- What's in a name?
I don’t think it is a secret that the name you give your dental practice business can have a big impact on its fortunes. Marketing experts will tell you that the name a business chooses will affect how memorable it is for current and potential clients, how quickly it will come up in Google searches and how easy it will be for you to differentiate yourself from your competitors.
What many business owners will not appreciate is that their choice of a name for their business can also have a significant impact on the business’s ability to be sold to another owner.
When a dental practice changes hands, most buyers will usually want to keep the name of the practice post sale, in order to show the loyal patient base as much continuity as possible with the practice that they know well. The greater the immediate change under new ownership, the greater the disconnect that loyal patients will feel with the practice and the more likely they are to become “unstuck” and try another practice.
Some of the names being chosen by dental practices are simply not easily transferable upon sale and, as such, can create some interesting complications and compromises during a sale transaction.
1. Naming your practice after yourself
Traditionally in Australia, the established naming convention for dental practices used to be to name the practice after the principal dentist. For example, if your name was Jo Stevens, you might name your practice Dr Stevens Dental or Dr Stevens Family Dental Care, etc.
More recently, dental practices seem to have shifted to more generic names that are more likely to mention the suburb or street that the practice is located in, than the operator (eq., Smith Street Dental, Bondi Smile Centre, etc.)
In our discussions with dentists about naming their practice after themselves, they have expressed that they felt it was a way of showing a sense of pride and transparency to the community and felt that young dentists were hiding behind their anonymous practice names. However, what these dentists usually don’t take into account is that when a practice has the same name as a vendor, selling the practice = involves a buyer buying the rights to use the practice’s name, using it as they see fit, and selling it when they no longer want to own the practice. In this case, that name is the vendor’s actual name.
Years post sale, Jo Stevens could find that the “Jo Stevens Dental” business name is being used to promote dentistry with compromised clinical and ethical quality, performed by dentists and a practice owner who Jo has never met.
Jo Stevens could end up being publicly associated with this sub-par work, more than the actual owners of the practice are.
This is something that most dental practice vendors will find justifiably distasteful.
2. Naming your second practice
Another naming convention that could complicate a practice sale occurs when a practice owner buys or sets up their second or third practice and decides to have both practices operate under the same name and brand.
The reasons a practice owner would choose to co-brand their practices like this are usually economical. It saves time, effort and money not having to design a new logo, letterhead, business cards, signage and website, and they are able to reuse marketing and advertising efforts across two (or three) locations.
What these practice owners don’t see at the time is that having a name and brand across two practices creates significant complications if the owner ever wants to sell one of the practices separately.
If the practices are ever to be sold separately, the two new owners will almost certainly not want to have their fortunes and reputations so closely linked. They will not want the other practice to be the beneficiary of their marketing efforts and they will not want to be held to account for clinical work done in a practice that they have nothing to do with.
One of the two owners will need to spend significant money rebranding and creating a new website, logo, letterhead, business cards and signage. This may well be factored into the price that someone is willing to pay for the practice.
Possible solutions for vendors facing these problems:
1. The vendor could insist on the buyer rebranding immediately upon settlement. However, the cost of this and the possible risk of goodwill loss may be factored into the price paid.
2. The vendor could rebrand the practice 6-12 months before selling. It doesn’t have to be a dramatic departure from the original name and a connection with the previous name can be kept. Jo Stevens Dental may, for example, become JS Dental a year prior to the sale and this new name can be sold with few, if any, compromises for the seller.
3. Yet another solution is for the vendor to license their name to the purchaser for a period of time (12-18 months for example). During this time the practice would need to rebrand. A license like this gives the purchaser a chance to take advantage of the goodwill associated with the name, without the vendor needing to lose control of their name in perpetuity. A good dental practice broker could help you structure a license agreement like this.
The name of a practice forms an unmistakable part of the identity of the practice for the community and patient base.
While much thought and care are usually taken to ensure that it is memorable and easily marketable, what many practice owners miss is that care also has to be taken to ensure that it is also easily transferable upon sale.