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This information is provided for informational purposes only and does not represent a product or service endorsement or recommendation by the American Optometric Association

Doctor Spotlight: Dr. Joe Blackburn

Dr. Joe Blackburn

“I’m giving up the lease. You should call the DM if you think you might want to take it over”, said my good friend, employer and the OD lease holder. We had opened the Houston Wal-Mart SuperCenter office in September of 2002 with me as the employed OD and this was just seven months later. I was surprised by the call and it left me in a quandary about what to do. I wasn’t sure I wanted to take over what was, to this point, an unsuccessful office? As I looked at the positive side, thousands of happy Wal-Mart customers were walking past our door every day. Could we tap into that resource and get more patients? I really did not know why Wal-Mart was so successful or anything about their business philosophy. I did know that Wal-Mart’s low prices did not completely explain their success. As I studied Sam Walton’s 10 Rules in his autobiography, “Made in America” I realized that to be successful we needed to make a change…to be a lot more like Wal-Mart and a lot less like optometry…with that thought in mind I signed the lease. Quoting Sam Walton; “Exceed your customer’s expectations. If you do, they’ll come back over and over. Give them what they want, and a little more.”

Some changes we made to exceed our patient’s expectations:
1. Improve accessibility with convenient hours. Monday through Friday hours were shifted from opening at 9AM and closing at 6PM to opening at 10AM and closing at 7PM. On Saturday, I kept the 9am till 5pm hours but added Sunday hours from 12Noon till 4pm. We stay open during the lunch hour every day. These changes added 14 hours to our primetime hours (lunch hour, late hours and weekend hours). This adds 12 to 18 patients every week.

2. Every Thursday is Wal-Mart Associate Exam Day with discounted exam fees for Wal-Mart associates and their immediate families. Wal-Mart associates are our goodwill ambassadors in the store and the community.

3. Our “Back to School” $29 eye exams for students and teachers contributes to our community. We do 120 to 150 eye exams per week during this promotion and create a lot of goodwill.

4. Always “little more”. We give each patient a laminated business card with their RX on it. We look for these “little more” ideas to improve patient experiences. The OBA-CE website and “Marketing Diamonds” are great idea sources.

5. We are a patient-friendly office. I shake hands with each patient when we meet and at the end of the visit. We thank them for choosing our office. We listen to patients and focus solely on them. We work fast and but “talk” slow. We demonstrate that we really care about them as a person. Our Office Policy Manual can be summed up in a word…Yes! A friendly caring compassionate attitude is powerful…your good reputation will spread rapidly.  

6. We want to be the eye health and vision information center for our community. We’ve developed several brochures that we give to patients…on contact lenses, our office, computer vision syndrome and dry eye. We also give out free brochures from the National Eye Institute. We want to be the eye care expert...we are selling our expertise.

7. Embracing new advanced technology:
Contact lenses - Silicone Hydrogels are our lenses of first choice. Corneal rehabilitation builds your practice.

Advanced Instruments - We networked our office using OfficeMate software, Tablet PCs and a Digital Retinal Camera. OfficeMate will make you a better doctor. We have a Zeiss GDx Nerve Fiber Analyzer and Matrix Visual Field Tester. Zeiss has practice management programs that will help you build your practice. Advanced instrumentation, EDLF (Every Day Low Fees) and an office with a caring attitude creates a powerful combination that adds value to every patient experience.

8. We are moving into medical optometry. We are on several medical insurance panels. Integrating an EDLF office into medical optometry coding and billing is a challenge but it expands and adds value to our services. Further development in this area will accelerate our future growth. Our website: “” emphasizes our “Healthy Eyes…Healthy You® campaign, promoting our ability to provide medical eye care.

9. “Diabetes Awareness Month” just concluded. We partnered with the pharmacy department and offered free digital retinal photo screenings. The free coupons were given to everyone picking up diabetes medication at the pharmacy. The Vision Center also gave out the coupons (see photos). So far, we’ve screened 25 diabetics resulting in 9 new exams; several were referred to retinal specialists.

10. We receive excellent support from Vision Center Managers, District Managers, Regional Managers, the Optical Division’s Senior Leadership Team, OD colleagues and vendor partners such as Alcon and Ciba Vision. We have used and will continue to use and urge you to use these valuable resources to improve your practice.

It has been over four years since we signed that first lease and since then we have more than doubled our revenue and profitability. Our secret formula…we became a lot more like Wal-Mart and a lot less like optometry. I urge you to analyze your practice and seize the tremendous opportunity and unlimited potential offered by your Wal-Mart affiliation. The financial rewards, personal satisfaction and professional fulfillment are outstanding but delivering superior eye care to the Wal-Mart family of associates and customers is in itself a great reward.

During my optometric career, I’ve practiced as an independent OD, owned several franchises and was the Founder, Chairman and CEO of a one-hour optical superstore chain. Nothing in my career is as enjoyable as partnering with Wal-Mart in the optical business. I wish you great and continued Success!