You’ll go through looking at many properties / spaces before deciding on your dream location. Eventually you’ll narrow down your list to only two or three properties and then do a side-by-side comparison.
Before considering the dentist to population ratio and the demographics, here’s a checklist of 7 factors to consider when looking at any property for the very first time:
1) Space availability:
Does the square footage of available rent-able space fit your vision?
Why is this important? It took me good six months of looking online and driving around different available spaces to finally find what I was looking for.
There were some spaces that I right away fell in love with on initial visit, but after sitting down I would come to my senses and be glad that I didn’t make an impulsive decision based solely on excitement.
There was one space 500 sq ft smaller than what I was looking for, but it was neighboring a large grocery chain anchor tenant in a beautiful plaza. Out of excitement, I thought “it’s ok, it’s only small by that much space, I can have a smaller waiting area, or maybe one less op”.
Considering the average lease term of fifteen years, one less operatory is a BIG DEAL. The last thing you want is turning patients away because you’re hitting capacity and not being able to sustain the growth of office because you have one less chair.
This is why it’s important to have an idea of what you’re looking for – the bigger picture – the vision – the practice that will shape your lifestyle. Don’t act on impulse – take your time when looking for space.
Read my previous post Where Should I Start The Process Of Opening My Dental Practice to get things started.
So how do you find spaces available where you can build your office?
1) One place to start is Loopnet.com. It’s the go-to website if you’re looking for commercial property available for sale or lease.
This is how I started looking for space available for rent. You can search by zipcode, county, city & state, etc.
2) You can also contact a real estate broker from the start. I did not do this. I looked at the property listings first and I contacted the listed agents from there.
Is the property / space you’re looking at in a commercial plaza? a stand-alone building? or is it tucked away in a professional building? Is is visible to cars / people passing by?
This is an important factor, especially for general practitioners who don’t depend on a referral source for patients. As many eyeballs you can get on the location from the on-going traffic, the easier it is to stay in potential patients’ minds.
You have to think with most dentists doing some form of marketing, how do you STAND OUT? One way is to make it easy for patients to find you.
If the space is located off of a major commuter street that connects local towns, the people are driving by there on a DAILY basis for their commute to/from work. It may take a couple of times for people seeing the office sign before they decide to come in.
But when they have a dental emergency and they don’t already have a dentist, they’ll probably think of the sign they see EVERYDAY on their commute.
When considering signage for your office location, if you’re going to be leasing, you have to consider what kind of signage is ALLOWED?
So before thinking about your dream signage for your office, do the following:
- Ask the landlord on signage restrictions.
Landlords may also be bound by the local zoning laws. Depending on the area, some zoning laws force the look (color) and style (casing – like an exterior light box) of the signage to be identical for all businesses in a plaza.On the other hand, some plazas have retail businesses that have signage/logo as they wish with no restrictions in terms of color. I’m in a very small plaza in a large standalone building, where my signage had to be in an exterior light box. Here’s a photo of what it looks like now:
- Ask the local building department regarding specific restrictions on signage for the space you’re considering. For my present office, when I first saw the space, I found out from the local building department that I could only use two other colors besides black and white in my sign. It wasn’t a deal breaker for me, but make sure it’s not a completely deal breaker for you.
I will cover office signage (Indoor, Outdoor, Window) in the future posts when I start discussing construction. But for now, it is important for you to find out all limitations and restrictions in regards to the signage by both the landlord and the local building department.
You must check with the local building department that current zoning ordinances allow the space to be operated as a dental office.
If the space was previously used as a dental office, you should still check if you can continue to operate as a dental office because the zoning laws change constantly.
If the zoning ordinances do not allow the space to be operated as a dental office, you may have to file for a zoning variance. There is usually a filing fee that varies greatly depending on the area.
Before the construction of my office, the entire building was renovated from the ground up. The space where my office is now used to be a tool chest for thirty years. I had to file for zoning variance where I paid a fee of $30 to the local building department, and the zoning permit was approved within just two weeks.
The approval time may vary depending on the area, so check with the local planning board or your building department right away after you’ve looked at a space for the very first time.
Adequate parking space for your location should be considered when looking at locations for your office. Where are your patients going to park? What about your employees? Should you let go of a potential space just because of parking?
Think about how many times you’ve given up where there was no parking to be found near a business you wanted to visit. You will need parking space for your employees and your patients.
Think a little into the future when you have all your operatories going and there are four to five patients sitting in the operatories, maybe another three to four in the waiting area, and let’s say there are three assistants, two front desks, and one hygienist, and don’t forget about your self – that’s 15 parking spots! Do you have enough parking for everyone?
You may not have the exact number of spots you want, but if you have co-tenants, most likely you’ll be sharing parking with them. If you’re in a big commercial plaza, all parking is shared and there’s usually enough spots – however, you may still want to check the traffic patterns within the plaza during normal business hours.
If you’re in a mixed-use (residential & retail) neighborhoods, you should find out if the parking lot is used by local residents without permission. Why is this important? Because if the parking is used by the local residents, you may generate some ill-will with the neighbors trying to enforce the parking laws, and you could possibly lose some potential patients.
You should also consider any public parking areas in surrounding spaces near your location. You may even think about striking deals with other local businesses in the area to share their parking at a reasonable cost.
If there are concerns about unauthorized parking, as part of your purchase or lease agreement, you should have the landlord or the seller state in writing who if anyone, is allowed to park in the lot for other than business purposes. You should also have in writing how many spots are designated for you, if any. I will go into enforcing parking within your lease agreement in future posts.
Are your co-tenants compatible with your business? Who are your next door neighbors? As important as your office look and appearance are, the kind and appearance of your neighborhood or next door businesses are just as important.
How do you want your patients to perceive you as they approach your office from the outside?
You should also consider the type of population your neighborhood businesses attract as customers. For example, if your office is next to a tattoo parlor, that may not fit well with the moms coming to your office with their kids.
On the other hand, if you’re located next to a Kumon Tutoring place, for example, you’re likely to get more eyeballs by your OWN target audience – Mothers (most of the time) who bring their children for tutoring. This way, your co-tenants’ customers fit your target patient pool and it’s a win-win.
7) Other factors:
If your space is in a large commercial plaza or a shopping center, an already existing dental office may have an exclusivity clause in the lease agreement with the landlord preventing another dental office coming into the plaza.
So you should make sure to look into whether exclusivity applies or not by contacting the landlord right away so you don’t waste time doing additional research.
Good family town: Don’t ignore the area just because it’s not growing because your research showed there’s no new housing development or new shopping center being built in the area.
An area with a large population that is already established with presence of good schools and shopping center plazas – will always have new younger families moving into the area to replace retiring families moving away.
Families starting out tend to move into areas with good schools, and young families are a target patient pool for ANY growing dental office.
If you’re looking at an established area, chances are there are plenty of dentists within a 5 mile radius. But you must differentiate yourself some how.
Figure out your USP (unique selling proposition) and let your potential patients know about it through marketing, and you’ll build a good patient base. (This is the phase I’m in now in my startup)
What you should do next: If you’ve looked at 10+ spaces, narrow down your list to two locations you really like. Then do a side by side comparison considering the factors I listed above and the Dentist:population ratio, which I will discuss in my next post. So continue reading!
Let me know how your search is going!
Feel free to comment below if you have questions during your search process.
Don’t hesitate to leave details of any property/space in question.
Best of luck and continue to tune in!