An honest review of selling to and working for a corporate
When Michael Oliver, former owner of established Olivers Dental Studio in Sunderland decided to sell his business to mydentist, he had concerns. Now, nearly 2 years down the line, we speak to him about his new life as a private dentist working for a corporate.
“I’m a proud one practice dentist; I’m a Sunderland lad and was offered an associate role at the practice 34 years ago. Not long after, my then boss had health issues, and I was put in a position to run the practice. He came back, but he was never quite himself so 31 years ago he put it to me to buy the practice and I became the owner at 25 years of age, I’ve been very fortunate.
“Reflecting back to when I became principal in the mid-80s, I’ve seen a lot of changes, dentistry was very NHS back in those days and I got frustrated with that so I did something about it and grew Olivers into the business it is today. I originally lived in the practice, it started as a small extension on the back of the house with two surgeries and over time it just grew and grew, I moved out and eventually it developed to the size it is today. It’s quite a long journey but we went from just two dentists to eight dentists, three hygienists and the rest- we’re quite a big outfit now.
A good run
“My goal was never to build a practice and sell it, just after 30 years of running a practice it came to the point where I was ready to hand the baton on. Getting my hands on the practice so young meant I had a 30 year run as the person responsible for Olivers, I still enjoy my dentistry but the administrative side was becoming a burden to me.
“I can’t say the process isn’t stressful there’s a lot of hurdles to ensure everyone is happy, but I have to say mydentist handled the procedure very well. Confidentiality concerned me as I didn’t want word that I was selling the practice to get out, I didn’t want to unsettle the practice team or patient base – but until I announced it, it was all kept very in-house. They honoured everything that was promised to me; my nervousness was a big company coming along and promising the earth and then we get to the final hurdle and lose it – that wasn’t the case, everything they said they’d do they did.
“We were very successful, and I felt mydentist had some catching up to do on the private side. Obviously a big corporate has rules and regulations and branding so we had to get used to that but I have to say now coming into work things run beautifully.
“It was clear to me from the start why they were buying us, they weren’t buying us to devalue the brand and make us an NHS outfit, I could see they wanted to learn from what was really a successful brand like Olivers. We’re in a part of the world that’s maybe not the most commercially successful or industrial, but we grew as an eight dentist private practice even through the recession – obviously to change that model would have been madness, so I was confident that us falling under the NHS style umbrella would not be the case. You can tell from the investment spent, when you walk through the door – the rebrand, this place looks nice! We pretty much have the same dental team which is reassuring, as to be as successful as before, we needed to remain as we were. On the whole things haven’t changed very much – hopefully that means the team think that what mydentist is doing is well worth sticking with.
“My reservation was if this is a mydentist practice, yes it’s got nice furniture but why would the average person off the street choose mydentist Olivers over an NHS practice up the road, it’s a challenge which needs marketing back up – a new challenge for the marketing team who maybe don’t put so much marketing budget into each individual NHS practice. You’ve got to get the message out and that costs money, but every new patient who walks through the door brings in thousands of pounds over their lifetime, so that initial money per head to get that patient in is a sound investment. I think the company are really catching up with that.
Labs and materials
“The sale unsettled the clinical team significantly at first and there was some hitches, be it materials, be it dental labs, we needed to iron out some things, but I understand a company can’t own 700 practices countrywide and do things differently in each individual practice. People don’t like change so the professional team wanted the same materials, the same labs – on balance most things haven’t changed, we’ve met the company half way and everybody is now happy. The company has a product catalogue with thousands of materials on, it’s been hand crafted by dentists and clinical review groups within the business, and if we wanted something which isn’t on there, we have the opportunity to request it.
“Not much has changed, we’ve had to shift a little bit. The expectations at a private practice are so high, from both the clinicians and the patients that any slight change becomes a big problem. The materials I use haven’t changed for the past 10 years and I haven’t been restricted in what I’m doing. In private practice, we’re not turning out bog standard work, dentists like to be in a comfort zone with labs they’re used to, that they know turn out quality work and as a result the company have been flexible and taken on a couple of extra labs which they weren’t working with in the past – the bottom line is if the work we turn out is of a high quality and the patient is satisfied, it’s a profitable model and a win win for everybody. There’s no point practitioners being asked to use labs they’re not comfortable with when patients are paying high end private fees, because you’ll have disillusionment of the patients, and the company will ultimately lose that patient when they go somewhere else.
“I’m aware there’s a snobbery in dentistry that would hope a corporate doing something like this might fail, but I want that message out that we haven’t failed and we’re surviving very nicely under the mydentist brand. There’s strong individuals in private dentistry, I think some may worry their work would be devalued under a corporate umbrella, with regards to cheaper materials, not investing in staff, dumbing down the practice, etc – far from the case in this practice.
“It’s taken me a while to get used to the emotion of not being the boss, I’ve run this place for 30 years and you get set in your ways and for the first few months I felt the need to get involved when maybe I should have stepped off but the only reason I did that is because I have passion for this place. There’s real benefits of not worrying about the administration side of things, the staff, human resources, CQC, all of those things are out of my hands now, I know everybody says it but I now just come in and do the dentistry I love. It’s made my life more pleasant.