This article originally appeared in Vision Monday DBA.
PEORIA, Ill.—As Bard Optical approaches its 75th year in business next year, the regional optical group with 20 locations throughout Illinois has had decades to learn what works and what doesn’t when running a multiple-location practice.
While Diana J. Hall, Bard Optical’s owner since 1981, is quick to point out that she has not been running the business for 75 years, she does have many years of experience with the group, having purchased it following 18 years with another Illinois optical chain where she worked since high school.
“Knowing which markets were productive gave me some insight into where to locate other offices,” Hall said during a recent exclusive interview with dba. Since acquiring Bard Optical’s single location at the time, and its name, Hall has built the business into a vibrant optical chain that currently ranks as number 41 among Vision Monday’s Top 50 U.S. Optical Retailers.
She expanded the group by taking advantage of the company’s reputation and brand awareness throughout the state. “Bard Optical was a well-regarded name that had as many as 16 locations,” Hall said, “but they steadily closed those locations until there was only one left.” It was that location, one of the newer ones at the time, according to Hall, that she bought in 1981 and steadily built into the thriving optical chain it is today.
The Whole World Has Changed
Building the business and maintaining its position remains a challenge, though, because “the whole world has changed,” Hall told dba, referring to everything from how patients pay to how the company promotes itself to its customers. “In the past, it was fee-for-service. They actually paid for services and product as opposed to today, which right now is 80 percent managed care,” she explained, describing the differences between then and now.
Marketing has changed as well. “We first started with newspaper advertising and then some radio and some television to reach the various communities,” she said. “Now, we still do a little bit of each of those, most of it today is TV and social media and the website. We have to think about the entire community, and social media plays a huge part of our techniques for reaching the Millennials.”
Community participation is another area in which Bard has always and continues to generate exposure. Hall herself sits on the boards of the United Way in her community and also on the Economic Development Council. Again, reaching Millennials is a primary goal, and working in the community is one way to attract this socially conscious group.
“The whole world has changed,” Hall reiterated, “and keeping young people in our communities will make them thrive. Right now our downtown development council is working very aggressively for housing in our downtown core. It’s become a 24/7 world, and young people need living and social availability, all the pieces that they are looking for.”
The increasing prevalence and influence of insurance actually helps play into this need to engage a younger demographic, according to Hall. “We participate in health fairs that the insurance companies are involved with, not just in Peoria, but also in Jacksonville or Peru because our company is spread all over central Illinois,” she said, referring to some of the other cities in which Bard Optical has locations.
Focusing on health and pursuing the medical model is “a path we’ve been on for quite some time,” Hall said, referring also to the steady introduction of new diagnostic equipment in the offices. In addition, other upgrades are in store for Bard Optical’s centralized lab, where the company is considering converting to digital surfacing.
Also, after using Eyefinity’s ExamWriter for years, Bard Optical is currently in the process of upgrading to the Eyefinity EHR system, which offers advanced capabilities such as a patient portal and iPad integration. Hall describes this as “the biggest thing in our world right now” as the company is already 14 offices into the conversion. “The staff has really embraced it. It will help us meet meaningful use requirements and with coding for ICD-10,” she said about the new international coding standard scheduled to go into effect in the U.S. on Oct. 1, 2015.
Soon after that, Bard Optical will reach its 75th year in operation in 2016. “We have a whole list of things we’re working on for that,” Hall told dba, explaining that she and her “great group of dedicated people” are all working toward the same goal. “We all have the same vision. We want the company to grow and prosper, but it has to be focused on patient care. That’s our whole mission,” she said, citing their motto, “Vision For Life.”