Stillpoint and the Automatic Membership model

Stillpoint Community Acupuncture opened in August 2011, in the small town of Langford BC, a pocket community of Victoria. Since we opened, we have provided over 13,000 treatments, and have only twice dipped into our overdraft, something that we are quite proud of.

About a year ago we began thinking that we would like to make more of an impact in the Greater Victoria area, and decided we would work towards opening a second clinic. About 5 months ago we began looking in earnest for a location that would be suitable.

This search turned out to be more difficult than we thought it would be; commercial leasing in Victoria is very expensive, and while there are many vacancies, we couldn't find the right mix of location and affordability.

At one point we found what we thought would be a perfect location: located in a light industrial area, the space itself was beautiful with high ceilings and skylights, rough beams, painted concrete floors, affordable price.  The only hitch was that, as it was zoned as light industrial, our 'personal service' designation would not be allowed in that space.  What *was* allowed in that space was a crazy list of things, from pickle factory, to church, to inkmaking, to steel foundary. Also, clubs.

Clubs. We had a thought.  We are co-op members, and as such we pay a fee to be part of it. Could the co-op be 'massaged' into a club designation?  There are precedents here, such as grocery stores that masquerade as 'buyer's clubs' that don't actually ever charge a membership fees. But we didn't want to be dishonest about what we were doing.

So we thought, what if we *actually* charged that fee, and it went directly to the co-op?  What if we set our First Treatment fee at a level that we could afford to include a POCA membership with it, so that every new patient became a member of POCA, at least for the first year?  What if we started offering sales that benefitted POCA members specifically, as a way to encourage our existing patients to sign up?

As it turns out, the City of Victoria has no imagination, and no real desire to work with small businesses (hence the HUGE amount of commercial vacancies in the city).  Our idea of Stillpoint as a club was turned down by the bureaucrats at city hall with hardly a second thought.  However, the thought remained that we should, wherever we land our second location, go ahead with this membership idea.

For me, it has always been a struggle to engender a greater sense of community within the clinic. People come in, they get poked, they leave. Very seldom is there any cross dialogue with other patients, or a sense that the clinic IS the patients. It is my hope that this 'automatic membership' model will help people feel more connected to the clinic, to CA, and to each other.

They'd be part of a club!

We have decided that our First Treatment fee will be a flat CDN$45.  A POCA membership costs anywhere between CDN$27-30, so we'd only really be taking in about $15 for the first visit, and the rest would go directly to POCA.  Besides the usual POCA membership benefits, we also plan to offer a discount on products we sell, and sales that will be specifically geared to members as a way to 'value add' this initial fee.

We are two or three weeks away from opening our second location, not far from the original location we had been eyeing up. I don't know if this will work, whether the fee will create another barrier to acupuncture, or if my hopes for greater community will be borne out. Once we have been doing it for a while I will get back to you.

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Responses

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  1. I’ve been so excited about this idea since I first heard about it. It seems a long time since the initial discussions about the formation of POCA and the then-revolutionary idea of inviting patients to become members (would they join? Would they care? How much would it cost the clinics?). This plan is another giant step in the direction of bringing patients forward as full members of the co-op.

    I’m constantly amazed and excited by the innovation of different clinics, as they expand the meaning of POCA and draw their patients into closer partnership. Looking forward to welcoming many new members in the next few months!

  2. I’ll be following this idea with you closely brother. You described my part of L.A. very well. There’s very low sense of community. That’s a damn good idea. Looking forward to hear what comes of it!

  3. Super-interesting.

    We’ve been chewing over this idea all morning here in Manchester…thanks for writing about it Jean Paul.

  4. I love the way POCA people think. We find such creative ways to jump through hoops and in the process, help more people find- and join- the party.

  5. I’ll be interested to see how this turns out JP. Seems like a great way to spread the word about POCA!

  6. I really like this idea! I like the invitation/belonging aspect, and I like that patients understand from the get-go that they are contributing to a bigger movement – that a clinic *could* charge that much and keep it, but instead they are sending it to the co-op of which they are members.

    Just wondering how it works when their membership expires; assuming they are then responsible for re-upping themselves? Look forward to hearing more! And congratulations on opening clinic #2!

  7. Do you have any plans on how you will handle POCA renewals? Is renewing mandatory every year in order to keep getting treated at Still Point?

  8. We don’t have plans currently on what to do with renewals, though I’m hopeful that renewals will be easier during membership drives than trying to sign up new folks.

    2 weeks in and so far it has been seamless;new patients haven’t blinked at the fee, and it has started many new conversations with existing patients.