Simon Lane on making waves in the dental industry

Simon Lane discusses his newest acquisitions, Bracon and Minamint, and the impact he hopes to make on the dental industry.

What’s your background in dentistry?

My name is Simon Lane. I own a selection of companies, headed by a parent company called Y80 Group Ltd, which was formed to host a family of businesses, not exclusively in the dental supply sector, but certainly majoring in that space.

I have a history in dentistry: I was managing director of Skillbond until I left in 2002 to pursue other things. I’ve worked in various fields, from fabrics to fresh produce, but an opportunity came up for me in film and tv during COVID-19 that did very well.

I’ve got experience, I’ve got business acumen, I’ve got the money – so when Peter Gowers announced he wanted to sell Panadent, it felt like a phenomenal opportunity to come back and build a group in dentistry.

I really enjoyed my time in dentistry: I didn’t leave with anything other than a very, very heavy heart. There’s more than 60 million people in the UK, all of whom should, at some stage in their lives, actually go to the dentist. But the reality is the industry is terribly small. Everybody knows everybody. We’ve gone away from crown and bridge, which was a very mechanical, artistic operation into highly digitised hugely scientific ways of producing restorations – but regardless of the sophistication of the product, the people are still the same. They’re just retrained.

So, coming back for me was a no brainer.

You mention building a group – what’s the driver behind your acquisition plans?

I have seen a lot of people who are minded to sell their business but are holding back because they know that if it’s corporately purchased, it’ll just get broken up. All the years of trying to keep the brand alive, of preserving what their father or uncle built, just gone.

So, what I’m doing is different: I am all about preserving that historical provenance of these businesses and taking them into the sort of profits that I find acceptable, just as I did with Skillbond years ago.

With some big, high-profile exceptions, this is not a corporate industry. It’s an industry where you ‘cuddle’ your customer and build relationships that last for years.

That which I’ve noticed in the lab field is that corporate attitudes are being injected into much smaller companies thinking it’s the right thing to do. We know from the boots on the ground that it’s exactly what they don’t want.

It’s like the head of HR for Ford being in charge of a small village garage and trying to implement Ford company policies on the workforce of three mechanics, one petrol pump attendant, and the salesman selling the used cars on the lot. It doesn’t work.

You shouldn’t have to have an appointment with your managing director to talk about something that really matters to you – you should be able to pop your head around the door.

What can you say about the newest additions to the fold, Bracon and Minamint?

I wanted the Bracon name in the portfolio I was building.

In all honesty, I underestimated the company – I always saw it as a small player. But on the day I walked through the doors, it took me just an hour to realise that it’s an absolutely amazing company. It’s staffed by 25 totally dedicated, thriving people. The phone never stops ringing. People are loyal to Bracon in a way that other sectors wouldn’t believe, which could only happen in dentistry.

The warehouse can’t get goods out of the door fast enough – all it needed was somebody who was really commercially minded to take it into profit. And within the first two weeks, we achieved that.

Minamint is a totally different story. It’s a new company, set up to sell some of the Panadent surgery products that we own the IP for, rather than being the agency holder for. I saw the potential for these, and we’re now in talks to take them to the US, which I’m really excited about. A very different company to Bracon, but a good fit for the portfolio!

Are you planning more acquisitions?

The jungle drums are banging; the feedback from trusted sources is that cages have been rattled – this has to be good for the industry as nothing much apart from the technology has changed for years!

My overall ambition is to bring as many privately owned dental supply companies as is possible in to the Y80 Group – so the short answer is yes. I am already planning how to manage the wider portfolio and I am talking to key industry personnel that I respect in order to manage the challenge.

All the companies so far have come under the banner in less than 10 months. It might take three years to get the next one – but if you’re a betting person you might also realise there’s a distinct possibility that the group will be at the capacity I’m aiming for within a year.

So, if you’re a privately owned business currently operating in dentistry or a related sector, and you have a track record of reputational excellence – not profit, mind you – and you have the slightest inclination that you would like to sell? Knock on my door: we’ll have a chat.

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