We spoke to real estate and dental practice transition experts to find out what to do—and what not to do—when moving your dental practice.
Whether you already know you want to move or it is still on the “someday” list, we spoke to real estate and dental practice transition experts to find out what to do—and what not to do—when moving your dental practice.
All the Right Timing
Stanton Kensinger, lead broker at Professional Transition Strategies, advises dental practice owners to allot a minimum of 6 months to a year to look at options. However, even before looking, there are things to consider, such as finding the right commercial real estate broker with dental experience. In addition, knowing details such as how many chairs they need now and in the future is essential.
“Knowing that plan before you go and shop the market is very important,” Kensinger says.
Greg Auerbach, practice transitions consultant, Henry Schein Dental Practice Transitions, says build-out time is the wild card in this scenario as it depends on the contractor and marketplace.
“Generally speaking, from start to move, it’s reasonable to expect a 9- to 18-month process time,” Auerbach says. “This would likely assume there is a foundation already in place whereby it’s a matter of planning, permitting, and completing the construction. If starting from an empty parcel, plan for extra time in the initial acquisition, at least 30 to 60 days, but additional time for permitting and developing the initial structure itself.”
Kristen “KJ” Jordan, practice solutions manager for practice coaching and transitions at Benco Dental, agrees that the time line for moving from one dental practice to another can vary depending on several factors, including the specific circumstances of the transition, contractual obligations, and individual preferences. However, she says a general time line might look like this
Taylor Haight, MS, NCIDQ, interior designer II on Benco’s practice design team, thinks the earlier, the better regarding design. It gives the design team and equipment specialists time to get to know the doctor and understand the project, facilitating a smooth project.
For example, the designer and equipment specialists use the move goals to determine the necessary square footage, design the layout to fit it, and match the clinician with an experienced dental contractor. Without expertise guiding the decisions, the project can have extra headaches for everyone involved.
“There’s so many factors,” Haight says. “It never hurts to start earlier than you think is necessary.”
So What Are All the Right Moves?
As an office manager, regional manager, and operations executive for several large practices, Jordan offers several points of advice for dentists regarding practice transitions, which include the following:
Regarding future planning, Kensinger thinks the commercial real estate agent should know the ramifications of moving a dental practice too far from the existing space. Relocating up to 3 miles from the current location can result in a 15% attrition rate, and that attrition rate only increases from there.
“When you get to 5 or if you’re hopping highways, all of a sudden you potentially are looking at losing up to 30% of your patient base, especially if you’ve been in a certain area for a long time,” Kensinger explains.
After identifying the geographic qualifications, clinicians should bring in their team, Kensinger says, including the equipment vendor and an architect with dental experience. Moreover, it is essential to have the end in mind regarding the space a clinician will need as their practice grows.
Sometimes, the space is perfect but will hold fewer operatories than the dentist envisions for their future. In that case, the real estate broker can arrange for the landlord to give the dentist the right of first refusal if an adjacent space becomes available.
“In a perfect-world scenario, having that landlord aware that you’re looking to grow, they’re going to come to you first,” Kensinger explains.
Auerbach agrees engaging with an architect, real estate broker, design firm, and equipment specialist who know dentistry is a vital first step to identifying the best location and planning correctly for growth. From there, relocation can come with benefits ranging from more space, better workflow, and improved access to target patients. These all should allow for more significant revenue generation if not other additional personal benefits, Auerbach explains.
“In considering a relocation, though,” Auerbach continues, “it’s important to look at the specific facility or plot of land to ensure that it’s well suited for your current and future needs as it relates to the size, flow, and access factors and that it’s also supporting the type of practice you want to operate. While in many cases a dental practice can be successful so long as a patient can find it, there are certain situations where location likely dictates the type of practice that can find success.”
Haight thinks dentists should inventory the challenges at the existing space that could improve. She starts many of her conversations with practice stakeholders here.
For example, the treatment rooms could be too small or don’t work with the flow of the space. Maybe there isn’t enough storage or the practice needs more offices. Perhaps it’s time for a change in the type of delivery. As experts on these details, Haight says her team can improve the design of the new office by making minor improvements that have a major impact.
Haight agrees planning with growth in mind is essential. If leasing, the practice stakeholder should build in time to grow in the space. If building or buying it, the dentist should determine how many treatment rooms they want or whether they will add an associate. These factors change the plan, too.
“It’s not just where they see themselves right now, but what they’re planning for the growth of their office in the future. It helps us ensure we’re designing the space accordingly,” Haight says.
Haight thinks a realistic budget is also critical. Otherwise, the project falls through once reality hits.
“It’s always going to cost way more than they think it’s going to cost,” Haight says. “But if they meet with a financial expert at the beginning, it helps them to have the proper expectations to plan for it.”
All the Wrong Moves
So if those are the right moves, what are the wrong ones when designing and moving to a new dental practice? There are a few.
Jordan offers clinicians the following 7 common mistakes to avoid when designing a practice:
“To avoid these mistakes,” Jordan says, “it’s crucial to consult with experts, conduct thorough research, and have a well-defined business plan before designing and launching a new dental practice. Proper planning and execution can lead to a successful and profitable venture.”
Another challenge is timing the move, Kensinger says. For example, dentists should know the renewal terms of the current lease. It’s usually 3 months, but sometimes 6. Missing this detail can lead to periods where the dentist can’t see patients.
“The last thing you want is to say, ‘Oh, we’ll be shut down for 3 months,’” Kensinger says. “Where’s everyone going to go during those 3 months? Are they going to wait for the new practice to open? So you want to ensure you time it where there is very little time between when you occupy the space and when it’s ready so that you are not missing out on revenue coming into the practice.”
Kensinger also recommends avoiding the seduction of the brand-new retail center with all the major retailers. The new location has to make sense for the practice and the dentist’s growth plan in the long term. The better move might be a lateral one to a less shiny (and less expensive) retail center. In addition, moving to an area with 10 dentists serving it already might not be as wise as going to another part of town with only 5.
“I always run a demographic study of the surrounding dentists to ensure that the new location isn’t oversaturated. These are some things that the commercial real estate broker can help you with,” Kensinger says.
Practice stakeholders should hire the vendor, rather than the moving company, to move the equipment. The vendor knows how to move it without breaking it and how to install it. Also, get the high-ticket items insured.
“The last thing you want to do is pay out of pocket because it was broken and you didn’t have insurance on it, and you signed waivers that the movers are not responsible,” Kensinger says.
Kensinger also thinks having a general contractor who has dental experience is essential. While they often cost more, the knowledge and expertise they have navigating the requirements of a dental practice makes the higher bid worth it. From plumbing to Americans with Disabilities Act requirements to creating a proper flow, there are a lot of little things that can cause big headaches.
“There’s always going to be something that goes wrong,” Kensinger says. “But the more you can plan ahead of time, the more time and money you will save in the long term.”
Notifying patients ahead of time is critical, too, Kensinger says. Have a display in the waiting room and on the website. Also, update Google Ads, professional associations, and online directories with the new address.
“You don’t want to miss a new patient because you had an old address listed,” Kensinger says.
Dentists should also avoid moving everything. Moving time can be a great time to update and refresh. Auerbach says physical relocation is generally easy, but being penny-wise certainly can lead to being pound-foolish.
“It may be financially attractive to reuse those cabinets or older chairs, but they may not properly support you in the new build or location. Put yourself in your patient’s shoes and even have a third party advise you on, at least, the aesthetics. Our integrated design studio at Henry Schein, for example, would advise on the proper flow and look of a practice, and there may also be additional functionality in newer furnishings,” Auerbach says.
When picking a location, understanding the demographics of the area’s potential patients and future growth is vital, Auerbach continues.
“Just because there’s a beautiful space in the middle of the downtown…can your commuters easily park and access your office, not to mention your staff?” he says. “On another note, be careful not to overbuild. Do you need more than 3000 square feet to accommodate 8 to 10 operatories? If it’s a multi-tenant building, do you really want to be a landlord? And don’t take this question lightly.”
Haight agrees that not using a contractor familiar with dental office design and construction is a common problem. It leads to more change orders during construction because dental is so specific.
Benco’s practice design team has designers who work alongside the equipment specialists and partner with the doctors to design their floor plans and help them choose their finishes. They can provide everything a doctor needs—even a referral to a contractor with dental experience.
“Our equipment specialists do typically have a list of contractors they recommend for the area where the doctor is familiar with dental. It makes the whole process much smoother because you do not have to overexplain things. They know what they are getting into with the plumbing, electrical, and the mechanical equipment. If there’s med gas, they understand what to do.”
Sometimes, dentists don’t have realistic time lines for the project either. Haight says many times the projects take longer than one might think.
“If they tell you 6 months, it’s probably 8 months. Always add more time because finishes take longer. Lead times on materials are taking longer and some dental equipment is taking longer,” Haight says. “So having that realistic time frame helps a lot.”