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Adam Smith got his start in the dental industry working for a company called Dental Intel. He was their first data analyst and worked with hundreds of dentists in his time there. He loved analyzing and problem solving with the dentists he was able to interact with. He bought into Oxford Dental Care and parted ways with Dental Intel, although Oxford Dental Care still uses them.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Rob Ritter, who is one of the owners of Ritter & Ramsey General and Cosmetic Dentistry in Jupiter, Florida, to find out how he was able to grow his office into a thriving multimillion-dollar practice. Hopefully, reading about his experience can give you some insight into growing your own practice.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey in dentistry.
I graduated from the Medical University of South Carolina College of Dental Medicine in 1994. Upon graduation, I moved back to Palm Beach County in Florida. I was an associate for two years before purchasing my practice. I was the owner and I had two different associates. Seven years later, I, along with one of the associates who became my business partner, purchased a building and built a brand-new office. We moved from a busy street to an area that was underdeveloped at the time but has since exploded with growth and development. We have been in this location now for 14 years.
I began lecturing 18 years ago. As a young dentist, I spent countless hours acquiring CE credits, then took that information and started presenting it across the country in strategies that were easy to understand and implement. It taught me more about myself and my ability to learn and implement new ideas and techniques into my own practice.
What changes have you seen in dentistry and dental practice ownership in the time that you have been practicing?
The biggest change must be technologies that have simplified the entire process of providing high-quality dentistry, from digital X-rays to intraoral cameras to chairside digital scanners. And then there’s monolithic zirconia crowns, all-in-one adhesives, and practice software like Dental Intel and Legwork that we use in our office. There have been so many advancements in technology! All of these technologies allow our office and other offices the ability to communicate quickly, efficiently and thoroughly so that the patient begins to understand and process what we can provide and facilitate in order to solve his or her problem or concern.
As large DSOs and managed care have begun to take hold, it's more important than ever to provide a high level of patient-focused, customer service-driven dentistry to distinguish one’s private practice from the other business models.
Make no mistake, these are business models that were not around years ago. Adapting to the changing economy is vital!
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Describe one marketing strategy that you have used in the past that simply did not work. Can you provide details of how long you tried it for, how much it cost, which companies you used and how many patients you got from it?
In our market, almost anything will work if you are willing to devote the time and resources to it. Television ads will work with massive time and expense, but most practices cannot afford this modality. For a period of time before the real dawn of internet marketing and reviews-based referrals, we did newspaper inserts in the Sunday newspaper section with the other flyers of retail outlets. Initially, this was a great way to target specific areas, neighborhoods and communities. Lots of people saw our quality designed marketing pieces. It attracted many patients looking for a new dental home or a specific type of treatment. It was cost-effective and easy to reuse. With time, the message got stale and most importantly, local dentists began completely copying the same idea. At one point, eight to 10 different practices were placing inserts into the newspaper. For obvious reasons, we stopped.
What was the lesson that you learned from this marketing attempt as far as the changing landscape goes?
I learned that what works at one point in time will not always work at another. Marketing strategies can be different year to year depending on how the world is changing. Be aware that it typically takes months for the message to be heard. I tell dentists around the country that even with the right efforts in the right places, it can take several months to see dividends. What this means is be patient! Patience is difficult in a society that is accustomed to instantaneous results. Unfortunately, most don't have the ability to wait. Patience is necessary for this to work. It also means that after six months if you're not seeing results, it might be time to refocus on another strategy.
What has been your most successful marketing strategy?
Without question, the most successful way of attracting patients (at least for the last several years) has been the internet, and more specifically online reviews. Focusing on Google Reviews, and to a lesser extent Yelp, Healthgrades and Facebook reviews, has had tremendous benefits for our practice. Having a deep understanding of the way the review process happens, how to put your practice on the internet for others to see, and most importantly have the voice of your existing customers tell others about your office, services and customer relationships has been a remarkable tool for generating leads for the last five to seven years. With time, the review strategy has helped us acquire an average of 65 to 80 new patients a month without a huge marketing budget.
Running targeted Facebook ads at specific times to specific demographics has also helped attract the type of patients we want in our practice.
What advice would you give a dentist, as far as marketing goes, who is just starting out in dental practice ownership?
My advice would be to focus on the type of dentistry you want to practice. Take enough CE courses to become adept at that level of dentistry, then fabricate a marketing strategy designed to attract those types of patients to your office. Remember that not everyone is a good patient for your practice.
I would leverage technology to do a ton of the heavy lifting for you - outsourcing, utilizing online companies to develop marketing campaigns, icon design, social media awareness, SEO, SEM, etc. A truly adept company to help with on-page and off-page internet searches will be critical.