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Marketing for an urgent care center shouldn’t wait until the center opens. About 30 days prior to a center’s opening, assuming insurance contracts are in place and providers are credentialed, a center should start to create “buzz” through “coming soon” signage; media activity with local newspapers, radio and television; and by direct mail to existing and prospective new patients. That way, by the time the center opens, consumer awareness will be taking hold, accelerating the ramp-up to break-even volumes.
Happy Independence Day! This is Alan Ayers and I am just checking in with you again from Jerome Township, Ohio across from newest Costco. So in the last segment we talked about the ideal time to open your Urgent Care Center, which should be the late summer months – July, August, or September. It’s very similarly to retail, so in this segment I want to talk to you about pre-open marketing. So if you’re going to open an Urgent Care Center on August 11th, how do you create hype around your grand opening?
Well, if you look at what Costco has done in this instance it is very interesting to me. Costco has multiple stores in the Columbus, Ohio area. Previously, the closest one to this location is about 10 or 15 miles away. So Costco opening a new store on the North West side of town is really quite a big deal and prior to this store opening, they have engaged in a lot of preopen-marketing. They sent direct mail to the communities saying, “Hey, you may like Costco up here but we’re coming soon to your neighborhood. We’re going to be more convenient.” Or maybe, “you didn’t shop at Costco because it wasn’t convenient and so we’re coming to your neighborhood.” So while everyone in the area has probably heard of Costco, they may not necessarily be aware that Costco is opening in their specific community.
So to raise awareness, Costco has sent out direct mail but more interesting to me is probably a concept that doesn’t directly translate to Urgent Care, but we should consider the spirit of what they’ve done. Every major intersection within probably a 15 minute radius of this location, they have set up a tent and started selling memberships and they had people with signs saying, “Hey, Costco is coming soon!” To generate word-of-mouth, to sell memberships, to raise awareness their location is coming soon. So what can we learn from Urgent Care?
Well, Urgent Care is a retail business, it’s a service business. We can look a lot at very successful retailers. Costco has $114 billion a year in sales. They are very successful in what they do. So pre-opening for Urgent Care generally you want to start about 30 days in advance. Now, the number one contingency with Urgent Care is you need to have your insurance contracts in place. So if you’re going to open and your insurance contracts aren’t quite yet in place, you don’t want to market to people who are going to come into your center only to be turned away. But assuming you do have those insurance contracts in place and your providers are all credentialed and you’re ready to treat patients, generally, about 30 days out you want to start marketing. You don’t want to start it too early because you don’t want to give a head up to all your competitors that you’re coming soon and you also don’t want to give consumers information that “Yeah, the Urgent Care is opening 2 months from now but what do I do with that information.”
So 30 days is about the right time… Here are a number of things/ tactics to follow along. On your physical location, you want to put a sign that says “Coming soon, such-and-such Urgent Care.” That sign can later be changed to “such-and-such Urgent Care grand opening.” But just have a sign so when people drive by they think, “Oh! That used to be a restaurant that used to be a bookstore that used to be a video store.” Well, now it’s going to be an Urgent Care – that generates word-of-mouth and that raises awareness among consumers. There is one restaurant chain PDQ. They recently opened a number of locations in the Dallas/ Fortworth area. They actually about 45 – 60 days in advance put a sign up saying, “Guess what’s coming soon.” They made it a game so when soccer mom and her son or daughter drives by that can be the guessing game. And then when the sign finally changes from “Guess what’s coming soon” to PDQ then its “Oh! It’s a restaurant. We should try that place.” So I thought that was kind of a clever way to use preopening signage by kind of making a game around that your center is opening. But regardless, the point is you need to have some kind of preopening signage.
Something else you should do is work through the press, particularly if there is not currently Urgent Care in your community. Whether you are an exurbs or rural area go to the press and say this is what we are doing. It’s new, it’s different, it’s convenient – get press coverage. Local radio, television, schedule interviews with your medical director. Use the media to announce something new in the community. People love new businesses in the community. It provides options, it provides choice, it creates employment – so take advantage of media going into your preopening just to create buzz and create awareness of your center. Have your website up and then also consider some kind of direct mail particularly if you are a multi-site operator. So Costco in opening this new store, Costco has stores around the Columbus area. Well, they sent mailings to their members saying, “Hey, you may have been driving 10 or 15 miles to go to Costco on the North side but now that Costco is on the North West side you can use this location.” Well, the same with Urgent Care. You have a location, go through your patient records and look for patients living in specific Zip Codes and send them direct mail saying, “Hey, you have been a loyal customer over here. We’re now even more convenient, even more accessible to your home location, please use our location the next time you have an urgent care need.”
So, this is Alan Ayers Just Checking In, giving additional marketing ideas. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact us at Practice Velocity at the email address on your screen.