In each of our lives, an event sometimes occurs that changes the entire landscape of our being. For me, that event occurred in May 2001. Ironically, at the time I had no idea that I was about to enter one of the best periods of my life. Before I tell you about this seemingly simple but fortunate occurrence, let me back up and give you some history.
Michigan is the place I have always called home. After high school, I attended Michigan State University and then went on to the University of Detroit Dental School where I graduated in 1982. At that time, I met a local dentist who was looking for an associate for his solo practice he had opened two years earlier. There was an instant rapport between us and he hired me on the spot. For the next five years, I began to perfect my skills and I learned a lot about the profession of dentistry. The owner-dentist was very good at his craft, and though he wasn’t much older than me, he became my mentor. Many of the skills I possess today can be traced back to the time I spent observing him do his dentistry.
After five years in that situation, the owner decided to sell his practice and move on to other ventures. He gave me the first chance to buy, and I jumped at the opportunity. The staff (with whom I got along very well) all stayed and I began my tenure as the new owner of a great dental practice.
As the years went by, my practice was the “thing” in my life on which I could always count. Although I had some problems in my personal life - a divorce, a hearing-impaired child, and some heavy debt due to some bad decisions - my dentistry continued to improve and my practice continued to grow. I would venture to say that I’ve always had one of the better practices in my area. But, there was something lacking.
I had heard about porcelain veneers for years and I’d always wondered about them, but I kept shying away from the procedure. I guess I was somewhat timid about taking enamel away from a patient’s front teeth for cosmetic purposes. I would think, “What if something goes wrong? What if the veneers don’t look good?” Rather than face these fears, I just avoided doing them. When patients would ask me about veneers (because patients were hearing about them also), I would say that they didn’t need them, or that veneers weren’t that good. In reality, I believe I lacked the self-esteem to become what I really wanted to be: a great cosmetic dentist.
Fast forward several years to 2001. I was rolling along in my business, doing well. My collections were in the $700,000 to $800,000 per year range. I was satisfied, but definitely not content. I wanted to get to the next level. I knew cosmetics were something to try, especially veneers, but I wasn’t sure how to begin. Then, around April of that year I was reading the current issue of the Richards Report, from Dr. Rich Madow. There was a piece in the newsletter promoting an upcoming seminar featuring Dr. Joe Blaes (the editor of the wonderful magazine in your hands). The topic of the seminar was porcelain veneers, called the “Virtuoso Veneers” course. By taking the course, we dentists would supposedly learn all about veneers and how to incorporate them into our practices. I had a lot of respect for Dr. Madow and Dr. Blaes, as I had been reading their articles for years. I immediately signed up for the workshop, which was scheduled for May 2001.
The class was in Chicago, a two-day event. I’m guessing there were 50 or so dentists in attendance. I felt a bit insecure, because I had never even attempted to do a veneer, and it seemed that a lot of the dentists already knew about veneers and were only there to improve their skills. This was a hands-on course and all of the materials, including drills and models of teeth, were included.
Dr. Blaes is down-to-earth and easy to understand. As he taught us his technique, I became excited because it wasn’t hard to learn. It was much simpler than I thought it would be. I remember showing Joe my finished preps on the models and hearing him say that they were great, with a couple of minor exceptions. He corrected my mistakes. I was pleased that I’d learned the technique so easily and quickly.
David Block, owner of the Aesthetic Porcelain Studios Lab in California and Dr. Blaes’ lab man, was also present at the class. David was there to help the doctors learn about veneers. He spoke to the group about the importance of the dentist-laboratory connection when doing veneers. During one of the breaks, I asked David if I could send future veneer cases to him, and he said that would be great. I found out that David’s lab deals with many dentists around the country, including some of the prominent cosmetic dentists. I decided I wanted to surround myself with the best people so I could do great cosmetic cases.
I returned home to Michigan with a sense of enthusiasm I hadn’t felt in many years. I was eager to do my first veneer case and, after almost a month, I found a patient who presented with a simple, straightforward situation. The case involved the upper six anterior teeth, and this patient was eager to improve his smile. We set up the appointments and I prepared myself to begin this new chapter in my life.
A big plus with Dr. Blaes’ course is that a free video is included for each attendee. The video describes in detail, step-by-step, how to do veneers. It is essentially a replication of Joe’s course in video form. Before the big appointment, I probably watched the tape 10 times! I watched it by myself, with my assistant, and again with the entire staff. It’s a great video and I wanted everyone in the office to be on the same page. I had ordered all of the necessary equipment and supplies. I was set to go.
At the prep appointment, I proceeded exactly as Joe had taught me - from the anesthesia, to the preps, to the impression, and then to the temps. Everything went smoothly. I was extremely happy at how well everything fell into place. We sent the patient home happy, and the case went to David’s lab.
I must have called David five times about the case in the few weeks that followed. He told me he personally had been involved with the work and that everything was great. He said my preps were fantastic, which boosted my confidence. He also told me not to worry.
David was right. The seating appointment went as smoothly as the prep appointment. The veneers were gorgeous and fit perfectly. The patient was ecstatic. My first case was complete, and everything was perfect. I now knew I could easily do veneers.
I was excited at the prospect of doing veneer cases on a regular basis. But I realized that I could not become the cosmetic dentist I wanted to be without the full support of my staff. I scheduled an office meeting and told them I wanted to be a cosmetic dentist. I also wanted to continue to do all phases of dentistry, but I wanted to place an emphasis on cosmetics, especially veneers. Then I turned to my staff and said, “You’re either with me or you’re against me. If you’re with me, welcome aboard. If you’re not, you won’t be here long.” I felt that I needed to stress to them how important this venture was to me.
I was off and running. I made some changes around the office. We turned the waiting room into a virtual advertisement for cosmetic dentistry. I implemented the CAESY system which shows excellent videos of cosmetics and runs in a continuous loop on our waiting room TV. We placed photos of beautiful smiles and before-and-after pictures on the walls. The operatories also were equipped with CAESY and smile photos. Patients began asking about all of the gorgeous smiles they saw. I started to mention cosmetic dentistry at my recall exams, as did my hygienists. I started doing more cases, each one ending up beautifully. My confidence, as well as the staff’s confidence in me, grew with each completed case.
I kept in continuous contact with David at his lab. I even asked him if I was bothering him, because I felt I was calling quite a lot. He assured me it was no problem. In fact, he mentioned that he thought my cases were so good that he was wondering if he could take some photos of my work to use at upcoming seminars. Talk about an ego boost! I was thrilled.
It was becoming easier and easier to sell veneers to my patients. In 2002 and 2003, I was probably doing one major veneer case every two months or so (I consider a major case more than 10 units). At this time I was not advertising at all. My veneer cases were coming from my existing patients. I loved doing the cases and I was disappointed when I had no big cases scheduled.
In September 2003, I got a call from Joe Blaes’ office. Joe’s editorial assistant, Genna Leutzinger, called me to say that Joe was coming to Michigan for a seminar and wanted to meet me for dinner. It seems that David Block had been talking about my work with Joe, and Joe wanted to meet one of his “star pupils.” I was honored and we set up a dinner meeting where Joe and I got to know one another better. I showed him my veneer case portfolio, which by then had many before-and-after photos. Apparently, he was impressed with my work because he told me he wanted to feature my practice in the January 2004 issue of Dental Economics as the “Office of the Month.” I was speechless!
A photographer visited my office to shoot photos for the cover as well as for the story that would appear inside. I was extremely honored that all of this was happening. After all, I had been a reader of Dental Economics for years and had learned so much from it. Meanwhile, the veneer cases kept coming in without the help of external marketing.
Once I appeared on the cover of the magazine, however, I changed my philosophy on the advertising aspect of cosmetic dentistry. I guess you could say that I had a revelation. I decided I was going to spread the word about veneers with some aggressive marketing. I had the money to do this because I was bringing in a lot more revenue from the previous veneer cases. I began my advertising blitz on a local radio station in February 2004. I did my own commercials and the disc jockeys did “live reads” where they talked about my practice. The phones in my office started ringing with calls from patients who specifically were interested in cosmetics. I took out a huge ad in the Yellow Pages. In addition, I paid a large sum for a one-page, one-time ad in a high-end magazine in town. I was spending quite a bit of money promoting my practice and veneers. In fact, my advertising costs became one of my largest monthly expenses. And don’t forget, I spent virtually nothing on advertising the previous year. But here’s the cool thing - the return on investment has been huge!
During 2004, I was averaging a major veneer case every week. New patients were coming to my office in droves asking for veneers. My skills were improving daily and my confidence was continuously growing. I found I could sell a veneer case as easily as I used to sell a single crown. The patients were happy, the staff was happy, and I was ecstatic - it was a win-win-win situation.
With the proper use of advertising and internal marketing, I went from a practice that collected $800,000 in 2003 to one that had close to $1.2 million in collections in 2004. That’s an increase of almost 50 percent during a year in which our nation was suffering from a “down” economy. And that was done by one dentist working about 30 hours per week with five staff members. By the way, three of the current staff members were at the original meeting in 2001. I guess they were “with me, not against me.” The remaining two staff members came on board later and I now enjoy a killer staff.
I’ve set a goal to collect $1.5 million in 2005, and I believe this is a very realistic goal. My staff supports me 100 percent. My fees are high for my area, but we know the quality of the work is superb. New patients who want me to “fix what the other dentist did” now routinely approach me in my practice. Of course I gladly help these people.
I look forward to coming into my office every day and I truly enjoy practicing dentistry the way I always envisioned it. I feel blessed that I can now give so many people beautiful smiles, and in the process, help to improve their lives. I trace all of this success back to that fateful day in May 2001 when I decided to take a chance and attend Dr. Blaes’ course. Since then, my life has certainly never been the same!
Dr. Alan R. Grodinwas featured on the cover of Dental Economics in January 2004, and his office collections are now well in excess of $1 million per year. He offers a one day, one-on-one consulting service where he teaches dentists how to become wealthy through the use of porcelain veneers. Dr. Grodin can be reached via phone at (248) 288-1110, by e-mail at email@example.com, or by visiting his Web site at cosmeticdentistdetroit.net.