Dr. Michael Law shares about his experience in aesthetic medicine, and how he runs his clinics with wife Kile in our interview with the Plastic Surgeon.
Name: Michael Law MD
Clinics: Michael Law MD/Aesthetic Plastic Surgery and Blue Water Spa
Location: Raleigh, North Carolina
Website: www.bluewaterspa.com, www.michaellawmd.com
Michael Law MD is a plastic surgeon certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery. He received his M.D. degree at Emory University, where he graduated magna cum laude, second in his class of over 100 graduating physicians, and was inducted into Alpha Omega Alpha. He elected to pursue a rigorous ten-year training program that includes general surgery residency at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), plastic surgery residency at the University of Southern California (USC), and a plastic surgery fellowship at USC. His ten years of formal training following medical school amount to twice that of some plastic surgeons.
How did you get started with plastic surgery?
I knew I wanted to be a surgeon since childhood. I elected to become a plastic surgeon for several reasons: for the creativity required for practice of reconstructive surgery, for the procedural and anatomic variety of surgeries performed, and perhaps most of all for the opportunity to be artistic in my life’s work.
I practiced plastic surgery in Beverly Hills for several years after completing my surgical residency and fellowship. While there, I started working with aestheticians. I realized early in my practice that good skin care was a great compliment to aesthetic plastic surgery. When I made the decision to move to my hometown of Raleigh, NC, and open a plastic surgery practice, I knew I wanted to offer my patients medical spa services.
Please give us a background of your clinics.
My plastic surgery center and medical spa, Blue Water Spa, opened in 2002. We started as a staff of seven, including myself and my wife. The first client to schedule an appointment was my mother. Today, we have more than forty staff members and nearly 60,000 clients.
Our 8500 s.f. facility includes an operating suite that is certified by both the Joint Commission (JCAHO) and AAAASF. Initially, we leased 1500 s.f space that we ultimately purchased. Our growth has continued steadily, including the recent purchase of an adjacent office suite and a newly completed expansion into that space.
A single-story building with private entrances was of paramount importance to the type of practice that my wife and I envisioned. High profile clients and anyone visiting the office after surgery can come and go discreetly. We wanted an environment without public elevators, large parking lots or lobbies shared by other businesses. Privacy is important to our clients. Our waiting area is designed to foster the privacy of our clients and patients. We have a concierge service available that allows clients to be escorted directly from their vehicle to their treatment room.
How is your dynamic with your staff?
We have been blessed with a truly remarkable staff. We recognize each staff member at their ten-year anniversary with a party and the gift of a Louis Vuitton bag. This spring we will be gifting our sixth bag.
A staff massage therapist who provides regular massage services exclusively for staff members is a favorite perk in our office. Even a brief fifteen minute shoulder massage in the middle of a busy day can help our staff members feel rejuvenated.
Blue Water Spa has no quotas or commissions. Commissions and quotas can create an ethical dilemma for employees. If a treatment provider is compensated primarily by commission, turning away prospective clients or patients who are not ideal candidates for a treatment could mean less income and create challenges in providing for a family. It is important to us that prospective clients receive a true consultation and not a sales pitch. In some cases, that means people will be informed that a particular procedure might not provide them the results they are hoping to achieve. Our staff and clients all appreciate the no-pressure approach.
Our staff is definitely a huge part of our success. It is important to make them feel valued, secure and appreciated. We have seen many medical spas come and go in our area since opening our business, and our staff members who have worked in other spa businesses say they could never go back to the commission-based or quota-based spa business model.
What devices do you own and regularly use in Blue Water Spa?
Blue Water Spa is equipped with six lasers. The lasers promote skin rejuvenation and can address unwanted hair, tattoos, pigmentation and rosacea. We have never been first on the bandwagon to try a new product or device. Instead, we wait until a device has been in wide use to see if unexpected outcomes or undesirable side effects take place. When we do introduce a new product or device, we first perform complimentary treatments on staff and their families. We photograph and document their experiences and results. We believe it is important to use our own before and after images of services we provide rather than stock photos provided by a laser manufacturer.
There have been a few situations when we have invested in technology or products that not have lived up to our expectations. These experiences have been disappointing and expensive. But the cost of these experiences pales in comparison to the cost to our reputation if we asked clients to pay us for unreliable or inconsistent services. Our clients are grateful that we do not add new services until we are confident that they are safe and that results are predictable and reproducible.
Question: How do you market your clinic?
I am not directly involved in the marketing, but my wife, who oversees our marketing efforts, tells me it is challenging to keep up with the ever-evolving social media platforms. Fortunately, we have a large and loyal client base, so, much of our marketing is internal.
One thing I think we have done successfully is to build a good portfolio of quality ‘before-and-after’ photos for internal and external marketing. Having consistent photos with the same cropping, lighting, framing and distance from the camera shows attention to detail, and pictures really do tell a story. This is true not just for surgical procedures, but also for spa treatments like Coolsculpting, fillers, skin rejuvenation, etc. Even people who do not wish to share their photos with the public appreciate seeing their own before-and-after images and they will sometimes share the images with their friends and family.
As much as we have grown, our brand has been consistent since we opened. We stress safety, natural-looking results, no pressure consultations, transparency in pricing, customized treatments and a facility that is immaculately clean. These fundamental core values let clients know what to expect when they visit us. We likely do not have the lowest prices for our services, but we do believe we offer the best value.
Blue Water Spa does not offer pre-paid packages for laser treatments or other services. Clients appreciate that we are not looking for their money before they can see results. Our approach is not for everyone, but by being consistent with our message the public knows the high quality of treatments and high level of service they can expect from us.
We also regularly have some specials and packages exclusively for existing clients. We value our loyal clients. Never have we had a special for new clients only. The most effective and most affordable marketing is referrals from happy, loyal clients.
Which treatments are popular in your clinic?
Any treatment is only as effective as the person providing the service. Botox, laser treatments, filler and skin care all can be profitable. Our providers are all very well trained, discreet and friendly. It is our environment and the people performing the treatment that make clients return. Many people can perform Botox. And many do, without adequate training. Our clients come to us for Botox because they receive great results and they appreciate our customer service. They appreciate the care we put into making our facility beautiful, private and immaculately clean. Repeat clients who trust us enough to refer us to friends and family are the reason we are profitable.
There are services, however, that will not ever be profitable. When we first opened, one treatment room was a wet room with a Vichy shower. This is a nice treatment to experience, and perhaps ideal in a destination spa, but we were never successful in creating a demand for this service. The Vichy shower was very large and prevented us from using the room for other services. Ultimately, we eliminated the vichy shower and transformed the wet room into a multi-purpose room.
What experiences can you share with us?
Some patients are very open about their surgeries and aesthetic enhancement, others prefer not to share. I always assume patients want to be private until I hear otherwise. I was recently at a party when I ran into a patient who has had several surgical procedures and has been present during consultation with family members and close friends who have had surgery with me. I have a wonderful relationship this this patient and after several years and several surgeries, I know this patient quite well. while at the party, the host asked if we had met. I waited for a moment and when the person didn't immediately answer, I introduced myself and told this person it was a pleasure meeting them. The patient later reported to our office manager that she was surprised and somewhat offended that I acted as though we had been meeting for the first time at this social event. Fortunately, this patient had a good laugh after learning our protocol of seeing patients in public.
Any advice you can impart to your fellow physicians?
The business of aesthetic medicine is not as easy as some people make it seem. Buying a laser and ordering some Botox hardly means instant success. We have witnessed the heartbreak of many capable, hardworking physicians and aesthetic professionals as they have gone out of business in our area. I myself had some lean and challenging times early in my practice.
I would strongly urge a physician to search for office space which they can purchase rather than rent, or try to negotiate an option to purchase in a lease agreement if purchasing real estate is not practical when you are getting started. If you are paying a commercial mortgage you are accumulating a retirement asset. If you are leasing your space you will never see that money again. I think purchasing space is particularly important when an aesthetic practice plans to ultimately build a surgical suite and / or making other significant and costly modifications to a space. You do not want to make substantial improvements to an office space that you do not own.
I would encourage any physician looking into aesthetic medicine to have an attorney review any contract, no matter how simple it seems, prior to signing. I made one very costly mistake with a purchase of a computer system that would probably have been avoidable had an attorney reviewed the contact.
Finally, take your time before adding new treatments or technology. Look for studies published in peer reviewed medical journals, rather than spread sheets about ROI created by a manufacturer. Ask other physicians about their experience with a device and carefully consider the cost of disposables. The explosion in medical aesthetic technology has resulted in a market that is literally flooded with new products, devices and procedures all claiming to be the ‘latest and greatest’ or the ‘next big thing’. A great deal of dedication (and caution!) is required to sort through all of the new (and often not-so-new) technology which is marketed simultaneously to aesthetic professionals and to the public.
About Dr. Law
Dr. Law is certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery and is a member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. He has authored and co-authored publications appearing in peer-reviewed journals and surgical textbooks, and he has made presentations at regional and national meetings throughout the United States. Since 2004, his North Carolina practice and medical spa have twice been featured on the cover of Plastic Surgery News, the official news journal of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.
Upon completing his surgical training, he remained in California where he had a successful aesthetic plastic surgery practice in Beverly Hills. North Carolina always seemed like home, however, and in 2002, he made the decision to leave California and bring his exceptional training and talents to his hometown of Raleigh. He still sees patients from California and all parts of the country who seek natural results from plastic surgery. Dr. Law resides in Raleigh with his wife Kile and their two young sons, Luke and Lang.