The value of goodwill when purchasing a new practice
Catherine Turner shares the story of acquiring a new practice just before the pandemic hit – and how a committed patient base carried her through.
Dentist Catherine Turner and her husband Joe Holt began the search for a dental practice to buy back in 2018.
Catherine was working as an associate in Basingstoke at the time. They were keen to find somewhere they could improve and put their stamp on. But also one that would enable Catherine to hit the ground running in terms of patients.
‘When we viewed The Walton Practice in October it seemed to tick most of our boxes,’ explains Catherine.
‘The location was beautiful, overlooking the village pond. And it was not too difficult for commuting to and from our home in Twickenham.
‘It had a good demographic and while it was only a one-surgery practice, it had once had three surgeries in operation. So there was potential to expand again as and when we were ready.’
Catherine and Joe recognised that the practice had a lot of untapped potential; there was no active website and no marketing plan in place at the time to encourage more patients to join. It was also a little dated. But with the right vision and some hard work they were confident that it could flourish.
The practice was all private, with around half the patients on Denplan payment plans. This turned out to be a huge blessing for Catherine.
‘I had some limited knowledge of Denplan. When I heard that their goodwill transfer service could help with a smooth transition for patients and dentists alike, it felt like the icing on the cake.
‘Denplan patients are loyal and committed. And while I would need to be mindful that they might not all want to remain at the practice with a new dentist, there was a good chance that, if the transfer was managed well, we could retain a strong patient list and go from there.
‘It also meant that we would have a guaranteed monthly income from the start. This was very appealing.’
The practice’s local Denplan business development consultant, Attia Ellahi, had been able to advise the practice owner and vendor, Dr David Pattinson, on preparing the practice for sale and on how best to approach the transfer.
He was very happy with the support and was confident that the practice would be in good hands. Attia also engaged with Catherine early in the process to build a great working relationship that has proved to be invaluable.
‘Catherine’s drive and enthusiasm is infectious,’ says Attia.
‘From our first meeting I could tell that she was incredibly committed both to great patient care and to taking the practice forward. It’s wonderful to support her on that journey.
‘She approached the crucial transition period in exactly the right way – with self-awareness and thoughtful attention to detail.’
Making the change
The purchase did eventually complete in December 2019.
The plan was that David would continue to work at the practice as an associate, with Catherine gradually increasing her time there, and David gradually reducing his.
Attia helped them to put together a reassuring letter to existing patients from both dentists. The letter would introduce Catherine as the new principal and explain that their Denplan plan would continue as before. As well as pointing out that David would continue to see patients.
Denplan took care of the transfer of all the patient plan contracts behind the scenes. So there was no need for patients to do anything.
As well as her clinical work, Catherine spent time behind the reception desk, familiarising herself with the day-to-day running of the practice and meeting patients in person as much as possible.
‘Becoming a practice owner is a steep learning curve,’ Catherine says.
‘I was braced for it, having spoken at length to many friends who run their own practices. But turning your hand to everything from accountancy and banking to procurement and HR, as well as clinical practice, is a lot to get your head around.
‘That’s why having a weekly catch-up with Attia has been so helpful. She’s able to help me take stock and offer guidance on all kinds of business matters. I know that this will be vital moving forward.’
Challenge and progress
What Catherine and Joe couldn’t have anticipated at the time they signed on the dotted line was that COVID-19 would throw a huge spanner in the works. Just as they embarked on their new venture.
‘The enforced lockdown created unexpected challenges for us, as for everyone,’ says Catherine.
‘I was so appreciative of the practical and emotional support that the Denplan team were able to give during this period. It helped to know that we weren’t alone; they were in touch with all their dental teams, sharing knowledge and expertise and giving us confidence that we were doing all the right things at the right time.’
It may not have been the start that Catherine and Joe had envisaged. But The Walton Practice is on the up, with their ambitions for the business undiminished.
They’ve already modernised the practice interior. As well as introducing short-term orthodontics and cosmetic dentistry, services warmly welcomed by patients.
With Joe’s expertise in advertising and branding, they’ve launched a new practice website. They plan to work with Attia both on training and on creating a marketing strategy to recruit more patients onto Denplan plans.
Catherine is also looking forward to embracing all the additional benefits, such as clinical and social events, that being a Denplan dentist will afford her when the spectre of COVID-19 recedes.
‘I absolutely love that this practice is ours, however big the challenges have been,’ reflects Catherine.
‘We were really fortunate with the practice team we have. They’ve been absolute superstars and we couldn’t do it without them.
‘Having Denplan at our side and the reassurance of a regular income, even through lockdown, eliminates a lot of anxiety and helps us to establish ourselves. I’m full of optimism for the practice and confident of a secure and fulfilling future.’
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