Marketing for start-up dentists is Practice Cafe’s specialty. It’s common for a start-up client to begin working with us before they’ve even settled on an office location. For those in that position, we offer location finding assistance through a selection of demographic reports. We also provide free dental practice naming help! If you’re past that stage, you’ve still come to the right place because we’re serving up ideas for planning, promoting, and pulling off a successful practice open house. We’ll cover the who, what, when, where, why and, most importantly, the how!
The What & Why of Dental Open Houses
A dental practice open house is essentially a marketing event that feels more like a social and community event, but it can be all three with class and success when planned and executed well. Why have one? An open house introduces your business to the community in a personal way, it creates an opportunity for people to interact with you and your team outside of the clinical setting, and it can be downright fun for everyone. Direct mail and a website are effective must-haves for start-up dental marketing, but making a connection with people through an open house can be a more powerful beginning to a practice-patient relationship than any piece of paper or a page on the web.
Who Should Have a Practice Open House?
We think it’s smart for most start-ups to have an open house. If you’re an existing dental practice that has invested in a remodel or a second location, those are also fitting reasons to promote your business through an open house event. Families, especially those with small children, appreciate a chance for their kids to meet a doctor and his or her staff before a clinical appointment. Photos and videos in your marketing help people feel more familiar with your practice before coming in for a scheduled visit, but an in-person open house with a tour takes the cake!
When to Schedule an Open House
When a dental open house should be scheduled is an important question, but it doesn’t have the same answer for every practice. We believe it’s ideal for an open house to happen when it’s likely to be convenient for the community (and therefore better attended), not necessarily exactly when you open for business. For example, if your buildout has you opening during the holidays (between Thanksgiving time and New Year’s), wait until February or March to have your open house. If your office is somewhere cold and you don’t have enough space for a small crowd inside, wait until springtime so you don’t risk freezing people. Alternatively, if you’re in a place that’s blazing hot in the summer, either schedule around it (during a different season) or make accommodations so people don’t melt, including earlier hours, cold bottled water, shade canopies, and perhaps a powerful fan that can be used outside.
If you’re new to the area and don’t have established networking that can produce attendance at an open house, wait a few months until you’ve met some people, made some connections, and have some patients who can spread the word. There’s plenty to worry about when opening a start-up dental practice, so we think that’s enough reason to delay an open house for a couple of months! Anytime within the first 4-6 months of business will keep the event feeling relevant.
Where Matters – Plan for Your Space!
If your dental office is in a large medical building or a downtown high-rise, you won’t have the same flexibility for your open house as a practice in a small shopping center. If your office is in a strip mall and you hope to take over part of the parking lot on a weekend or one evening after hours (and you’re allowed to do that), give neighboring businesses a heads-up. Depending on their services or products, it may be strategic and mutually beneficial to invite them to join forces. Together you could throw a party that would grow all of your businesses!
A dental practice with a standalone office building and its own parking lot will, naturally, have the most flexibility. Just as there isn’t one “right” kind of practice setup, there isn’t one “right” type of open house. Whatever will work best for your office situation in terms of space and parking IS the right kind of party for your practice. Be careful to plan and set expectations according to what is realistic.
How to Make Your Bash Happen?
First things first, make sure your dental office will be finished, decorated, and able to be staged for tours. Don’t invite people to an open house unless your equipment will be installed, your furniture will be in place, and your decor will be up on the walls and displayed around the office. You want to present your shiny new dental practice as ready to serve the community! This includes having friendly staff in place and sufficiently trained.
A convenient time slot for an open house is 2-4 hours on a Saturday in the late morning or in the afternoon. That way, you’re more likely to miss families’ morning sports commitments, and you’re not scheduling into dinnertime, date night, kid bedtime, or other evening entertainment. If your party time includes the lunch hour (noon), expect people to eat more. If you don’t want to offer as much food, consider 1-4pm. Depending on your area, Sunday might be as good of a day. (In many communities, more people go to church on Sunday than other days, which could affect your open house attendance.)
For a weeknight open house, try a shorter window between dinner and bedtime, perhaps 6-7:30 or 8pm. Before a weeknight event, keep your practice schedule clear of appointments in the afternoon so you have time for setup. You could never schedule around every community or school event, but it’s worth checking to make sure the high school doesn’t have a big game, or there’s not a local festival going on. If you’re planning an evening open house, walk around your outside space during the same block of time you’re hoping for to see what lighting needs you might have the day of the party. Along with this, make note of where you may need extension cords.
Your Open House “Brand”
Hopefully by the time you’re planning an open house, your practice brand will be well-established in your mind. Use the brand image you’ve created as a jumping off point for the “brand” of your open house. If your dental practice is supposed to be family-friendly, then your open house better be as well, with food and activities that kids will enjoy. If, on the other hand, you’ve chosen an area and patient demographic of young professionals, then hire a local musician to play while people enjoy light hors d’oeuvres or dessert. You get the picture. As soon as you have a general idea of your open house, run the desired date, time, and basic concept by your landlord, if you’ll need approval for it.
We have clients who’ve gotten more than 100 patients from a well-executed and highly successful open house. If you can get that many patients and you spend from $1,000-$5,000, for 100 patients we’re talking about only $10-$50 acquisition cost per patient. That’s awesome! If you get between 10-50 patients for that budget range, you’re looking at $100 acquisition per patient, which is still totally desirable! How much you want to and can spend will depend on many factors specific to your practice but whatever the amount, carve it out of your start-up budget from the get-go. We’ve done some research to give you an idea of how much things might cost, specifically food and family-oriented activities. We put this information together in a handy budget guide to help get you started with your plans and calculations for your practice open house.
If your event budget allows for catering, that’s likely to be the most worry-free food option, although you’ll pay a premium for the convenience of it. Go through your mental rolodex of contacts to see if you have any family members, friends, or potential partners in the food industry who may be willing to exchange a significant discount on food and services for publicity at your event. Plan to have a large banner displayed at your practice open house with the logos of contributors to the event.
On a tighter budget, or simply if you prefer to splurge on other areas, there are still easy-ish food options for feeding a crowd. For the morning, there are donuts, muffins, bagels, croissants, granola bars, fruit, and drinks. If the refreshments will be consumed by children inside your office, weigh food and beverage options against potential damage to your furniture and flooring, i.e., avoid grape juice. When in doubt, serve water as the drink. For afternoon and evening parties, here are some refreshment ideas that could be served in various combinations:
- Veggie and fruit trays
- Sandwich trays and/or wraps served with a selection of chips (individual bags)
- Bread pretzels with different kinds of dips
- Cookies and brownie bites
- Popsicles and/or ice cream sandwiches (You’d probably need a cooler with dry ice for this unless you happen to have access to an ice cream truck.)
No matter what, have drinks. Water bottles (consider the smaller ones), cans of soda, and juice boxes are customary. Alcoholic beverages are not only expensive but can also change the feel of your party, so perhaps only serve them at an strictly-adults open house. Make this decision in accordance with your practice’s typical patient demographic. Have a couple of big trash cans out so you don’t end up with an unsightly litterbug mess that will make cleanup more unpleasant. If your practice brand or merely your personal preference includes conscientiousness about the environment, have recycle bins out as well.
Dental practice open house attendees will feel more at ease and have a better time if there’s something going on aside from an expectation to socialize. Many people experience anxieties when expected to make small talk with strangers and will, therefore, avoid an event where that’s the main attraction. In addition, parents will be much more likely to come if their kids will have fun. Here are some ideas for potential activities during an open house that’s geared towards families:
- Bounce House – These can be rented for a block of 2-4+ hours, with setup and takedown included in the fee. It’s a good idea to have an adult assigned to supervise this activity, and your lawyer might advise you to post a sign that says everyone bounces at their own risk. It’s probably also a good idea to post an age range on your sign, say 11 years and younger.
- Face Painting – Sure you can hire a professional for this, but a couple of teenagers from your neighborhood, the local high school’s art department, or your church youth group would probably make kids just as happy for half the price.
- Photo Op – Painted boards or printed banners with cutouts for faces can be made or purchased. Selfie booths are popular, too, with a simple background, a handful of props, and a selfie stick being all that’s needed.
- Craft Station – This can be something as simple as a low table with a few bowls of crayons for kids to color a “super tooth” picture. If you’ve blocked off part of the parking lot, have a bucket of sidewalk chalk for anyone in the mood to create a masterpiece.
- Bubble Machine – It’s cumbersome if someone has to continually blow bubbles, and a bubble station where kids blow bubbles themselves inevitable ends in spills, but you can get a decent bubble machine on Amazon for between $15-$45. Set it up on a small table or even on the ground, and it could occupy some kids for a surprisingly long time as they chase and pop bubbles. Bubbles also add whimsy to a party!
- Balloons – We know someone whose job as a teenager was to create balloon animals in a dental office. Balloons can create more litter to clean up, but kids do love a good balloon hat, sword, flower, or wiener dog.
- Portable Climbing Wall – If you want to go all out, and if you have the budget and parking lot space for it, a portable climbing wall is a big hit with all ages. Similar to a moonwalk rental, setup and takedown is included in the price. Some companies also provide an employee to man the wall. Only rent the kind with self-retracting ropes, but still post that people climb at their own risk.
- Guessing Games – Think, “How many jellybeans are in the jar?” Or, “How many toothbrushes or flossers are in the canister?” The winner gets a prize. Be prepared for a tie.
Adults-only open houses don’t require many activities, but you should still have something for people to do. Offer food to eat, have music playing (either live music or an easy-listening playlist over a speaker), and be ready to have someone give tours of the office. Additionally, have promotional materials available. If you’re insurance friendly, you could put out a flyer listing plans you’re in-network for, along with other basic information about the practice. Have business cards printed with your new patient special on the back or, better yet, rack cards that also include bullet points of the marketable attributes and services of your practice. Parents typically appreciate a dental emergency guide on a magnet. Pens with your logo, web address, and phone number (if it will fit) are among the ad specialty items worth getting made to give away. These are things that can be included in your start-up marketing campaign. That way they won’t take up much, if any, of your open house budget. Also, at Practice Cafe you could get interest-free financing. Costs for advertising specifically and solely for your event should be included in your practice open house budget.
Some people may want to schedule an appointment on the spot so, if possible, have a computer up and running with a staff member who can book appointments. Give an appointment reminder card with a detachable referral card. Have a stack of printed new patient forms in case someone would like to take them home. Don’t pressure people into making an appointment at your open house, but have a small sign indicating that it’s an option for those who are interested. List any convenient scheduling aspects of your practice on that sign, including evening hours and family block appointments.
If you’re willing and able to put forth extra effort promoting your dental practice open house, consider coupling it with community service. Depending on the time of year, choose from a school supply drive, a candy buy back event, a food drive, a Blue Santa toy drive, Coats for Kids, and the list goes on. You can draw inspiration from whatever holiday is around the same time as your event. Do a little research to see what could really make a difference in your community or a neighboring community, and choose a cause that speaks to you. If you want to incentivize participation in your drive, make each donation be an entry in a drawing for cool prizes.ASK FOR SERVICE IDEAS
People love free stuff and will turn up for a chance to win some. There’s a huge range of prizes you could give away at your dental open house, but here’s a small group of ideas:
- To further cultivate a community vibe, look for local stuff. Gift baskets can be impressive without being expensive, and going local may increase your chances of getting items donated. If nothing specific comes to mind, ask around to find out what is likely to have broad appeal with local flare. Basket ideas include jams and honey with bread, bbq sauces and/or hot sauces, nuts and candy, or nonedible products such as lotions.
- Gift cards or certificates to local places like a well-rated café or a popular coffee shop are appealing and still have a decent chance of being at least partially donated.
- If there’s a local sports team (collegiate or professional), you could get a shirt, a hat, or even tickets to a game.
- Many people really like electronic prizes such as an iPad, a Kindle, or a new TV.
- Everyone loves cash, cash cards, and gift cards to places like Target or Amazon.
- If people get to choose a category or specific items for which they’re entered to win, get some things just for kids. Every child who is present can be entered.
If possible, have 1-3 bigger prizes, 5-7 small to medium prizes, and then 10-20 “consolation” prizes such as t-shirts with your logo and a neat design. If local businesses contribute to your event, include their logos on your shirt. You and your team should wear your t-shirt and name tags.CONTACT US ABOUT SHIRT DESIGNS
You can decide whether you want to include a free new patient visit as one of your prizes, but don’t get your feelings hurt if people don’t get as excited about that as a basket of hot sauce. Post a sign specifying when prizes will be given away. Start halfway or two-thirds of the way through the duration of your event to give people more flexibility for their arrival and departure times. If you or one of your team members don’t have a loud enough voice to project an announcement like, “It’s prize time!” and depending on how many people you anticipate showing up, you might need a microphone or megaphone. For people to enter drawings for prizes, think of a way to gather their first name, last name, and email address for email marketing later on. Print entry slips or cards ahead of time and plan how your drawings will go so the giveaways don’t seem disorganized or, worse, rigged. Your immediate family members, your staff, and their families shouldn’t be allowed to enter for open house prizes.
Make Assignments Ahead of Time
Make a plan and schedule guide with clear assignments well in advance. Divide your action plan into setup, during the event, and cleanup. Make checklists and also draw diagrams for the preparation and setup. Get granular enough in your plans to eliminate as much stress as possible on the day of your practice open house, and don’t be afraid to use a clipboard! As you’re mapping out your setup, determine whether you’ll need to borrow or rent any tables, chairs, or shade canopies, etc. Cover tables with plastic table cloths (maybe in your brand colors), and tape them down to the undersides of tables so they can’t blow off. If you put on a thoughtful and detail-oriented open house, attendees will assume that your dental practice provides a similarly superb experience to patients in your office.
If you don’t have enough staff to pull off your practice open house, recruit family members or friends. Depending on your relationship with them, consider compensating them with cash or a gift card. If at all possible, have others keep your open house running so you’re available to meet and greet people, and thank them for coming. A spouse or office manager is usually an appropriate person to be put in charge during your actual event. Choose someone who keeps their cool under pressure. If your chairside manner is good but you struggle with a crowd of strangers, choose an area of your event that will enable you to interact with people without feeling awkward. Having something to do can really help! Hand out drinks, hand out prizes, or hang out where you can high-five little kids as they get out of the bounce house. If you have a hidden talent such as juggling, don’t hesitate to entertain guests in your own unique way.
Event Marketing & Promotion
Start promoting your dental practice open house at least a few weeks in advance, but ideally a month or so beforehand (particularly if it will double as a community service event). If your target market includes busy families, you want to give them enough notice to fit the event in. There is a myriad of channels through which you can advertise your open house, including but not limited to:
- Facebook and Instagram, both professional/practice and personal accounts
- Local community bulletins and newspapers, both online and print
- Neighborhood and other special group websites, newsletters, email lists, and marquee signs
- Community meetings, such as through the rotary club or chamber of commerce
- Other businesses that could become partners in promotion and possibly contributors to your event
- Grand opening postcards can include open house details if the mailing aligns well enough with the timing of the party
- Local radio stations will sometimes give a shout out for a community event for a reasonable fee, and the likelihood only increases if you couple your practice open house with community service like a drive of some kind
The week of the open house (3-5 days beforehand), go “garage sale” style by putting yard signs at intersections near your office, and by putting flyers up on nearby light polls and street signs. In the early morning on the day of the event, place larger signage at the entrance to your location. If it’s not windy, mark the spot by tying down a small bunch of balloons. A few balloons here and there can add to a festivity extremely inexpensively. On all signs placed on side streets, provide directional language as needed. Include key highlights of your open house on the signage, too, such as “free food and prizes” or “bounce house and face painting” in addition to the time. Make plans for taking down all signs so you don’t litter your area with expired event advertisements. Some communities have rigid rules about signage even if it’s temporary, so that’s worth checking on in the very beginning.ASK ABOUT EVENT SIGN DESIGNS
Best of Luck!
Whether you’d prefer your dental practice open house to be a small, more intimate affair with family and friends, or you envision a hopping party spanning the parking lot, we hope we’ve given you some useful ideas and tips. You’ll probably aim for something middle-of-the-road so it’s manageable and affordable, yet still impressive to potential patients and successful in generating appointments. We wish you the best of luck! Involvement in your community isn’t a one-time event. Stay tuned for more ideas about how to participate in and contribute to the community that helps keep you in business.CONTACT US FOR MARKETING IDEAS
Happy party planning,