Brexit border trade blossoms for Belfast dentist

by Business growth, Communications, Costs, Leadership, Movers and shakers, Online marketing

As another two cabinet ministers quit yesterday, including the second Brexit secretary, we came across this story about the epicentre of the crisis: the Irish border.

Everything’s cheaper in Northern Ireland and many items are half price, which is why people drive over the border to do their shopping, but not implants — until now.

In Dublin an implant costs up to €3,000. So this Facebook advert has caused a stir among our clients — €1,499 for an implant seems too good to be true. Blue Sky Dentistry, a three-surgery practice in Belfast, is throwing in the taxi fare, and patients with treatments over 2,000 get free accommodation.

We called the principal, Rory McEnhill, to find out:

·      How?

·      Why?

Luckily we caught him just after he’d returned from zygomatic/nazalus implant training in South Africa.

Rory, how can you offer these prices?

We began as a squat practice in 2014 and grew quickly. After a period of growth and consolidation we have invested heavily in digital technology, procuring two in-house mills and a 3D printer. Provision of fully digital workflows and streamlined clinical times, in addition to our in-house lab, has allowed us to offer lower prices for certain treatment modalities.  

Tell us more about the deal

This deal is designed to broaden the demographics of our practice clientele. The vast majority of our patients are from the north, and with the uncertainty of Brexit, encouraging southern patients to travel that little bit further than the border towns is desirable. Our package is a one-off promotional campaign, referencing that our implant fees start from €1,499. The deal provides free transport to and from the Belfast transport hubs, and if patients go ahead with treatment then we will provide free accommodation in local B&Bs which are in very close proximity to the practice.

What’s your strategy with these prices?

Our strapline for the practice is “excellence through passion” and we thoroughly enjoy what we do. On a daily basis we see patients from all walks of life. Some patients are very affluent and want the best treatment that money can buy, whilst other patients are financially comfortable but have obligations such as mortgages, children etc. Finally, we see patients who don’t have a lot of disposable income but quite rightly still want access to quality dentistry. Consequently, we want to be able to service all patients from all backgrounds and our starting prices allow us to extend the umbrella of care to all.

The premise of this advert — which has only been optimised in the Republic — is that there is an established appetite for cross-border shopping. I think it represents a potentially massive growth area for us. Mostly, the southern patients come to border towns like Enniskillen and Newry, and it takes a little bit more to get them to go that little further up the road to Belfast. To a certain extent we hedged our bets by offering parity with the euro, but with the sterling volatility there is very little difference between the currencies.

Is the 1,499 offer a sub-standard implant?

We use two different implant systems at the practice, Megagen Anyridge and Ankylos implants. These are both global and respected implant systems that allow us to provide implants with predictable osteo-integration and also excellent implant aesthetics. The implant used is based on assessment of the CBCT data which qualifies the bone volume and quality and therefore is selected on a case by case basis.

Where the difference lies in the associated quality is in the restorative aspect of the implant. Our top level implant price is €1,999. This relates to the choice of the laboratory. For our 1,499 implant we will use the in-house mill to provide primarily monolithic zirconia restorations which would not have as high an aesthetic value as other porcelain solutions such as Emax. The more expensive implant restorations will be provided by high end dental labs in London and Leeds.

To further differentiate the implant options, there will be longer loading times for the less expensive implants with a shorter guarantee. Certain patients will want specific treatments carried out with unrealistic expectations of what can be achieved.

As an award winning aesthetic dental practice with experienced, award winning clinicians, a treatment will never be proposed that does not fulfil ours or the patient’s expectations. It is essential that we maintain the integrity and prestige of our brand. Through our definitive consultation process, we will assess the patient’s needs and requirements and will inform them about what is achievable depending on their budget.

Are you trying to be the Ryanair of dentistry?

On the contrary, we are trying to be the Emirates of dentistry. We are providing different levels of treatment broadly similar to first, business and economy.

Weare diversifying and differentiating ourselves with this package. We are able to offer this great deal because we have invested heavily in digital dentistry and associated equipment. We’ve been upskilling over the past four years in all things digital. It has been a huge learning curve, learning different digital applications for clinical treatments, utilising multiple digitalcomponents. Digital dentistry is a new frontier and as early adopters of the technology,  we are enabled to start meeting the demand that’s out there.

We have a very different business model to international clinics offering dental tourism. One of the major aspects of implant dentistry is aftercare and this can’t be given satisfactorily if the clinic is a plane journey away. Weare using high end materials and we have invested heavily, and that’s what a good business will do. Our goal is to not marginalise certain patient types, and that’s why digital technology is helping us so much by creating efficiencies. 

What can you do with the mills/3D printer?

With the 3D printer, we can manufacture surgical guides, bite splints, digital dentures. With the mills, we can fabricate crowns, veneers, bridges, implant bridges up to full arch implant bridges. In addition, we can manufacture our own CAD implant abutments which again saves us a massive amount. Our dry mill allows us also to mill in different materials such as PMMA for provisional crowns/bridges, zirconia and Pekkton, which allows us to make bridge frameworks. They allow us to massively expedite treatment times by adopting digital workflows. All these things allow us to pass on cost savings to patients. We have a wet mill which allows us to make e.max restorations. 

Is the advert working?

It’s only been out a week but yes, we are seeing more new patient leads from the Republic already.

Rory McEnhill

“There is an established appetite for cross-border shopping. I think it represents a potentially massive growth area”

Rory McEnhill, principal dentist at Blue Sky Dentistry, Belfast
Author: Zac Fine