Simon Button discusses what sets Qudent apart from other dental equipment retailers and his hopes and plans for its future.
What inspired you to purchase Qudent?
The peculiar thing was that I originally looked at the business because I was trying to help somebody who was hoping to buy it. I was trying to help him raise the finance for it. The business has been around for years, now in its 60th year of trading, with a loyal customer base and an excellent reputation.
Having seen and investigated the business from a financial point of view and then looking at the staff and the people here, it just became a very, very attractive proposition for me. Coming from a finance background, I always knew that I was going to know pretty much nothing about the dental industry apart from the fact that they sit in a dental chair and do horrible things to us.
I think the people at Qudent were also quite encouraged because somebody different was coming in and making changes. Changes that were driven by them, rather than me coming in and going: ‘Right, this is what we’re going to do.’ Instead, they were asking questions and seemed to be committed to the business.
And all of that is part of the reason why I thought it was something to go for.
Tell us a little bit about your background
I started off in banking and then I moved to asset finance, receivables finance and anything in between. But for the last 11 years I’ve run my own finance brokerage. As a finance broker, I look at small businesses and try to help them with any sort of finance raising that they might need. This is how I got involved with Qudent.
I am now spending most of my time here, rather than the finance side of things, because I’m having to learn all about the world of dentistry. I’m of an age where the finance industry is changing dramatically. I could see there was a lot of online activity that is essentially diluting my market.
So for me to find an interest outside of the finance industry is very fortunate. I still operate the finance brokerage but on a reduced basis.
Had you ever considered venturing into the dental industry before?
No! Actually, that’s not strictly true. My son is a dental therapist and like all fathers and sons, I thought it’d be nice if at some point he owned his own practice.
But I think the realities of that are quite difficult in this day and age. But that’s my only connection with the dental world. It’s been really helpful because he really understands it and I can call him up and ask him: ‘What’s this sucky blowy thing? What do you actually call it?’
And he’ll then explain to me exactly what it is. He’s also encouraged over the fact that I’ve got an interest. Being a young, rising professional, he’ll be helping me along with how we should be selling products to other young, rising professionals.
How did you react to COVID-19?
Initially, when I looked at the business, I saw it ran really smoothly. And my view then was simple: ‘A little bit more of the same please.’ They knew what they were doing. And my rather naïve approach to this was I was just going to have to sit back and enjoy myself.
Basically, enjoy working with these people and the business will take care of itself. But we now all know that within a month of owning the business, we had the minor interruption of the pandemic. UK business essentially ground to a halt. None of this was expected.
Plans were very much pushed back but what lockdown did enable us to do was to implement certain changes. With the group of people we had here, we were able to do things like implement a new CRM system. We’re looking to refresh the brand, and update the website. These are things that you wouldn’t necessarily want to do when the business is running at full pelt, because people can’t devote time and energy to it.
But if you’ve got people sitting there twiddling their thumbs because of a pandemic, then you’ve got the opportunity to look at it and get them actively involved in it. The staff here are the ones with the good ideas.
They’ve really bought into the fact that someone has come into the business who just wants to bring it up to date and refresh the brand.
It also gives the team an opportunity to develop their skills. Beforehand, they may well have been in a particular role and doing just that job. But there’s a couple of people I’m working with where I’ve brought them back off furlough and into a slightly different role.
One of the other things is that you’ve got all these dental associations and organisations, many of which have learning certificates. I’m keen to get the staff on those. The business needs people who want to work here and they’re only going to want to work here if they feel valued. And they’re only going to feel valued if they’ve got the right training and the right tools to do what they do.
I’m not saying I’m perfect. I’m certainly going to make mistakes along the way. But as long as the people who work with me are happy, that’s what’s most important.
What did the pandemic teach you?
The one thing I do take from it is that it hasn’t affected just us – it’s everyone. I think it has really been a case of if everyone adheres and acts as a compliant group, we will get through it. It also helps that the business has been around for a long time.
We have been able to get through this current situation because we are a well-known brand and because we are a well-known company. People like dealing with us. But like I said before, we have been able to start some improvements. We wouldn’t have been able to do this had we not had these last few months.
What makes Qudent different from other dental equipment retailers?
I think realistically as a small business we are able to get very, very involved with the customers. I appreciate there are large competitors out there and revenue-wise they are far bigger than we are. But the one thing I’ve learnt is that you go and talk to these dental practices and they know you. And we know them. We know the practice managers, the nurses, the dentists.
Our engineers walk into these places and they’re recognised straight away. It’s not just a strange body turning up to carry out a servicing. There’s a high, personalised service and we are able to react quickly because we know the customers and we know what they want to buy. We are always looking at ways we can go above and beyond.
We have got two unbelievable engineers, so now, if I go to look at a refurbishment in a surgery, I take one of the engineers with me. To me, this makes absolute sense. If I know little or nothing about the industry, why wouldn’t I take an engineer with me?
The world is changing. We can’t stand still. We’ve got to develop. This pandemic has shown us certain things. Suddenly we’re having to get equipment to dentists so they can operate in a far more efficient way. The fallow period is a good example.
At one point, many were sitting there with their head in their hands thinking: ‘Oh no, we’ve got to wait an hour between each patient.’ But now, a lot of practices have air filtration systems that have reduced this significantly. It’s making sure the customers get the right products for the circumstances.
How will UK dental practices benefit from working with Qudent?
I hope they’d be comfortable in the knowledge that if there’s something they want, they can go onto the website and they can get it. We’ve got what they want. We’re there. Because we’re a relatively small business, we can respond quickly.
We also get a better understanding of what they’re after. Clearly, running a dental practice is not easy. They’re all busy people. They want to know that when they ring somebody or go onto the website, they can find what they want, buy it and it’s delivered quickly.
Having said that, we need to engage more with our clients. We need to make sure we know how they buy things because that’s all changing. Gone are the days of flicking through a catalogue. You want, on your phone, to be able to buy quickly. We need to make sure we can deliver that, technologically, and in the most efficient way.
Additionally, we need to make sure we have the products that the clients want. We want to engage with them and make sure they’re getting what they want. Because without them, we’re nothing. It’s just really, really important that we provide them with an exceptional service.
And if we don’t, we have to be able to explain why. I think if we make a mistake, we have to rectify it and we’ve got to explain the reason why that mistake was made.
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