Lisa Riley: the face of dentistry’s retail revolution

Centre For Dentistry [] is leading the charge in supermarket dentistry with 25 clinics in Sainsbury’s stores and more on the way. That makes its CEO Lisa Riley the biggest mover and shaker in the business right now, and we asked her about her mission to revolutionise the industry from the consumer up.

Lisa Riley, CEO, Centre For Dentistry

Lisa Riley, CEO, Centre For Dentistry

You’ve led marketing for Diageo, BHS and Somerfield. Why did you move into dentistry?

I’d been doing some work with Sainsbury’s and in trials they found customers liked accessing dental services in-store. What struck me about the industry is it had the opportunity to reinvent itself and it seemed my consumer led background could help.

Describe Centre For Dentistry

It’s dental practices in a supermarket environment. Its philosophy is the removal of barriers, both physical and emotional. Our location allows our patients to come into the practice in the evening and weekends. It’s brightly lit and not intimidating. From an emotional point of view you’re going to the supermarket, you’re not going to the dentist. You’re one minute looking at baked beans and cauliflower and the next talking to a dentist, so your brain hasn’t had chance to catch up.

What’s the brand?

Access, convenience, affordability. Clarity of pricing.

Are you reaching patients other dentists miss?

Over 55 per cent of our customer base are lapsed and the majority of that group haven’t seen a dentist for two years. These are people that have completely dropped out and don’t want to engage. The typical process is they come to the supermarket week after week and notice us. Eventually they’ll step into the clinic for a chat and it’s not very difficult to make them quite wowed with the experience you offer them, which is a bright new clinic with really friendly staff. What’s great about this group is they become fabulous advocates.

What kind of dentists work with you?

Dentistry is a tough job and you have to put yourself out there all the time. It’s about selling yourself and selling trust. When we interview we’re looking for that x factor combination of kindness, empathy and understanding. Clinical excellence goes without saying.

How are the responsibilities divided?

I don’t want clinicians to worry about things like systems or having to order products or compliance or accounting. Our job is to take those worries away from them, but that doesn’t mean they can’t get involved where they want to.

What’s your typical patient profile?

We built our own IT system, Centre For Information, and it’s taken us 12 months to implement. Now I can look at performance across all 25 practices in real time and see my patient base. The average age is late-40s – typical for Sainsbury’s customers.

What’s the footfall?

We operate in superstores that do roughly 40,000 transactions a week, feeding a population that would fill Twickenham.

How big are your clinics?

Anywhere from 700sqft to 2,000sqft depending on the space available, and in all of them we have at least two surgeries.

What’s your best day of the week?

It’s not so much what day, it’s what time – evenings and weekends.

What are your opening hours?

8am to 8pm Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm Saturday and 11am to 3pm on Sunday.

What’s your biggest obstacle?

Two things – perceptions of private dentistry and fear. People’s perception of private dentistry is it’s going to be hideously expensive and it’s not for me. The vast majority of people walk into our practices and say: “Is this an NHS practice?” I think in this country we do an enormous disservice to patients because often they come in as NHS patients and then leave as private patients, without really knowing what’s happened in the middle. It does the industry a tremendous disservice. Some practices are using the NHS as a marketing tool and then bouncing patients into private fees – it’s cynical patient management in my view and will kick people very firmly in the wrong place if it’s allowed to continue.

Should dentists be worried if a CFD clinic opens in their local Sainsbury’s?

I would never steal a patient, but if you send them my way I will do my best to hold on to them. Sometimes it’s a bit like having a Lamborghini and leaving it on the street with the engine running and the keys in because you couldn’t be bothered to put it in the garage overnight…

How does CFD use human marketing?

Our website is designed for people looking for emergency dentistry so it’s very simple and functional. We really want to get people to talk to us in the store – that’s our priority. People are bombarded in a retail environment, so we reach out and say, “Did you know there’s a dental practice in this store? You know where we are if you ever need us.” It sits in the back of their minds, and so when they need us, that’s when they’ll come to us.

Is the high street dead?

I don’t think so. I think with the right locations and shop fronts there’s no reason why dentistry can’t work on the right high street. It’s about making the service exciting enough for people to find you, and visibility and brand recognition is key to that. If you talk to people about optical brands and health brands they’ll quote you many. Ask them to name a dental brand and they can’t. I’m very keen that we try and achieve that.

Where will CFD be in five years?

We will have strong brand recognition, more practices in Sainsbury’s, some on the high street, and more services such as a comprehensive dermatology offer.

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