Stacie Virden, OD, has been dubbed by friends as the “crazy dog lady,” a title she’s proud to hold. But it’s her Border Collie and practice mascot Mahle (pronounced Molly) that patients are usually most excited to see.
Mahle, a six-year-old Border Collie, joined the practice in 2017 and has since earned the role of practice mascot and Chief Smile Officer. Most of the patients now know her as the furry face of the practice; something that has been beneficial for the patient experience and profitability alike.
Mahle unintentionally took the image of the practice when Dr. Virden bought and renovated another space in her complex. While combining the two spaces to become the practice she’s at today, they were operating out of a third unit across the parking lot. Mahle’s face got more attention on back of the signs than directions to the clinic did, so it stuck.
Mahle is front and center on the practice website sporting sassy shades, and she’s got her own “about us” section. Some of the staff also have t-shirts with Mahle on them, and they keep spares on hand because there’s “always someone wanting to buy one.”
“If there’s not a dog at the office, the staff rebels,” Dr. Virden jokes. Luckily there’s a stuffed version of Mahle at the front desk for her days off.
“We hope that having Mahle wear [eyeglasses] sends our patients the message that going to the eye doctor doesn’t have to be a dry, boring or miserable thing,” Dr. Virden says. “We have fun doing what we do best, and we hope our logo and Mahle brings a smile to everyone’s face.”
A LIFETIME OF FURRY FRIENDS
For Dr. Virden, having a dog around—or multiple—is nothing unusual. She’s had pets in her home since she was a kid and now has anywhere from three to five at a time, some filtering in and out as fosters or spay/neuter-adoptees.
She’s also heavily engaged in the animal welfare community. She got involved with a low-cost spay/neuter clinic—the Animal Birth Control Clinic– next door to her practice when she bought it, and has been on their board for a decade. She has volunteered with the German Shepard Rescue of Central Texas, is on the Board of Directors for the Humane Society of Central Texas, completed two terms on the City of Waco’s Animal Advisory Board and has chaired fundraises for numerous humane societies.
BARKING UP THE BUSINESS TREE
Mahle is a fun and friendly addition to the practice, no doubt. But she’s good for business, too. Social media content featuring Mahle or another one of Dr. Virden’s pups usually do better than others, she says. “People don’t want to visit a stuffy, sterile practice,” Dr. Virden says. “It’s that human element—or in this case, canine—that draws people and patients in.”
It’s important to differentiate yourself, Dr. Virden says. “There is no shortage of eye doctors. As a provider, you have to be someone they want to see and make a conscious decision to see.”
And it makes her day easier, too. She’s been able to combine her passion of animals with her love for providing eye care, and she has the ability to bring in a foster or a sick puppy without worrying about leaving them unattended at home, and without sacrificing her patient care.
“Mahle is a huge a part of the practice,” Dr. Virden says.
Find more photos of Mahle and learn about Waco Vision Source on their Facebook page.
Read a story about Dr. Virden’s practice expansion here.
All photos provided by Waco Vision Source.