Last week I spent a day with a client who wants to open a new squat practice in a provincial English town and it set my alarm bells off.
Here’s the deal: after some months of looking he had found 2,000 square feet (186 square metres) of empty retail space (an ex dry cleaners) on a shopping street in a suburb of the town. We went to have a look; the street was reasonably busy for a Thursday afternoon with mums and pushchairs, retired folk and the inevitable stay-all-afternoon-in-a-cafe-and-do-my-emails-on-my-laptop people. There were half full buses going by and cars parked on the street. The shops were mainly convenience stores, cafes and second hand furniture stores. The rent and business rates on the empty dry cleaners seemed high (around £50k a year) and the refurb and fit-out (excluding dental equipment) looked to me like £250k.
So my alarm bells were going off. My real problem was that this was going to be a 15-20 year home for my client’s new practice and I was struggling to imagine that people would still be using this street for these purposes in even 10 years’ time. I imagined driverless cars ferrying their occupants to air conditioned out of town malls where they would be entertained while checking out goods which they would go home and order online or click and collect!
In short, I think my client needed to take notice of where the retailers are moving to and opening. The street we were standing on was at the bottom of the retail cycle and may not live much longer as a shopping street. These days, in most areas, town planners are (usually) dead against using domestic housing stock for dental practices and neither do domestic dwellings lend themselves particularly well to being used as a 21st century dental practice.
So, what are his options? Well, in my view he needs to be looking into:
- Retail units in new/existing shopping malls
- Business units in business parks
- Getting space inside of somebody else’s store or gym or hotel (like this cosmetic dentist in House of Fraser)
- Finding a new medical centre that is being built and take space there
- Finding a plot (in a good location) and new-build
The next time you go to a city that you are familiar with but which you haven’t visited for many years, look at what has happened to the city’s businesses. Bristol is my version of this; when I was a student there, the centre of the city was the true hub and all the best shops were within a 10 minute walk from here. Service businesses like dentists, lawyers, accountants and private medical rooms occupied space in lovely Georgian terraced houses in Clifton and their clients, when visiting, parked on the streets nearby. 30 years later, several new out of town shopping malls (including Cribs Causeway Mall by a junction of the M5) have decimated the city centre, which is now full of student bars. The lawyers and the accountants have moved out of Clifton into business parks because nobody can park in choc-a-bloc Clifton. Only the dentists are left. (Slow learners I’m afraid…)
Whenever our clients survey their patients (properly, not some CQC compliance charade) the reliable winner in terms of ‘What we like most about your practice’ is… “ease of parking”.
You and I know it’s not going to go away, not until we invent teleportation, and so you have to have parking sorted for any practice, established or new. There are workarounds but nothing beats a big car park next to the practice!
In my view the key question my client needs to answer when locating his new practice is where does it need to be so that it will be future proof? Where will folk be happy to travel to in 10 years’ time? Which other business might they want to visit alongside a visit to the dentist? The secret here is not to make it hard for your patients, make it easy and pleasurable to head in the direction of your practice! And watch where other significant business are heading to and hitch a ride with them — the retailers, especially the big chains, know what they are doing!
Let me know if you need some help making the right choice.
m. 07770 430576