Filling a gap in the market

Visiting the dentist is bad enough without putting up with poor décor. But St Clements dentists care as much about the experience as your teeth.

Traditionally places to fear and loathe, dental surgeries have recently taken on a different complexion with the arrival of several branded high street chains, including Whitecross in 1996 and Boots Dentalcare last year.

The latest to join this sector is St Clements Dental Centre, which has appointed London design consultancy Spacecraft to create a new graphic and environmental identity. The pilot London venue opens off The Strand at the beginning of April and is likely to be followed by further branches.

St Clements partners John O’Dea and Karin Weber acknowledge the importance of good design in the industry after previously working in Germany. “Traditional NHS practices are completely uncosy and alienating. They are very sad spaces, dominated by a frosty green which really doesn’t appeal to a modern person,” claims Weber.

“In Germany, dentists couldn’t get by on environments that most practices have here. Patients expect soft colours and nice design. There is also much more carpeting and soft lighting,” adds O’Dea, who cites Whitecross and JD Hull Associates as “the greatest influences in attempting to take both the plastic chairs and the shock effect out of dentistry”.

Consequently, St Clements is approaching the sector with a “new direction. It will be aimed towards lifestyle by creating a modern, simple and pleasant environment… focusing on health and relaxation,” explains Weber.

“Our aim is to change the mindset of patients from one of being tortured to one of being pampered,” says Spacecraft creative director Terry Harrison. “We are considering all [sorts of] experience elements, from advising on suitable merchandise products and added services to music and aromatherapies.”

Adopting the St Clements theme from the nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons, the group will be using both colours in the pilot scheme. “They are fresh and pleasing colours on the eye, and create a fun idea without any acidity from the lemon,” adds Weber.

“We are looking at creating a persona that aspires to the warmth and serenity of a contemporary hotel, rather than the clinical white-on-white of modern dental practices. Warm, natural finishes, soft lighting and elegant contemporary furniture in the reception will enhance the perception of calm,” says Harrison.

Situated in the heart of London’s financial district, St Clements will specifically address the requirements of “busy city professionals”, says Harrison. “It will cater to their needs by offering services such as Internet and e-mail facilities, digital TV in the surgeries and, eventually, on-line appointment booking.”

“Clients will mainly be urban modernist – professional people, used to working efficiently and under stress with little time available. Appointments will fit into a daily schedule without being disruptive or a hindrance, so the visit becomes more like looking forward to going to the hairdresser, and not associating it with pain.”

According to Boots Dentalcare marketing and buying manager Jo Goodchild, the pain factor was also highlighted by patients in market research when the chemist launched its dental chain. Customers noted “smelly surgeries, long corridors and creaking floors” as things to avoid.

Boots Dentalcare opened its first practice in Milton Keynes last May and now has six, designed by Fern Green Partnership – three standalone and three within existing Boots stores. Fern Green designer Rachel Bowyer sees the chance to work in the sector as “exciting and quite appealing” because of the scope for new design.

“It had to be calming and holistic, to address the fears and reactions to dentistry,” explains Bowyer. “There was a need to assist with colour as all white environments are too surgical. We softened the waiting areas by using lilac, while fresh blue was used in the signage. A translucent element was also needed for separate consultancy areas.”

“The response from patients has been high satisfaction. They notice everything, from the curved walls to colour palettes and generally find it more pleasurable. It is because we have taken the emotional fear factor out of visits,” claims Goodchild.

The success of Boots the Chemists’ first foray into the dental care sector has lead to plans for a further 50 surgeries by April 2001, which Fern Green will design. Goodchild adds: “The existing six are in the M4 corridor, but the proposed roll-out will be nationwide. Most will be in-store locations while the rest will be purpose-built from scratch.”

Kysen Design and Media branded London chain Dentics in 1999, creating everything from identity and signage to the group’s website. Dentics initially launched in February 1990. Kysen creative director Nick O’Toole says: “The redesign aims to re-establish the group as a brand leader. The new brochure and website are much more ‘aspirational’ and the focus is now on ‘the smile’ – its importance in your life, the confidence it gives and how looking after your smile can improve your life for the better.”

Dental Design and Planning Consultants specialises in branding and architecture for dental surgeries, working on some 2000 practices over the past 30 years, including Dencare Management. “Dentists have a bad image and don’t market themselves properly. Dentistry has always been a cottage industry, but the past two years have seen a major shake-up,” claims DDPC architectural director Gary Bettis.

“Now the corporate groups like Boots and Whitecross have seen there is money to be made and are putting a more acceptable face on the industry,” he says.

Though Bettis believes small individual dentists “will have to rebrand themselves to combat the corporates”, he says larger retailers cannot afford to expand at the expense of quality service.

“There is a large floating base of patients who are unhappy with their dentists. Big companies will look to attract these individuals with nice surgeries and good branding.

“Initially they will do very well, but in the long term they will lose out if the quality of dentists is not good and patients see a different person each time,” he warns.

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