Donna Galante | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Donna Galante

Background:  

Cater Galante Orthodontics offers a range of orthodontic treatments for families throughout the Sacramento region. Dr. Donna Galante has also authored seven books on business management, dental health and other professional practice development topics.

The Mistake:

A big mistake of ours was back in 2008, when my husband and I – and a lot of other people – didn’t think that the economic downturn was going to actually be such a huge crash. If I had it to do all over again, I would pay more attention to the basics of running a business – namely, that what you’re doing now to grow your company isn’t going to work forever.

We own several offices in the Sacramento region, and at first we focused on growth, growth, growth. It went so well, we actually became a little bit lackadaisical when it came to managing the business.

As an orthodontic specialist, you rely on other dentists – general practitioners, pediatric dentists and others – to refer patients to you for orthodontic treatment. Back then, from roughly 2007 to 2009, about 75 percent of our practice was referral-based from other professionals. We didn’t try to acquire much business from anywhere else.

Then the crash hit. It was a huge blow for us, because that crash affected everybody, including the dentists who sent people our way. Within a year – and it felt like it happened overnight – we lost our top five referring offices for various reasons.   

If we had been a little more business savvy, we would have realized that the need to change is a reality. You can’t get fat and lazy, no matter how well you think you are doing, or how it seems like [the good times are] never going to end. They can, and it can happen overnight. I think that was our big, big lesson.

You can’t get fat and lazy, no matter how well you think you are doing.

The Lesson:

Now, even though things are going a lot better, we are extremely aware of the need to constantly change and innovate.

In general, people in professional industries are still operating on what has worked in the past. That was our mindset. And quite honestly, it was also the mindset for a lot of the consultants we were working with, people who were trying to help us get out of the slump we were in after that crash occurred. There weren’t a lot of new ideas; it was all the same old stuff. That is not going to get you into the future anymore.

Now, orthodontists, including myself, are savvier and deal directly to the consumer. Today, only about 20 percent of our practice comes from other dental referrals. About 60 percent is patient referred, which is awesome. The rest comes from social media and Internet-type activities: We had a website redesign. We had a pretty good person help us with an ad campaign. We do a few PR efforts with outside media. We’re now getting way more business than we get from any sort of general dentist referrals.

In a way, what we’re doing is not new; it’s new to orthodontic specialists. The general dental community has always emphasized direct-to-consumer marketing. Everybody needs dentists, and a large number need the services of an orthodontist. But the reality is, although 80 percent of the general population could benefit from some sort of orthodontic treatment, only 1 percent actually gets it done. People bring in their kids to dentists to have routine work done, such as cleanings and fillings, but they aren’t going to pay extra for an “option” like braces – especially in a down economy.

So, we decided that we needed to find a different market group. We found a product, Invisalign – nearly invisible braces – that no one in this area was offering. We became the Invisalign experts, and we marketed ourselves as such. We became known as the product’s main provider in the Sacramento region.

We initially focused on higher-income adult patients who weren’t feeling the recession as badly. That resurrected our practice in about 18 to 24 months. And then we were able to start offering Invisaligns to teenagers. There are other orthodontists carrying the product now, but we’re still at the top of the heap, because we established our reputation here first.

Now, for the adult marketplace, we’re offering an accelerated Invisalign process, where they can finish treatment in up to half the time. As an adult, that’s what they want. We’re trying again to set ourselves apart by providing something that’s unique. That is what will keep your business going, even if there’s another huge economic crash.

 

Follow Dr. Donna Galante on Twitter at @DrGalante.

Pictured is Dr. Donna Galante. | Photo courtesy of Cater Galante Orthodontics

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