In a strip mall along The Old Road in Santa Clarita stands the newest location of Exer More than Urgent Care, a medical service provider.

Exer, based in Encino, opened the center in late October, making it the chain’s seventh location. The company plans to open its eighth center early next year in Manhattan Beach.

By choosing to go into retail centers, Exer is following the example of other urgent care providers as they move away from traditional medical office buildings and instead locate in places accessible and convenient for potential patients.

Exer Chief Executive Rob Mahan said that visibility is a big part of where Exer positions its care centers.

“Having a retail location makes it easier for the patient to find you,” Mahan said.

The chain aims to provide specialty services that patients can’t find at a doctor’s office, but in a format that’s faster than a hospital. The Santa Clarita site, for example, has an onsite lab and an X-ray machine.

Exer, founded in 2013, opened its first urgent care center in Calabasas. Today it has locations in Newbury Park, Northridge, Sherman Oaks, Redondo Beach and Beverly Hills. The company contracts with emergency room physicians to provide medical care for, among other ailments, the flu, insect bites, bumps and bruises, eye and ear infections, burns and cuts.

The company’s strategy is one of focused, measured growth; to go where there is a need and fill a gap in service that traditional hospitals do not.

“It is very much a patient-driven and referral-driven strategy that we are utilizing,” Mahan said.

In the example of its new Santa Clarita center, it was partners in the entertainment industry that planted the seed to open there. Also, the market is underserved when it comes to the services that Exer offers.

“After talking with some of our partners and then doing some analysis, we felt it was a good opportunity for us to move into that space,” Mahan said.

Excess demand

Like Exer, American Family Care likes to have its urgent care facilities in retail centers. The Birmingham, Ala.-based health care provider has two locations in the greater Valley region – one on Granada Hills, the other in Santa Clarita.

William Koleszar, the chief marketing officer, said there is the capacity and demand that American Family could open another 40 to 50 urgent care centers in Southern California. In July it was announced the company received $1 billion in financing from private equity firm American Development Partners for its national expansion plans.

“In our case, it is a matter of prudent growth and finding the right partners,” Koleszar said.

American Family Care operates on a franchise model in which each office is owned and operated by a local resident – someone you might see at the grocery store or school play, Koleszar said.

The company’s mission is predicated on providing high quality care, and doing it in a convenient place for the patient. That is why American Family locates its urgent care centers in areas where people live, work and shop, Koleszar said.

“When you are not feeling well or are physically impaired, the last thing you want is for it to be inconvenient to see a doctor,” Koleszar said.

Matthew May, owner of commercial real estate firm May Realty Advisors in Sherman Oaks, said that there has been a proliferation of urgent care centers moving into retail space.

It is happening for several reasons, he said, starting with a shift in the mindset of health care providers to take their services to where the patients are rather than the patients coming to them.

Another reason is more retail space becoming available, May said.

“If we did not have vacancies in existing or new centers, we would not have the proliferation of urgent care,” he added. “There would not be the opportunity.”

The competition among urgent care centers is fierce in the Los Angeles region. Yet despite that competition, May said he does not see a lot of marketing for how the providers differentiate themselves.

“The third parties have to create brand value,” he added.

Mahan said that Exer differentiates itself with its business model of owning the centers, contracting with emergency room physicians and having the latest diagnostic equipment. Unlike other urgent cares that may be staffed by a doctor one day and a nurse practitioner the next, a patient coming to Exer knows what they are getting when they come in the door, Mahan said.

American Family Care prides itself on its customer care and service. The company measures its customer satisfaction with the Net Promoter Score, an internal industry benchmark based on customer loyalty that asked customers if they would recommend a company’s product or service to others.

It is not enough to provide high quality health care but an overall high-quality experience, Koleszar said, adding, “I am sure that is what differentiates us above and beyond anything else.”

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