Podcast: Steve Parker and what dentists can learn from other industries

Hello and welcome to Ascent Dental Radio. A program dedicated to the balance between the clinical aspect of health care and the business of health care. And now here is your host, Dr. Kevin Coughlin.

Kevin: Welcome. This is Dr. Kevin Coughlin. You’re listening to Ascent Radio. My website is www.ascent-dental-solutions.com with a focus on knowledge, consultation, development and training. Today’s podcast, we’re honored to have Mr. Steve Parker.

Mr. Parker has been in the dental industry since 2000, but he’s been in business for the last 30 years. He’s considered a thought leader and he’s the CEO of The Profitable Dentist and Excellence in Dentistry.

Mr. Parker, thank you so much for joining us on this podcast. I have so many questions and I can’t wait to listen to your responses. My understanding is you have a program called Five Star Dental Practice Coaching. It’s a program that you’ve been developing over the last 30 years with your expertise. Can you tell our listeners a little bit about that?

Do you want to get your dental career started on the right path? Are you looking to put in place the practices and procedures to make your existing dental business more profitable? Send Dr. Coughlin a quick email today!


Steve: Sure, Dr. Coughlin. First of all, I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you again. As always, it’s a pleasure, and to speak with your listeners. The Five Star program grew out of literally 30 years and thousands of coaching and consulting clients that either I had or Dr. Woody Oakes had.


He’s the founder of Excellence in Dentistry, The Destin Spring Break Seminar, The Profitable Dentist Magazine. He was really one of the pioneers in the coaching movement in the last 70s and early 80s. What we’ve done is in my becoming involved with him and really, for lack of a better term, upgrading a lot of the content and the products and the coaching, was we determined that there were really five key elements that determined a good practice or determined a successful practice.


These aren’t really five elements that determine uniquely a dental practice, they’re five elements that really determine a good business. Essentially, the areas that we focus on are leadership, team building, money; meaning finance, metrics; meaning measure, just measure your business, and systems that you put in place.


So with Five Star Coaching, what we’ve done is try to break it down in more bite-size chunks and keep a dental business owner focused on those elements of their business, and then keep the clinical part of the business separate. In fact, one of the systems is a clinical committee where you discuss clinical things, as much as if you would in any business, you’re kind of discussing the operations part of your business.


We determined was if we could focus on these five things, get an honor to focus on these five things whether it’s a sole practitioner or it’s a small group, I’ve done a lot of consulting with large groups you’ll find that even in a group of 150, 200, 300 dentists, there’s still a business there. And these are really the five core elements that if you understand them, manage them, measure them and make these what you do every day, you have a very, very, very successful business.


Kevin: For our listeners, one of the reasons I was taken by Mr. Parker is he’s been involved, not just in the dental business, but you’ve also been involved with Fortune 500 companies. Can you tell us a little bit about your past experience and that expertise that you’ve now been able to bring to the dental profession?


Steve: That is a great question. One of the things that I learned, and my background is management finance, is business is fundamentally business no matter what it is you’re in. You have resources which are typically time, money and effort that you have to put towards a product or a result that you want for your business.


So if you’re in the plumbing business, the result you want is a lot more profitable plumbing jobs. If you’re a dentist, what you want are a lot more happy paying patients.


I grew up in some different industries. When I was very young, I got into the restaurant equipment industry. And it happened to be the time when companies were franchising; McDonald’s and Hardee’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken and Jack In The Box and instead of being one, two, three little restaurants, it now became 5,000 restaurants. One customer would do an expansion and it would be 15,000 restaurants, 15 new McDonald’s over this year.


You have to approach those differently than 15,000 individual restaurants. The infrastructure the way you approach it, the support systems, the management systems, the knowledge base and talent, all have to be different than if it’s a lot of individuals.


I sold that business and moved into the telecommunications infrastructure at a time when cellphones were just emerging. Again, you would have instead of everybody having a landline, and there were that many landlines around the country, suddenly everybody had a cell phone or two.


I read a statistic that Apple has now sold more iPhones than there are people since 2007 when they came out. So the infrastructure to address that is completely different than it is with everybody having a phone in their phone and a phone in their business.


What I see in dentistry is very much along the same growth pattern. While there are huge growth in groups, that doesn’t necessarily mean growth in giant groups, it can mean growth in small groups, in five or ten or twelve dental practice.


But at the end of the day what’s happening is the business of that profession is starting to override the clinical part of it. I personally don’t believe that’s compromising clinical principles, I think it just means giving the resources to the right people at the right place at the right time to do better dentistry.


So my background has been in a lot of industries that grew and aggregated and matured over time and I believe, interestingly enough, I’m living that again in dentistry. I see the same pattern than I saw over the past 30 years in other industries.


Kevin: I think what you’re referring to is the explosion of Dental Service Organizations or Dental Support Organizations, commonly referred to as DSOs and MSOs, Managed Service Organizations or Managed Support Organizations.


I’ve heard you talk and make presentations in the past. Perhaps you can explain to the listeners what your prediction is. What you think is occurring and how you think it’s going to evolve over the next 10 or 15 years.


Steve: Again, great question. I do a lot of interviews, I’m asked this question repeatedly, in fact, I would say it’s 80 plus percent of the time. At some point in the interview somebody says, “You’re a business guy, so are you pro or con, are you for or against DSOs?”


And my answer is always the same; I don’t know why you have to choose. A market allows for all kinds of different businesses and sizes of a business in a particular industry.


As long as you have a business that provides value to a customer and you can demand the price that you need to be profitable and stay around and give you a comfortable living, I think the sole practitioner, I don’t think they’re a dying breed, I think they have to evolve in a general sense.


I don’t think as a solo practitioner it’s a challenge to manage insurance filing and it’s a challenge to find employees that can do a lot of different things when the competition is maybe a group down the street that says, “Wow, this person is really good as an insurance manager, we’ll hire him or her away and we can pay a little more wage.”


What you’ve really done is trained your competition. I think you just have to be smarter in the way that you approach it as a sole practitioner. I think the same thing applies to somebody who gets together with a group and I’ve consulted and coached groups that are four, five or six docs who all struggled on their own but have done terrific as a small group.


They’ll be an ownership group of five or six and now they’re 25 or 30 practicing dentists, the rest of them are employees. I think that is a model that really didn’t exist 20 years ago, really didn’t exist 10 years ago, but it makes sense today. So they all can come out ahead.


But at the end of the day, the dentist working in a DSO or an MSO or a group are still dentists. They still have to meet certain standards. They still have standards of care. They still have to make their customers happy and want to come back as a business owner or you’re going to go out of business quickly. So the same fundamentals apply.


I think there’s room for sole practitioners, I think there’s room for large groups, I think they offer unique and different thing. And I think as we’ve talked in the past, the ones who are more entrepreneurial understand that.


I actually think that the sole practitioner as a future will be a lot more financially stable because they understand the nature of their business, therefore, they have to compete in a unique way that works for them, versus trying to copy a large DSO.


Kevin: I was going to say Steve, your presentation and program Excellence in Dentistry and The Profitable Dentist, you have a phenomenal seminar generally in April in Destin, Florida.


What I noticed is the attraction of younger dentists, more entrepreneurial dentists, dentists that know that they need to keep their clinical acumen up, but they’re smart enough and astute enough to realize that you have to have this marriage between excellent clinical care, excellent customer service, but you have to understand basic business. And each time I’ve had the opportunity to speak with you, I’ve learned something that’s valuable for business.


Is there a way or knowledge about upcoming seminars that you’re having or planning where the dental community can reach out and hopefully participate and listen to what your organization has to share and educate us in?


Steve: Sure. In fact, the 2017 Destin Seminar, which is in its 26th year, Dr. Oakes kind of pioneered the private dental seminar field, if you will, the theme for that is where are you taking your practice.


What we hope that communicates is, back to the earlier part of the discussion, is that you are the CEO of your practice. I’ve always said dental school taught you how to be a clinician and you can hone those skills for the rest of your life and you should, as anybody in any business should. You should always strive to get better in what you do in that vocation.


But they don’t teach you very much about how to run a business. And that’s the interesting thing about dentistry is, the vast majority for generations that will graduate are going to be business people, but you get very little business training. You come out with a lot of clinical skills but not many business skills.


So what I try to do and what we try to do with The Profitable Dentist and with, again, Five Star Coaching is to get you to understand the elements of a strong business and focus on that. With where are you taking your practice in Destin, the idea is to bring people in who can help you with clinical.


We always include — the ration has changed a little bit over the years, we’re probably at about 40 percent clinical because that’s what our attendees and readers and listeners ask for, but about 60 percent is your practice. The mechanics of running a dental business are becoming more in demand.


You hit the nail on the head about younger dentists or newer dentist. My experience is that newer dentists understand they’re in a business, they’re running a business and they want to get those kind of skills. So that’s really what we’re trying to provide more of.


There’s a lot of clinical content out there, we will continue to provide it, but what I’m getting asked for more and more everyday is how do I build over time a plan for my employees? I’m going to hire my second or third or fourth dentist and I want to quit kind of bungling through it, is there a form or a platform or a system or something that we can use?


There are, but again, this is an evolving piece of dentistry, the idea of small groups. So what we try to do is focus on that and provide the tools and resources that anybody who wants to — again, if they want to be a sole practitioner, we’re going to give them to you. If they want to be a small group, we’re going to help you. If they want to be an emerging larger group, we’ll give you those tools and resources too.


Kevin: Steve, at the beginning of this podcast we talked briefly about the Five Star Dental Practice Coaching program and you elicited five salient points. One of them was leadership, another was metrics, another was system.


In this podcast, if you were to stimulate our listeners, is there one particular point in each of those five categories that you would put the highest emphasis on? So if you were to say in leadership, is there a particular one quality that sort of trumps all the other qualities? The same with metrics, if you had to look at one metric, is there a way that you can summarize and stimulate our listeners to want to reach out, sign up for the program and learn more about it?


Steve: Sure, in fact, great question. Let me kind of go down the list real quick. I would say with leadership, I always try to leave each client with the understanding that you are the boss. That doesn’t mean that you’re bossy, that means that you are in charge, you make the decisions, be prepared to do that.


Too many times when I get into consulting or coaching, the dentist just wants to come in and be the dentist and leave the difficult business decisions up to an office manager or surprisingly, even front desk people, a lot of people who don’t have a vested interest in the profitability of the business.


So if you’re the boss, it doesn’t mean be bossy, it just means that everybody there needs to know that you’re the person in charge.


Team building; I would say to understand that your team is your most valuable resource. They will make you or break you. They can build you up or they can come in and go through the motions every day.


So the more your team is engaged and involved and in it with you that everybody is pulling in the same direction and that they see you investing in them as a team and treat them like a valuable asset, you’re going to get a lot more out of your team.


Money; the time value of money and cash flow are probably the two things that I coach most about or try to get through. Understand the nature of cash flow. That’s the lifeblood of a business. You need a good balance of cash coming in predictably and cash going out.


And when that becomes imbalanced and upside down, you again back to leadership, need to be the person in charge, address it immediately, and take actions to get that part of your business right.


I know it sounds easy and there are a lot of complications and nuances to it, but fundamentally, your eye needs to be on the flow of money coming in and going out.


Metrics: I always coach people to determine the important metric for their practice. So if your growth has been flat for three years and the most important thing for you is new patients, then that’s going to become the metric that you care about therefore, your team cares about.


If it’s patient retention, whatever you need to focus on. I typically say pick three. There are 103 but pick the three that are unique to your practice that you’ve decided you’re going to work on over the next year and those are the things that — I’ll put a little marker board back in the lab or the break area for the team and I’ll have the office manager write up every day whatever metric we’re working on.


So if we’re trying to grow new patients, I want everybody to see every day how many new patients we have for the month. If our goal is 20, I want somebody to walk in everyday and see a bunch of zeros and either they feel bad and do something about it or they don’t. Both of those are valuable things to know.


Systems: again, the same thing as metrics. You decide what’s important to you in terms of systems. Whether it’s clinical systems, marketing systems, finance systems, but everything in your practice the more systematic it is, the less you have to address it every day, the fewer surprises.


You decide what you’re going to do, put the system in place and then let it run. Visit it weekly or monthly, make corrections as necessary. But without a system, you’re going to have your staff coming to you for 100 little decisions every day and looking for approvals every day that a system would take care of for you.


Kevin: Those are great highlight points. Steve, if the listeners wanted to reach out, they wanted to sign up for your coaching program, they wanted to sign up for Excellence in Dentistry, the seminars, if they wanted to either publish in your magazine or read your magazine, The Profitable Dentist, what’s the best way for our listeners to reach out and get in touch with you and your organization?


Steve: There are several ways and one of the things that we do is The Profitable Dentist Magazine is free to any practicing dentist or licensed dentist in the country. You can subscribe to that online free at www.theprofitabledentist.com. Fill out a quick little form and you’ll start receiving it.


The next issue we just wrapped it up this morning so it’s on its way out and if you would like that, just give us your name, address and you’ll get the very next one. I can be reached at steve@theprofitabledentist.com. That’s probably the best way to reach me. Or you can call in and one of the young ladies that take care of our reception can help you. That number is 812-949-9043. Any one of those ways.


I get a lot of calls every day. I always feel it’s sort of a responsibility to talk to anybody who calls in with a quick question. I probably take two or three calls a day from young dentists who want to start a practice or again, a lot of the calls right now are about groups that want to start groups.


I’m more than willing to spend a few minutes on a phone call, even in an evening, and just give a little direction and some ideas, and a lot of times just put two people together.


Kevin: What I want to do is I want to give a sincere plug to you. I’ve been a practicing dentist and still a practicing dentist for over 33 years. I have over 150 employees, 14 locations. I have dealt with the business of dentistry, the strengths, the weaknesses, opportunities and threats that have been affecting our profession and I would consider you truly one of the best thought leaders I’ve had the opportunity to come across. And I want to personally take this time to thank you, your company and your organization.


A couple of years ago Dr. Woody Oakes called me after receiving my book and he really sat down and talked to me, he gave me a chance to go on your radio show, Driving Dentist or Dentist Behind the Wheel and it was an opportunity for me to share my own personal thoughts and my own personal experiences. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank Dr. Woody Oakes for not only helping me, but the thousands of other dentists.


And now that I see you in this position, I see you doing the exact same thing and I hope our listeners take the opportunity for this fantastic resource to just reach out, learn more, get involved with The Profitable Dentist and allow them to bring your practice and your personal life to a higher level of success and balance.


Steve, in our closing few minutes, is there anything you’d like to add?


Steve: First of all, thank you for that. It’s very surprising and appreciated. I would like to add again, dentistry is in a very high state of flux right now, I think. It’s a very evolving business and I think there are a lot of people out there who feel like it’s the end of a thing or end of something. And it very possibly is.


There’s an evolution that always takes place in business. I am extremely optimistic about the entire industry of dentistry. I’m extremely optimistic about anybody who is in dental school right now, graduating, looking forward, looking at their future, the opportunities that will present themselves and are now.


I can’t say enough how optimistic I am about being a dentist or about anybody being a dentist or being in this business in the next 20 years.


Kevin: Mr. Parker, from The Profitable Dentist, Excellence in Dentistry, you’ve been listening to Ascent Radio. I can’t thank you enough for using your valuable time to share your knowledge and expertise with our listeners. A personal thanks to you and your organization and to Dr. Oakes.


Thank you so much, Steve, for your time and expertise and I look forward to talking to you in the future.


Steve: Thank you, Dr. Coughlin. Likewise.