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Confessions of a SMB During COVID-19 – Optometry (MCC 8042)

Article by Mike Strawhecker

As a Partner and President of TSG, I have seen the impacts of COVID-19 on a “B2B” business firsthand.  In addition, I am fortunate to have perspectives into other merchant verticals dealing with the pandemic as well.  This includes my brother Nick’s two restaurants, Dante and Forno, of which I am a partner in both.  In addition, my wife Dr. Michelle Meyer, is owner/operator of an optometry practice in Omaha called Family EyeCare. 

Given the importance of the small and medium sized business (SMB) on the U.S. merchant acceptance space, I often use these merchants as anecdotal case studies.  Now more than ever, I thought it may be interesting for clients of TSG and other readers to hear some ‘confessions of a SMB during COVID’, starting with Family EyeCare.

Mike’s Question: How has COVID impacted your sales?

Michelle’s Answer: To be frank, over the past few weeks, it has been a dramatic decrease in revenue (~80%). The success of independent optometry is directly corelated with the number of patients seen in the office with face to face interactions. COVID-19 has virtually eliminated face to face interactions. We have shifted some in-person visits to emergency telehealth visits. I believe this pandemic will change how healthcare is delivered forever.

Dr. Michelle Meyer, Family EyeCare

Q: Were you mandated to stop seeing non-emergency patients?

A: No, it was not mandated.  There are multiple government agencies that provided guidance (e.g. The Nebraska Optometric Association, the CDC), but I ultimately made the judgement call to stop seeing non-emergency patients myself around three weeks ago (week of March 23rd).  It was not an easy choice but I felt like it was the right one, given I am a healthcare provider.  My optometry friends in other parts of the country have had varying degrees of closure since COVID-19 as well.

Q: How have you changed your business operationally?

A: We have moved to selling contact lenses online, with the help of our third-party contact lens distributor, ABB Optical.  They offered a plug-in to our existing website, including a shopping cart for payment. This is important from a payments perspective (because I know this is what you care about) because effectively sales that would normally be processed at the physical POS are now online, so they are going to ABB’s payments provider instead of mine.

Q: What other changes have occurred as it relates to your acceptance of payments?

A: The other big shift has been from in-person card transactions to over the phone card transactions.  The staff and I have been calling patients to extend contact lens prescriptions for patients that would normally be due for a visit.  I wish we could incorporate online or over the phone with eyeglasses too but it is a little more difficult.  As I mentioned, we have introduced the use of telemedicine, via iPhone FaceTime, which is generally billed the same way as onsite visits. A lot of ocular conditions can be accurately diagnosed and treated this way. 

Q: What other technology vendors do you use beyond your payments processor and the aforementioned ABB?

A: We use an Electronic Health Record (EHR) software called Officemate/ExamWRITER. It integrates with a patient communication portal called SolutionReach, which is used to recall, schedule and text patients.  This was very beneficial when COVID started to spread. During the initial spread, my family and I were traveling abroad and I was able to effectively communicate with patients back home in Omaha with the click of a button.  We also use email and social media to communicate with patients.  Lastly, we use QuickBooks for accounting.

Q. Wow – that’s a lot of vendors.  Did any reach out to you to help when the pandemic started?

A: ABB (the contact lens distributor) reached out immediately and honestly it was their idea to sell contacts online.  I was busy putting out other fires managing the office, so that was impactful.  My merchant acquirer has not reached out, but I plan on calling them and asking them for a discount or something to that effect.  I have over 25 separate vendors and my payments provider is on my list but they are not near the top as it relates to my priorities right now. I am busy working on things like getting a rent discount or deferral, and this has had to be a very proactive effort, which stands to reason.  I have heard from all of our eyewear vendors through mass communication emails but they didn’t offer direct help that would impact my business.  

Q: What partners have you leaned on for help during this time?

A: You mean beyond my wonderful husband? (haha) To be honest, leaning on family has been very important.  Also, I am part of a national organization of doctors of optometry, called Vision Source. Our local chapter meets virtually weekly to discuss ongoing and ever changing ideas of how to proceed with patient care, employees, etc.  My bank CORE Bank has been very knowledgeable and prompt through the entire crisis, particularly as it relates to working through the SBA and PPP loan applications. Also, our accountants have been critical to giving us the most up to date information.  Lastly, the small business payroll company I use hosts a Q&A session weekly online. 

Q: If the federal government or state of Nebraska says it’s “time to open for business” on May 1st, what will you do?

A: Back to my role as a healthcare provider, I think I will be more cautious than what is suggested to restaurants or retail merchants.  If May 1st was the date, I won’t open for normal business (e.g. routine visits) until June.  Financially, this is not the best decision, but I am going to err on the side of caution given the healthcare implications. 

Q: Thank you for the time – I appreciate it!

A: It was my pleasure.  Now, go change the baby!