The Canadian Women Entrepreneurs Awards recognizes leading female entrepreneurs who have made significant contributions to the Canadian economy. Presented in five categories, the awards celebrate the outstanding leadership skills and vision of these dynamic businesswomen, who are role models for generations of young Canadian women.
In a special five-part series, Xchange shares the secrets of success of these leading women entrepreneurs. In Part 3, we speak with Cherry Tabb, co-founder and CEO of Herzig Eye Institute in Toronto, winner of the CWEY’s 2007 Innovation award.
Cherry Tabb quite literally “saw” the huge market potential of laser eye correction surgery after undergoing the procedure herself back in 1993. And since then, the CEO of Herzig Eye Institute has stuck to her vision of improving the sight of millions of vision-challenged consumers in both Canada and the U.S. Still the path hasn’t always been clear. Along the way, technology, which formed the foundation of Herzig, almost destroyed the company, and then saved it again. But it’s how Tabb has taken high-tech procedures from mysterious to consumer-friendly that has given her a real business advantage and made the Herzig Institute a success.
Tabb, a native Texan, was managing a large multi-disciplinary health-care organization in Washington, D.C. when a colleague approached her in 1993 to start a company that would market laser vision correction in the U.S. Three years later, eager to bring the new technology to Canada, Tabb sold her U.S. interest and moved to Toronto where she teamed with Dr. Sheldon Herzig to found the Herzig Eye Institute.
Herzig flourished as consumers jumped at the chance to put down their eyeglasses forever with a quick, painless surgery and next to no recovery time. But in late 2000, the industry was broadsided when a journalist wrongly equated some side effects of laser vision surgery with “night blindness”. “It just froze people,” recalls Tabb. Skittish patients cancelled surgery en masse. “I was eight months pregnant and thinking this was going to kill my business. Literally overnight, 70% of our business just flew out the door.”
Instead of slowing down and preparing to deliver her baby, Tabb stayed focused on her shell-shocked company. “I had to take some radical steps,” she says. She laid off half of her 25 staff, leaving the rest, including herself, to perform two or three jobs apiece. Tabb returned to work after just 25 hours off to deliver her baby girl. “Having your own company is like having a baby,” she says. ³You do whatever you have to do to make it survive.”
Herzig was “on oxygen” for the next nine months, finally getting some breathing room when it became the first company in North America to use new “Wavefront” technology, a tool that allows doctors to identify, measure, and correct imperfections in an individual’s eyes 25 times more precisely than with standard methods, providing a new level of accuracy.
Herzig trademarked its new customized service, “High Definition Vision,” and did a major push to re-educate the public through advertising and TV infomercials. “Those ads,” says Tabb, “took a very complex technology that could benefit people and made it very understandable.” The result: Herzig regained traction while many competitors closed their doors.
It’s one thing to possess leading-edge technology, quite another to capitalize on it’s business advantage. Tabb has positioned the firm as a high-end medical services company that does not compromise on price, the use of advanced, proven and safe technology, or the highest standards of patient education and service (even turning away patients if the surgery is not in their best interests). It’s a strategy that she says instills confidence and trust in patients: “I was thinking of how we could serve the patient in the best way possible, and the business advantage kind of happened.”
Herzig is also the only custom vision correction surgical centre in North America to achieve ISO 9001 certification, boosting credibility and quality assurance in an industry with no regulation or certification process, and helping keep internal mechanisms organized and accountable, says Tabb.
From one Toronto location, Herzig now employs 46 staff and manages an extensive referral source network of about 250 doctors. To date, Herzig has performed custom vision correction procedures on more than 100,000 eyes and in the past five years, the company has averaged annual sales growth of 28%.
Tabb is now set on expanding Herzig’s premiere service across Canada, with plans to open six to seven locations in the next five years.