As an essential medical office, Contour Dermatology & Cosmetic Surgery Center stayed open throughout the pandemic, initially seeing only urgent dermatology patients in person and others by telemedicine. But as about 40 percent of the practice is focused on cosmetic dermatology and cosmetic surgery, that lagged for a while. Then it boomed as people were spending more time on Zoom and wanted to improve their on-camera appearance.
With a large staff and three valley locations, the practice has an overhead of three offices to maintain, including mortgages for its Rancho Mirage and La Quinta offices and rent at the El Mirador Medical Plaza location in Palm Springs.
“I had a fear of turning a ship into a sailboat,” said Contour Dermatology founder Timothy Jochen, MD, “but what I found was we had to jump into a life raft for a while. It was amazing having a great team that worked even harder. They were really invested in making sure the business thrived.”
“When the numbers came out for the end of the year, what happened was we had a better year in 2020 than we did the year before,” said Dr. Jochen.
“We had to furlough the majority of the practice for several months and kept a core team. “The team was really good at keeping all the staff engaged in the practice during this time, so they knew we cared.” He also noted that the staff who weren’t furloughed worked extra hours to deal with HR issues and obtain PPP and other COVID-relief programs.
Before the pandemic, Contour had a staff of 75 and is now at 60. “Almost everyone who was furloughed came back,” said Jochen. As happened in several industries, some people used the slow down to reevaluate their life. “A few decided to stay home with their kids. One person decided to go back to school to become a teacher, and another moved to another country. We only lost one or two to other practices,” he said. The rest returned with renewed enthusiasm for Contour Dermatology’s mission of helping people look beautiful and cure skin disease.
Looking to Expand in 2021
Having navigated the rough waters of early 2020, Contour Dermatology continues to chart its course toward a bright future as it celebrates a major milestone in 2021 – 20 years of service to the Coachella Valley. The practice is also looking to expand, both within the Coachella Valley and outside.
Palm Springs was the first location where Jochen opened his practice in 2001 – a small office across from Desert Regional Medical Center with just himself as a solo practitioner and two employees. His partner, Lee Erwin, left his IT consulting practice to join Contour Dermatology as executive director shortly thereafter.
Now, 20 years later, with three valley locations, they turn their attention again to Palm Springs and have been looking to expand this office but have found the Palm Springs commercial real estate market to be competitive with limited options for sale or rent.
“We have two offers on buildings to purchase to renovate to our specs, and we’ll see if one of them goes through,” said Jochen. “Plan B is to take additional space at our current location to keep our current office as a medical office and take another suite to serve as a spa/cosmetic treatment office. Palm Springs has been a smaller satellite office for us, but we want to offer full-time laser services there.” He added, “Some doctors like to collect fancy cars. I like to invest in the latest laser technology. We have one of the largest collections of cosmetic lasers in Southern California, if not the largest.”
Jochen said the practice is also looking to expand to the Redlands/Loma Linda area by summer or the end of 2021 at the latest, with future sights on Temecula as a fifth location.
Contour Dermatology has a medical team of two board-certified dermatologists (including Jochen), six nurse practitioners and four estheticians. Three of the medical providers live in the Redlands area and commute to the desert for work. The Redlands/Loma Linda office will give them a more convenient office as one of their office rotations.
Jochen also has been working to recruit more dermatologists to join the practice. As an associate professor of dermatology at USC in Los Angeles, where he’s taught for more than 15 years, he has access to some of the country’s brightest dermatology residents.
“I love the desert, but it’s a hard sell to get doctors to come to the desert,” he said. “We’ve had some recent discussions, but until they walk through the door and stay six months, you don’t know if it’s going to work.”
One of the things Contour did early on during the pandemic was to beef up their telemedicine offering through Doxy.me, which has an excellent security profile.
Telemedicine was something Jochen had been wanting to set up even before the pandemic as patients who live in the Pacific Northwest and Canada wanted to be able to have the option of remote visits, and the pandemic accelerated it.
Online Events Kept the Fun Going
As with any cosmetic procedure, there are bound to be questions people have about downtime, after-care and results. Before the pandemic, Contour Dermatology cosmetic consultants had developed a successful series of lively lunch and learn events featuring a brief presentation, Q&A and sometimes see a live demonstration, special pricing and raffle prizes. “As cosmetic was basically shut down for a while, our team started hosting these events virtually,” said Jochen. “These worked out really well, especially as more people were home and had nothing to do.”
Also, just as the pandemic hit, Contour Dermatology was poised to hold one of its most popular events of the year in late March – Day of Beauty. It was canceled. But by the time September rolled around, they were able to resume with a first-ever blended event with a week-long virtual “Day of Beauty” with the same specials and a limited, socially distanced, one-day in-person event benefitting Coachella Valley Volunteers in Medicine. “It was wildly successful,” said Jochen.
Events like Day of Beauty help fuel Contour Dermatology’s generous philanthropic contributions to the community. Jochen and Erwin are known for their community support of more than 40 valley charities covering various needs from health-related, women’s, children, seniors, emergency shelter, food assistance and animal charities. A special 20th anniversary Day of Beauty event will be planned for later in 2021.
Cool Contour Culture
Besides talented medical providers, a commitment to staff and patient education has been a hallmark of the Contour brand. “A lot of doctors aren’t given an opportunity to do anything other than medicine. I was fortunate to work in customer service at Nordstrom and in marketing at IBM before medical school. I gained good core values in commitment to both the staff and the customers,” said Jochen.
“At Contour Dermatology, we put a lot of effort into events and things that will make the staff happy,” he said. The team also plays ice breaker games and contests daily before the after-lunch educational staff meeting. These exercises help increase camaraderie, which contributes to the overall atmosphere of excellent patient care. “The culture we have developed with our core values and commitment to education is one of the main reasons I believe we are successful,” said Jochen. One of the practice’s core values is: “We are ladies and gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen. Leave your problems at the door and treat everyone with respect and dignity.” Another of the practice’s 10 core values is respecting employee insight and ideas. “We really try to make them have a say in the business. It makes a difference when people feel they can make a difference,” said Jochen.
Patients notice, too. “I was so excited. Last week, I had a patient who told me the word on the street is that our office is like Disneyland. People are happy to work here, and it shows how they treat the patients,” said Jochen.
The Importance of Mentoring
Recognizing the immense importance of mentors in his life, Jochen commented, “I’m on a journey right now I call “The Mentors,” where I’m going back to visit and personally say ‘thank you’ to the mentors who made a difference in my life.” He added, “I’m entering that phase of life where you want to share the knowledge you have and get joy out of becoming a mentor. I am a mentor to my staff, and I have some residents at USC who want me to mentor them.”
“When I first came here, I had no idea you could have a successful business in the desert. I came here for the lifestyle. I always anticipated I’d have to move to LA to make a living. My accountant told me you might be able to develop a small practice here based on industry standards. But I had a clear vision of what I wanted to do,” said Jochen.
As Jochen considers semi-retirement in the next decade, he commented, “I looked into venture capital groups, but if you go that route, you lose control. I like that I get to have my own practice and be an entrepreneur. I enjoy both sides of the practice – I enjoy the business side as much as the art of medicine and reviewing my journals,” he said.
“My dream would be to have a chain of Contours nationwide. That’s one of the things I’d love to develop. Some dermatologists have done this, but a lot of them are just dollar-driven. I’ve always felt that if you are really committed to your craft, the money comes. The money flows from the vision, not trying to get the money.
“I really have an investment in the brand and the staff,” said Jochen. “I want it to continue on after I retire. I’m focused on growing the team to make it so they can continue the mission of Contour Dermatology – that’s the legacy I want to leave behind.”
Photo by Ethan Kaminsky: Timothy Jochen, MD at his Rancho Mirage office