In business school, we tend to group different types of business by their customers and their product – B2C, B2B, big box retailers, SAAS, professional services – we have all kinds of names for differentiating businesses. This is effective in the classroom, but out in the business world it tends to gloss over differences and draw artificial distinctions. The only way to really get to know a business is to understand its business model, and you can only do that by talking with the people that work there every day and understanding what they do. After all, dental technology is changing every day!
This classroom vs. reality distinction was brought into sharp focus this week as Marketing Moves was speaking with Family Braces, an orthodontist in Calgary. Family Braces was started by a brother-sister team of orthodontists in Calgary over 2.5 years ago, and they have been servicing the smiles of Canada ever since. We were most interested in a specific function of their business – Invisalign, an invisible braces product designed with adults and others who would be uncomfortable with visible braces in mind.
Just imagine the industry they are operating in – nearly 4 million Americans wear braces today. About 90% of Americans with private dental coverage get their benefits through an employer or another group program. Invisalign partners with local orthodontic offices to offer their product, so we at Marketing Moves wanted to get a better idea of how this works. As a business student, one could imagine a few different scenarios. It could function as a specialized manufacturer that sends representatives out into the field to build relationships with distributors, it could function as a wholesaler, or something else entirely. After speaking with Family Braces, it turns out that none of our initial guesses were correct. The way Invisalign works with orthodontists and dentists blurs the lines between traditional distribution models.
Invisalign pioneered the clear dental aligners market. They own about 90% of the market, and most consumers are familiar with the product, so it is a must-have for any practice that wants to stay competitive. Because of this, Invisalign sales teams tend to be much more focused on offering support and training rather than actually selling the product. It tends to sell itself, so they exist to help out their clients.
In order to become a partner, an orthodontist must show proof of licensure and the ability to practice dentistry or orthodontics and take a 1-2 day course learning about the product and how to use the 3-D imaging software that comes with it. While they partner with both dentists and orthodontists, becoming an orthodontist is an additional 3 year specialization over and above dentistry focused on straightening teeth safely, so orthodontists are their primary market.
A Look at the Market
Invisalign does not assign territories or set prices (something very comforting to those that are worried about being able to afford dental treatment) or restrict the market in any way. If you are a provider and another practice opens up down the road from you, they are able to become a partner as well with Invisalign. While Invisalign does do some national marketing and branding, none of this is specific to any practice. It is more of a partnership, less of a dependent relationship. The company will provide a few models of teeth with the Invisalign appliance for the office and some basic marketing collateral to use when describing it to potential customers, but most of the focus for acquiring business is on the individual dentist or orthodontist. Some customers even try to find medicine online.
When a customer comes in for Invisalign, the orthodontist will take a 3-D Itero scan of the patient’s mouth to understand exactly how and where each tooth needs to move for perfect alignment. This is then taken to a 3-D modelling program described it as AutoCad for orthodontists. All in all, they tend to spend 3-5 hours per case adjusting tooth movements and trying to reach the best possible outcome. The orthodontists’ scans are then sent to the lab for production. Those at Family Braces compared this to an architect designing cabinets for a home. It is not a product that can be mass produced since they have to be measured and custom manufactured on a case by case basis. Invisalign is not something that can be bought off a shelf and orthodontists have to work hard to get customers to keep up their dental health!
Show me the Money
After getting a basic handle on how the business works, Marketing Moves next asked about the money. How does financing work and where does the money go? Family Braces told us that, as a matter of principle, dentists and orthodontists will not take money from other companies when it comes to their clients, because that could compromise their independence and their ability to provide the best treatment possible.
It is standard for a patient to finance their Invisalign. These payment plans can run anywhere from a two to six years. The remarkable thing about them is that they come at 0% interest rates. The orthodontist’s offices are the ones taking the risk, because at the end of the day they want to make it practical for their patients to get Invisalign. Since Invisalign is custom manufactured, it is a significantly more expensive product for the orthodontist to use compared to traditional braces and is often considered a cosmetic upgrade, but orthodontists are willing to do what it takes to make it attainable so patients get the benefit of the attractive financing packages that orthodontists will offer.
There’s not a lot of elaborate marketing or tips and tricks that go into this. The owners of Family Braces learned early on from their father that the best way to do business is by doing outstanding work. The money will come after that. After all, their customers are your community members. This is doubly true for orthodontists and all other types of dentists, since they must always hold their patients’ best interests at heart. Some of them may have been saving up for braces for years and need all the they can get.
It was a pleasure to interview the team at Family Braces and to learn about a unique business model that you won’t hear much about in the news or in the classroom. Their practice is thriving because of the great work that they do, and we at Marketing Moves know that if we ever need Invisalign in Calgary and have any questions about the business of teeth we have someone to turn to!