Practice Makes Perfect
Dentist designs her ideal clinic & fills in her future
Even at a young age, dentist Dr. Heather Wilson knew she wanted to be in the healthcare industry someday. But as is often the case, her journey along the way was varied. The Kansas native’s fascination with helping others led to experiences as early as high school in which she worked as a nursing assistant at the county hospital and was able to shadow physicians. While in college at the University of Nebraska Lincoln, she completed internships with an anesthesiologist, a family physician, and a surgeon, but none of it was as hands on as she had hoped. When discussing options with her college counselor, it was suggested she look into dentistry, and after her first time shadowing a dentist, she knew she had finally found the perfect fit.
In addition to her interest in healthcare, Wilson was also a talented artist and had been offered scholarships to attend art school. Working with her hands was something she wanted to continue to do, and “dentistry was a good combination of healthcare and hands-on work,” she said. “It incorporates all of my loves and everything I’m good at.” However, having her own dental practice wasn’t something she had ever considered. Instead, after graduating from dental school, Wilson moved to Omaha and over the next decade worked for different group practices. “I was happy where I was and hadn’t been looking to make a change,” she said.
Sometimes the best opportunities present themselves when we least expect it. Wilson was approached by The Firm about a dental practice in Millard that was for sale. She and one of her partners at her existing dental group discussed the possibility of purchasing it together, but it wasn’t the right fit for both. Instead, with the encouragement of her colleague, Wilson decided to purchase the practice on her own. “It seemed like a really good fit for me,” she said. The dentist selling the practice was also a woman about Wilson’s age, so the demographic of patients fit, and it was an ideal size for an individual doctor. It also helped that the Millard location was surrounded by neighborhoods with lots of young families, and the doctor selling the practice was looking to spend more time with her own young children.
“Dentistry is a good combination of care and hands-on work. It incorporates all of my loves and everything I'm good at.”
- Dr. Heather Wilson
The actual sale of the practice took place quickly, about four from months start to finish. Wilson said The Firm was exceptionally insightful in coordinating all the pieces, and even helped her find a banker for financing. “The Firm is really organized, to the point where all I had to do was sign the paperwork,” she said. “It was a smooth process, and the transition of being accepted by the patients was smooth too. Almost 100% of the patient base has remained.” Although Wilson said she initially went into exploring the option to purchase with some skepticism, she said there were many signs pointing for her to go for it. “It was a leap of faith, but it’s paying off,” she added.
That payoff hasn’t been without its struggles though. When she first purchased the Walnut Grove practice there was a lot of drive-by traffic due to the office’s location was next to a grocery store. Unfortunately, when the store closed three months later, drive-by traffic drastically dropped off. “We felt the impact, and it’s been a struggle because the office isn’t easily visible just from the street,” Wilson said. But since most families use a dentist in their area, Wilson has made sure her office is included on all major insurance provider lists, which has been a primary patient source.
She also felt that the office’s digital x-ray system and computer network needed to be updated and replaced. “I wasn’t happy with the quality of images, so I bought the best system available,” she said. A new network and all new work stations were also installed. “Even though it was a big expense, I don’t regret it because I’m able to provide better service and care to my patients.” Wilson also put her artistic talent to good use by redesigning and redecorating the office, making it her own.
"There's something really great about owning your own business."
- Dr. Heather Wilson
Another challenge with purchasing her own practice was that she now had to be in charge of human resource decisions and needed to hire the right team. She found that not everyone was the ideal fit, and part of the practice’s growing pains was a bit of trial and error. “Terminating employees is uncomfortable, and I didn’t enjoy doing it, but it taught me a lot about hiring the right people so that you don’t have to go through those changes again down the road,” Wilson said. She now has the right team in place and can focus on growing the practice and dedicating her time to the areas she deems most important.
The first of those areas fall within her immediate goal for 2017: to increase the number of patients she’s able to serve. Her focus will be on internal marketing and encouraging patients to refer family and friends. “We have referral gifts and bonuses and emphasize how important office visit reviews are for us,” she said. Social media will be another focus for the year from a marketing perspective. And even though both the grocery store closing created a slow-down in business, she said it’s been picking back up nicely since the beginning of the year.
Wilson’s five-year plan includes growing the practice to the point where she has enough patients to expand the office. The location has two unfinished treatment rooms, so there’s physical room to grow. She’d like to finish those rooms and bring in another hygienist or associate dentist, but she just needs to wait for the numbers to make sense. In the meantime, Wilson is working hard but enjoying her new venture with no regrets about making the move. “There’s something really great about owning your own business,” she said. “It’s not always profitable right away, but you have the autonomy to make your own decisions, and it’s such a boost to your self-esteem to see it grow. The most rewarding part is that pride in ownership.”
The Firm Deal Review
Seller's Representative: McGrath North, Tom Worthington
Buyer's Representative: Jeff Cremers
Years in Business: 11+
Patient Base: Over 3,900
Lender: Wells Fargo, Katie Todd