Portman Dental Care will start buying dental practices in Ireland this year. It wants 30 and is inviting stakeholders to dinner in Dublin on Monday to spread the word. We caught up with Gary Chapman, head of M&A at Portman, for the story.
Is this a new approach for you Gary?
We’re approaching Ireland strategically, letting the professionals, the lawyers, the accountants and brokers know of our ambitions. As a company we are absolutely focused on quality and so we want to attract the top providers. This strategy worked well for us in Northern Ireland and Scotland. For example, in 2018 we entered the Scottish market by bringing on board three outstanding practices. We now have eight and another four practices in the pipeline. Now we are looking at Ireland and we’re laying our cards out to spread the message about how we do business and why we are different.
What’s the message?
We are a very different type of group. We are focused on putting the dentist and dentistry at the heart of our business. We believe our job is to empower practices and clinicians by making sure that they have everything they need to deliver great dentistry such as busy books, current technology, great staff and complete clinical freedom. We see working with practices as a partnership which is very different to retail. Possibly most important of all, we are committed for the very long term. This means we invest and think not just about today, and short term profits, but about how to really define what good means.
In terms of our approach to the market, our reputation hopefully goes before us. We have brought over 90 practices into the group and our name is known for being easy to work with, honest and transparent. We are focused on finding practices that share an ethos with us, are delivering high quality clinical care and have a turnover of €600k and up.
What’s appealing about Ireland?
We really like and are very familiar with working in an insurance and privately driven market where high quality patient service is a prerequisite. Ireland has some fantastic practices that really fit the ethos of Portman and so we believe this represents an interesting opportunity. We also believe our experience will translate well to the Irish market. We’ve got a great engine room of over 100 people working in every function from compliance, HR and marketing and so it is an opportunity to really make a splash. With nine practices in Northern Ireland already it is the obvious decision.
Who’s coming to the dinner?
We have about 40 guests, including our Clinical Director for Northern Ireland Dr Pearse Stinson. We want to demonstrate that we’re not just another corporate that buys any practice and then overrides the clinicians. We support our practices and with their input we carefully and thoughtfully invest in what they require, not only capital investment but also from an emotional, operational and educational perspective. We believe that due diligence has to be done by the vendor as much as by us to make sure we are right for each other. In coming to Ireland we wanted to take the opportunity to demonstrate what makes us different and to listen to the advisors and engage with the wider dental community.
Is this expansion a sign that business is good?
We’re in a fortunate position. Our business is growing, our dentists are happy, and in over 10 years of Portman none of our vendor dentists have left to work elsewhere. They have stayed with us and helped us to expand in a thoughtful and considered fashion. We are not here to buy and then sell. They’re telling their friends that we walk the walk not just talk the talk and this has got us to a present number of over 90 practices. We are all aware that corporate dentistry doesn’t have a great name, but we’re being recognised for doing things differently and as such we won outstanding business of the year at the 2017 and 2018 Dental Industry Awards and were listed as one of the London Stock Exchange’s ‘1000 Companies to Inspire Britain.’ Coming to Ireland is a vote of confidence and we believe things are looking bright.