Should I stay or should I go

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stayWhen a successful dental practice outgrows its premises, is it better to renovate the existing building or relocate to an entirely new space? Kerryn Ramsey investigates.

It’s a dilemma that many successful dental practice owners face. The business is growing, the client base is expanding, and the profits are healthy. Unfortunately, the premises are too small, too old-fashioned or badly designed to handle all that extra business and to suit the changing market.

In these situations, there are really only two options available to the business owner-renovate or relocate. While both have pros and cons, it’s a decision that can have repercussions for years to come.

If you choose to renovate, very few clients tend to be lost during the upgrade. However, the practice-or parts of it-may have to be closed during the renovation, creating inconvenience for patients and a loss of income. The redesign will have to work within the existing space and sometimes this can make things feel cramped. Upgrading your existing practice will mean little council interference but there are still a number of regulations that must be followed. The good news is that once your redesign is complete, existing clients will really experience the wow factor the next time they visit. This can generate plenty of positive word-of-mouth recommendations.

If you are then repurposing an existing business, you will feel the full brunt of council regulations. On a happier note, you will be able to design a practice that exactly fits your needs and your clients’ expectations. Those patients who follow you to your new digs are in it for the long haul and you have access to a whole new client base in a new area.

Relocation was the right decision for Dr Georgia Sheahan, who opened her new practice, North Brisbane Dental Clinic, earlier this year. Previously, she’d been running Windsor Dental Clinic, in Brisbane, since 2009. From the outset, Dr Sheahan had always intended to have her own property but the landlord didn’t want to sell. On top of this, the rent kept increasing. “Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t have left after only six years but the rent was just getting astronomical,” she says. “I did some maths and it was more economical to own a property than to keep paying this ridiculous rent.” 

This realisation prompted the decision to relocate Windsor Dental Clinic. Dr Sheahan wanted to stay as close to her original location as possible in order to keep her existing patients. It was a difficult search to find a building with the correct zoning that could legally operate as a dental clinic. Eventually, she found a termite-ridden, run-down old corner store in the nearby suburb of Wooloowin, just a few kilometres from the original dental practice.

Dr Sheahan designed the layout and employed a draftsman and engineer to draw up the structural plans. A builder was then employed to build off those original plans.

The design phase gave Dr Sheahan an opportunity to correct aspects of the original building that she disliked. “In the old place, there were no windows in the surgeries,” she recalls. “It’s funny how that can affect your working day. The new practice has big windows in every room, including the surgeries. I bought in a designer to help with the interior, logo, branding, colours and furnishings. We built seven car spaces, did some landscaping and added heaps of storage. You can never have too much storage in a dental practice.”

The biggest problem she faced was complying with AS1428-a building code making commercial premises accessible for people with a variety of disabilities.

“You have to fit certain types of door handles for people with arthritis. You have to have colour contrast at all doorways so people with visual impairment can see clearly. The indoor doorways have to be really wide so wheelchairs can move easily. It was difficult for us because the existing structure had load-bearing walls that created corridors that weren’t wide enough. We had to do a lot of negotiating with the certifier to get leniency in certain places.”

Twelve months after purchasing the property, the Windsor Dental Clinic team moved to the new Wooloowin practice. This also meant a name change and, in April this year, North Brisbane Dental Clinic opened its doors. The feedback from patients has been overwhelmingly positive, with most saying the new place has more character and feels friendlier.

“I believe that relocating is definitely the way to go,” says Dr Sheahan. “You can pay a fortune in rent and it’s just not worth it. Everything seems better when you are working in your own place.”

Dr Manju Palam was facing a different set of problems at his Melbourne practice, Camberwell Dental Centre. After working in country Victoria for 17 years, he and his wife moved back to Melbourne and three years ago purchased the Camberwell practice. It was in an elegant Art Deco building and had operated as a dental surgery for about 80 years.

“The original dentist, Dr Victor Schneider, lived upstairs with his family of seven and practised downstairs,” says Dr Palam. “He was a dentist in PNG during World War II and was one of the pioneers of dentistry in Victoria. There’s a lot of history in the building but it was too cramped and suffering from signs of age. As soon as I bought the practice, my intention was to fully upgrade it,” says Dr Palam.

Before starting the renovation, he knew it was important to have a feel for the building and to identify any shortcomings. The dentist and his staff worked in the existing building for four months and then everyone was involved in the planning stage. “I wanted my staff to give me feedback because they’re the ones primarily using the building,” says Dr Palam.

He chose design specialist Create Dental to aid with the fit-out and refurbishment. It would be done in stages so the practice did not have to shut down. They combined a heritage colour palette with modern finishes to create a light and welcoming practice. The sub-floors were replaced and levelled, and a storeroom was converted into an OPG room. Create Dental worked in such a way that they only needed to shut down for a couple of days.

“It was a pretty major renovation and the Create Dental team was fantastic,” says Dr Palam. “Although I will admit, there were times when I thought it would be easier to move the practice to a new building. But it’s located in the perfect spot and has been here for 80 years.

“When I took over, the previous owner, Dr John Carroll, introduced the patients to me and the vast majority have stayed as clients. I feel like the practice almost belongs to them and I didn’t want to change that relationship. I wanted the location to remain the same.”

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