How to annihilate the “Big Box Dental Shops" in your market

Jan. 2, 2015
Many small dental practices worry about their survival as "Big Box" dental practices become more popular. Not to fear.  Dr. Kelly Brown is not a big fan of "Big Box" dental offices, and he knows plenty of survival techniques that he shares here.

A recent ADA study revealed dental revenues in the U.S. have been flat since 2008. During that time there have been well over 2,000 of what I call “Big Box Dental Shops” popping up like dandelions in the spring. What does that mean? It means owner-operated dental offices offering one-to-one doctor-patient relationships are eroding quicker than the dinosaurs at the beginning of the ice age.

As you might have already gleaned from this article’s title, I am not a big fan of Big Box Dental Shops. I believe they’re responsible for commoditizing dental services and depersonalizing the experience. I’m often asked by sole practitioners, “How can we compete with the Big Box Dental Shop’s advertizing budget, extended hours, and low prices?” My answer comes from the recent movie, “Moneyball.”

“Moneyball” is a true story about the Oakland's A's baseball team and its general manager, Billy Beane. The Oakland Athletics typically stayed in the cellar of the American Baseball League. At the beginning of the 2002 season, during a strategy board meeting, Beane asked, “What is our biggest problem?” After some group discussion, he pointed out their biggest problem was money, or the lack of it.

At the time, the Athletics had a $41 million salary budget to compete for talent against teams like the New York Yankees, who spent over $125 million in payroll. Then Beane asked, “How can we compete with them?” When the Board wanted to approach the recruiting problem as they had in previous years, Beane said something that should strike home with you – “If we play like the Yankees in here, we will lose to the Yankees out there.”

This challenge to change the Athletic’s focus conceived at that meeting opened the door to a new model of recruiting undervalued players. Even after a slow start and what appeared to be a failed plan, that year the Athletics went on to make baseball history with a 20-game winning streak and a stab at the World Series.

The moral of this story is that if you play like the Big Box Dental Shops in here, you will lose to them out there. If you try to play “low prices” in here, you will lose to them out there. If you try to play “we are open 24-7-365” in here, you will lose to them out there. If you try to match them dollar for dollar with their advertising budget, you will go broke. So like Beane and the Athletics, you have to look at a new approach and a new game, one they can’t play.

Leverage your individuality
Think about it. What do you have that the Big Box Dental Shops don’t have? The answer is looking at you in the mirror. It is you. The only thing that separates the perceived value of your crown from theirs is that you deliver it. You’re a unique individual with a unique personality. So you might ask, “How do I leverage my individuality?” Here are a few simple techniques.

Office décor
When your patients enter your office, what do they see? I know many dental consultants advocate plastering office walls with before and after pictures of beautiful smiles, and I’m not opposed to some of that, but what about pictures of you and your family, you and your hobbies, or you and your accomplishments?

One of my partners is an All American college football player, and we make sure pictures of his awards and him in uniform with his team are visible throughout the office. Imagine the water cooler talk when someone mentions needing a dentist. I bet my partner’s patients won’t remember the before and after photos on the walls. I envision the conversation more like this – “My dentist was an All American quarterback in 1987. He’s cool. You should go see him.”

I have another partner who’s an avid hunter. His office is full of pictures of his latest prizes and serene paintings of outdoor hunting scenes. He has a raving fan base comprised of Ducks Unlimited members, deer hunters, bird hunters, and their families. The patients you want to attract want to know who you are beyond the white coat and dental loops, and carefully staged office décor can help you accomplish this.

Social media is being used by every walk of life today. Facebook fans range from tweens who want to show off their new boyfriends, to grandmothers who want to check up on their tween grandchildren. Businesses prowl Facebook to screen potential employees and corral current ones. In September 2013, Facebook reported 17.8 billion monthly visitors.

Facebook, if used properly, can be a great way to leverage your individuality. We have someone in our offices assigned to gather and post office events and proper personal doctor outings with friends and family. To increase our exposure, we offer incentives for patients to fan us on Facebook. We also run contests that drive existing patients and their friends to our page. A picture of the dentist taking his 6-year old daughter trick or treating can go much further connecting with patients than an article about bad breath.

Monthly newsletter
We have published a newsletter over the last eight years with varied success. We understood a monthly newsletter from the dentist sharing his thoughts about life family, hobbies, and dental team, with just a slight mention about anything dental related, would increase readership, referrals, and patient retention. After several years we finally resolved we were a dental team and not newsletter publishers. We contracted with a company that specializes in newsletters, and the results have been awesome. They can take a 15-minute interview with our dentists and create an interesting feature in the dentist’s voice. Since that change, we’ve been able to measure positive results in all three practice-building indices – readership, referrals, and retention.

So there you have it, David. Goliath is not equipped to approach you on your own battlefield. The one big stone the Big Box Dental Shops can’t defend themselves from is YOU. Let the Big Box Dental Shops attract price sensitive bargain hunters who don’t care who is on the other end of the drill. You attract loyal fans who are drawn to you and your practice because of who you are. Refuse to play like the Big Box Dental Shops play in here, so you can beat them out there … one happy, connected patient at a time.

ALSO BY DR. KELLY BROWN:3 survival keys for the new dental economy
Tempted to buy that shiny object for your dental practice? Read these words of advice first

Dr. Kelly Brown is a dentist, lecturer, radio talk show host, and author. He is the founder and chairman of Custom Dental, the fastest growing, joint venture, owner-operated dental business in the world. He was recently interviewed by two-time Emmy winner Nick Nanton on “America’s Premier Experts.” He served on a committee that advised the Oklahoma Dental Board of Governors on updating The State Dental Act, Statutes and Rules.his committee focused on the ever-changing dental profession and how it can best serve the patients of Oklahoma. To find out more about Dr. Brown, visit