Buying a Medical or Cosmetic Laser:
Should you buy from the manufacturer, exclusive distributor, or used equipment broker?
Many physicians and other potential buyers looking to purchase medical lasers are often confronted with the issue of deciding whether or not to buy directly from the manufacturer, exclusive distributor, or possibly consider a used system from a broker.
This can be a daunting task for some and I’ve spoken to many physicians and laser buyers over the years who have struggled with this decision. It’s little like trying to decide whether to buy a new or used car, however, most people are a bit more familiar with cars that they are medical lasers.
Some buyers are obviously more comfortable getting a new laser for the peace of mind and perks that come along with buying new and don’t mind paying a premium. Others are hoping to spend the least amount of money possible and just want to find a great deal somewhere. Some feel they have a pretty good idea what they need after talking to two or three laser salespeople and then have their staff go find the cheapest version of the one that they like the best. Each option has several issue to consider.
In this article I’ll try to address some of the main issues anyone who’s looking to buy a medical laser might want to consider before buying. My aim is to make you a better educated consumer and help you feel more comfortable when choosing a system and limit the sometimes unpleasant surprises that can arise. I’ve seen laser purchases go really well for many customers and I’ve also seen instances where it was a disaster. Read on.
In the following, I’ll try to list some of the main issues to consider when deciding to purchase either a new laser or used one. This is by no means comprehensive but should give you a good idea of some important things to think about.
Advantages of buying a new laser:
You’ll get the latest and greatest version of whatever’s on the market and that can be very important, especially in an industry as dynamic as cosmetic laser treatments. Patients and consumers are looking for that next great breakthrough treatment so it can make a big difference to be able promote that you have the newest technology and most innovative treatments on the market. The other big advantage of buying from the manufacturer or the official distributor is getting up-to-date training, marketing support, and general ongoing support from the company and sales representative.
Regarding training, some lasers are more operator dependent than others and the trainer supplied by the manufacturer or distributor should be more up to date than any else. Certain cosmetic laser treatments are very much about the art of the treatment as well as the science and the operator needs to be completely trained and confident enough to be somewhat artistic and creative in their approach in getting the best results for patients. These treatments are not cookie cutter and each patient is somewhat different so the operator needs to be fully up to speed.
If your approach is to be an early adopter and strive to be the first one to bring a new technology to your community then the company should be willing to give you extra support because they want to make sure you’re successful. It’s important you say good things to other potential buyers. You should pin down the company representative on exactly what they’re going to provide to help you launch your new service. I would sit down face-to-face on more than one occasion and go through step-by-step what the company is willing to do. Many options are negotiable before you purchase and you’re the one in the driver’s seat. The price is likely to drop in a relatively short period of time so you should insist on getting the most for your money if you’re investing in a company’s newest technology. In some ways, you’ll be doing some of their testing for them.
Disadvantages of buying new:
Cost. It’s kind of like buying a car in that it depreciates big time as soon as you drive it off the lot. Even though high quality lasers are usually in the $50,000 range and up, they’re still not as expensive overall as they were 10-15 years ago and the quality is much better now.
Having worked directly for a laser manufacturer and distributor for several years, I’ve come to understand and appreciate the costs that go into making a laser available for sale and the support after the sale. It’s a pricey operation to take a laser from the drawing board to the consumer. If a laser is one that’s been around for a while, the pricing should be lower or more negotiable.
If you’re considering a brand new model that’s just been introduced by a company, sometimes it’s better to wait for the second version because there is usually enough feedback by that time to see what needs to be changed and also there’s a good chance it will be less expensive. If you buy a company’s first model of laser, you might want to try and negotiate some upgrade options over the first year or so. The company may not be willing to give it to you at no charge but you might be able to lock in a better price whenever a better version becomes available.
Obsolescence. Laser technology has consistently marched forward at a pretty good clip with improvements and tweaks on a fairly regular basis. It’s somewhat like buying a computer. Within a couple of years many companies will come out with a modified or improved version of whatever it is you bought. Occasionally it doesn’t even take that long because sometimes companies will push to clear out their initial inventory because there may already be another version in the works they’re preparing to launch. Even if a laser is considered obsolete, it doesn’t mean it has to be immediately carted off to the junk yard (unless you can’t get parts for it any longer). If the laser is still performing well and the operator and patients are still happy, keep on zapping. The differences between many of the older lasers and new ones are usually speed, software, system size, hand piece options, or additional wavelengths so the old lasers can still be effective for years, maybe just not as fast or as comfortable to use.
Advantages of buying used:
Saving money. Not hard to figure this one out. New lasers are expensive so if you can find the right deal, you could end up saving a bundle. If you have already have a laser and are comfortable and competent with it and are looking to add another one, the used market might definitely be the place to go. You’ll just need to make sure it can be serviced by a third party if you don’t want to pay everything the manufacturer will charge. Sometimes an older model laser might be better to consider because it’s a likely a more basic system and could be easier to work on and get parts for. Also, there are typically more of them on the market and you can usually get a pretty good price.
Disadvantages of buying used:
Buying a used laser can either be a really good thing for the buyer or a bad thing. I’ve seen it go both ways. Two big issues to consider when buying used are: Can you get the laser completely serviced? Is what you are assume you’re buying exactly what’s going to be delivered? Make sure that whatever is promised regarding servicing your laser can be done. Ask a lot of questions, get references, records of service, checklist of any work that’s been done, and verify what you’re being told is true. There can be hidden pitfalls and unanticipated costs when buying used compared to buying new. Potentially the worst surprise someone buying a used laser may encounter is having to go back to the manufacturer for repairs at some point and being hit with recertification fees that could cost anywhere from $5,000-$25,000.
Some of the manufacturers are trying to make it harder for their products to be serviced by a third-party and this is becoming a pretty controversial move. What if this was done in the new car industry? Can you imagine the uproar that would ensue if you could only get your car repaired by sending it back to the factory or only taking it to where you bought it? This is basically what many laser companies are trying to do.
Some brokers selling used lasers have virtual inventories and work by getting a deposit from you and then going on the search for one as close to what was advertised. Sometimes what shows up is substantially different from what you thought you ordered so be cautious and ask the right questions. There’s even been a few instances where nothing shows up and then the broker avoids all phone calls and ends up keeping your deposit. Unfortunately there are a few bad apples wherever you go. The main point is you should know who you’re dealing with and make sure you have more than one way to get back in contact with them if need be.
Some brokers stock their inventory and have their own service techs to inspect the lasers and get them up to speed before selling them. You may pay a bit more for this service but it could be worth it. Their inventory may be a bit limited but it’s possible they can still find something you may be looking for and have it serviced before selling it to you which you should insist they do. Some may claim they have the resources to fix any problem you might have with a laser when in reality they can’t. Ask detailed questions about how any service issues will be addressed. Will service just be a phone call from a technician trying to walk you through a fix. If you’re not comfortable working on equipment, better figure that one out up front.
Some provide a service of simply hooking up buyer and seller. This is possibly the least expensive way to go but you assume responsibility for more of the details and may not get all the information you wished you had from the seller up front.
Financing can be very difficult to obtain these days so it’s a good idea to get approved up front so you’ll know what you can afford. I’ve seen many laser buyers decide what they want and then when they’re ready to buy get the unpleasant surprise of not being able to get funding. Another good reason to get your financing approved up front is it will put you in a better negotiating position if you’re buying new. If you’re buying used, that killer deal on a laser you just found can go quickly so you’ll want to be able to pull the trigger right away if you’ve found something you want to buy.
In summary, it’s important when buying a laser to understand what technology will be best for your particular needs, budget, patients, or clients. If not, you may end paying for technology you don’t need or find out later you don’t have some of the treatment capabilities you thought you were getting. Become an educated consumer so you can ask the right questions and feel good about your decision.
© 2014 Don Berryhill
In the movie “Field of Dreams”, Kevin Costner’s character repeatedly hears the phrase, “If you build it, they will come.” Some physicians seem to think purchasing a laser for hair removal translates into, “If I buy it, they will come.” This may work in the movies for attracting deceased baseball players, but it’s not a great attitude for generating maximum profitability from laser hair removal.
The most successful physicians tend to view this as a cash-based profit center. According to Dr. Steve Finder, MD, President of Smooth Solutions (210-493-0422), in San Antonio, Texas, “You need to learn to treat laser hair removal as a retail business. Decide if you’re really serious about it, determine what makes you different, and focus on where you can excel. Do one thing well, be able to sell it, and don’t be afraid to compete for market share outside your practice. It’s also very important to keep a close watch on your labor and maintenance costs. When you’re ready to expand, do so carefully and thoughtfully.”
Hair removal addresses a want and not a need. Patients need to get an ulcer treated, but they’ll choose to have laser hair removal performed because they’ve decided it’s time. When they’re ready to take action, they should want to come to you because they feel comfortable and confident that you’ll provide better results, service, and value than they’ll find anywhere else.
Consider the following for maximizing your success:
Write a personalized description of your services along with the benefits of being treated with your specific laser. Place this, along with any other related brochures, in highly visible locations around your office and exam rooms. Be ready to talk to patients about what you can do for them with a “soft sell” approach. Don’t rely on brochures or posters alone to convince prospective patients. You can have the best hair removal program in the world but if its not talked about, it won’t go anywhere.
Educate the entire staff about your laser. Make sure they understand how and why it works. Write out a script for them to follow when talking about it over the phone. Consider an incentive program for your employees. This could mean paying them a one-time bonus for each patient they bring to the table, or a quarterly bonus for the entire staff based on a percentage of the profits.
It’s usually best to have one or two people specifically trained as your “laser specialists” to handle your consults. Anyone who inquires should be referred to them for a detailed explanation on how the laser works, what to expect, and pricing. Some physicians who develop a busy laser hair removal business hire a person who does nothing but consultations.
Create a separate database for your laser hair patients. Be sure to have someone follow up with each patient to thank them for their business and see if they have any concerns. After all the time and effort it can take to get a new patient, make sure you do what it takes to keep them.
Consider creating your own video highlighting your specific services to play in the waiting room or a private viewing area. You can also lend these to prospective patients and offer a discount on their first treatment if they (or a friend) return the video.
Many of your existing patients are probably candidates for laser hair removal and would just as readily have you treat them as someone they don’t know. If you see a small number of patients, decide where to spend your marketing dollars very carefully. Clearly define why someone should consider you over anyone else. Finally, make sure your office staff is fully prepared to make each potential new hair removal patient so comfortable and informed that they won’t consider having it done anywhere else.
Buying a laser for the first time can seem somewhat like jumping into a fast moving river. You may wonder if it will carry you onto greener pastures or if you’ll end up getting in over your head. It can certainly be a leap of faith to invest tens of thousands of dollars into a single piece of equipment. If you’re considering purchasing a laser for the first time and are nervous about your decision, you’re part of a big club. Most physicians are very concerned about making the right decision and have considerable apprehension before committing to a purchase of this amount.
In addition to the financial concerns, one of the most common reasons physicians get nervous about buying a laser is uncertainty that it will perform as promised. Be wary of companies and sales representatives that promise too much. Considering the physics and multiple variables involved with lasers, almost any system can be made to appear ideal for whatever the most popular procedures are. Make the effort to clearly understand what a system is realistically capable of. For example, a laser may have received FDA clearance for treating Fitzpatrick 6 skin types, but you may not realize that the power settings will have to be set so low that the overall effectiveness and number of treatments needed is unacceptable.
Another common reason physicians are sometimes reluctant to buy a laser is the notion that a better one will become available shortly after purchasing theirs. You can bet that it will. Improvements and upgrades are constantly being developed (similar to the computer industry) but that’s no reason to put off your purchase. You should decide if what you’re considering is right for you today. You’ll be facing the same issues even if you decide to wait a year. Also, take into consideration the potential revenues you’ll lose by waiting. The window of greatest opportunity is generally within the first two years of an advancement in technology or development of a new procedure. Successful physicians tend to recognize an emerging opportunity when it first presents and get into it early, establishing themselves as a leader in bringing the newest technologies to their community. If, after a certain period of time, the market isn’t what it was when you first bought your laser it won’t mean your system will be worthless. The demand for most services won’t go away and you will still be able to provide a much needed treatment that will benefit your patients. One advantage of having a particular laser for a long period of time is the experience you’ll have with it and the ability to tell patients exactly what to expect.
Adding a laser to your practice brings new high-tech treatment possibilities that will carry a certain appeal for many patients. Just as you may pick a car mechanic based on their use of sophisticated computer testing equipment, many patients are attracted to the doctor who offers the most modern equipment and services. This is especially important if competition for new patients is a factor. Once you get involved in this area of medicine, you’ll become exposed to other technologies you may have never considered that can enhance and expand these types of services. The most successful physicians tend to add complimentary systems and equipment over time. Be prepared to investigate any new opportunity or technology that will complement what you’re offering.
A word of caution, don’t buy a laser if you’re financially strapped and thinking it will miraculously bail you out of a tight financial situation. If you can’t make the commitment to making it work, financially and mentally, you’re not ready. If money is tight but manageable, consider getting a three month deferred lease to save capital for marketing and other expenses.
So how close to this particular river are you? Are you cautiously eyeing it from a distance waiting to see who else will get in first or are you standing on the bank ready to go? If you’ve done your research, feel comfortable with your decision, and are committed to making it work, then jump on in – the water’s fine.