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Should your practice have an optical dispensary?


Examining the pros and cons of maintaining or starting an optical dispensary within an ophthalmic practice.


Take Home

Examining the pros and cons of maintaining or starting an optical dispensary within an ophthalmic practice.



By Rose Schneider, Content Specialist, Ophthalmology Times

St. Louis, MO-The addition of an optical dispensary to an ophthalmic practice is not only beneficial for patients, but also an ideal way to increase revenue for the clinic, according to Carolyn Salvato, ABO.

Further Reading: Smart lens technology: The next big breakthrough for ocular medicine?

For ophthalmology practices that are either considering adding an optical shop or already have one, Salvato-director of optical consulting for BSM Consulting, St. Louis, MO-stressed the first question any clinic should address is, “Do we have the potential to be a good optical?”

While optical shops can increase a practice’s revenue substantially, Salvato said if a clinic is not fully prepared to spend the necessary funds, hire the right staff, and put in the effort to make it a good investment, failure is easily attained.

Steps to adding a dispensary

Examining the practice’s space is the first step in figuring out if adding an optical shop is even possible.

“That is really important,” she said. “I’ve had offices put them in storage closets and then wonder why they don’t work.”


Placing the optical shop near the front of the practice is the ideal spot-while also having staff promote the dispensary-for maximum exposure to patients, Salvato said.

“Visibility is key because you want all your patients to see it when they come in,” she said.

More in this issue: Measuring benefits of employing ODs in practice to ease ophthalmologists’ burden

Another important aspect to keep in mind before adding an optical shop, Salvato said, is making sure the practice has a proper volume of patients who would use the dispensary.

“Do you write more than 10 to 15 scripts a day?” she asked. “That’s imperative, as far as having an optical shop; it all depends on the volume that you can produce out of your own business because if you are thinking, ‘I’m going to open an optical shop,’ . . . and you’re going to get walk in visits, that’s not typically what happens in our specter of eye care.”

Practices should also not rely on referral patients, she said, as they should be sent back to the clinic’s referring opticians as not to upset them.

Additionally, informing a practice’s referring opticians that the clinic is opening an optical shop is a must, Salvato said.

“You need to inform them, don’t try to hide it from the (opticians) if they’re a good referral source for you,” she said. “Let them know they’ve got nothing to worry about so they know upfront, they don’t find out from the outside.”

Thus, if a practice’s patient base is largely referrals, Salvato recommended not pursing an optical shop.

Having a complete understanding of the financial responsibility that opening an optical dispensary can be is yet another important question to ask oneself before taking action, Salvato explained.

“Are you financially prepared for this investment? It is a big investment and depending on the volume you have available to capture, sometimes it can be a 2 to 3 year turnaround for you to get a return on your investment,” she said.


Typically, the average cost per square foot to build an optical shop is about $30 to $50, Salvato said. A standard size of an optical shop is about 400 square feet.

Nevertheless, these averages are the minimum standards, she emphasized, as some practices need bigger shops depending on how many providers there are in the optical dispensary.

There are also costs for the shop’s displays, which can range from $15,000 to $80,000 or more depending on their complexity and style, Salvato said.

Equipment and tools for the dispensary are another expense, ranging about $5,000 or more depending on what the practice already has in its inventory, she said. 

Tips for maintaining a dispensary

For ophthalmic practices that already have optical shops, Salvato said the biggest question that needs to be addressed is if the clinic has the motivation to make it work.

“Often times you put them in, we look at them 5 years later and we go, I actually lost money every year,” she said.

One of the best ways to maintain the dispensary is to have the right staff, as well as making sure the optical manager is accountable for the success of the business, Salvato said.

One of the biggest mistakes ophthalmic practices make, Salvato explained, is hiring experienced opticians and then expecting them to also have an adequate business background to manage the shop.

“I’m not saying you need to avoid (opticians), but make sure they’ve got a business background too so they can understand business so they can make it profitable,” she said.


Providing staff training and continued education is a good way to ensure they’re knowledgeable to make the optical shop success, Salvato said.

The next step is to have a clear understanding of the practice’s dispensary’s competition:

·      Corporation retail chains: There are more of these dispensaries than ever before, Salvato said, and are typically high priced, even though they market lower prices. “They’re masters at marketing, they’re very, very good at what they do,” she said.

·      Wholesale and discount chains: These optical shops offer lower prices and have a strict loyalty. However, because they buy many discontinued products, Salvato said their products’ quality is reduced. “You’re patients think it’s a good idea, but unfortunately if they break (their glasses bought at these dispensaries), they’re out of luck,” she said.

·      Local optical shops: The most difficult to compete with because customers and the community are extremely loyal and want to support them, Salvato said. However, the amount of local optical shops throughout the United States is shrinking due to competition.

Ensuring your dispensary’s success

So what are the expectations an ophthalmic practice’s optical shop should have to ensure success? Salvato said the dispensary’s average rate of growth should be consistent with the practice’s growth.

“(However), it’s going to take time to grow that business because you’re going to have to introduce all of your patients to the optical,” Salvato said.

To ensure the dispensary becomes profitable, Salvato said the number one aspect to focus on is inventory management.

“The offices I go to, this is where we lose the most money . . . a big component,” she said. “This is your biggest investment for your optical, make sure it’s managed effectively.”


Putting it simply, Salvato said to ensure an optical shop’s success is that practices need to make sure the dispensary’s success is a priority.

“Opticals can make a lot of money, a lot of money for your doctors, but they have to make it a priority,” Salvato said. “It’s not something they can look at every 5 years to see if it’s still running well and making money.”

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