Natalie Vu, OD, and her husband Joe Nguyen, OD, always had a goal of practice ownership, but Dr. Vu says that they didn’t originally plan to tackle it so early in their careers. When she graduated in May 2018 from the University of Houston College of Optometry, she took a job in a corporate setting, but the couple quickly realized they were delaying their inevitable goal. “We were waiting for the perfect time, but I realized there was no better time,” she recalls. “We were fresh out of school [her husband graduated three years earlier] and we are young without kids—we had the energy to do it now rather than later,” she says.
There were some hurdles to jump over as Dr. Vu began the process for applying for a loan that July. She was met with hesitation during her conversations with banks and landlords, who weren’t very willing to work with a new graduate with limited experience. Still, Dr. Vu persevered with her detailed business plan and her realtor, lawyer and consultants from iCare Advisors pleaded her case. “Surround yourself with a good team,” Dr. Vu advises her colleagues who are considering a cold start as a new graduate. “It’s easy to get stressed out or want to give up, but you have to be persistent and very determined, and ultimately, you will get there. Always keep the goal in mind.” Finally, by November, she had been approved for her loan.
Dr. Vu and her husband drove around the Houston, Texas, area on their days off and would sit in the parking lots of different shopping centers to check out anchor stores and people watch for potential patients. The Houston area has a lot of optometrists, so they identified areas with the best potential that would also be a great place to raise their family in the future. From six neighborhoods, they narrowed it down to three to visit with their realtor. They picked the community of Garden Oaks and Oak Forest. “It’s an up and coming area, and it was important for us to choose a neighborhood that we could grow with,” she says.
They applied for the lease in late November, and after a lot of back and forth, it was approved by March 2019. There’s a cold-start dental office next door, and a Vietnamese restaurant, nail salon and UPS store as also in the strip center. Coffee and ice cream shops are opening across the plaza. Dr. Vu says that she's pleased with the company she shares in the shopping center. "When looking for a space, it’s important to pick one that has a variety of businesses to bring foot traffic or exposure, and I feel like I’ve accomplished that."
Dr. Vu worked with a contractor and architect to transform her space from a blank shell without any walls into the home of Look Eye Care. She chose wood tones, grays and whites with brass accents, and the optical is the focal point of the space. She’s incorporated some interesting ceiling designs and open shelving for a minimalist style that’s modern and sleek. One of her favorite features is the floating hexagon clouds created by her contractor.
She has room for two exam lanes with one set up with instrumentation for now and a place for her husband to join her down the road when the office gets busier. Dr. Vu determined she wanted optomap technology from the start, which has been invaluable in her experience. “If patients are able to see what we can see during the exam, we can provide better education,” she says, which is particularly important in situations when pathology is involved. Down the road, she would love to invest in additional dry eye treatment technology.
Doors opened to Look Eye Care in August 2019. Marketing efforts have been focused on social media, and Dr. Vu also plans to do some mailers for the nearby neighborhoods. Joining Vision Source has been helpful, as well. “Everyone here knows what Vision Source is, and that in itself is its own marketing,” she says. She knew early on during her planning that she would become a member. “I wanted a good team and network of doctors who were willing to help at any point in time.” She attended The Exchange for the first time this year, and she anticipates a great deal of continued value that this membership will bring for her business.
Dr. Vu also looks forward to connecting with the local schools to providing vision screenings in the future. She is very proud to be a part of a growing neighborhood alongside other new local businesses. She adds that she greatly appreciates the support of her family and friends who are spreading the word about her office. “I couldn’t have done this without them.”