Interview with Dr. Julie Russo – Building Her Dream Office
Today we’re talking to Dr. Julie Russo, pediatric dentist and owner of Clermont Pediatric Dentistry in Florida. She has a Bachelor of Science in Zoology and attended Nova Southeastern University College of Dental Medicine.
Back in 2014 IDS fabricated and installed safari theming in her office and outfitted her company vehicle. Dive into our follow-up with her 8 years later and hear about how the installation has benefited her business by turning a mundane space into a magical place.
IDS: Why did you decide to add theming to your space?
Dr. Russo: We decided to add theming to our office because it makes the space different from everybody else. So many local medical offices that I even go to are white and plain and that can be scary for a child. But coming into our office it’s bright, colorful, welcoming, and just fun. I think the parents love it and the kids love it.
We are also known as the “Animal Office” or the “Animal Dentist”. People always mention the elephant in the waiting room, and a lot of guests take pictures with him, so we’ve also become known for that in our community.
Ultimately, I think our theming really helps relax our patients and even the parents, and makes it feel like a more comfortable experience.
IDS: Why did you choose the safari theme?
Dr. Russo: I love animals and I think a lot of people love animals. This is our second office – we started in a smaller office that was themed on a much smaller level with some animals before moving to this one. When we moved to the bigger one we knew we wanted to include more animals in it.
I also have a degree in Zoology, so I figured it was a way to incorporate that into all of this, and I just think it’s fun for the parents and the kids and makes everything more comfortable and welcoming for them.
IDS: Do you have any reasons as to how theming has helped the practice? I.e. do you see more customer returns or more referrals from existing customers to new customers?
Dr. Russo: I think it has definitely helped the practice. It was one of those things that when we were building the office, a recurring discussion that happened between my husband and me was, “Do we incorporate all this? Do we not?” But I think it was definitely worth the investment.
It sets us apart from other offices and parents know that we’ve put a lot of work into our office and that we care about the way it looks and the way we present in the community as well. People talk about it too. A lot of kids say “I go to the Animal Dentist” so their friends want to go to the Animal Dentist as well.
We also have a car that IDS helped theme that looks like a rhino is riding inside. When we go downtown and people know that’s the Animal Dentist. We also bring it in parades and everything, and it is something we’ve become known for in town.
IDS: What is your favorite area?
Dr. Russo: My favorite area is in the back of the office, we have a mural and it is my kids. IDS incorporated them into the office to make it a little more personal. So in the treatment area, there are cartoons – they are dressed in safari hats to go with the theme. That is my favorite spot for sure.
IDS: The theming itself is a few years old now, how has the theming stood up over time? What do you think of the quality?
Dr. Russo: The quality is excellent. Everything was installed in 2014 and it is 2022 now, so we are 8 years in. Kids have drawn on the walls with pens and it wipes off. They have climbed the elephant numerous times, and have even tried to hang from the monkeys! It gets a little crazy in here sometimes, but it has held up and honestly looks like it did the day it was installed. Nothing has faded or broken, it really looks great.
This is another reason why I can confidently say I would do it again in a second because the quality is outstanding.
IDS: Do you find with theming that patients are a little more relaxed?
Dr. Russo: I think walking into an office with white walls and seeing white coats makes everybody nervous. Coming here it feels more welcoming and kind of like a Disney theme.
The bright colors and expressions of the animals are great, so when the kids come in they are definitely more comfortable. A lot of times they run over to the side with all the animals and play before their appointment.
The first time patients walk into our space they are surprised and I think they are very excited as well. Because you walk in and you are greeted by a big giraffe with a large welcome sign, and then you look to the right and there is a have a huge elephant and all sorts of animals too! It’s fun and I think they are just surprised and thrilled to be in a neat place.
IDS: How do you personally feel seeing all the animals and their smiling faces?
Dr. Russo: I love it and I am really proud of it. It was definitely a big project, but I am grateful every day that we have it and truly happy that we decided to go for it. It was an investment, but definitely has given us a name and an identity and I would do it again 100%.
IDS: How has the staff responded to the theming?
Dr. Russo: It’s fun because it’s one of those things that when you first come into work it’s awesome. The space is relaxing, it’s bright, and I think we are really lucky to be working in such a nice environment every day.
IDS: Were there any previous issues that you can think of that the theming has helped solve?
Dr. Russo: Our theming just makes kids more relaxed overall. As I mentioned, our old office had a little bit of theming, but not as much. For this one, we decided to go all out and I think it makes everyone, including our staff, more comfortable. It is a nice place to work and a nice place to be.
IDS: Can you share any specific stories that you might remember over the years of children interacting with the characters?
Dr. Russo: In general, I think the biggest interaction children have in the clinic is with the elephant. They walk in and they see the giraffe of course, but they run over to the elephant because he is just gigantic! He is the main piece in our waiting room and gets climbed on all the time. We’ve even found kids on top of him! He is definitely the one that gets his photo taken most in the office.
He’s holding popcorn and a drink like he’s watching the TV. There is always a kid’s movie playing over there, so it’s like he is watching the movie with the kids.
IDS: Can I assume for moms or new moms that your space might be an “Instagramable” kids spot?
Our space, especially the elephant, has been great for social media because a lot of people post with him.
IDS: Do you use your theming in any of your marketing?
Dr. Russo: We use our theming in all of our marketing. Most of our ads have either the elephant or the tree in the background. We have our patients stand in front of the tree when we need to take photos of their charts.
Our movie theater ads, our billboard, and our car all incorporate our theme. Our logo also has our animals in it as well – the giraffe, lion, and elephant are how we are known. So with our logo and our theming, we really strive to incorporate it in all our marketing efforts so it all comes together.
IDS: Would you consider adding more theming to other spaces in the future?
Dr. Russo: I would not be opposed to it! We have our main areas themed; where the kids get their teeth cleaned, where the parents come in and out of the office, and in the waiting room. Some of our private rooms have different colors, but no theming so I would consider adding more!
My business partner and I, Dr. Alexandra Jensen, have also talked about updating our car, as well as the possibility of getting another. We were thinking we may have the two play off each other with the theming, so that may be up and coming.
IDS: What do you think are the most important benefits to theming.
Dr. Russo: I would have to say the most important benefits to theming are patient and parent satisfaction. It shows that we care about our office and that we put a lot into it. When people come to the office they are impressed and excited to be here, and I just think that’s what sets us apart from other offices in town.
IDS: Would you recommend IDS?
Dr. Russo: IDS was wonderful, I cannot say enough great things about them. From the beginning when we talked to them about what we wanted to do, we had just wanted to include the elephant. However, they came back with other ideas and you know, I just couldn’t say no to all the areas.
They were great to work with, the communication was wonderful, and they were timely. We had to ship the elephant from Canada and it did not delay our construction, opening date, or anything for that matter.
Everything was done really well, the people who came up to install it were from south Florida, and again, were timely, professional, and got the job done when it was supposed to be done. The quality is outstanding, and after 8 years is still bright and intact even though it gets lots of wear and tear.
It was a wonderful experience working with IDS for sure, I would highly recommend them to people wanting to theme a space, they are just wonderful, they really are.
Curious to see more of the Clermont Office? Check out our interview with Dr. Russo’s partner, Dr. Jensen.
Or check out the featured office photos here.
Contact Imagination Design Studios (IDS) to get started transforming your office from a mundane to magical patient experience. Or download our inspiring look book and start imagining the possibilities in your office.