Welcome to the comfort zone

IMG_5870_PPA clear design vision and an effective business model has seen Dr Patrick Dang and Lisa Le grow Pyrmont Dental Health into a three-practice concern in just eight years. Kerryn Ramsey reports

One of the biggest frustrations that dentists face is the time and energy taken up with non-clinical business matters. Whether it’s staffing and HR or bookkeeping and BAS requirements, vast amounts of time are taken away from the core concern of the business—dentistry.

That’s not to say that the non-clinical aspects of a dental practice are unimportant—they are vital. But is it a wise use of a dentist’s time and skill to look after the business side of things?

Dr Hoang ‘Patrick’ Dang always believed there was a better way. He developed his dentistry skills at a practice in Newcastle, New South Wales, for two years after graduating at University of Sydney. But before long, he returned to his hometown of Sydney with a vision for a new concept. Taking over what was once the Blockbuster video store in the Nokia Building in Harris Street, Pyrmont, he worked with his builder to design his debut practice.

At the same time, he approached a trusted friend, IT-specialist Lisa Le, about the prospect of them working together. “I had known Lisa for years and was aware of her background in business management,” said Dr Dang. “My idea was that she would manage the staff and the day-to-day running of the business and I would dedicate myself to the dentistry.”

“People often have negative associations with a visit to the dentist so our waiting room is more like a living room in an apartment.” Dr Hoang ‘Patrick’ Dang

“At that time, Pyrmont was empty,” recalls Le. “There were no parks, hardly any people and lots of industrial buildings. But Patrick can be very persuasive.”

In August 2007, Pyrmont Dental Health opened its doors. “I chose the name purposefully,” says Dr Dang. “I wanted to keep ‘Dental Health’ at the very heart of things. That’s why it’s not called a practice, surgery, clinic or centre. ‘Dental Health’ effectively conveys what we are all about.”

Dr Dang designed his practice to look like no other. “Half the total floor space is used as a waiting area for our patients,” he says. “I wanted this space to feel casual and non-threatening—more like a living room in an apartment rather than a dental surgery.”

The waiting room is a large, open space with comfortable lounges and armchairs. A coffee machine, massaging chairs, televisions and a PS3 for the kids are freely available. There’s also a fridge and microwave and the natural colour palette is calm and contemporary.

The 3.6-metre-long fish tank is the focal point of the practice.

The 3.6-metre-long fish tank is the focal point of the practice.

The focal point of the room is a huge saltwater fish tank. This 3.6 metre by 90cm marvel is full of coral, starfish and vibrant ‘Nemo’ clownfish. The serene but ever-changing underwater landscape is constantly filmed by a video camera that streams a live image to a television in the waiting room.

“We want our clients to feel welcome,” says Le who’s completed various courses on management and leadership skills. “We want them to be relaxed. We want them to be in a positive state of mind as soon as they walk through the door.”

The reaction to the fish tank has been overwhelmingly positive, especially with kids. In fact, Dr Dang is often called the ‘fish dentist’ by locals. Le points out, “When you look into our Google search statistics, people actually Google ‘fish tank dentist Pyrmont’ to find us.”

Dr Dang adds, “I wanted the waiting room to be as unlike a dental practice as possible. People often have negative associations with a visit to the dentist so our waiting room is more like a living room in an apartment.”

The surgery utilises the latest technology for both dentists and patients. While in the chair, patients love watching their favourite DVD on the overhead television through wireless headphones.

With Dr Patrick Dang concentrating purely on the dentistry and Le looking after the business aspects, word of this amazing practice soon spread. Business boomed and within two years, the entrepreneurial colleagues were looking at opening another practice.

They found premises at the Macquarie Bank office towers near King Street Wharf. The lease was signed in August 2009—exactly two years after opening their first practice.

“We could see the vision,” says Dr Dang who met Le through mutual friends. “We could see that our business model was working. Creating a welcoming and soothing environment with state-of-the-art facilities was the first step. Separating the dentistry and the business side of things into two distinct departments was the second step. The last piece of the puzzle was to base our pricing not far from the national average.”

The only snag was that the new practice took much longer than expected to open. “There were stringent council requirements and the building was a 6- or 7-star energy-rated building,” says Le. “During the installation, the engineering architect had a lot of specifications he had to fulfil—everything from the kind of lights we could use to how the waste could be disposed. It was all specified under a green initiative by Sydney City Council.”

‘Fish dentist’ Dr Patrick Dang.

‘Fish dentist’ Dr Patrick Dang.

Sydney Dental Health finally opened its doors in March 2012. Once again, the business was quickly successful with clients unanimous in their love of the laid-back waiting room with an over-sized fish tank.

“There’s a lot of construction taking place at Barangaroo,” adds Le. “Ultimately, it should help add to our client base but the project is a long one. Construction is slated to finish in 2016 and the casino won’t be completed until 2020.”

Recently, Dr Dang and Le have now taken on their third practice in the MLC Centre, a Harry Seidler-designed skyscraper in Sydney’s CBD. A part-time dentist at the Pyrmont practice, Dr Todd Verner, was already working at the MLC Dental Centre. When the principal dentist decided to sell, Drs Verner and Dang went 50/50 in the business.

They took over in May last year and have just finished the renovations in the waiting room. New flooring, a paint job, an array of comfortable furniture and a massive saltwater fish tank are now all in position. Re-branding is taking place and soon Martin Place Dental Health will open its doors.

So, within eight years, Dr Dang and Le have started three practices that employ seven dentists and five hygienists. “The secret of our success is simple,” says Dr Dang. “Our common goal is always to put our patients first. It doesn’t matter if you’re a DA, hygienist or a dentist—everybody is there to assist the patient.”

Le agrees, adding: “We also make a real effort to keep all the staff in the loop. Everybody knows what’s going on, whether it’s marketing, staff updates, events or community work. We are a very clear and transparent practice. When everyone is informed, they all have something to look forward to every day.”

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