THE INDEPENDENT SPIRIT

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I am one of those folk who root for the underdog. Ya know: David versus Goliath, the Cleveland Browns (I was born in Cleveland), the Cubs (and my Indians) and small, independent labs.

If I were really successful, I’d be writing this from my yacht in the Caribbean. However, please allow me to share the kumquats (some might say “fruits”) of my observations from more than 45 years in and around the industry.
Here are some keys to small business survival in today’s laboratory business world, in no particular order of importance; they all are important:

1. Emphasize the uniqueness of your business. What message do you give to a prospective customer? Why should you do business with me? Extend your horizon into value added as this is much more than just a good job produced quickly and at a fair price—those are qualifiers as most everyone can do this.
2. Pamper your existing customers. Study after study has shown that your best “prospect” is an existing customer. How can we partner to grow together? What are our mutual needs? How can we achieve them?
3. Join mutual business groups to grow your business. Many labs are members of “buying groups” where similar problems and opportunities are openly discussed. Become involved in industry groups such as The Vision Council, which offers a huge basket of information, suggestions and networking.
4. Embrace technology. You cannot afford not to. It’s a ”pay to play” proposition. My favorite example is an owner of a small lab in Illinois who had to beg a major equipment supplier to sell him a digital line because it was only doing 80 jobs a day! He subsequently begged for AR and is now in negotiations for five-axis edging, paying his bills and looking forward to the next acquisition.
5. Although I said this was in no particular order, possibly number one is to recognize that success is the result of involved, committed employees. Involve them, celebrate them and grow together.
6. Differentiate yourself with unique business ventures. Cherry Optical in Green Bay, WI, attracts more than 1,300 ECPs to the Packer’s stadium in Green Bay in March (winter!) for “What’s New University,” their own version of Vision Expo. Years ago, Sutherlin Optical in Kansas City saw an opportunity with the Silhouette press fitting, developed a dispensing presentation kit to showcase the uniqueness of the frame and marketed it nationwide, picking up regular business as well. Many labs did likewise with the Chemistrie magnetic clip. Be creative!
7. And lastly, I had a sign on my desk that read, “Planning is Easy. Execution is a Bitch.” Spend most of your time on this.

Jim Grootegoed is Professional Editor of OLP.

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