Kalamazoo, Michigan, is home to the headquarters of a large retail optical company with more than 50 locations across the state. So as Alexandra Copeland, OD, planned to open her own practice there, she says that she saw an opportunity in being an independent location in town. “I was interested in having a boutique optical, so I wanted to be somewhere where the demographic would support it,” Dr. Copeland says. “I wanted to be the community eye doctor.”
Decisions to consult with iCare Advisors and join Vision Source® provided resources to guide her through the process. Dr. Copeland and her husband, who were married in November 2016, had been living in the Chicago suburbs where Dr. Copeland worked for a multiple-location OD practice. The hoped-for path to partnership didn’t work out, and in the early months of 2017, she decided it was time to take the plunge on her own. They would leave the saturated Chicago area and narrowed the search down to Kalamazoo, near her husband’s hometown.
By June, she found her space for Innovative Eye Care—one that she just happened to drive by after visiting five other properties with her realtor and family. The general vicinity was ideal, near a new housing development in a prominent space in a mini strip mall. Dr. Copeland took a job with America’s Best two days per week as she settled in Kalamazoo, and she signed the lease by August.
All of the paperwork and plans were complete to begin the renovation process in October. The former hair salon was completely gutted, down to the concrete slab to lay new piping, she says. She worked with a local architect and also her mom, who is also an architect with interior design experience. They pulled together all of the details for Dr. Copeland’s rustic chic vision with a color palette incorporating mostly grays and blues.
Her frame selection differentiates her optical. She met with many frame vendors at Vision Expo West in Las Vegas to make her decisions. “I personally like to push the envelope a little bit but stayed a little more conservative because what I like may not what my patients are looking for.” She plans to evolve her selection as the practice grows, but she’s starting with 400 frames including styles from State Optical, made outside of Chicago; Article One, based in Flint, Michigan; MODO from New York; Jonas Paul kids frames from Grand Rapids, Michigan; and OVVO Optics for its surgical steel, lightweight frames made in Poland and Germany. She followed recommendations that she carry Ray-Ban and Oakley, as those are brands that draw people in.
Dr. Copeland says that providing specialty and medical care could distinguish her office. She is incorporating low vision services, which she became passionate about during her residency at Salus University. She invested in the patient-friendly Icare tonometer and a Marco camera for her slit lamp. “It’s cool for the patients to see what you are looking at in their eyes,” she says, adding that she can share anterior and posterior photos and videos with patients or referring doctors. There’s also an on-site lab space with an edger for quick service.
She was able to open before the end of the year, allowing her to capture some of the year-end rush by patients who wanted to use their benefits or spending accounts. Looking back, she says, “I wish I had done it sooner, but working in different offices gives you an idea of what you do and don’t like.” Her experiences since her 2012 graduation from the Illinois College of Optometry—such as working at an OD/MD group, the Michigan College of Optometry diabetes clinic, the Illinois practice and The Chicago Lighthouse Vision Rehabilitation Center—prepared her for the challenge. She’s says that she is thankful to many colleagues, consultants and company reps in the optical industry who have helped her create her own style.
Get a Head Start on Branding and Frame Inventory
Don’t wait to design your logo and customized signage and materials, says Dr. Alexandra Copeland. Once she had the final design, she says that it took about a month to receive branded materials. Also, plan to have your frames arrive much earlier than you want to open. “Entering frames into inventory is time-consuming,” she says.