Natalie Bissoon, OD, was searching for an ownership opportunity when she heard from a sales rep that the former owner of Complete Optometry Care in Richmond Hill, New York, was planning to retire. The practice had lots of potential: it had a longtime history in the community and had been founded nearly 100 years before. It had been kept in the family all those years, but the last owner’s daughter lived in California and was not an optometrist.
The icing on the cake was that it was near Dr. Bissoon’s hometown, and she had even known of the practice since she was a child. So the transfer of ownership in September 2015 was truly a passing of the torch. “We closed on a Friday, spent the day together in the office on Saturday and by Monday morning, I was a solo practitioner,” Dr. Bissoon recalls.
It was an honor to carry on the office’s legacy in town and also a tremendous investment, Dr. Bissoon says. “My initial goal was to leave everything and work in the practice to get my financial feet on the ground after purchasing the practice.” She supplemented her income by lecturing as a professor at City University of New York until she was ready to make the full-time move to the practice.
She did have a few physical changes she wanted to make since the space had not been updated in nearly 40 years, starting with ripping up the carpet and replacing it with tile. That’s when she discovered that there was no subfloor beneath. She hired a contractor who broke the bad news: they couldn’t fix it with any repairs, and they had to do a full renovation. “I had the building inspected and it was structurally sound, but you have to take a closer look,” she says.
Dr. Bissoon was able to keep business as usual for the most part during the six-month renovation period. She temporary relocated to the building’s second floor in the summer of 2016 and was ready to be back in her remodeled space in January 2017. “I knew I wanted it to be a neutral and warm place,” she says. She spent weekends in tile stores, carefully analyzing the choices for the flooring and a stone wall, and she hired a professional company to design the most efficient office flow and floor plan. “I wanted a clean-cut, professional look that showcased our products.”
The equipment she inherited in the transfer of ownership was functional, but she found that it was too dated to be serviced. So she went back to the drawing board and added all new instrumentation and technology, from her digitalized exam lane to the fundus camera and OCT. She’s set up to fit specialty contact lenses and orthokeratology with the OCULUS Keratograph. There’s room to expand into a second lane when volume increases. Dr. Bissoon also made the switch to electronic records. The transition to go paperless took about two years, and Dr. Bissoon had help from her family to make it a smoother transition. “It was a big task but a necessity. Nothing goes missing anymore.”
Two members of the former staff stayed on board for some time, providing familiar faces through the changes happening in the office. Eventually both of them left, and Dr. Bissoon has hired one new staff member to help her as the business grows. “You have a new protocol and way of doing things, and the staff chooses to adapt to you or not.”
Dr. Bissoon wanted existing patients to know that they were welcome despite the changes that she was forced to make sooner rather than later. They were contacted by phone or postcard, and Dr. Bissoon introduced herself to the community through ads in the local newspaper. She also walked around town and introduced herself to all the local professionals, and she’s networking with local health care professionals, as well, to form referral relationships for pediatric care, diabetic patients and more. “Most patients have been receptive,” she says. “They need to see a new eye doctor, and I have their records here. Once they see me, many continue to come and bring their families and kids. I love building that relationship with them.”
Dr. Bissoon will celebrate the practice’s 100th anniversary in 2023, and she was honored to receive recognition from the Better Business Bureau as a successful business in 2017. She looks forward to making more connections with patients in the community along the way. She has many professional goals for the business—growing the patient base, updating her lab and possibly adding an associate OD in the next few years—but none are quite as important to her as her personal goal of having this business, which allows her to spend time with her children, Emily, 8, and Ethan, 9. “The reason I have my own practice is for my children because spending time with them is of utmost importance to me,” she says. She can work her schedule around their activities, taking off for concerts and school trips. During the renovations, Dr. Bissoon also created a special place for them to come after school to do their homework and have tutoring. “I can see my kids in between exams. I am thankful and grateful.”