Dr Ricky Patel’s tech savvy
Owning his own dental practice—and one equipped with the latest gadgets and gizmos at that—is a dream come true for Dr Ricky Patel.Learn More
Brandon Zhu and Dr Fei Qiu have discovered that if there’s a secret to a husband-and-wife team owning a dental practice, it lies in having complementary skill sets. “Initially, I thought that having a husband and wife who are both dentists would be a combination that would work really well,” Brandon confesses. “But through the years, after talking to many, many dentists about it, I think that the complementary skills are more vital to the success of a practice. It comes down to mutual respect. There's less conflict in terms of ideas and views. We're looking at the same object, but from different angles, so we see a more complete shape of it.”
It probably also helps that Dr Qiu came to dentistry as a second career—so with a level of maturity and life experience that helped her establish herself. “Previously I worked for a biotech company making point-of-care diagnostic kits for tuberculosis,” she explains. “I always enjoyed the medical and science side of things when I was studying, and I do enjoy hands-on work too, so I think dentistry was always something that I had an interest in. I only pursued it after we had our own family though as I wanted to do something that had more flexibility in terms of time.”
Brandon had worked in investment banking, and at that time was teaching finance at university. “Given Fei's interest in dentistry, I thought, why not support her in her field of interest while I was teaching?” he says. “I thought having that combination of finance, health, and education is a pretty healthy combination of professions. It has a healthy amount of contribution to society, and at the same time, I think it's genuinely rewarding from a personal values perspective.”
“I think we do get the benefit of two worlds coming together,” Dr Qiu adds. “Brandon has the finance and business side of things sorted. He approaches the business from an owner’s perspective and how to run the dental clinic smoothly as a business. Meanwhile, I'm approaching our business as a full-time clinician, so I understand what's needed to do good dentistry. By communicating both our perspectives openly with one another, we can provide everything we need to run a good dental practice with happy patients.”
While many dentists form ideas about their ideal practice based on previous experiences, Dr Qiu had a secret weapon for starting her own clinic: Brandon’s business knowledge. That insight provided them with a point of view which helped inform where they would eventually set up the practice—and what the strengths and weaknesses of that location were.
“Dental schools have ingrained in them this idea that, after graduation, there’s a lot of competition out there,” says Brandon. “I’ve talked to a lot of dentists, and they all are acutely aware of the competition and they’re very wary of what’s happening in the industry.
“I see it from an outsider perspective though. That is, if you are a patient, if you see a dentist that you’re comfortable with and you are happy with the treatment, and you walk away with a good smile and your problem solved, you are very unlikely to change. Because every six months, if you’re regular, you are allowing someone to operate in your mouth. You need a lot of trust for that. That trust, in financial terms, is what we call ‘the moat’. That moat is something that prevents competition. It’s basically the relationship between you and your patient.”
Rather than spending time looking for growing or underserviced areas, Dr Qiu and Brandon looked for a nice area to work in, not far from home. Brandon would regularly drive through the area at the back of St Peters and Erskineville in Sydney, which is where he spotted Sydney Park Dental – a dental practice that had been established back in 2011. “It’s a nice area, with tree-lined streets, and would be very pleasant to turn up to every day, so I thought, ‘This will be a good place to set up’. Whether it’ll be the only one or the first one, it’s a nice place to set up. So we bought into it and that’s how it started.” When it came to financing the practice, both Dr Qiu and Brandon saw BOQ Specialist as the frontrunner.
“One thing that is very obvious is that when we talk to other banks, they have a lack of understanding about how a dental business is run,” he says. “BOQ Specialist, however, understand how dental businesses are run.”
Jimmy Li of BOQ Specialist has known Brandon Zhu and Dr Qiu for a long time and was impressed by their ‘find’ of Sydney Park Dental. “They saw the opportunity arise and committed to buy both the practice and the property as well,” he recalls. “It’s a great location. There are eight large apartment blocks right next to their practice, and they're also a 10-minute walk to Sydney Technology Park. As a result their practice services both local residents and workers, so demand grew and now they have purchased the property next door.”
Since putting down their roots, Dr Qiu and Brandon later discovered there were more development plans for the area, which would help the practice in terms of potential patients. But Brandon’s insight has served them well to date and their focus remains on individual patients, rather than tapping into a stream of potential revenue.
In any case, they both continue to be well-served by their complementary skill sets.
In the earliest days of the clinic, Brandon was pulling long hours trying to understand and adapt the business model, while Fei took on extra child-minding time. That has now reversed as the patient base built up.
“In terms of the hours, even at my busiest time with Sydney Park Dental, I wasn’t nearly half as busy compared to banking hours,” says Brandon.
“For me, it was a step down all the way in terms of workload and I was quite fine with it. Nowadays, I spend more time with the kids.”
Dr Qiu adds, “I also find our problems are even complementary. When I am stressed out about the clinical side of things, Brandon can get me out of that cycle, and he can pull me out and see it from a bigger picture. Similarly, when he has things that he's thinking about financially or from a business perspective, I can tell him how it’s seen from the dentist side or the staff side. A lot of the time, that helps to solve those problems as well.”
Their complementary skills freed them up to build a practice that was patient-centered, caring, and operated by their values rather than a business imperative. One of the ways that has played out is they have ended up with an all-female workplace.
“We didn’t start off saying we will only take on board female clinicians or staff, but I think the whole vibe and the atmosphere at work just attracted a group of female clinicians and staff that have the same underlying personality and character, and the understanding of what we want to provide,” says Dr Qiu. “We are not saying that we'll never get a male clinician in the future. It's whoever fits in and finds it comfortable working in our surgery. Whoever is here will need to share the same understanding of what we want to provide for patients.”
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