What does the modern satellite office look like? A sleek, bright, minimalistic retail space reminiscent of an Apple store and sandwiched between a Lululemon and a hot new restaurant? A location where the only furnishings are a kiosk with a touchscreen display, an intraoral scanner, and a couple of chairs, and the only employee is a customer service, not an orthodontic, expert? A space that keeps retail hours, including weekends, and in which no orthodontic treatment is performed?
If ExactSmiles gains a foothold, then this is exactly what it will look like.
ExactSmiles is the brainchild of Lexington, Ky-based orthodontist Greg White, DDS. It offers a turnkey partnership opportunity for established orthodontic practices that want to capture prospective patients as they go about their shopping and dining. And while you might be thinking this is a storefront for one of the direct-to-consumer clear aligner companies, you would be wrong. Instead, it’s the new front door into your practice, and White’s attempt to keep the independent orthodontic practice alive.
Over the last 27 years, White has built a successful 19-office practice, White Greer & Maggard Orthodontics. But even with years of success and practice growth, he found himself wondering whether success was sustainable given the increased presence of DSOs and direct-to-consumer aligner companies and their impact on the number of new patients walking through the doors. He also worried he wasn’t well positioned to meet the consumer demand for aligners. He concluded that he needed to do two things to get in front of these trends: Get directly in front of the consumer so that he wasn’t relying wholly on referrals and be on the leading edge of clear aligner treatment. To do this, he would need to create a new kind of satellite location.
First, it would need to be where potential patients shop, eat, and live, and then it would require a commitment to creating a patient experience that meets the expectations of the modern consumer.
“If you look at retail, it is being completely redefined. Chore shopping is moving away from the retail setting. Nobody wants to get into their car and drive to buy detergent. They’re getting that through Amazon Prime. But the thing people still want to do is shop, making it a social event—retail therapy—where they can still touch and see things. That has been the reason for the rise of companies like Lululemon, Whole Foods, Anthropologie, and Warby Parker.
“I thought, we need to create a similar experience and we need to be in the exact same places those folks are in,” says White, who has also opened 17 restaurants in multiple states over the course of his career. White Greer & Maggard’s first retail location was co-located with exactly those stores in a local mixed-use development—the combination commercial-residential developments springing up around the country.
As for the “patient” experience: It’s about the consumer, not the patient. “I quit thinking of people as patients. They’re consumers now because they’re choosing between a better smile and a flat screen TV,” he says.
Consumers enter a space with an Apple store vibe, and while an employee—or Smile Specialist, in ExactSmiles parlance—is there to welcome customers, it’s the 48-inch touchscreen interactive display that does the initial work. Much like the consumer experience in an Apple store, the consumers are left to navigate the display themselves, the Smile Specialist only asking if they need help manipulating the touchscreen and offering to answer any questions. The display walks the consumers through what they can expect if they undertake clear aligner treatment.
Once a consumer expresses interest, the Smile Specialist works with them to determine if they are a good candidate for clear aligner treatment. Photos are taken and sent via an app with a push notification to one of the practice’s orthodontists who is on call to make the evaluation. Meanwhile, the patient watches a 3-minute video that describes what life is like with and after clear aligner treatment. The orthodontist responds back immediately to the Smile Specialist. A sample response: “A great case. IPR attachment and Class II elastics right side. 14 months.” The Smile Specialist informs the consumer and offers to show them a simulation using the intraoral scanner of what their smile may look like after treatment. If the consumer asks about cost, different payment options are discussed. Consumers are then given a list of locations to determine which White Greer & Maggard Orthodontics office is most convenient and an appointment scheduled 4 to 5 weeks out, at which point they will meet their orthodontist, receive a full clinical exam, and have x-rays taken. According to White, if there are no intervening factors, the first 12 sets of aligners are given at that appointment. The next appointment is scheduled for 12 weeks later at the same office.
According to White, 55% of the patients coming from the practice’s two ExactSmiles locations are 35 years or younger; the remaining 45% are 36 and older; and they are predominately female: 72%. In the first 100 days after opening his ExactSmiles locations in the fourth quarter of 2017, White Greer & Maggard saw a 500% increase in its number of aligner cases and a 400% increase in revenue over the same 100 days in the previous year.
With that success, White has decided to offer partnerships with orthodontists nationwide, giving them access to a turnkey package that provides a new front door for their practice.
For those orthodontists who wonder why they would need to partner to create a retail expression and why they couldn’t just employ this concept themselves, White responds, “I don’t know. Why haven’t you?”
First and foremost, the partnership includes help finding the right location. ExactSmiles has already worked with a number of national real estate firms to identify more than 100 mixed-use development locations across the country that would serve an ExactSmiles well. The location—which is also branded with the local orthodontic practice name; after all, the practice is still independent—becomes a protected retail territory, meaning another practice can’t open an ExactSmiles location within a certain radius. The partnership includes the build-out of the location and access to pre-negotiated pricing with vendors, as well as continuing support from the company which has a 40-person staff devoted to growing ExactSmiles and their partnership model, PepperPointe Partnerships. ExactSmiles locations are standardized in their processes and procedures, working from an 80-page operations manual that has everything from scripting to chair recommendations, marketing materials, and staff training. And in contrast to the Invisalign® stores springing up across the country, ExactSmiles locations can use their preferred clear aligner brand.
White’s goal is to see ExactSmiles become a national brand that can compete with the name recognition direct-to-consumer aligner companies have acquired, while offering consumers what they can’t get with those companies: the personalized clinical care that comes with an independent orthodontic practice. OP