Walmart Dentistry – It’s for real!

I wrote about Walmart Dentistry a few years ago.  In the previous iteration of “Walmart Dentistry,” it was my understanding that it was a DSO renting space in a Walmart retail location.

This time it’s different.  Walmart opened a new health clinic in Georgia.  It has a medical and a dental side.  Run BY Walmart.  They also published their fee schedule, with costs that are notably lower than the “average” out there in the real world.

Cheaper than a haircut!  Click on image to download their full fee schedule.

OMG!  OMG!

So… is it time to panic?  I submit that this could be GOOD for our industry.  Well… good for PART of our industry.  Mind you, I am a solo fee-for-service private care practice.  I am “out of network” for all insurance plans and don’t generally even accept assignment.  The vast majority of my patients are self-pay (cash).  I won’t get into the merits vs challenges of such a practice.  But, I’ll simply say, “It ain’t easy!  But, I’m the captain of my own ship.”  🙂

Race to the bottom!

Should private care practitioners (even those participating “in-network”) be worried about competing with Walmart?  I say NO.  Not a bit.  Who should worry?  Corporate Dentistry, that’s who.  Click the link to see evidence of that.  The DSO industry (aka McDental) has taken notice!  I’ll admit to looking forward to indulging in some sweet schadenfreude while Walmart and the other McDental chains (Corporate Dentistry) race to the bottom!   The only problem for DSO McDental:  Walmart is already at the finish line.

Both McDental and WallyDental are targeting the same audience: Bargain shoppers.  Of course most of us know that there are no real “bargains” in dentistry or healthcare as a broader category.  But, the reality is that MANY people have been convinced that dentistry is a commodity, and the “lowest price” wins.  It IS reality, and the only way any individual person (who values “low price”) will be convinced otherwise is through his or her own negative experience

Don’t be a loser!

If you try to compete with WallyDental, you WILL lose.  I mean, come on.  $25 prophies?  That wouldn’t even cover the hourly wage of most of the hygienists we employ, right?  So, how will Walmart do it?  Who will they hire?  Who would work for them?  How much time are they spending with patients (to perform those services)?  Meh!  Who cares?  It doesn’t matter how they do it.  It.  Does.  Not.  Matter.

If you try to beat them, you will lose.  So, don’t try to compete with them.  Unless your practice model is already predicated on low fees to attract patients, you’re simply not competing for the same patients.  And, that’s a good thing!

But, McDental (DSOs) will have to worry… a lot!  A quote from the end of the linked DSO blog article:

With this giant’s expanding reach into healthcare services, and in particular dentistry, we will be following the disruption closely to see how it impacts the dental industry as a whole, dental support organizations and patient care.

Interesting and telling that the DSO blog calls it a “disruption.”  But, yeah… the DSOs are also concerned about “patient care.”  LOL!  I guess they HAD to throw that in there to at least appear to be “concerned” about patients.  Uh-huh. 

Fillings, nothing more than fillings….

So, their fees for “fillings” range from $75 – $125.  My lowest fee is more than double their highest fee.  My crown fee is more than double their fee… and for good reason, which should be self-evident to my readers.  This is McDonald’s vs Capital Grille or Morton’s.  Would Capital Grille worry if McDonald’s started offering cheap Prime Rib?

What would a Morton’s prime rib look like next to a McDonald’s prime rib?  How will the customer experience differ?

How would a WallyDental composite or crown look next to mine?  What do you imagine would be the difference in the patient’s experience?

Do you offer a commodity?  Or a service?

Again… the McDental DSOs should be worried.  Very worried.  McDental and WallyDental racing to the bottom will be good for my practice.  We are already experiencing a two-tier dental healthcare system.  Corporate and private care.

Ford sells cars.  Ferrari sells an experience.

Corporate / DSO McDental and WallyDental are offering a COMMODITY.  And, if you’re selling a commodity, you cannot compete with them.  Ask any “mom & pop” retailer in Small Town, USA what happened when Walmart came to town and started selling the same retail items. 

If you’re selling “cheap fillings,” Walmart is going to kick your ass.  If you sell personalized dental care – as a SERVICE – then you’re not competing with DSO McDentals or Walmart.

Anything that makes my practice stand out is a good thing.  I realize that my target audience may be the minority of patients… those who value private care with attention to detail and quality over price.  They still exist.  They will always exist. 

But, if you try to be everything to be everybody, you will be nothing to nobody.  You cannot compete with McDental or WallyDental. 

That doesn’t mean you can coast.  You will have to market yourself.  You will have to spend TIME with your patients.  You will have to be GOOD at your craft.  Really good.  You will need “people skills,” too.

Wanted:  Worker-bee Dentists

The DSOs have expanded rapidly.  I get regular emails from Indeed and ZipRecruiter, listing open positions for employee dentists.  100% of the listings are McDental DSOs.  ONE HUNDRED PERCENT.  Furthermore, week after week, month after month, year after year, it’s the SAME McDentals advertising open dentist positions.  They obviously have a very high turnover rate.  Imagine that.

Who are you? Who, who?  Who, who?

Most of us went into dentistry with the dream of working for ourselves.  To lead our own private practices.  The environment has certainly changed, and we must adapt.  But, that doesn’t mean we conform, nor must we surrender.  You DO have a choice.  Do you want to be a cog in the corporate wheel?  Do you want line up to get your ass kicked by Walmart?  Or, do you want to be the master of your own destiny?

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10 Responses to Walmart Dentistry – It’s for real!

  1. Tom e says:

    Mike, very nice article that does a great job of summarising the current dental climate.
    For the majority of us, this is a non issue. The folks most likely to use Walmart for their dental care would never call our offices anyway. It will be a good thing for the 50% of the population that never sees a dentist. This is really targeting them.

    • The Dental Warrior says:

      Thanks! And, thanks for commenting.

      Not sure about the last sentence. The 50% of the population that doesn’t see a dentist regularly won’t go to Walmart, either… just as they don’t go to Aspen, TownCare, Monarch, Pacific, or the other McDentals. They simply don’t go to ANY dentist, because they don’t see the need, or they don’t want to (for a variety of reasons). Lowered costs will not affect the percentage of people who go to the dentist.

      In the military, dental care is FREE. And, a lot of the troops go for their annual exam ONLY because it’s REQUIRED. But, we (I served as a dental officer in the Navy) could not force them into treatment. And, believe me, folks would “procrastinate” getting recommended treatment just like they do in the real world. 🙂 Many DID get their treatment. But, there will always be a percentage of people who avoid dental care, regardless of perceived costs.

      The people that will go to WallyDental are the same people that go to McDental… because it’s “CHEAP.” It’s perceived as less expensive (though, it’s often not the case). They’ll switch to WallyDental, because it’s cheaper than McDental. That’s why I’m suggesting that the McDental DSOs should be worried. The rest of us? Not so much. 🙂

  2. Nice article and right on target. I agree 1000% with everything that you’ve predicted will occur. This scares me as much as Sears Dental did over 20 years ago.

    WalMart will win this battle because it’s a loss leader for them. They have other items to sell that will make them more money…like groceries, clothing, etc.

    Looking forward to continuing to distinguish my practice and helping my colleagues do the same.

    Cheers! 🙂

    • The Dental Warrior says:

      Yup! Though, I wonder how long WallyWorld will be willing to support a loss-leader? Are they really going to make up the BIG losses from the dental side by selling more small-margin widgets to the folks waiting for their $25 “cleaning?” 🙂

      Thanks for chiming in, Big Mike! 😉

  3. Brian Schaefer, DDS says:

    Retail dentistry died years ago because on a retail square footage basis, discount dentistry is not as profitable as selling underwear. The bottom line is all that matters in the retail world and those who do not understand history are doomed to repeat it.

    • The Dental Warrior says:

      I don’t see this as “retail dentistry.” I see it as DSO dentistry done by Walmart. And Walmart’s pockets are WAY deeper than any existing DSO’s pockets. The photo of the storefront appears to be its own building or perhaps added onto the retail space. I don’t know for sure, though.

      But, if Walmart is getting into the DSO / corporate dentistry game, Aspen and the rest should be VERY worried. They are going to get their asses kicked.

  4. Carl Weston says:

    Well written as always Mike. I totally agree the way to win is to be different that Wallmart or the corporate offices not trying to compete against them. If you just offer honest care and good customer service you will be a big leg up on them. However, you do a search of the review boards on the web the reviews of the corporate offices are almost universally bad…. yet their waiting rooms are full. We have a big percentage of the population that have been brainwashed into believing that healthcare and dentistry in particular should be free, or paid by third party insurance, or the government. They also seem to be willing to accept being treated like cattle to get it. Ive had a private office since 1992 and its getting harder not easier to be an independent privately owned office. The median net income of a dentist has not gone up since 1997. That is both sad and pathetic. I really do wish that us private practice dentists could start looking at each other as colleagues and not competitors. Instead of trying to undercut each other, perhaps we should try and band together and stand up to all of this.

    • The Dental Warrior says:

      Agree 100%. Yeah… we have a local corporate office that moved in a year or two ago. They are big in central Florida (up your way). Rhymes with iceberg. Last I checked, they had a 1.6-star average review with 120 reviews on Google. One-point-six!! But, yeah… I’m sure their waiting room is full and schedule booked out for months.

      Many people have come to accept crap service. But, I contend there are still those who value what private care dentistry offers. I’m betting my career on it. 🙂

      As for dentists “banding together”…. hahahaha!

      “The only thing two dentists can agree on is that the third one is an idiot.”

      “If you asked a group of dentists to form a firing squad, they’d stand in a circle.”

  5. Yeah, good article on a topic that I haven’t seen anywhere else. I’m not too worried. While yes, there may be many people who think that dentistry is a commodity, I’ve got plenty of patients that come to my office for quality care. Lots of people have had a bad experience, for one reason or the other, at some practice, and because of this they tend to realize the value of our quality care. And our patients tend to stick with us. At least that’s been my experience.
    Still, I try to be an optimist. Hopefully the patients that go to Walmart get some decent type of care. But at those prices? Who knows.

    • The Dental Warrior says:

      Hi Gary,

      Thanks for reading my article and commenting. I agree with you, and my experience is the same. I believe there will always be a market segment that knows the difference and that dentistry is not a commodity. I HAVE to believe it! 🙂

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