For 20 years, Bedford Eye Care was located in the same mall. Toby Mandelman, OD, selected it as a place to start her practice soon after the Bedford, Nova Scotia, mall came under new ownership that reinvigorated it and practiced there for 10 years as the practice grew. As the mall expanded, the practice moved into a larger location and stayed there for another 10 years. Then the mall was sold again, and the upkeep suffered. “The roof was leaking and there were electrical issues. But the owners were renovating and adding a new section, so we thought we’d move into that area. However, the owners said no. They turned down a 20-year tenant who had always paid bills on time,” she says.
By now the practice had grown to three full-time ODs and a fourth who had just joined. They were busting at the seams in their 3,500-square-foot, four exam lane office. So they began to look around—as did the owner of a dance company, a former neighbor at the mall who was also turned down when she requested more space.
Not entirely surprisingly, the two businesses found themselves looking at some of the same properties. They both focused on an industrial area of town that was just beginning to see a turnaround toward more commercial clients, more residential housing, wider streets and more that made it look attractive. The dance studio owner moved faster and purchased the land. However, Dr. Mandelman and her partners approached their old long-time business neighbor and they devised a plan to share the building, an old industrial space that sold soil. It’s been completely redone and converted to a five-unit business condo, and Bedford Eye Care has 5,000 square feet on the first floor of a huge building, with a fitness center and a vet’s office sharing similar sized spaces on the ground floor. The dance studio takes up the entire upstairs.
The businesses coordinate well. “The dance studio is busy on weekends and the traffic there picks up at the end of the day, as we’re approaching our closing time. We close at noon on Saturdays, so there is very little overlap or problems parking,” she says. Plus, the studio insulated its floors well to keep the dancers’ noises down.
Dr. Mandelman notes that not only have the expenses gone down, since they’re no longer contributing to the significant overhead of a mall, but the partners have an asset in the condo, too. “Even if after we pay our 20-year mortgage and the condo is worth $0, we still would have spent no more than renting,” she says. The building has already appreciated, in part because of the timing of these businesses to be early into this transitioning neighborhood.
The space has seven exam lanes, with six in almost constant use by three ODs and a seventh lane used by a contact lens fitter. Two associates have joined the practice, and during most days, three doctors are working at a time. Dr. Mandelman says she marvels at how in less than five years, the practice has grown to filling up the significantly larger space.
Even though the practice is busy, it never feels crowded like their old location did. Part of that is the design, in which patients flow in primarily one direction—in by the front desk, through the pretesting area, into the exam rooms and out another hallway into the reception area and optical. There are plenty of stations to check people in and out. “In the old place, we’d be bumping into each other in the hallways, and there would be lines at the front desk that would sometimes go into the mall itself,” she says.
Even though the mall location had some windows, in this new space, three of the four walls are wrapped in windows. “We’d had to put up some shades so that patients who were being dilated weren’t uncomfortable,” she says. But it’s glorious for the staff café and doctors’ offices to be bathed in natural light.
One of the partners, Erin Sheppard, OD, was instrumental in making design choices for the new location, along with a Canadian design firm Modular Designs and a local decorator. The floors are neutral—faux woods, stone tiles and low carpeting. The purple accent wall behind the main desk is wallpapered, but most of the walls are painted. Other than a few permanent art pieces, the practice also features the work of local artist/patients. These works are for sale—the practice takes no commission—and when a piece sells, another takes its place.
Nicer Presentations = Higher Sales
Dr. Toby Mandelman remembers one of the design firm representatives estimating that the optical sales would increase by 10 percent with the move to a new location. In fact, she says, sales increased by 30 percent. “I remember walking in myself and saying, ‘Oh, the new frames are here already,’ and the staff telling me that it was our old inventory, just displayed differently.”
One significant reason for the increase in optical sales is that patients have the space to shop. In the previous location, the front area was frequently crowded. Now patients are greeted, handed a nice tray and encouraged to browse even for the few minutes before they’re escorted to pretesting.