Whether a start-up urgent care struggles, survives or thrives is due in large part to when it opens. The urgent care business is highly seasonal, with the greatest demand typically being in the winter months. If an urgent care center opens during “peak seasonality” there is insufficient time for its marketing to raise awareness and the center can very well lose a year in reaching critical break-even volumes. By contrast, targeting a “back to school” opening provides 3-4 months for people to see the center’s signage, to try the center for sports/school physicals, and to see the center’s marketing…making your center their first choice when an urgent care need finally arises in January.
Happy Independence Day! This is Alan Ayers and I am Just Checking In from Jerome Township, Ohio right across from the newest Costco store – which will be opening on August 11th. Now, Costco is a 114 billion dollar retailer. They didn’t pick August 11th as an opening date for no reason. They have a very deliberate strategy on when they open their stores. So if you think about retail, the number one shopping day of the year is Black Friday. Well, intuitively you could say, “well, if I’m going to open a store I want to open on Black Friday because that’s the greatest demand.” The problem is if you were to open a retail store on Black Friday, no one would know you were there and people wouldn’t plan to go there. Effectively, you would be skipped over. So by opening in August, a retailer like Costco has sufficient time for their marketing to gain traction - people drive by and word-of-mouth can get around. So when that busy Christmas shopping season hits, people know there is a Costco and they’ll choose to do their Christmas shopping there. Well, the same concept applies to Urgent Care.
In Urgent Care we see a very strong seasonality-curve. Now granted, this seasonality-curve will vary by parts of the country - if you’re in a summer beach resort, you might just flip this curve over, but typically in Urgent Care we see the busiest months as the cold and flu season which is typically January, February, March, going into April, then we see a decline in the summer months, and then we volumes starting to increase again as school returns. So, if you’re opening an Urgent Care Center, the ideal time to open according to the demand curve is going into the season of strongest demand which would be July, August, or September opening.
So you think about Urgent Care... You open in July or August, you can run “Back to School” promotions, you can get involved with the schools/ grassroots marketing. By the time your marketing really starts to make head ways… as soon as you start getting some traction with your marketing, that’s when the busy cold and flu season will hit and people will know your center is there. And it will be first place they think to go when an urgent care need arises.
Now, I get a lot of questions about the reasons Urgent Care Centers fail. One of the top reasons is they open at the wrong time. So if an Urgent Care Center opens, typically the logic from an emergency medicine / physician or maybe a primary care physician thinks, “Oh, December 31 is a good time to leave my previous job. January 1 is the start of a new tax year; January is going into the busy season.” Well, if an Urgent Care Center opens in January, consumers won’t know it’s there, and by the time people see your sign, by the time word-of-mouth gets around, and by the time people see your marketing, you are already into April, then May – and then going into the slow season. Effectively, I have seen Urgent Care Centers lose almost an entire year of progression in their business because they opened at the wrong time.
So the advice is to consider the seasonality-curve, to consider consumer-behavior, and to consider the best practices of other retail and service-type businesses like this Costco. So open your center in July or August because it will give you time to raise awareness before going into the seasons of highest utilization.
So again, this is Alan Ayers, I’m Just Checking In. If you have any questions about marketing your Urgent Care Center, opening your Urgent Care start-up, or anything else Urgent Care related, please don’t hesitate to contact us at Practice Velocity using the email address on your screen.