The Dentist speaks to Richard Langley about his decision to sell his practice.
Richard Langley qualified from Manchester University in 1976, before going on to work in a busy NHS practice in Manchester for five years.
Like many in his generation he went on to purchase his own practice. He explains, “My wife is also a dentist and after a number of years working in the NHS, we decided the time was right to take the step of purchasing a practice of our own. We happened to see a practice in Virginia Water above a doctor’s surgery and it seemed like the perfect opportunity for us, so we decided to take it. When we bought it, it was a mixed practice, but when the new NHS contract came out in 1990, we decided to go fully private.” The move away from the NHS wasn’t the only change that Richard and his team embarked on, as he explains, “In 2000 our lease at the practice came up for renewal and this made us stop and consider the future. For a while we had wanted to expand but the landlord wouldn’t allow it, and so we began to look at other options for the practice. We ended up moving into what used to be an ironmongers – the landlord there was one of our patients – and since then we have been able to expand considerably so the practice now has three dental surgeries, a hygienist surgery and a therapy room with a chiropodist.”
Given the growth of the practice and its continued success it may seem strange that the next step for Richard was to consider selling. But the principal of Langley’s Dental Centre explained that practice ownership itself was never his ambition – it was clinical dentistry and providing the best service for his patients which was, and still is, his main aim. “When owning a practice there is always the question of an exit strategy, and how to go about realising the value of the business I had worked to build up for so many years. Many dentists only consider this when they want to stop practising but I knew I didn’t want to retire. I wanted to continue practising and doing the job I love so I had a few different options open to me.” One option available to Richard was to sell the practice to an incoming dentist and agree to a tie in for a specific period of time, but a more attractive offer came from the dental group Dentex.
“I met with somebody from Dentex when the company was first formed but I didn’t join for a year or so after that – it almost seemed too good to be true. The business plan was very good, and it was perfect for me with where I was in my career. The company would buy the practice, but a percentage of the practice’s sale value is in Dentex shares; this is a win win situation. It meant I could stay in the practice and run it as I had been, and it was in everybody’s interest to keep the practice running efficiently.” Although the practice has officially changed hands the old adage ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ has certainly applied. The practice had proved itself a success and Dentex has been keen to not interfere in a way that may be of detriment to the asset it has purchased.
“Dentistry is a funny profession because so much of the value of a practice is in an individual’s reputation and the rapport they have with patients. Trust is huge. A big turnover in staff or aggressive corporate rebranding can do damage to that. Following the sale here there was no rebranding at all. As far as patients are concerned, I don’t think they will have noticed any changes– it is the same practice it has always been.”
Although there was a conscious effort not to make changes for changes’ sake, there have been some areas, particularly behind the scenes, where being part of a larger group is advantageous as Richard details, “In terms of running the practice following the sale we now have a Dentex business development manager who comes in to see us and helps us improve profitability and buying power. And the IT department at Dentex helped us with our server. Outside of that there are few changes. The practice had been a success for a number of years and so there was no need to drastically change things.”
One of the concerns some professionals have regarding the corporate model is the question of clinical freedom and the danger of restrictions being placed on the materials and equipment used. But this has not been the case for Richard or his team at Langley’s Dental Centre. He explains, “There’s never been any influence over clinical freedom whatsoever and we can use any materials we like. Within our practice some dentists use different materials to me, they are free to use whatever they like. Dentists do not like their clinical decision-making being interfered with and want to be able to practise as they know best and that is what I am allowed to do. I can’t go out tomorrow and buy an intraoral scanner, but if I was to put together a financial plan for that and make a reasonable argument about how it would improve patient care and profitability then I could get one. There are no rulings on what materials we can use.
“We have a practice budget for materials which is set on what we used in the past. It’s based on what the valuation of the practice was in the first place. Dentex can negotiate better deals with plan providers and computer suppliers, and has the time to research which supplier can do it most effectively at a lower price, when it is time to upgrade I know it will be at the best price and quality.” Of course, a change of ownership impacts the entire team and managing that process can be difficult, particularly in a close knit team where staff members are friends as well as colleagues.
He explains, “We made a decision to tell them before the sale went through, I didn’t want to keep it quiet from them. Except for the practice manager taking on more responsibility, the staff have not seen huge changes at the practice. Being part of a wider group has lots of benefits for the staff though, particularly when it comes to training. Dentex has provided a lot of opportunities for the rest of the team, and there are more being offered as time goes on. There are practice manager meetings every four months, which is great as it can be quite an isolating job. Our practice manager has been with the practice since 1982, it has been important for her to meet other practice managers and discuss common problems.
Talking to other people who are facing the same challenges can be hugely informative. I was a practice advisor for Denplan for 20 years and I’d visit other practices and look at quality and compliance issues – nearly every practice did things differently and overcame problems in different ways. In each practice I could give some advice and help them because I’d seen things at other practices. That network of people is really beneficial, and I think that’s why forums and these meetings are important.”
So, the practice team have been helped by the sale, but what about Richard himself? Aside from the financial realisation of the asset, has his practising life been improved? The answer was an unequivocal yes, and Richard explained how he had been energised by the change. “One of the most important factors for me personally has been the increased time available to me. I now have the opportunity to learn new skills in a way that I wasn’t able to before and that has really made a difference to the way I practice and my enjoyment of dentistry. For example, I’ve been involved in restoring implants for a long time but I’ve never surgically placed them.
We’re now having an oral surgeon come in to mentor me and see if I can start placing implants myself and that is hugely exciting. To stay in love with the profession you have to move with the times; that means learning new skills and incorporating new techniques. I can now look forward to doing that and continuing to improve unhindered!”
This entry was posted in The Dentist in November 2019