In 1994, I opened an optometry practice with a friend from school in Las Vegas. To make some income while we were building up the business, we both took leases at Walmart and then spent a couple of days a week in our own practice. After three years, we were still working at Walmart.
Our practice had grown, but not nearly enough to support both of us working there full-time. The place was disorganized and the staff were difficult. We had some “rotten apples” who, instead of working for us, turned the other staff against us. When my partner and I walked into the office, we could feel the animosity. The staff felt the practice was theirs and regarded us as the enemy invading their territory. Instead of being happy about working in the profession I loved, I hated going to work every day.
Sales was another issue. Being conservative by nature, when treating patients I wouldn’t get them to buy what they needed because I didn’t want to ruffle any feathers. I knew we were leaving money on the table.
My partner and I had taken management classes in college but they hadn’t prepared us for the real world of negative staff, competition and economic downturns. We discussed getting some management help to regain control of the practice and put management guidelines in place. I also wanted to dramatically improve the sales arena. And we both wanted to work less hours. My partner had received a mailing from Sterling so we gave them a call. We signed up for Sterling’s program because they knew our industry and we discovered they were seasoned management professionals. Once we started implementing the steps of the Sterling program, we began to rapidly grow.
Sterling did many things for us, but one of the most crucial was teaching us the difference between “employable” and “unemployable” staff and how to know which was which. We got rid of the negative staff who were driving away business. If we didn’t want to be around our own staff, how must the patients feel? We wanted vibrant, upbeat staff and with the Sterling program, we got them.
Sometimes a practice owner feels he has to promise the staff the world even if they are nonproductive or hurting the practice. With Sterling, we implemented a way to measure the performance of each employee so we could see who was being productive and who was not. Being able to measure staff performance enables us to play productivity games with enticing rewards. For example, when we hit a yearly revenue goal for the practice one year, we took the staff to Acapulco. Another year it was the Virgin Islands. One year, we took 32 people to Cancun!
One reason we can afford to reward the productive staff so well is Sterling’s sales training. In the exam room, we go through every single step of the sales process with each patient. Then, by the time we bring the patient out front after the examination, the majority of the work has already been done. The doctor goes over with the optician everything that was discussed with the patient, then the optician is trained to go a step beyond that and ensure the patient feels he has been well taken care of. The fact is, I was doing a disservice to my patients by not having them get what was needed for proper treatment. I was also doing a disservice to myself as an optometrist.
When we started with Sterling, we were making $250,000 per year and had one office. Now we have three offices with gross receipts of over $6 million. Every step of the Sterling program resulted in major improvements. I’ve sent all of my office managers and several other of our staff to Sterling for training because they need to know the program and we all need to be on the same page.
Thanks to Sterling, besides making more money than I had dreamed of, I am having a blast running my practice. But there is nothing that will stop me from saying “Let’s take the kids down to Puerto Vallarta or Disneyland.” I take vacations whenever I want to and have the flexibility to do it.
Running a practice should be like a game and it should be one you can win at. Here in Las Vegas, the casinos carefully design the games so that customers feel like they have a good chance of winning but in reality the house always comes out ahead in the end. Sterling offers a different kind of game, one where everyone—doctors, patients, employees, family members—wins. — Chris Chiodo, OD