Payal Bhalla tells Kirsty Hague all about her squat practice journey so far, as she gears up to open her brand-new premises next month.
Kirsty Hague (KH): At what point in your career did you decide to start a squat practice?
Payal Bhalla (PB): We first experienced practice ownership four years ago in Ipswich. Having grown from a two-surgery practice to a four-surgery practice, we toyed with the idea of ‘squeezing’ in a fifth surgery. However, we soon realised that we were restricted by space in the existing premises. The layout and lack of space didn’t allow us to invest in a CBCT scanner. It generally held us back in providing a relaxed environment for our patients. It was during one of our daily commutes back home that I first discussed the idea of a squat practice with my partner. They were really supportive. I suppose it was the most logical next step for us.
What attracted you to the idea of a squat practice?
PB: With our first practice, we had bought a pre-existing dental business but, given the extent of changes required, we might as well have started a squat. It was almost a case of asking the team to unlearn everything from the past and then learn a new way of working. For where I was in my career, it didn’t feel the most efficient way of doing things.
I had a burning desire to create something of my own. I was keen not to inherit somebody else’s vision, team, and patients this time around. At this stage of my career, I wanted to work on my own terms without having to worry about targets.
Don’t get me wrong, our first venture has been and continues to be successful. However, it took a lot of effort in bringing about the change and developing a patient-centric culture.
Obviously, it’s a big undertaking, so how did you get started?
PB: I made sure that I discussed the idea with my family, including the potential challenges and frustrations we would face while we embarked on the project. I am fortunate that I had the full support of my friends and family.
From there, it was about validating my instinct. We set upon developing a business plan with the help of a specialist dental accountant. I found it extremely useful, as the process ensured that my heart wasn’t ruling my head.
We also started testing a few strategies at our existing practices and the findings were very encouraging. We knew the learnings could be applied at the new practice, owing to shared demographics.
This also allowed us to identify chinks in our current processes, which we immediately started working upon.
How did you choose the ideal location for your squat?
PB: Once we had worked out the numbers, we drew up a wish-list of features that were critical for us in choosing a location. Of that list, visibility, footfall, transport links, ground floor location and parking within 50 metres were absolutely essential and non-negotiable for us.
The current climate and unfortunate closures of many high street businesses has probably meant a large stock of vacant properties. When we found a location that seemed to be an excellent choice, we even spent half a day loitering on the street, counting people who passed by the building.
The introduction of new ‘use’ classes saved us a lengthy process of applying for change of use. The property already had class E permission, which makes it permissible to trade as a dentist.
How did you work out what aspects you needed to consider before taking the plunge?
PB: My next steps were to find out more about the lending process and figuring out who would lend us what we needed. By this stage, we knew the approximate funding required through informal chats with friends who had been on the same journey.
I was very fortunate to have a very good working relationship with our existing banker, Tony Leo (of Metro Bank). He gave us a very clear idea of the likely lending amount. I also reached out to specialist dental brokers who suggested some very compelling deals. However, I ultimately stuck with our existing bankers.
The other main consideration was to employ an experienced team who knew the dental industry very well, so that we wouldn’t fall into any of the common pitfalls that tend only to become apparent at a late stage, when it is often too expensive to rectify what has already been done.
Why and how did you choose Hague?
PB: After researching for a while, Hague Dental’s name kept coming up in recommendations from colleagues. I looked them up online and found numerous case studies of their work – some of them happened to be friends!
As I’m sure you remember, Kirsty, I met with you and Jim at your showroom. I was shown around various design concepts. I found the design ability and vision were spot on and in sync with my vision. Immediately, I engaged Hague Dental as the architect, designer, and dental equipment supplier.
Kyle and James at Hague Dental were very helpful in developing the detailed plans of the practice.
For the dental equipment, Jim asked us a lot of questions. I found out more about my working style and types of treatments I enjoy. Based on that, Jim and I agreed on a chair package that was most suited to me.
Hague Dental also helped us with the architectural services, developing and presenting three or four concepts, offering interior design advice, including the finishes and for all our equipment for the new practice.
We arranged a couple of visits to the Hague showroom. First, to see the equipment and, once we progressed a bit more into the journey, we then visited again to see you, Kirsty. When we met you, we realised how wonderfully gifted and passionate you are about design.
The fact that you arranged the samples, mood boards and a cracking CAD visual to show us the design you had been working on for us was incredible. It was surreal to visualise the concept, as Hague Dental grasped the design brief so well.
It has been an absolute pleasure to work with everyone at Hague Dental – you, Jim, James, and Kyle.
Did you have to reassess your initial expectations under Hague’s guidance?
PB: Working with Hague Dental, a few subtle changes were made to the initial plans, which has resulted in an infinitely better outcome. Planning of non-clinical areas was done in a way that makes for a much better patient journey and efficient working for the staff.
For instance, making a few changes to structural walls. We ended up with an open-plan reception with lots of natural light coming into the practice. Some of the other ideas for seating lay-out have also meant that we have more comfortable seating for our patients.
What point are you at now?
PB: We are approaching the halfway mark now and can see the practice taking shape. Hague Dental delivered all the mood boards and final soft furnishings well ahead of time. This meant that we could place orders and save valuable product lead times.
We are excited to open the doors on 4 November 2021 and can’t wait to welcome our first patients.
What have you learned on this journey that you could share to help others?
PB: I realised earlier on in the journey that I can’t be an expert at everything, so I made sure that I had a team of experts who could deliver.
Running a dental practice requires many more skills than just being good at dentistry. You need to carry out a self-evaluation early in the journey to identify your skillset and then effectively delegate to experts, while accepting the ultimate responsibility lies with you.
Do you feel you have a set up now for a successful future?
PB: We look forward to seeing the results of this squat journey when we open; after all, the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
More often than not, strong processes lead to strong results. So, we do feel confident that we have followed the right path, have the right processes in place and engaged the right people to help us.
To find out more about how Hague Dental Supplies can help you create your ideal squat practice and keep it that way long into the future, visit www.haguedental.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0800 298 5003.
This article first ran in Dentistry magazine. Read the latest issue of Dentistry magazine here.