By Danny Chan
During her time as owner and principal dentist of My Smile Dental (MSD), Dr Melly Salih hardly gave herself a chance to relax.
Her adherence to the golden rule of treating every patient as you would a friend or family member is a major reason. To provide the veritable “personalised touch” in a growing, multi-million dollar dental business, Dr Salih’s personal time ended up becoming the expendable resource.
If she was attending to a patient late in the afternoon or close to the weekend, and thought there was a likelihood of post-procedural pain, Dr Salih would give the patient her personal phone number, thereby making herself available after-hours. And that’s just one example of how the high-octane practice ended up commanding all of her attention.
“It is 24/7. You never really switch off. Even to this day, I’m only starting to relax a bit,” she lets on.
Although Dr Salih has been slowly releasing the pressure off the pedal for some years now, she finally decided to take her foot off completely. On December 1, she sold her practice to Ekera Dental Group (Ekera), deciding it was time to move in a different direction.
The milestone decision can be traced to a health issue that started about five years ago. As the result of a neck surgery, Dr Salih suffered damage to her arm tissues, which over time eroded the ability for fine movement and touch sensation in her fingers. The usually hands-on clinician had to roll back and eventually halt her surgical involvement. The idea of selling the practice had been firmly planted by then.
Point of difference
Having spent 35 years as a dentist, 20 of them as owner of My Smile Dental, Dr Salih has devoted the bulk of her career to making the practice the success it is.
She started her entrepreneurial journey in 2000, operating from rented space in a local medical centre in Sydenham. When the practice had outgrown the premises five years later, Dr Salih together with her husband, Erdem Salih, decided to construct a purpose-built surgery across the street from the centre.
Better known in the industry as owner and MD of dental supplies company, Orien Group, Erdem, who has an engineering background and vast experience coordinating large-scale building projects, managed the construction of the new practice building.
The Salihs shared a common vision to create the bespoke practice building centred on the “dental spa” concept, which at the time was just beginning to take off in the States. After conducting extensive research – including visits to dental spas in the US – the couple successfully introduced the novel concept to Sydenham, then regarded as one of Melbourne’s projected growth corridors.
“From the customised building design through the relaxing environment, the welcoming ambience to the unique business offering, we wanted to create a point of difference from the get go,” says Erdem.
Despite having two established competitors within a 500-metre proximity, MSD’s new concept and building perfectly dovetailed Dr Salih’s patient-focused ways, and continued to generate healthy word-of-mouth. MSD’s growth was also ascribed to a stable and efficient back-end support.
By the time MSD moved into the new building, the practice had for a couple of years been using the services of a dental management consultancy firm, which at this critical juncture proved essential in guiding the transition.
Throughout the five years working with the consultancy firm, the MSD team benefited immensely from their professional guidance and training in several key support functions, including: Managing the appointment books and optimising them for profit; financial reporting; reception KPIs; patient recall system, etc.
“Although their consultancy services weren’t cheap – in fact, their fees use to take up a chunk of our profits in the early days – looking back, we can safely say it was money well spent,” says Erdem.
My Smile Dental’s efficient workflow and optimised back-end support were integral to its attractiveness as a long-term investment for Ekera. They even helped to smoothen the handover process.
“I think the folks at Ekera were pleasantly surprised by how easy the handover was. All the systems were already working optimally so it was really a case of “okay, here you go” and that was it,” Dr Salih beams.
The changing of the guard was made even more pleasant by the Ekera team, who made an effort to immediately introduce themselves to MSD’s dentists and staff members following the sale. All of the dentists and staff chose to stay.
“That was a really important and reassuring gesture to let the MSD team know that they remain in good hands,” says Dr Salih.
“I didn’t want the MSD team, including the dentists and employees of the practice, to be short-changed in any way because of the sale. I was really happy to inform them that nothing would change, apart from the name on their paychecks,” she quips.
Perhaps the biggest assurance from Ekera, and one of the primary reasons that motivated the sale for the Salihs, lies in the absence of any post-acquisition disruptions. While other corporates are eager to put their stamp on a newly acquired practice, Dr Salih says Ekera’s model of “staying at an arm’s length” assures that the business continues to thrive on its uniquely forged path of efficiency and profitability.
The changeover will be even less noticeable to MSD’s customers, with whom Dr Salih has built a trusted dentist-patient relationship. Although the Melburnian dentist started taking a backseat following her neck surgery, she still made it a point to greet patients and strike up conversations with both new and familiar faces.
“We’ve come to a point where we’ve seen three generations of the same family come to us for dental care, and its only a 20-year old practice,” she adds.
These long-standing connections, Dr Salih says, are what she treasures – and would miss – the most.
Future is bright
Broadly viewed as a period for reflection and rejuvenation, 2021 began as a season of significant change for Dr Salih. She is looking forward to spending more time with her grandchildren and hopes to travel when the pandemic situation abates.
Having gotten used to a 24/7 working habit, the dentist finds herself still adjusting to her newfound freedom. Compared with dentists who sell their practice to corporates and stay on as principals until retirement, Dr Salih’s transition from the clinic is not as gradual.
“Ekera is quite happy for me to go back to the surgery to say hello to the patients from time to time, but I’ll still be missing out on the day-to-day connections.”
The relational dentist is nonetheless relieved that Ekera is taking over the business, confident in the new management’s ability to preserve the patient goodwill that she has painstakingly cultivated over the years.
“The surgery that I’ve sold to Ekera is one that I’m proud to have built from scratch and placed in their good hands,” she says.
“I walk away with my head held high knowing it would continue to do well in the future.”