The Times They Are A Changing – Bob Dylan

Take your self back to 2005,  MG/Rover went bust, Tony Blair won the election for Labour with promise of a Gordon Brown PM, George Best died and the bombings in the heart of London brought terror to our capital.   It was a busy but not a very nice year.

The world of Dentistry in 2005 remained very similar to how it had been since 1995 largely due to ‘comfort’ levels and perhaps laziness, there was no real imperative for change, earnings for Dentists were robust, supply of quality associates was limited – life was good and getting better for the average private GDP.

From the patient’s/customer’s perspective, there had been no real change in the buying experience, in many ways they were lucky to have a ‘good’ approachable dentist.  Of course patient lounges became more comfortable, some got TV’s, treatments and in particular cosmetic interventions were being introduced by ‘go ahead’ dentists, but the vast majority of practices closed for lunch and had little or no investment in marketing communications.  In fairness there was no real financial motivation for the practice owner to change, any change was typically cosmetic as opposed to strategic.

However, the pace of change in the last 8 years has been compelling and the pace of change is increasing as the profession strives to catch up with the rest of UK retailing.  Some of you may very well find the use of the word ‘retail’ in a dental context offensive and in some way demeaning – please don’t.  This little six letter word is the most important word in 21st Century UK dentistry.

We now all know that UK dentistry in 2013 is going through massive change, and the changes are all the more dramatic for the independent private practices, largely because Dentistry in the UK has been isolated and suppressed commercially from the rest of the retail world.  Just take a look at the signage used by the majority of practices and compare it to the signage deployed at your local Vets or Toni & Guy hairdressing salon and you will appreciate my point.  UK private dentistry has taken a sort of hybrid positioning fitting somewhere between being a GP practice and being a local family owned Solicitors practice. The external signage of most dental practices is typically understated in the extreme, making the practice appear to be almost apologising for its very existence.

The catalysts for change are;

  • The oversupply of Clinicians
  • Dental technology
  • Collapse of retail/commercial property values
  • The groups, including the robust re-emergence of BUPA, the new refreshed franchising package from Sainsbury and the Corporates (who at last are starting to understand retailing and beginning to show their teeth and will undoubtedly consolidate, with the big ones getting bigger quicker – think Specsavers in the 1980’s)
  • The macro UK retailing arena is running out of retail opportunity, part fuelled by on-line purchasing – so they need new things to vend – think convenience stores in 2000, which were principally owned by hard working immigrant families working their socks off.  Today it’s dominated by Tesco Express, Sainsbury and  Morrisons this week announced the purchase of 41 ex-Blockbuster stores to be converted to their rapidly expanding convenience chain
  • The web, not just as a lead generator which is colossal, but as a method of informing and empowering purchasers, massively impacting purchasing behaviours and having a predictable impact on retained margins

Inevitably there are winners and losers, the commercially astute independent dentist is largely riding the wave of change and, depending on their catchment, advisors and competitive set are successful in ‘their’ terms.  However, change is relentless and even the brightest Dentists find it difficult to sustain their competitive edge due to financial, time and experience/know-how constraints. It really is challenging and will become more so. The timing of the impact on your practice of the macro changes will clearly be related to your catchment and your competitive set – If you are in a sleepy Cornish small town you are probably not going to be impacted for 10 years or more, if you are in an urban area – watch out.

So what does the UK dental landscape look like in 2020?  What is the end position and how will it impact your practice?  The market place will be shaped by a number of shake outs driven by the many protagonists that are already in place, the major retailing groups, the vertical groups and mini specialist groups.  They have one thing in common, they are already retailers or are rapidly learning how to become retailers both on and off line.

If you would like to talk retailing for dentistry, please give me a call


07860 672727

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