Paddi Pages No 13 – Into the surgery

I may lose friends in the dental equipment business but this newsletter from Fletcher Potanin resonates with me. In 1988 I borrowed £8,000 from my father and set up my first cold squat practice. The only brand new bit of kit in it was the autoclave – which to the best of my knowledge is still running. Within 9 months the practice was running profitably. A friend donated a 3 piece suite for the reception area, which patients loved because they used to fall asleep on it, There wasn’t room for a “conventional” reception desk so we compromised but ended up with a very elegant solution. The sting in the tail of this is that 15 months later I opened a second practice and fell for the lure of the bells and whistles that I was told that I really must have, the resulting debt took me a long way down and a long time to recover.

Dear Alun,

The first thing you notice walking into one of Paddi’s dental surgeries (treatment areas) for the first time is that it’s different from anything you’ve ever seen before. (Surprised?)

Not that you wouldn’t recognise it as a treatment area, but there are a hundred subtle differences that would stand out to the observant eye. I’d like to tell you about a few of them and how they impact the customer experience in Paddi’s practice.

Now, before I do, I really should say that Paddi doesn’t like talking about the dental-specific aspects of his practice very much. Dentists tend to hold on very strong to their personal views and clinical preferences. Paddi would much rather talk about business philosophy and serving customers. He finds that so much more exciting.

So Paddi has given me permission to tell you about some of the clinical aspects of his business, but please consider them as just one dentist’s view and not as a prompt to enter into any clinical debates.

~~~~~~~~~ A peak inside Paddi’s Treatment Rooms ~~~~~~~~~

They’re a bit hard to miss, the TV’s hanging from the ceiling directly above the patient area. And of course that, too, is by design, in keeping with Paddi’s penchant for choreographing the customer experience.

Entertaining patients during treatment is somewhat commonplace now, but when Paddi first installed 15in TV’s on his ceiling some 25 years ago (quite an engineering feat at the time) it was revolutionary! It also made for a fabulous story for customers to tell – one of Paddi’s first Super CNes.

To learn more about the power of the Super CNes in giving your customers great stories to tell their friends, please visit www.solutionspress.com.au/page.asp?nid=gbzylbj&name=Publications_AbsolutelyCriticalNonEssentials

The second thing that strikes you about the surgery area is there’s no dental chair. Well, at least the piece of furniture in its place doesn’t look like the high-tech, motorised, adjust-in-36-ways dental chair gismos you’ve seen before.

“Have a lay down here Alun and let’s get you comfortable,” says Merilyn gesturing toward what Paddi calls his Dental Bed.

Now most people ask, “What the heck is a Dental Bed?” so I should probably explain.

The dental chairs and surgery equipment you typically see in dental practices around the world are quite expensive to setup. It’s not uncommon for dentists to spend up to $150,000 or more when you take into account furniture, equipment, instruments, plumbing, installation, etc. And that’s just for one surgery. Some practices have several per dentist.

But when Paddi first started out in dentistry, he didn’t have any money, and with parents who grew up in the Depression, he didn’t believe in borrowing!

Today he has a lovely building, but when Paddi started his practice during the mid ’70s it was in the bottom floor of a converted house on a main road in a working class suburb of Brisbane. (Did I say the house was as cheap as they came, or was that obvious?)

Paddi invited his parents to live upstairs, and Paddi’s father, Vic, (who had power tools!) helped Paddi with all the construction, plumbing and electrical. In those early heady days when there was no money in the bank, it wasn’t uncommon for Paddi and Vic to be at the practice by 5am hammering, drilling and sawing till the first patients arrived at 8am, only for Paddi to start on the tools again after the last patient left at 7pm to sneak in another 5hrs or so of construction before collapsing into bed – oh, the vigour of youth!.

As a consequence, when it came time to setting up the original dental treatment areas, Paddi was both financially desperate and just handy enough with the tools to consider different alternatives to the traditional, expensive, dental setup.

Thus, the Dental Bed was an invention born of necessity in that environment.

To describe it simply, it’s a narrow steel frame bed (cushioned and upholstered) on which patients simply lay down flat. It’s permanently reclined. It doesn’t move, adjust, raise or lower. It has no moving parts. All told, Paddi paid a local cabinet maker about $500 each to weld the frames together – a fraction of the costs of normal dental chairs, even back in 1980!

To this day Paddi has never had a customer complain that he didn’t have a traditional dental chair. They often give the dental bed a second look, but once they’ve lain down it’s of no consequence.

But that’s not the important part of the story.

At the time, the dental bed wasn’t Paddi’s preference, more a matter of financial necessity. But some very interesting things cascaded from Paddi’s solution to this pecuniary problem.

As a consequence of the bed and hence the patient being stationary, so too was everything else in the surgery (light, instruments, associated furniture, etc). It dramatically simplified the surgery setup.

And as a result of that, the capital costs associated with the surgeries in Paddi’s new building were considerably less than what other dentists had to endure – roughly 20% of the costs associated with traditional treatment rooms. And that of course made a huge difference to Paddi’s cost base and financial overheads.

Not that Paddi is advocating Dental Beds to anyone these days – for all the money he saved, making the beds was a lot of mucking around. They still work well for him and his patients, and make great business sense.

Back to the Dental Surgery

As you lay down, Merilyn asks you to move up the bed slightly so that you’re positioned just where Paddi has the best access to your mouth, with the back of your neck resting on the lovely and warm pre-heated wheat bag pillow.

And that’s when you start to look around the room, past the TV on the ceiling, to see and experience a host of other Critical Non-Essentials, a level of care and attention to detail that you never before thought possible in a dental business.

In the next issue of the Paddi Pages I’ll describe the important ones in full detail. Until then, you might consider how Paddi’s experience relates to your business.

Does your industry have a convention like the “dental chair” – an expensive piece of capital equipment that everyone seems to have but that might not be as important to your customers as it
is to your colleagues?

Perhaps there’s a “dental bed” alternative hiding there for you, too? If you have any stories of a striking paradigm shift away from industry norms that dramatically changed the basis of your business, I’d love to hear about it.

Kind regards,

Fletcher

Fletcher Potanin
Managing Director
Solutions Press Business Publishing
www.PaddiLund.com

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