Planmeca helps Smileworks Liverpool realise their vision of a truly modern dental practice.

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  Posted by: Dental Design      19th December 2019

Dr MJ Rowland-Warmann, Principal of Smileworks Liverpool, shares her inspirational story of practice development, highlighting the latest state-of-the-art upgrades and equipment projects.

I graduated in 2009 from the University of Manchester.  After working in mixed and private practice, I took an MSc in Aesthetic Medicine followed by an MSc in Orthodontics.  I set up a practice with my husband, Ed, six years ago.  Our vision was simple: we wanted to create an inspirational working environment for support staff and dentists alike, somewhere they could produce the very best in terms of care.  We also wanted to deliver exceptional services within an environment that made every patient feel cared for.  

In 2019, our team has grown from two to 35 and we have doubled in size twice, achieving maximum growth of six dental surgeries and two aesthetic treatment rooms.  The practice is airline-themed, reflecting a luxury travel vibe.  We have unique titanium-alloy jet-desks at reception, crafted from parts of a Tornado Fighter jet, airline drinks carts, branded upholstery on our original airline seats in the waiting room and porthole style picture frames.  Our team even wear hats and have rank stripes in their sleeves – we don’t do anything in half-measures and this provides a fantastic talking point for patients!  We still have the same vision as when we started, which we work on every day. Patients appreciate the amount of detail and time we spend on things.  This is evident in everything we do, especially our clinical standards.

The latest expansion project involved adding a third business unit, as per our original vision when we first moved in.  Everyone who visits from customers to business associates compliments us on our wonderful, thriving practice with excellent staff and beautiful things everywhere.  So when the opportunity for expansion came along we became extremely excited.  We have an enormous sense of achievement in managing to pull off what we said we would from the outset, and we’re so proud!

The challenges of expanding a dental practice

Having doubled in size in the past, this project was fairly seamless.  Like many start-ups, we made mistakes in the beginning and had worked with dreadful builders and faced enormous problems.  This time, we hired more trustworthy builders and they did a great job.  Practice refurbishments are like pancakes in that respect – the first might not be quite right but you learn from your mistakes!

Our greatest fear for this expansion was having a new, ginormous practice and not being able to fill it with people. However, that fear was soon cast aside! We were busting at the seams in our existing practice, with associates asking for more days and an average of ten new private patients per day. This was all thanks to the amazing marketing efforts of my husband Ed, who is a world-class digital marketer.

In terms of finances, the project was funded by Barclays.  It’s always a struggle to secure this type of funding for private practices, but the bank has the necessary insight to evaluate a good proposal when one comes their way.  Our broker for the financial aspects was Rob Griffin of Aspired Finance. He is, and will always be, our ‘fixer’.  He has worked with us from the very beginning and has helped us get to where we are today.  He took the stress out of the whole expansion by sorting all related financial matters, which meant I could carry on practising dentistry and running the business.

How to build a dental practice

Our builders are the heart and soul of all our projects. Thomas McVey of STL Shopfitting is a (very tolerant) genius who took each crazy idea out of my head and turned it into reality.  The project was so successful I hired him to renovate my home!

We are in a shopping centre complex, which is great in terms of location and visibility. However, dealing with a large and often unwieldy management company regarding the lease was the slowest part of the process.  Whilst I managed the project, Ed monitored business performance to ensure no surprises and a smooth transition.  

The best dental technology for your practice

At Smileworks we are early adopters and use a state of the art practice management software called MacPractice.  Of the companies that offered compatible imaging technologies, Planmeca came out on top in terms of compatibility.  Their solutions integrate seamlessly with MacPractice via an imaging bridge, which means we run only one software system.

We had previously found that Planmeca was great for the sensors and CBCT equipment and as we already had a relationship with them, we considered their chairs for our expansion.  We were impressed with the quality – the latest developments are not only user-friendly and technologically advanced, but also really comfortable for patients whilst being extremely cost effective.

We are therefore now an all-Planmeca practice. We were the first practice in the UK to have the new Planmeca Compact™ i5 dental units installed and we love them. Their small footprint and upright entry make for much better patient interaction.  Consultations, discussions with patients, impressions, photographs – it’s all so much easier with the knee-break type of chair.

In addition, James – our Planmeca sales representative – has been nothing short of fantastic. He is reliable, knowledgable and efficient.  From our first point of contact, we’ve always had great support and still have catch-ups to make sure everything is working as it should and discuss aftercare.  The delivery of the chairs was timely and accommodating of our expansion, and after some initial teething problems – which are to be expected in brand new bits of kit – everything has been working great.  Overall, we’re really pleased with the service received from Planmeca and I wouldn’t have any reservations in recommending the supplier for both imaging equipment and treatment centres – they’ve got it all covered.

Delivering patient happiness

Working in the new Smileworks is simply wonderful.  It’s a breath-taking space that our patients and staff love.  I wouldn’t say the project is ever complete – I’m forever looking for finishing touches and keeping it looking fresh.  I spend my free time scouring the internet for new things to put into the space that we have.  I am also currently in talks about a new art work for the second waiting room. Our patients deserve only the very best, and we firmly believe that the way you do anything is the way you do everything.  

Our ethos for patient care hasn’t changed over time – we still strive to deliver the best. I think it’s probably become a lot easier to do that with the practice we now have. We’ve filled it with cutting-edge equipment, allowing our clinicians to deliver the kind of dentistry that they have always dreamed of doing.

How to create your perfect dental practice

My advice for others approaching a similar project is to always research your suppliers!  A quick check of references can save you lots of hassle.  It’s also much safer to use trusted suppliers that are recommended by colleagues or friends.  Renovating or building practices can involve a significant investment and failing to do due diligence can result in not only heartache, but also financial distress.

Financial clarity is just as important.  Being an agile business means having a comprehensive oversight of all your finances, from the amount you spend on your dental chair to your toilet paper.  Don’t scrimp (especially not on the latter), but also don’t be wasteful.  You’re much less likely to be taken advantage of during your business development if you know precisely what your performance statistics are and sign off individually on each cost item.

Finally, it’s hugely beneficial to develop lasting relationships with suppliers.  Some of ours have been with us since day dot and I wouldn’t change them for the world.  It’s important to have trusted stakeholders who understand your business and work with you to deliver your vision.  As a practice, we don’t trade with companies that we believe aren’t doing right by their customers, who are greedy or treat us with indifference – it’s our way of playing fair.

A proud moment

We’re all incredibly proud of what the practice has become today.  Whilst expanding the practice not once, but twice, we’ve also managed to create an exceptionally well performing team.  Along the way, I’ve continued my development in both aesthetics and orthodontics.  Ed and I got married in that time too – we celebrated in style with our team in Vegas on an unforgettable trip.  Often it is said that you can’t have everything, but I think through hard work and dedication, we really have it all!  



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