The facial aesthetics disruptor

by Blog, Business growth, Communications

The facial aesthetics disruptor    By Jonathan Fine. October 13, 2016.

Facial aesthetics is a dynamic category that’s recently had added impetus in the market because of who’s allowed to administer it. Here’s what Martina Collins of Martina Collins Dental & Skin Clinic had to say at our Fine Talk event about her unique experience as a disruptor in Northern Ireland. She runs a facial aesthetics-led clinic that began as a squat in what looked like a saturated market in Belfast just 18 months ago…

Martina Collins presenting at Fine Talk

Martina Collins presenting at Fine Talk

I graduated in 1997 and was working in a dental practice on Lisburn Road, a two mile stretch of bars, dental practices and plastic surgery clinics, for nearly 10 years. I felt at 40, with three young children, that I was maybe too old to set up my own shop, but I wanted some change.

I wanted to stay on Lisburn Road but there was a lot of competition there, so I knew my business was going to have to be different. At the same time I had started developing my own list of facial aesthetics patients, having done my first course in 2006, and I could see it had great potential. I had done a bit in the dental surgery with patients who came in a few times a year but they were always the same people and weren’t growing in number.

I started doing clinics outside of the surgery in the evenings and weekends, working for Transform and Destination Skin in House of Fraser, and my waiting list was mushrooming. They immediately began asking me to do more clinics and I thought to myself, “why isn’t this happening in the dental surgery?” It struck me it was the environment; it was something about the dental surgery and how the two didn’t really marry together.

To me the dental surgery wasn’t the right environment for facial aesthetics. People didn’t want to sit in the dental chair to have these kinds of treatments, and it was hard to separate that dentistry mode; people saw the dental chair as threatening. It seems a bit obvious now but I realised it had to be done in a different room.

I also realised someone would come to me for Botox and then ask me 10 other questions: “What can you do with my neck? What can you do with my jowls? My son has acne… What else can you do?” It was like a bottomless pit of questions, and I realised I wasn’t equipped to answer them all, so I had to up my game.

I also began to realise that patients know facial aesthetics are medical but they perceive them as cosmetic, so I saw that my new skin clinic had to have a retail feel to it with a light and airy feel. We have separate spaces and separate waiting areas for facial aesthetics patients.

Martina shares a laugh with the audience

Martina shares a laugh with the audience

I knew the key was to make the patient experience right and that getting word of mouth referrals would be key.

For me there were five things that helped me grow the business:

  1. The consultation process

We had to get away from the dental exam. I think of it as more of a friendly chat. We charge £50 for a consultation fee. That does a couple of things: we book the consultation and then if the patient does want treatment, that will be arranged for another day. It allows safe practice, a cooling off period, and also protects us financially in case they don’t go for treatment — we take payment before the consultation.

  1. The patient journey 

We had to make it easy to get in touch. Our website is mobile optimised, and the look and feel of the website is simple. In the clinic the patient will be met by friendly and engaging staff, and we ask them if there are any treatments that we could offer that they haven’t come in for. There’ll be coffee, water, whatever they want. There’s after care contact and next day follow up contact where we ask them to fill out a survey through SurveyMonkey. We send cards, flowers and M&S vouchers to patients who bring in word of mouth referrals for us.

  1. Testimonials

This was a hard one for me because I felt really embarrassed about asking patients for testimonials, but I was really surprised by the kind of feedback I got when videoing patients, even those who I perceived weren’t necessarily the easiest to satisfy. We keep the video testimonials on our website and we refer to them very often because people want to see what real patients think about us.

  1. Getting the team right

Our front of house team wears dresses, not clinical attire. The two nurses are both full time but they have distinct roles and we have someone to handle social media and someone handling the day to day stuff, as a treatment coordinator. At every stage the patient is made to feel important. We also have a number of part time facial aesthetics practitioners working one night each a week and a very talented hygienist who handles teeth whitening.

  1. Social media

More than half — perhaps 60 or 70 per cent — of our enquiries come through social media. We constantly get messages through Facebook. We not only engage users, we engage them throughout the day — the team receive notifications on their phones while they’re at home — and we respond within a couple of minutes usually. We put a good split of dentistry and facial aesthetics on social media and we upload videos and keep it constant, doing about five Instagram posts a week and five Facebook posts. We uploaded a video on Instagram of a makeup artist from Belfast who was having her lips augmented at about 5pm on a Tuesday evening and by the next day we’d had 27,000 views which grew to 40,000 views. It’s free and we use it to grow the business a lot.

Nothing stays the same and there are amazing dental practices on Lisburn Road, so we have strong competition, but our proposition is fairly unique, at least at the moment. Once its not we will have to up our game again. The facial aesthetics industry has such high demand — there’s 11 per cent growth a year — and we are looking at broadening our services and getting a therapist in to do non-surgical laser treatments. Our location really helps and I was lucky that as I signed my lease the 50,000sqft premises next door was taken over by M&S, really helping us with footfall and kerbside appeal.

Turnover has been significant from a zero start. The biggest slice of the turnover by far is facial aesthetics, not dentistry, which I am told is highly unusual in this sector. Our location seems crowded by dentists but we found a space in the market that appeals to people and our business is still growing steadily. 

Martina Collins presenting at Fine Talk

Martina Collins presenting at Fine Talk

From a purely business point of view facial aesthetics offers a safe route to revenue growth because of the repeat purchase nature of the treatment — people are unlikely to stop getting top-ups once they start, and in my experience they often expand the range of treatments as they grow more comfortable in the relationship.

We’ve engaged the reps a lot and we go on the courses and keep up to date with the products. We were thinking about getting an oxygen facial machine and so in one of our patient surveys we asked patients what they’d most like to have. Two per cent of respondents said lingual braces and 80 per cent said oxygen facials, so we bought the machine. We’re offering 100 buy one get one free oxygen facials through a Facebook promotion campaign that will pay for the machine.


“To me the dental surgery wasn’t the right environment for facial aesthetics”

Martina Collins, principal at Martina Collins Dental & Skin Clinic

Author: Jonathan Fine