Dawn Stratton has been in optometry for just about 23 years now. And when you ask her what those 23 years were like, she’ll say:
A journey that, like for all optometrists, started with long, grueling years of optometry school.
But Dr. Stratton wanted to be different than most optometrists.
And in those 23 years, here’s how she set her own practice, Stratton Eyes, apart from the rest.
Dr. Stratton graduated optometry school and followed the path of lots of optometrists and eye doctors by joining a retail practice.
Dr. Stratton got her initial experience serving patients at major retail optometry providers, from Walmart to LensCrafters.
At these retail optometry providers, Dr. Stratton was shuffling through clients left and right. “Retail optometry services want you to do four or five patients in just one hour,” says Dr. Stratton.
This, she realized, was not customer service or even good health care. Dr. Stratton wanted to give her patients treatment and attention that they couldn’t get at retail optometry practices—or at most medical practices, for that matter.
“I wanted to give patients something unique,” she says. “After I worked at retail optometry centers, all I wanted was to give really great patient care without having anyone put limits on my practice.”
Her determination to give patients care they couldn’t find elsewhere is what compelled Dr. Stratton to launch her own optometry practice—Stratton Eyes.
Since its birth in 2000, Dr. Stratton’s practice has done what she set out to do—provide a unique level of customer service and patient care.
Unlike most optometry practices, at Stratton Eyes, patients can have one doctor for every eye care service you could imagine—pediatric eye care, general optometry, contact lens, eye disease, and so on.
According to Dr. Stratton, “A patient can cover all their eye care needs under one roof, so they don’t have to go from doctor to doctor. We have just one doctor here that can do everything for them.”
And unlike the norm at retail practices, Stratton Eyes doesn’t operate at mass production. Dr. Stratton took her experience running through four to five patients an hour and flipped it on its head: Every patient who comes through Stratton Eyes gets a 30-minute time slot to get to know their doctor.
The end goal for Stratton Eyes? After a 30-minute consultation, patients will never want to go anywhere else.
Plus, there’s the hope that their Stratton Eyes experience will be so good that those patients will spread the word to their friends.
Turns out, Stratton Eyes’ customer service and dedicated eye care was that good. And now, Stratton Eyes sees over 16,000 patients a year—and manages to do so with only five doctors.
But it wasn’t booming from the beginning, Dr. Stratton recalls.
The challenge Dr. Stratton faced immediately after leaving her retail location and starting Stratton Eyes was building a patient base.
Dr. Stratton is an optometrist, not a marketer. And patients don’t just come to you if you don’t first get the word out about your new practice.
But the core value of Stratton Eyes—providing excellent service for their patients—was marketing in itself.
As Dr. Stratton hoped, their initial patients did spread the word. “That’s how we grew—100% word of mouth,” says Dr. Stratton.
And in that first year, Stratton Eyes grew tremendously. At the end of their first year, they had seen 800 patients.
Fast forwarding that number to today, Stratton Eyes sees more than 16,000 patients. Clearly, her client base is no longer a challenge for her anymore.
The next challenge that came Dr. Stratton’s way was, in a sense, a good one—sustaining that initial growth year after year.
You’ve heard the phrase before: It takes money to make money.
In Dr. Stratton’s case, that age-old adage couldn’t be more applicable.
Once they overcome their first hurdle—getting a booming client base—Stratton Eyes had to keep up with their patients’ demands.
Stratton Eyes’ need for business funding became apparent all at once.
“It was a combination of a lot of things,” says Dr. Stratton. “We wanted to expand, continue to grow our great staff, and have money to pay that great staff.”
But most importantly, finding the right kind of financing was crucial for keeping up with the technology and equipment demands of running a healthcare business.
From the beginning, Dr. Stratton bought out an old practice and got by with their old equipment. While growing her practice’s patient base, Dr. Stratton kept as much money as she possibly could in the bank.
With use of her savings, Dr. Stratton finally started expanding Stratton Eyes out of the old office space and rid her practice of the old equipment. But that new real estate purchase was an expensive one—not only did they need to hire more doctors, they needed to fill their offices with up-to-date technology for those doctors to use.
“I’d been practicing for 20 years and didn’t want to wait another 20 years saving up money to make the next move for my practice,” says Dr. Stratton. With her business’s expansion, it was the right time to pursue financing.
Dr. Stratton sought out banks for more working capital to ease their cash flow during expansion. But with the many restrictions that come with bank lending, local banks weren’t comfortable with her application.
“The local banks I approached were okay with financing real estate expansion but couldn’t get comfortable financing working capital to hire more doctors for my practice,” says Dr. Stratton.
That’s when Fundera came into the picture. Senior Loan Specialist Abbey Young helped Dr. Stratton find the next best loan option for Stratton Eyes when banks weren’t an option. And soon after working together, Dr. Stratton was in line for one of the best small business loans on the market—an SBA loan.
The 10-year term on Dr. Stratton’s SBA loan was what she needed to free up working capital for her business, and see the expansion process fully through.
Dr. Stratton’s experience is living proof that business loans serve a crucial purpose for fast-growing businesses. Yes, “debt” is shrouded in scary connotations for small business owners, but sometimes financing is just what a company needs to get high-impact projects done.
And with an SBA loan cushioning her cash flow, Dr. Stratton has hired the doctors she needs, bought sparkling new equipment to fill her space, and fully opened her second location’s doors.
What’s next for Stratton Eyes?
Dr. Stratton feels like the sky’s the limit.
Next on her horizon is franchising Stratton Eyes and diving into the world of online stores.
No matter her next big move, Dr. Stratton will stick to what’s important to her and her practice. In the 17 years of growing Stratton Eyes, Dr. Stratton always gave back—creating 23 jobs in her area, providing free eye exams all year round, and free glasses for those who need them.
“As we grow, we’ll never turn anyone away, and we can continue to make a difference in our community.”