We met Sarah Farrier when she was buying her first practice three years ago. Since then she’s been to Fine Company events like Meet The Disruptors and business has been good. We thought her story might interest readers who are thinking about taking the plunge.
Sarah, what led up to your purchase?
I did my VT straight after qualifying, spent a few years working in hospitals and did a couple of post graduate degrees. I was lecturing in Cardiff when my husband took a Maxillofacial Consultant post in Cheltenham. So we moved, had kids, and for seven years I did three days a week in a local practice. The opportunity to buy Arden House came up in 2014.
What was your motivation to own a practice?
It was time to be more in control of my own destiny and make an investment for the future. I also realised I wanted to treat patients my way. Ownership meant I could create a patient journey I believed in, in particular using Digital Smile Design. I wanted to put my stamp on the patient journey in other ways too like interior décor, back office processes and how to work with your team.
What’s gone well for you?
The deal has worked out very well for me and the vendor Ian Hazlem. He didn’t want to sell unless he could continue to work for at least three years and I relished the opportunity and offer from him and his wife Lorraine, the previous practice manager, to mentor me through the early stages. They shared with me why and how they did what they did and opened up their little black book of useful contacts. In time this has allowed me to assess, develop and change certain things to enable the business to grow further.
Ian is still determined to see Arden House succeed, even when he’s no longer involved. His business experience has been invaluable and I’ve been able to grown my knowledge of running the business far more quickly to the benefit of not only myself but our patients, staff and of course the business. He’s also still teaching me ways to solve equipment failures!
As it turns out, Ian is now staying on another two years. He didn’t want to retire just yet and the feeling was mutual, unlike some of the stories you hear — he’s really no trouble to have around, despite his sometimes prehistoric technology talents! It provides a welcome sense of continuity as we consolidate our team and clinical environment after the introduction of new services, a rebrand and in particular new staff who have joined us as we continue to grow.
I have made considerable changes to the business in the past three years, although the “to do” list remains long! I not only rebranded but completed an entire interior makeover. I’ve introduced new treatments such as facial aesthetics, adult orthodontics and guided implant surgery. We now have a specialist referral unit for oral and maxillofacial surgery, which my husband Jerry runs.
There is new equipment like the Airflow for hygiene services, and we converted an office into a surgery to give us more clinical space. I’ve also built an outbuilding in the garden for the staff, which they love; it’s a cabin lodge with a kitchen, changing room and toilet, a place to unwind and collapse on the sofa.
What have been the biggest challenges?
Maintaining morale and managing the team can be difficult, especially when the dynamics change when people leave and new ones arrive. You have to be aware of everyone’s needs, including the regulations; there’s HR, risk assessments, employment law…
People generally don’t like change, so communicating well is important. Team members are at varying stages of both life and career, so I’ve been fortunate to have support from all sides. You learn to appreciate how different people react and take in information, how they learn. I have my preferences too! With every step I remind people my door is always open and I’m willing to support them through every change whether it’s going paperless or reorienting the front desk.
What would you do differently?
Even though I am an outgoing person and confident clinically, I went in humble to the challenges and changes ahead, and I’m pleased with how that’s worked. At the beginning I joined Breathe Business Club which quickly grew my knowledge about running the business, and without that it would have taken many more years to gain the same skill set and ideas.
What do you enjoy about owning a practice?
Doing the kind of dentistry I want, surrounded by a supportive team I’ve chosen. It’s great to have people who share my clinical standards and support me, and each other, in achieving them. We have a team who are accountable for their actions and opinions and we value everyone’s individual contribution. I have the ability to drive the business to a bigger and brighter future, something you can’t do unless you’re in charge.
It’s a happy place, but it’s hard work being the boss, and there’s a financial risk to owning a business too. Being responsible for the welfare of the team is something you carry with you day and night. It takes an awful lot of time — I have two hours’ worth of banking and paperwork this evening. It’s a lot easier in many respects to be the associate, but I wouldn’t have been as happy not moving on.
Did you have target when you started three years ago?
There have been a succession of business objectives like creating the fourth surgery, building a website and introducing new treatments, but I didn’t know a lot of what I was going to do until I started. My consistent goal has been to treat patients and staff fairly, ethically and to a high standard. I believe if you do that then the profit has a better chance of taking care of itself.
What’s your clinical-business split?
I try and give about a day a week to the business. That’s not all in one go, because of the kids, so I fit it in around them. That means I still get to watch them doing their sports, because after all a lot of what we do as parents is for the kids; I am at my happiest being able to support them too.
Have you thought about getting a business manager?
Actually we have a practice manager who does a lot of what a business manager would do — she handles the KPIs, financial paperwork with referrals, membership plans, and HR. Our head nurse takes care of a lot of the clinical roles, in particular compliance, managing the nursing team and maintaining our exceptionally high standards.
Where do you want to be in five years?
On a beach! Well, more often anyway! Everyone wants a good work life balance. I’ve always been relatively lucky in that respect, so I’d like to continue to stabilise the practice, empower others to work well independently and see a fluid and successful transition into Ian’s retirement.
I’d like to see further growth in our services, especially high value and more specialist treatments like oral surgery and implants. I’d like the practice to be further digitalised — we already take medical histories on clinipads and take consent and feedback on iPads and have a CEREC machine. There’s more we can do to reduce the turnaround of lab work and accuracy of fit for patients, whilst improving patient experience by reducing the number of impressions taken.
We’re already a leader in the use of Digital Smile Design, so I’d like to build on that. We don’t do it for every patient, just the ones who don’t know what they want, or don’t like their smile. It’s such a good communication tool and blends all the digital technology we have at our disposal these days, so I expect it will become the norm. It’s brilliant because it isn’t specific to one treatment type — it can be adapted to all types of dentistry, so patients really do get a choice but with great results.
Arden House Dental is located on 232 London Road, Charlton Kings, Cheltenham.
More on DSD here — Convert 80% of treatment plans without trying
“With every step I remind people my door is always open and I’m willing to support them through every change”
Sarah Farrier, Arden House Dental