The 25-year itch

14 November, 2014
 

After 25 years as a practice principal in Ayrshire, Iain Storm decided it was time to move on to a new challenge. Iain left behind his busy five-surgery practice to start from scratch in a single-handed squat. He bought a small cottage in the village of Dreghorn, Ayrshire, and converted it into a brand new dental practice.

“Twenty five years in the same place is a long time and I just decided that I’d had enough,” Iain explained. “I knew it was time to leave.”

At the age of 55, Iain sat down with his wife to decide what to do with the rest of his career. With the sale of the practice and various other financial policies reaching maturity, he could have comfortably retired from dentistry. He drew up a list of options ranging from different things to do in retirement, going into partnership, becoming an associate, or buying over an existing practice.

He said: “I knew straight away that I wasn’t ready to retire from dentistry. I enjoy what I do and I still have the energy to do it.”

Iain realised that, being the boss for 25 years, it would be difficult, but not impossible, to adapt to other arrangements. Then, after eliminating all the other possibilities, he was left with buying a property and starting a practice from scratch.

Finding the right location

“As a family we were very happy living in Ayr so the new practice had to be within reasonable travelling distance of the town,” said Iain.

He was also looking for a town or village with a similar patient profile to those he was used to working with. A third consideration was that the practice had to be within commuting distance for the proposed practice manager, Laura.

Laura had worked with Iain for 14 years and was keen to join the project. He said: “I knew her contribution would be essential for the success of the new practice.”

Iain identified the corridor between Irvine and Kilmarnock as a possible location. Although both Irvine and Kilmarnock are well supplied with dentists, most practices are in the town centres, with difficult car parking problems.

Advised by solicitors Holmes McKillop, who also helped in the sale of his old practice, he put in an unsuccessful offer for a cottage in the village of Crosshouse, then for a village pub, which both fell through. Just as it looked as if he might have to look again at his retirement options, a cottage came on the market in the village of Dreghorn. Studying a map and local statistics revealed that the cottage in Dreghorn would be the closest dental practice to 15,000 people. Dreghorn was also the home of Iain’s dental nurse Kerrie, who also agreed to join the new practice to be called Storm Dental.

The building conversion

In any project of this nature, luck always plays a part. Iain’s big break was being able to call on Laura’s partner Willy to do all the building work.

Iain said: “Willy was committed to the project in a way that a normal tradesman wouldn’t be. He thought nothing of coming in on a Sunday to lay a floor so the plumber could install the disabled toilet the following day. His wide range of experience, skills and high standards meant there were no worries about any of the extensive building works required.

Iain was also keen to fully computerise the practice with Carestream providing and installing the R4 system.

Marketing

A few years previously, Iain had completed a business degree from the Open University. The new practice allowed him to apply business and marketing theory to the project. Four strengths of the practice were promoted – an experienced dentist and staff, easy access, evening and weekend appointments and, with sedation available, nervous patients were made welcome.

Leaving a successful and established practice to start out from scratch might seem like a brave decision. However, Iain said: “I don’t see it as brave really. I am in the fortunate position of being able to afford to fail. If the new practice doesn’t work out I still have a property I have upgraded that I can sell.

“If I can’t recoup all the money I have invested, I will get back most of it.”

According to Iain, if there is anyone being brave it is Laura and Kerrie who gave up secure jobs in Stevenston to come with him to Dreghorn.

After all the upheaval and countless hours overseeing the project, was it all worth it? “Definitely,” he said.

“The change has rekindled my enthusiasm for dentistry. I feel I can face the pleasures and frustrations of general dental practice with renewed vigour. I would recommend this move to anyone at my stage of career.”

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