Metaphorically speaking, we orthodontists traditionally sell half gallons of vanilla ice cream. Customers visiting the average office can have any kind of ice cream they want as long as it’s a half gallon of vanilla. We don’t really care if the customer doesn’t want a half gallon, we don’t care if they can’t afford a half gallon, we don’t care if they don’t have time to consume a half gallon – we sell half gallons because that’s what we have always done and because to do otherwise is not “quality”. Because of this we look at the world in terms of price per patient and profit per patient. We believe that the price we charge for our product is indicative of our value and thus our quality. We believe that those who charge less are inferior and almost none of us would ever consider a really low price – a price that the majority of Americans can afford – because “you can’t sell quality, half gallons of ice cream and be profitable at such a low price.”
But here’s the thing. The majority of consumers just want a pint of ice cream. They just NEED a pint of ice cream. They will never step foot in a business that refuses to sell anything but a half gallon of cream for an average of 5500 dollars because 1) they don’t want a half gallon and 2) they can’t afford the time or money it takes to purchase and consume a half gallon. So what’s the solution that is good for consumers and good for business?
If you sell ¼ of the product for 55% of the price, did you raise or lower you fee?
To take this further, you could sell two pints for 3000 dollars and STILL come out ahead from a business point of view because you’ve effectively RAISED your fee while giving customers what they want and what they can afford.
I know, I know, you don’t care… you’re going to continue doing things the right way – the way you’ve always done it. Hey, that’s your prerogative and if you’re getting the results you want then, by all means, continue! But for those of you who wish you had more new patients, you might want to consider looking at your business from a price per unit time/effort and a profit per unit time/effort perspective instead of taking the traditional profit/price per patient point of view. If you do then you have a chance to attract the average orthodontic consumer instead of continuing to treat the traditional orthodontic patient (the people who traditionally show up in the orthodontic office). If you can take this point of view and offer a desirable, affordable product to the majority of Americans then your success is assured.
“But how do I reduce the amount of time/effort I expend on each case I treat?” I can hear you asking. Great question. The answer is simple but not necessarily easy to implement. Traditionally our fees are so high that we have to treat every single case that comes in the door, no matter how difficult, and be glad to have it. We refuse to offer an appropriately low fee for the easy cases (and thus we never see the majority of the general public who have easy cases) but we also refuse to charge an appropriately high fee for the really hard cases! Why? Because we have always done it that way! However if we offer a substantially lower fee we will attract far more patients and thus we can be selective about what cases we treat for the low fee (for example one could only take cases that one can treat in a year or less but this is not the only way to control how you dispense treatment). Can you imagine a practice where you get to be selective about who you treat? I hear you guys complaining all the time about GPs “only sending you hard cases” and I know you send tough/crainiofacial cases to your state Children’s Hospital so keep that in mind before allowing your knee jerk “you can’t do that” reaction overcome you… Can you imagine being a referral source for other orthodontists in your town? I wonder if they will bring you Christmas baskets?
I’m not expecting many to agree with me or even consider this kind of model. I’m experienced enough to know better! But I’m implementing exactly this model in my new office in Orlando and I’ll keep posting what I find. I’ve been wrong before and perhaps I’m wrong again but time will tell. I still think we, as a profession, don’t comprehend how precarious our position is given that the economy is booming but most orthodontic practices still don’t have enough new patients!