“We’ve been a team since before we were born,” Patricia Perez Vorona says of her twin sister, Angelica Perez. “Working together is natural for us.” Their lifelong partnership has manifested into a thriving optometry business, Perez Eye Care. Just one year out of college, their older sister, Sandra, encouraged them to pursue a career in optometry and presented the idea of owning their own business.
“Sandy started working in this practice as an optician,” Patricia says of the downtown Chicago location that is now one of two Perez Eye Care offices in the city. The doctor for whom Sandra was working, chose to sell her portion of the practice. At their older sister’s suggestion, Patricia and Angelica bought out the other doctor. At the same time, they had their eye on an additional practice that served a largely Spanish-speaking clientele and whose owner was ready to retire. The sisters acquired that practice as well and started operating the second location in short order.
Consulting services for business advice after graduating from optometry school can cost up to $30,000, and other doctors are notoriously close-lipped with business tips, so the Perez sisters enrolled in business classes. Patricia also drew from her yearlong stint at LensCrafters to understand the basics of the optical practice as a business. “I didn’t realize coming out of optometry school how much it all costs,” she admits. “That was an eye-opener, no pun intended,” she laughs.
It doesn’t hurt business that the sisters are part of the growing Hispanic community in Chicago, which makes up 28.9 percent of the city (as of the 2010 census). Despite that statistic, there are very few Hispanic optometrists. “Even before I graduated, I was getting phone calls,” says Patricia. “There’s a lot of loyalty [in the Latino community],” she says. “Hispanic patients are proud of us and recommend us to family and friends.”
“You have to a have a strong relationship to work well with each other as both a family and a business.”
Another boost to the sisters’ bottom line came through social media. Positive reviews on Yelp from customers who appreciated the thorough, 45-minute eye exams at Perez created new customers from the existing client base. The sisters also use Facebook to advertise new frames or services that generate interest. “We promoted the Google glasses,” Patricia says. “People come to see and to buy them. It’s important to keep adding new technology.”
With two offices, the sisters have developed a business plan that caters to the patients in each office’s service area while remaining attractive to walk-in clients. “The downtown location is more disease-oriented,” says Patricia, referring to the office’s frequent treatment of glaucoma among other optical diseases. Angelica specializes in pediatrics and keratoconus (protrusion of the cornea) treatment, which is in high demand among the Latino population that surrounds the second location. Both sites offer comprehensive vision exams, a wide range of eyewear, and a focus on customer service.
The Perezes are always working on their relationship as sisters and professionals. After some trial and error, they have found a happy balance. Angelica functions as the business mind, trying new ideas and overseeing services and staff. She pushed for more doctors to handle the increasing client base, expanded the downtown location, and feels confident in recommending new ideas and making quick decisions. Sandra handles the customer service and continues to be a source of inspiration to the Perez Eye Care staff. “The sensitive patients tend to come back,” says Patricia. “That’s Sandy’s doing. If she could hold everybody’s hand, she would. The employees see that and try to model it.”
After trying on the administrative hat, Patricia realized it wasn’t her strong suit. Now, her focus is more medical. She also manages the new-employee training and the eyewear inventory to keep a hand in the business aspect of the practice. “I will ask the patients what they’re looking for in glasses,” she says. “They’ll tell me, and I‘ll know right away, so when they come out of the exam room, there are frames waiting for them.”
“At this stage, we’d like to grow a little more, maybe add a third location,” Patricia says. But she is also happy with how far the business has come and even more satisfied with how she has been able to balance the roles of family and work with her sisters. “It’s a great partnership. I’m able to go to classes and be with my sisters. You have to a have a strong relationship to work well with each other as both a family and a business.”