Fox vs. Rabbit.

Fox vs. Rabbit.

John Gribbin illustrates a point in one of his books that should smack readers into attention, like a 2×4 to the forehead: “A rabbit who runs away from a fox is not competing with the fox, in evolutionary terms. It is competing with the other rabbits. The ones who run fastest and zigzag most unpredictably, will survive and breed; the ones who don’t will get eaten. The fox, of course, is in competition with the other foxes.”

How often in your business do you think you’re competing with the fox? When you see a large group orthodontic practice or corporate dental chain offering orthodontics, do you think, “Those are my patients going to the competition.”

I see a lot of orthodontists doing this with direct-to-consumer aligners, retail stores and beauty salons offering orthodontics via clear aligners. They think these foxes are their competition. They aren’t.

It might sound condescending but it’s true: you only have to run faster and more successfully than the other rabbits. If you get really good at this, you can build yourself a little concrete rabbit house with a fox fence and fox alarm; even put a moat around it and fill it with hungry alligators, preferably ones with an appetite for fox.

I haven’t treated adult patients since January 2017. Most orthodontists think that’s insane. In reality, it lets me focus better on kids and adolescents in my pediatric dental and orthodontic practices. I only compete with a few rabbits in this area. When I was treating adult patients, I competed with every rabbit in town.

Orthodontists who are really good at treating TMD, complex surgery patients or who have hours, locations, services or prices that differentiate their practices are wisely competing with fewer rabbits. They’ve installed moats that most don’t even realize they have.

The list here is long and requires more time and space than this column allows, but suffice it to say, the most powerful way to out-compete the other rabbits and to leave the foxes scratching their heads is to be the best at building relationships in your market. Deliver so much value and have such a strong connection with your patients that they never leave.

We do this in my offices by removing all the risk, guaranteeing satisfaction, crawling through broken glass for our customers, answering the phones 24/7/365 and by staying open late, arriving early and putting physical employees in our offices on the weekends to handle patient requests and repairs. We’re always open and parents know it.

When you play your game in an entirely different field, it’s easy to let the other rabbits get chased by the fox.

Worked at Burleson Orthodontics. Attended University of Missouri–Kansas City. Lives in Kansas City, Missouri.