By Eddie Childs
But how do you decide what place is right for you?
Consult most experts, and you’ll likely hear that choosing a location for your chiropractic practice essentially boils down to a decision based on metrics. In the process, you might even get the impression that it’s a calculated, purely statistical decision to be made. After all, the numbers don’t lie, do they?
Case in point—Locus Chiropractic Location Specialists (LCLS), a company specializing in helping DCs evaluate location options, has conducted research specifying 10 essential demographic factors for identifying what it calls a “high-potential practice site.” These metrics include an area’s chiropractic-population-per-DC ratio, median household income, chiropractic-density-per-square-mile statistics, total population and percentage of household ownership.
“Remember one thing when you’re getting ready to open a chiropractic practice—where there are people, there’s potential for success,” says Michael Dorausch, a DC who’s written extensively on the importance of location in establishing a practice. “It may be nice to live in a town of 173, but unless the other nearby areas have a significantly greater number of people, you may be doing some struggling if you’re looking to build a volume practice.”
But while all these considerations cited by LCLS and Dorausch are inarguably important to entertain, a more holistic approach would suggest DCs should also do a little soul searching before making this decision. To this end, Life University Director of Chiropractic Recruitment Mary Flannery, D.C., suggests DCs try to choose communities that are reflections of themselves.
For Flannery, the most important part of building a practice seems to lie in its authenticity. “You shouldn’t be trying to become a match for something you aren’t,” she says. “I personally believe authenticity in practice is one of the things with which some fledgling chiropractors really struggle—especially figuring out who they are as DCs and what they want their chiropractic practice to look like.”
As a result, Flannery says, neophyte DCs often find themselves emulating mentors or relying too closely on market analysis. She says this can be a mistake, though, because she believes the decision should be based upon each individual’s own particular set of expectations, interests and desires.
“I’ll hear them say, ‘well my mentor set up in an area like this and has an office next to a gym,’ or whatever other marketing-type approach seems to work for their mentor,” she explains. “But I haven’t always seen that work out because you want to become a real part of the community where you practice. Whatever your interests may be, some level of that thing should be in that community because that’s how you’re going to meet people, and they’re going to get to know you as yourself.”
Flannery says the only exception she envisions to the aforementioned dynamic is in the case of DCs actively engaged in outreach initiatives where they’re purposefully entering an underserved community. “Usually, people who [get involved with outreach] aren’t looking for financial success, though,” she says. “They’re doing it for strictly altruistic reasons, and financial compensation isn’t really a part of that, so it’s kind of an exception to the rule because they’re authentically trying to serve that community even if it doesn’t necessarily reflect their interests.”
An Exception to Every Rule
For an example of the authenticity championed by Flannery, one needs to look no further than LIFE students Tim and Kelly Milano, who plan to establish a practice in inner-city Detroit upon graduation.
Initially, the Milanos say, they were drawn to the Motor City because their family and friends currently reside there, and they had originally wanted to be able to serve them. They say their feelings changed, however, once they began to consider where their help was truly needed. “We really feel the inner cities have been so neglected by Chiropractic and Vitalism,” Kelly says, “and we feel we have a strong message that can really bring a change to the area.”
When starting a practice and looking for a location, the Milanos say they believe the primary, driving force in the decision should be based upon a person’s core values. In order to do this, they believe DCs need to understand their vision and message, along with how they intend their practice to operate.
“When we began to explore if we were going to go to the general Detroit area, the city of Detroit itself or the west side of the state of Michigan, some people told us we should stay out of Michigan completely while others told us there was plenty of potential,” Tim explains. “We eventually realized these were all well-
intentioned people, but they were speaking from their own values, beliefs and goals. So Kelly and I decided we needed to stay true to our core values, which ultimately led us back to Detroit.”
For her own part, Kelly says she would never have believed it had someone informed her when she started chiropractic college that she’d one day be looking to work in inner-city Detroit. “When I look at where we’re going and the things we’re doing, it aligns so closely to the purpose I feel. It has become something that completely excites me,” she says. “It’s more than just a passion for Chiropractic—it’s a passion for seeing a city transformed.”
Of course, none of this is to say market analysis and demographic considerations should fall completely by the wayside. On the contrary, Flannery says, DCs should strive to find a balance between authenticity and financial feasibility.
“Looking at the statistics is important, too,” she says. “Sometimes people get so carried away with, for instance, finding a high-volume corner where there’s lots of traffic, that they forget to do the market research and discover exactly how many people actually live in an area. Just because a million cars drive past doesn’t mean those people live anywhere nearby.”
For DCs who aren’t involved in outreach activities like the Milanos are, she also suggests finding a community that has some level of disposable income. “As much as we’d love to have people consider chiropractic care to be essential to their health, the fact of the matter is that our culture isn’t there yet,” she says. “That’s just an obstacle you’re just going to have to overcome.”
Conversely though, Flannery says she often sees DCs going to a lot of trouble to find good locations that she believes are much too far away from their homes. “They’re losing a lot of the opportunities they’d otherwise have to build their practices,” she says. “For example, their kids don’t go to that school district, and they’re probably not grocery shopping or using the gym there. So at the end of the day, they just leave that area—they’re not as much a part of the community as they could be.”
And in losing those opportunities, Flannery says, these DCs are missing the chance to become truly immersed in the community, where they can create those vital relationships so necessary for sustaining a practice. She cites as an example a friend of hers who practices in Buffalo, N.Y.—according to Flannery, he seemingly has controverted all the rules in establishing his business and has flourished as a result.
“Patrick practices in a part of town where everyone said you couldn’t practice, but my friend is such an authentic member of this community. He shops there, eats lunch there and walks the street—he just knows everybody because he completely inhabits that community,” Flannery says. “People who are or aren’t his patients; every single person seems to know him because he contributes and he gives back. It’s where he wants to live and raise his family, even though most people said he’d never make a go of it.”
Flannery says she personally believes DCs can even establish practices in communities that, on paper, are saturated with chiropractors. She points to the Marietta, Ga., area as a prime example—from a per-capita point of view, the area has a large number of DCs, and yet she says she knows doctors who go into those communities and thrive.
“That’s just where they want to live,” she says. “What they’re doing is authentic enough, and their message is so clear to their community because they’re really educating the public. In the end, there’s definitely a place for market analysis, but it should be your second priority in decision making, not your first.”