Alyssa Snyder, OD, had a specific dream in mind when it came to opening her own practice: it had to be in her hometown of Marshall, Minnesota. “As I went through the loan process, I was told Marshall was oversaturated with optometrists,” Dr. Snyder recalls. “But I was very determined that this is where I wanted to be and how I was going to do it.” She even wears her personal motto on a bracelet to motivate her daily: She had faith she could, so she did.
Dr. Snyder saw the potential despite the surrounding competition of another private office, four corporate-affiliated locations and a hospital. There was draw from the small towns surrounding Marshall, which itself is home to about 13,000 people. “Our goal is to serve the patients while maintaining a high level of customer service,” she says.
When she opened the doors to Advanced Eyecare in February, volume picked up quickly. Dr. Snyder remembers asking herself, “How do we keep up with the demand and become more efficient while maintaining the customer service?” The answer was simple: hire more staff. “I know doctors can be hesitant to add more employees, but we see it as a positive move. I realize I can’t do everything myself.”
When she first opened, she was adding a new employee nearly every month. She started with one team member in February and expanded the team in March, April and May to four employees. By November, she had five—a full-time optician, two part-time opticians, a part-time receptionist and an insurance biller—and was looking for a sixth member of the team, another full-time optician. “If we weren’t adding staff, we weren’t meeting our patients’ needs. We are growing, and I’m delegating more in order to provide good care. We need to add employees or else we will be stretched too thin.”
Dr. Snyder’s goal for Advanced Eyecare was to be the one stop that patients needed to make for full-scope optometry where they can take care of everything they need in one day, especially if they are coming to Marshall from a surrounding town. She made investments in an OCT, autorefractor, visual field and fundus camera from the start and also added the m’eyeFit® digital measuring portfolio from Essilor this summer. “I wasn’t willing to give up medical optometry,” she says. “We are a rural practice, and I need to be able to take care of those patients.” For example, just recently she had a referral from an urgent care center. Dr. Snyder lives just minutes from the office, so she was able to take a few minutes out of her weekend to view the patient’s corneal abrasion and then go back home. Her second phone line gets transferred to her cell phone for emergencies. “Patients and urgent care can utilize our after-hours care, and they like knowing we are here for them and that if they need to reach us, they can.”
As a mother of two young children, Dr. Snyder’s target patient base is families and women, who are often the main health care decision-makers. The office is located in the former Marshall liquor store, which was run down but had great visibility for car and foot traffic. “We chose this spot because of the location in the main commercial area and also because we felt very comfortable with the landlord,” Dr. Snyder says. Her landlord has been exceptional to work with, she adds, as he promised to renovate the space before she moved in and consulted with her along the way to make sure it would work with her vision. “Everyone in town watched the location evolve, and there was a buzz in the community about what was going into that space.”
The office has three exam rooms, with one equipped for now and a goal to set up a second one in 2018. There’s a pretesting room, special testing room, two offices and a lab. Dr. Snyder drew inspiration for her office design online from Pinterest and also browsing offices featured on Women In Optometry. “I took pieces from many different designs,” she says, such as for example, the mirrored reception desk that she saw featured in a few stories. Optician Adri DeBoer, her first hire, is great with design, Dr. Snyder says, and she helped tie together the final look. “The style is geared toward the demographic of women so it’s a little bit glammy, but I wanted to make sure everyone felt comfortable and that it was friendly, bright and welcoming.” There are cute photos of animals wearing glasses in the exam room for children, and there are toys within reach in the reception area so kids can feel more at home.
There have been many children and their families coming through the doors since Dr. Snyder has made a huge effort to connect with the local schools, starting with cold calls that have expanded into growing network for referrals. She educates teachers, special education instructors and school nurses on what to look for in regards to vision development and concerns and offers a giving back program, where school professionals can recommend those in need of corrective eyewear. Dr. Snyder provides this care and eyewear at no charge. “We want to make sure the children are taken care of,” she says. Social media has also drawn in a number of patients, and Dr. Snyder plans to a direct mailer soon to target even more of her surrounding communities as the practice approaches its one-year anniversary.
When she signed the lease, she wasn’t sure who her neighbors would be, but she did communicate to her landlord that it would be great if other health care professionals joined the strip of three office spaces. One of those spaces has been taken by a chiropractor, and the third is still vacant.
It’s been a whirlwind of a few months since she opened, seven years since her graduation from Pacific University College of Optometry. Dr. Snyder is quick to give credit to the staff for helping her get there. “Our growth is because of our team. It’s not just about me, but it’s about our team. I care deeply about every single one of them.”