What happens when you apply the Wall Drug model to dentistry?

If you’ve ever driven through South Dakota—or, really, anywhere even near South Dakota—you’ve probably been bombarded by mile after mile of those famous Wall Drug billboards. They’re everywhere out there—and Wall Drug eventually became a tourist destination.

Things weren’t always going so well for the little roadside mom-and-pop store though. Wall Drug is situated in the middle of nowhere, so, at least in the beginning, it seldom had any visitors. It wasn’t until one of the owners, Dorothy Hustead, came up with the idea of giving away free ice water to travelers that business began to pick up.

Wall Drug sign

photo by Jkeiser; CC-BY-SA-3.0; Wikimedia Commons

Dorothy and her husband, Ted, were overwhelmed by travelers who stopped by after seeing roadside signage advertising free ice water at Wall Drug. Of course, some people took the ice water and quickly got back on the road, but plenty of others were converted into paying customers—lured by sodas, milkshakes, hamburgers, and assorted trinkets.

When I first applied the Wall Drug model to Same Day Dental, people thought I was either crazy or just plain foolish. The “ice water” I give away to potential patients? Free dental exams and X-rays. They add up to several hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of dentistry each year that I could be billing for. But I choose not to, because these courtesy exams bring people in off of the “highway”—in this case, the information superhighway.

Of course, there are people who grab their free dental exams and X-rays and never return. But, much more often, visitors come in, get a taste for our office culture, our philosophy, and the way we cultivate relationships with our patients, and they overwhelmingly choose to stay. They become long-term, paying patients.

Now, we’ve grown to 4,000 patients in nearly four years’ time. I don’t think this would have been possible without our offer of free initial exams.

Best of all, these patients put up their own Same Day Dental “billboards”—in the form of online reviews on social media and other online outlets—on our behalf. Those reviews from happy new patients have begun to stretch out for miles along the information superhighway, and they are far more valuable than any advertising we could ever buy for ourselves.