20 Dec 2017  •  Practice Management  •  6min read By  • Richard Scarborough

What can dentists learn from supermarkets?

Richard Scarborough, Area Sales Manager at Practice Plan, examines what dentists could learn from supermarkets to stay ahead of the competition

Dentists and supermarkets are not often discussed in the same breath. However, having spent the last 12 years of my career in both sectors, I believe there are some things that the big retailers are doing that dentists could put into practice to help them grow successfully.

Whilst there are obvious differences between dental practices and the likes of Tesco and Aldi, with the latter selling products to customers and the former providing a health service to patients, they both need to win new business and inspire loyalty in order to thrive.

Supermarkets might be operating on a larger scale and with bigger budgets than dental practices, but some of the tactics they use can be transferred to dentistry. Below are five things supermarkets are doing that dentists could implement to enhance their business:

Increasing footfall

Enticing new patients through your door is a vital part of growing your revenue. You can attract more people into your practice by how you externally market your services. Key to this is knowing your market and being aware of what’s going on outside of the front door – this may vary at different times of the day/week.

Supermarkets will rarely have the same advert outside their store for more than two weeks in a row, they keep their offers fresh and in line with what is happening locally and seasonally. So, rather than having the same A-board advert outside your practice all the time, why not align it with the type of potential patient who may be walking past at a particular time. For example, during ‘school run’ hours advertise children’s appointments or treatments, or on a market day when there might be more older people passing by you might advertise dentures and implants. You could take it to extremes and change it a few times a day!

Maximising average spend

Once you have your patients through the door, how do you maximise how much revenue they spend with you? This is where your internal marketing comes into play. In a supermarket, they are very good at encouraging each person to spend more than they intended, utilising things such as signage and adverts as well as product flow (e.g. placing staple items such as milk and bread at the back of the store, so you are exposed to all of the other tempting products en route).

Whilst you obviously can’t do the same in practice, you can apply the same principle of seeking to generate more revenue per head. It is not uncommon for patients to attend another practice for a cosmetic treatment, simply because they didn’t realise their regular dentist offered them. You need to make sure you are clearly promoting your services internally, perhaps through literature and posters in the waiting room as well as the conversations that you have with them in surgery. Have clear pricing with some treatments, as people are less likely to purchase if they are unsure of price.

Building customer loyalty

It’s not all just about attracting new patients, but, more importantly, making sure your current ones are satisfied and will keep returning, recommending you to new patients along the way. Supermarkets are constantly battling to retain their customers who know they can easily buy the same product from another store. Dentists don’t have quite the same problem, as patients don’t often regularly visit different dental practices, so they don’t have the same insight into your competition. Often the only time they will see inside another practice is if you refer them there.

Having said that, are you confident that if they were to step inside another practice that they wouldn’t want to leave you?  Might the other practice have a nicer environment, receptionist, etc? A good exercise is to think, if your customer could walk out the door tomorrow and get exactly the same thing at another practice – would they choose to stay with you? Are you treating them well enough? The number one rule, is never take patients for granted. If you can identify gaps in the service you’re offering, be proactive and take steps to fill them.

I would also advise applying that same philosophy to staff, which Richard Branson summed up nicely when he said ‘train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to’.

Understanding the competition

The supermarket industry is phenomenally competitive. They are, and have to be, very good at knowing what their competitors are doing, what prices they are selling goods at and what offers they are advertising.

Dentists should be keeping a similar eye on what other practices in their area are up to. There are times when you might be able to benefit from their marketing activity. For instance, if a practice in your area is advertising implants on the radio, and you do implants, why not piggy back on their campaign by advertising that treatment at your practice, perhaps on a poster in the window or A-board outside? Those radio adverts will have raised awareness of the treatment locally, you are now letting people know that you provide that treatment and if they are passing it could be you who reaps the reward.

Marketing aligned to seasonal demand

What we want to buy from supermarkets varies throughout the year, e.g. barbecues and salads in summer and root vegetables in winter. Stores will adapt their marketing, layouts and product mix to reflect this changing demand and drive footfall, for example by advertising ‘back to school’ products in August/September.

Dentists can also utilise this approach. For instance, in holiday and wedding seasons what are patients looking for, might there be a greater demand for cosmetic treatments such as teeth whitening? Or, if you have a practice that is in an area that experiences an influx of tourists during summer, you might flex your appointment book to allow for emergency appointments and promote this availability locally.

None of the tactics mentioned above require huge amounts of financial investment, but they can be very effective in keeping your patient list, and income, growing. The key here is to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening locally, what your competitors are doing, and then seek to capitalise on that to build a stronger and more successful practice.

So next time you visit a supermarket, think about your experience, why have you chosen to visit that particular store? What does their brand mean to you? Crucially, what items do you walk out with that weren’t on your shopping list; how much more have you spent than if you’d stuck to your original shopping list?

…Then think about if you can apply any of that experience to your practice.

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