The Ma and Pa dental practice

Any successful trainer, consultant or coach will tell you that care is required in accepting invitations for social dinners with former, current or (especially) prospective clients.

That might be interpreted as arrogance but the reality is that we will all tell you about the time that the social invitation transformed into a free and protracted coaching session, at the end of a long day.

So our personal assistants are very careful about saying “yes” as that “don’t stay in a hotel, come and stay with us and have dinner” might end up with you answering questions on digital marketing at midnight, having quaffed half a bottle of Merlot.

That said, we also build a “safe list” of people who you know aren’t going to do that – friends with whom it will be OK to talk complete rubbish all night and have a laugh – then do the work the next day.

Which is why last night I found myself enjoying a simply delightful and impromptu supper at Cafe Caldesi in Marylebone with Marcus & Louise Spry from Fresh Dental Care in Maidstone.

Clients for over 15 years, friends for the same time and, last year, marathon-buddies in Barcelona (with Michael and Regina Joseph).

Marcus & Louise are a shining example of why I love my job – a hard working married couple who have built a smashing “Ma and Pa” business in independent private dentistry and have suffered and survived the many trials and tribulations that ownership sends us over the years – with dignity, ethics and genuine appreciation of their patients, team and suppliers.

A lot of my time as a business coach is now spent with budding micro-corporates but I was reminded again last night that the man and wife business makes for an excellent client with the added benefits of lifelong friendship.

There have been many such couples in my client base over the years – and I would say “YES” to an unexpected supper invite with any of them.

Of course, we talked about dentistry and the business of dentistry over pasta – but we didn’t have to and moved on to family, friends and all sorts of other stuff – good food, drink and conversation with nice people doing their level best to be the best.

The GDC, The Daily Mail, The Consumers Association and the dental litigators have no conception of the world in which people like the Spry’s (and so many others) have turned up, day in day out, for decades in an attempt to do the right thing.

So many unsung heroes.

Earlier in the week I had the pleasure of unexpectedly bumping into an old friend, Pete Hodgkinson, formerly co-founder of a dental practice in Cornwall who were early Chris Barrow clients. He is now working inside DPS as a clinical advisor.

On the train to Leeds we shared our concerns at the changes in dentistry since we worked together in 2001/2. Needless to say, we were both able to cite examples of GDC injustices in a system gone mad.

The independent sector is shrinking.

Dentistry is changing in some unpleasant ways as a result of the influence of investment bankers, private equity, health insurers as well as regulators and the media.

Boomer Principals want to sell and exit in record numbers.

GenX Principals want to become micro-corporates.

Millennial dentists just want a decent job at 35% and not in a corporate.

There are still some young couples who are having a go at building a family-owned and managed practice – and they all need our support and encouragement because it has never been tougher.

I remain optimistic about the future of the independent sector when I listen to people like the Spry’s, who will never give up and continue to offer a professional, ethical and highly skilled service to their community.

Salt of the earth and excellent dinner companions.

Willie and Xandra – see you tomorrow night!


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Chris Barrow

Chris Barrow has been active as a consultant, trainer and coach to the UK dental profession for over 20 years. As a writer, his blog enjoys a strong following and he is a regular contributor to the dental press. Naturally direct, assertive and determined, he has the ability to reach conclusions quickly, as well as the sharp reflexes and lightness of touch to innovate, change tack and push boundaries. In 2014 he appeared as a “castaway” in the first season of the popular reality TV show “The Island with Bear Grylls”. His main professional focus is as Coach Barrow, providing coaching and mentorship to independent dentistry.