 10 years. Prior to that, she had been employed by a general retail store.

She views the difference between big box optical retail and managing optical dispensaries for an ophthalmological group as "night and day. Here, you get to be more personal, care about your patients and really take care of their needs," she said. "Unfortunately, in big box, like any retail, it's like a turn and burn. Get 'em in and get 'em out and don't really care if they come back. There will be eight more waiting at the door. And that's too bad," she added. "It's really nice to take care of the patient."

Staff as Individual as Patients
That personalized attitude also carries over into her management style as she attempts to treat each employee individually as well. "I really try to work with my team to make sure I have the right people in the right place and that they feel comfortable in the fact that I'm empowering them," Bacon told dba. "I always tell them you can be a hero or you can be a zero." By this, she means that every staff member has the authority to take care of a customer's problems without seeking permission from a manager. "If a patient comes in and has an issue, they're empowered to take care of that patient. Don't say, 'I can't do anything. I have to call my manager.'"

Since Bacon joined BDP, the company holds an optical staff meeting every year to train employees, reward them for accomplishments achieved during the year and encourage them to set and reach goals for the following year. While attendance is not mandatory, staff members volunteer at a rate approaching 100 percent. For example, this year only one person couldn't make it.

The meetings, which end up becoming more like parties, always carry a theme. This year, attendees started out at the meeting wearing camouflage and dog tags and graduated from boot camp to become formally dressed secret agents. The evening's function was a black-tie affair complete with dinner, a Sean Connery/007 lookalike and casino tables on which attendees spent the BDP optical dollars they had earned during their two hours of training. In addition to BDP's own educational programs, Transitions Optical and Aspen Optical also came in to do some training as well. Staff members put the raffle tickets they won at the blackjack, roulette and craps tables toward chances to win prizes such as a large screen TV, a trip to Oakley's VIP days event, a digital camera, an iPod, and more.

Optician Education Is a Constant
Education is a year-round endeavor that's not limited to BDP's annual staff meetings. Out of 35 opticians, two-thirds of them are licensed, and of those, close to 30 are either ABO or NCLE certified, or both, according to Bacon. This is in a state that only requires opticians to be licensed in locations that do not have an owner onsite 40 hours per week, and "at the majority of our locations there is an owner there," Bacon told dba.

Her philosophy is that making sure they're educated helps to make sure that they educate the patient. "Let's have our licenses. It makes the patient feel a little bit more comfortable, and it makes you feel a little bit more comfortable because you know that you have that training behind you," she said.

BDP has also taken advantage of the training available every year at Transitions Academy. One program the company has instituted each year since learning it there a few years ago is WIG or wildly important goal, which helps separate one goal above all others. "As a team we'll decide what our WIG is each year, what we want to focus on," said Bacon. "I let everybody divide up and have their own ideas, what steps they are going to take, and how they see themselves getting there. This way it's a team goal, and they figure out how to get there. This way they're more invested in it."


Barnet Dulaney Perkins was among the three finalists for the Transitions Regional Retailer of the Year award.


Other programs learned over the years that BDP staff has been attending Transitions Academy have been turned into training modules. There are currently five modules that conclude with quizzes to determine how much learning has taken place. The results of these tests combined with other factors such as community service, an essay, and the practical use of the Transitions' TOM tool are used to determine who on the BDP staff will attend Transitions Academy. "We bring three out of about 15 applicants every year," said Bacon. "The more people I can get to attend, the better as a group we become." Last year, Barnet Dulaney Perkins was among the three finalists for the Transitions Regional Retailer of the Year award.

Coaching Dramatically Boosts Sales
Other forms of training have proven effective as well. Michael Gatti, Bacon's optical co-manager, started out with BDP as an optician in the Flagstaff location. With the desire to take on something bigger, he began floating to other locations to cover them as needed and eventually became a team leader and "go-to person" for the operation. He's also been instrumental in the growth of the optical dispensaries through sales coaching. "Working on customer service, I've helped change the way opticians talk to patients, the way they approach a patient and the way they present glasses," he told dba. For example, at some locations last year anti-reflective lens treatments hovered around 6 or 7 percent, but after coaching that jumped to closer to 50 percent. How did he achieve this? "It's all basically in the presentation and understanding the patient," he said. "Every discussion sounds a little different because it is geared to that person. We ask the patients what their daily life looks like, what they do for a living, and based on that we can recommend products that they need."

This year alone, Gatti estimates they've added $350,000 in additional sales without adding either patients or locations. "We haven't grown in terms of location and not so much in terms of people," he said. "We're just doing a better job of capturing people we already have and writing higher tickets. So far this year, we're at about 21 percent higher than last year's numbers for all of our locations."

With such dramatic increases this year alone it's no wonder sales grew from $500,000 just six years ago to almost $10 million today. With Gatti's predictions and other indications, it appears that growth will continue apace. For example, two of the group's locations are in mining towns, Safford and Globe, where both reopened a mine this year. That created 650 new jobs in Globe alone. "We had the opportunity to go in and work with them, and with the help of Aspen Optical, we captured their safety program," Bacon told dba. That's not all, additional growth is planned through both acquisitions as well as organic growth.

Giving Back
To show its appreciation to the local community as well as provide much needed optical care throughout the world, Barnet Dulaney Perkins Eye Center formed a charity known as Arizona Visionaries. This year, the organization went to China where it performed 200 cataract surgeries per day. Last year, Arizona Visionaries went to Honduras to provide eyecare. "We try to reach out on that level every year," said Bacon, who added, "I try to maintain those high standards in my department as well."

Debbie Bacon (center) with practice management consultant, Greg Wolcott, and Aspen Optical's Linda Atwood, ABOC, at Transitions Academy 2013.

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