Owning multiple dental practices—and staying sane and solvent at the same time

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owning multiple dental practices
Illustration: macrovector – 123RF

The road to successful dental practice ownership is littered with the carcases of those who grew too big too quickly. So is it possible to manage multiple practices while growing your wealth and retaining your sanity? By Tracey Porter

Lucas Lang knows a thing or two about running successful dental enterprises. The owner of private dentistry group Dentistry Plus, Lang has gone from being a sole charge prosthetist to the owner-operator of seven Perth-based clinics that collectively employ nearly 70 staff.

The 40-year-old is also co-founder of a tech company that produces a concussion-measuring mouthguard revolutionising how head injuries in sports are measured and treated.

Yet while Lang’s story serves as inspiration for what successful multiple practice ownership can look like, not every journey ends so profitably.

No guarantee of success

Ameena Basile also knows something about successful practice management. 

A 20-year industry veteran, Basile is a dental nurse and receptionist by trade but has spent the past 15 years running her own consultancy, mentoring and coaching practices to reach their full business potential. 

While acknowledging there are many advantages to operating multiple practices, including the ability to make bulk purchases, expanded buying power, more capacity for leverage and the opportunity for greater exit planning—it also has a flip side.

The challenges include a greater degree of stress and anxiety, increased workload, more staff to manage and potentially higher debt. 

With the Australian dental industry forecast to grow revenue to $3.9 billion by 2026, there are sure to be many single-practice owners contemplating a move into a multi-practice scenario. 

However, Basile cautions that before looking to open a second or third clinic, practice owners should at the very least consider how they can fund such a move, what site would provide the best return on investment and how the new practice will be staffed. They should also be honest about their motivations. 

With no guarantee of success, you need to be sure that there is a clear advantage to operating multiple practices and that ego does not play a part, she says.

“Think about what you really want in terms of lifestyle, how many days you ideally want to work clinically and/or in management duties as well as the types of procedures you want to spend most of your time doing. Plan the second practice around those things while also considering the logistics of the second location.”

Before you buy

Basile’s passion for sound practice management was driven by observing the poor business acumen of her father who died at 57 years old with little to show for it financially after spending 35 years running a busy private practice. She says with a general suburban dental practice typically costing around $400,000, it’s also important to ensure you have plenty of reserved funds. This is because there is nothing more stressful than a cashflow crisis, she says.

Rather than sending work out the door, I opened my own dental clinic. The idea was to have dentists, prosthetists, technicians, and a laboratory all under one roof to make the process of treating patients quicker, more cost-efficient, and better value for customers. The model worked.

Lucas Lang, owner, Dentistry Plus

“Have a thorough business plan and make sure you borrow wisely. Shop around for a good finance deal and consider everything you need such as practice purchase funds or fit-out costs, stock, wages, equipment, rebranding, websites etc., so that you are not trying to find funds later.

“If you are buying an existing practice, you also need to ensure that all staff leave has been managed and considered in the purchase costs as well as any existing leases and stock. This will avoid surprise expenses,” Basile says.

Once you have the fundamentals sorted, the key to generating success and future wealth creation is by ensuring you have good systems and processes in place—particularly when it comes to your employees, she says.

“Ideally you want to have excellent HR management including good onboarding processes, training, and staff management systems such as performance reviews. [You also require] a skilled, friendly team who is engaged in the values, vision and culture of the organisation.”

Strong leadership, including an experienced practice manager or—if it is not viable to have a practice manager because of the size of the practice—a highly effective front office manager at each site should also help to ensure any problems that arise don’t prove insurmountable, she says. 

Looking forward

Lang says when he founded his first clinic, a dental implants practice in 2008, he did so with little regard for the future expansion opportunities of the business.

Instead, the chance to open a second, third and subsequent locations came from striking upon a business model that worked—and then replicating it.

“I noticed quickly that many of my patients also needed to see a dentist as part of their treatment, so rather than sending work out the door, I opened my own dental clinic. The idea was to have dentists, prosthetists, technicians, and a laboratory all under one roof to make the process of treating patients quicker, more cost-efficient, and better value for customers. The model worked.”

Fifteen years since opening his first clinic, Lang concedes he is no longer able to spend as much time on the tools as when he first started.

However, supported by his “exceptional management team” and now at the development stage for a new concept—one that aims to ease the financial pressure put on those facing mounting oral health bills—he says he has few regrets about the way things have panned out.

A journey of growth

Multiple practice ownership is high risk but when given adequate planning, resourcing, and structuring, it can also be high reward, Basile says.

“There is so much growth and learning on this journey and it is constant. Regardless of whether you own one or a few practices, practice ownership will come with challenges at times. Conquering the challenges though is very rewarding. 

“If you get the right advice, are committed to being a good leader, employ the right people and ensure you maintain a balanced lifestyle, it will be successful and financially satisfying.” 

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