Dr Tim Yuen started a dental practice in the regional town of Bunbury, WA, and the business has never stopped expanding. So, what’s the secret of his success? By Frank Leggett
Soon after graduating from the University of Western Australia in 1983, Dr Tim Yuen managed to purchase his first practice in the suburb of Midland. Although it was a going concern with a full book of appointments, most of the patients followed the original dentist to his new practice less than five kilometres away.
“It was a hard lesson,” recalls Dr Yuen. “I had to take a part-time government job and put what I earned into the practice. My then girlfriend [and future wife] and I would sit in the practice, just waiting for the phone to ring or a passer-by to make an appointment. To this day—34 years later—I still treat each patient as if it is the last time I’m going to see them.”
In September of 1984, a full-time position in a busy Bunbury practice became available. Dr Yuen took the job in order to further prop up his Midland practice.
“I was working full time in Bunbury, had a classmate working part-time in the Midland practice and I was working all weekend in the Midland practice,” says Dr Yuen.
Soon after starting, the Bunbury boss decided he’d had enough of dentistry and wanted to retire. Dr Yuen purchased the practice under the proviso that the original dentist would stay involved until Dr Yuen found his feet. However, the siren call of golf was too strong and one month later, the original owner severed all ties.
Dr Yuen was 23 with a fresh degree, all alone in a country town and trying to run and manage two dental practices. Welcome to the deep end. He quickly sold the Midland practice and moved permanently to Bunbury.
“It was a difficult time,” Dr Yuen recalls. “I had zero experience and could not keep up with 15-minute appointments and running three rooms simultaneously. Bunbury had very few other dentists and no local specialists except for a couple of orthodontists. The hardest part was that I literally had no-one to talk to. So I just plodded on and did it the hard way. I increased all my appointment times, stopped running three rooms simultaneously and provided quality rather than quantity. I did not increase my fees for fear patients might go to another practice. I made a lot of mistakes but my patients appreciated the time and care I provided.”
Thirty-four years later, Dr Yuen is still seeing many of those original patients—and their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
The business expands
“As my practice grew, I employed more dentists,” says Dr Yuen. “I don’t charge the most in town, or the least; I stay in the middle. I guess that’s the way I built my business—I just didn’t want people moving to another practice.”
It soon became obvious that his business was outgrowing the building. He was renting a space big enough for three chairs but needed to go bigger to accommodate more dentists. Back then, land was reasonable in Bunbury so he purchased an old house on a large parcel of land and put in five chairs. He also managed to finish a Master’s in prosthodontics in Melbourne.
With the business continuing to grow, Dr Yuen built a larger building behind the old house, then demolished the original building and turned it into a carpark. “As we became busier, I would keep employing more dentists. I designed the building so there was an option to keep expanding further. Over the next few years I added another three rooms, then another three, and then two more.”
To save patients from travelling into Bunbury, he opened a satellite surgery in the nearby suburb of Australind.
“I told all our Australind patients that we have a new practice that’s much easier for them to visit,” says Dr Yuen. “This worked extremely well and the Australind practice was soon at full capacity. As we were still outgrowing our space in Bunbury, I opened another practice in nearby Eaton. The FADC Dental Group was born.”
The Eaton practice is purpose-built and totally state of the art. It has a training centre, a laboratory and an area to teach kids about oral hygiene.
“I don’t want to just pay lip-service to preventative dentistry,” says Dr Yuen. “I want to actually make a difference. We bring in kids and teach classes on how to brush your teeth, floss and all aspects of a healthy mouth. They get to sit in our special paediatric chair and it’s been very successful.”
FADC Dental Group now runs a total of 23 chairs across three practices. While the growth of the business is gratifying, the proudest aspect of his career has been the success of his dentists. Over the years, Dr Yuen has seen many pursue postgraduate qualifications, including orthodontics (five), periodontics (four), oral surgery (one) and prosthodontics (one). Two dentists are currently studying fixed prosthodontics in London. Some of his other dentists have successfully achieved fellowship status at the Royal Australasian College of Dental Surgeons and many have successful practices of their own.
“I don’t want to just pay lip-service to preventative dentistry. I want to actually make a difference. We bring in kids and teach classes on how to brush your teeth, floss and all aspects of a healthy mouth.—Dr Tim Yuen
Dr Yuen attributes much of his success to his staff. FADC Dental Group has a clear set of criteria that must be met by prospective dentists and a practice ethos that must be followed. Dr Yuen and his dentists guard the good reputation of the FADC Dental Group with passion. Every dentist in his employ knows exactly what is expected of them and if someone isn’t doing the right thing, Dr Yuen or the other senior dentists have no qualms in sitting them down for a very frank talk.
The support staff is just as important and just as protective of the group’s reputation.
“I let my senior staff make the employment decisions because they know what it takes to do the job,” says Dr Yuen. “Senior staff will report and discuss a new employee’s progress towards the end of the probation period. If they are not up to scratch, they are let go. Not only do we need people who work as a team but who share the same ethos and philosophy.”
Performance reviews are conducted quarterly for every member of staff—no-one is exempt.
The future is ageing
After 34 years of practising dentistry, Dr Yuen sees some challenges ahead for the industry. During his career, he has treated some patients for more than three decades and seen the impact ageing has on oral health.
Dr Yuen explains, “I have patients with very good teeth who come regularly for maintenance appointments. Now, as they are getting older, their teeth are starting to deteriorate for no apparent reason and a whole slew of new problems are presenting. I wonder if the dental profession is prepared for the new wave of issues that are going to appear on the back of Australia’s ageing population.”
The secret of his success
The growth of Dr Yuen’s business has been truly phenomenal, especially considering he started as a new graduate in a small town running a dental practice with very little in the way of mentorship.
A major part of his success is due to the fact that the practitioner enjoys the business side of running a dental practice as much as he enjoys clinical dentistry.
“If you don’t enjoy running a practice then find work as an employee and enjoy your dentistry,” suggest Dr Yuen.
The one aspect Dr Yuen has trouble with—“my biggest headache”—is HR and staffing. This is why FADC Dental Group is relatively rigid with the rules. Dr Yuen ensures all his staff is aware of what is expected of them and what is, and is not, allowed. If they don’t like it, then employment at FADC Dental Group is not for them.
“Potential staff issues need to be nipped in the bud,” says Dr Yuen. “Be honest and up-front, and if they don’t like the way you operate then they need to go. After all, it is your practice.”
One important piece of advice he has for new practice owners is to put your heart and mind into what you do. If you are starting out in a small town, it’s imperative to get involved with the local community. Joining a sporting club, Rotary or a business group is a great idea.
Being seen around and being part of the community will do more to gain new patients than pretty much anything else. The FADC Dental Group actively supports the local soccer team South West Phoenix and works with local churches and charities to provide pro bono work to the needy.
The final piece of the puzzle of Dr Yuen’s business success is the same secret of many successful men—having a good woman beside him.
“My wife is my rock,” says Dr Yuen. “She enthusiastically takes on all the staffing issues and is essentially my business manager. I would be nothing without her and the good people who work for me. It really is like a family.”
Dr Tim Yuen has these 10 tips to make your practice thrive:
- Believe in yourself. Don’t be afraid to take a chance.
- Patients are precious; treat them as if you will lose them each time you see them.
- Keep prices reasonable. If you feel you need to be a participating provider with health funds to help your practice, then do it.
- Clearly communicate and document what is expected of staff.
- Take the time to employ the right people. Ring all referees and avoid excessive sickie-takers and overly opinionated people.
- Learn business management skills. Avoid courses that teach how to improve your bottom line or increase turnover quickly. There is no such thing.
- Constantly expand your skill set. If you stop learning, your practice will stagnate.
- Be involved in the local community. If you are going to take something from the community, give something back.
- If you are a new graduate, re-consider opening a practice immediately upon graduation. Find a practice with a good mentor, work hard and learn before you embark on your own.
- Have a supportive partner beside you and be ready to listen.