Light Dental Studios
A group success story
Business View Magazine interviews Steve Broughton, President/CEO of Light Dental Studios, for our focus on Fastest Growing Healthcare Companies in America.
Light Dental Studios has grown from a solo practice in 1997 into one of the largest dental practice companies in South Puget Sound, Washington. Patients of all ages are treated with high quality, affordable dental care at 16 convenient locations in Auburn, Benson Hill, Renton, Bonney Lake, Fircrest, Lacey, Lakewood, Lilly Road, Olympia, Parkland, Puyallup, Ruddell Road, Kent, Tacoma, and University Place. The friendly, professional team at Light Dental Studios draws on their extensive training and expertise beyond general dentistry to provide tailored dental procedures that improve all aspects of oral health and yield long-lasting results.
High quality care in a comfortable environment is the rule of the day, with the goal of making each patient feel like a family member. Doctors stay up-to-date on the latest techniques, equipment, and dental supplies to provide top-notch dentistry services. The in-house lab allows for the creation or repair of partials and dentures with incredible speed and superb quality. And Light Dental Studios also believes in giving back to the South Puget Sound region through a proud focus on community. Business View Magazine asked Steve Broughton, President/CEO of Light Dental Studios, for his insights into the firm’s unique business model and the reasons behind its success as a Fastest Growing Company, four years running. The following is an edited transcript of that conversation.
BVM: What’s the story behind your unusual business model?
Broughton: “Most dentists, at least historically from the 1950s to now, would just go out and open their own practice – a kind of a mom and pop industry. In the early 2000s, there were some dental groups starting to form in the U.S. and the majority had capital through private equity. The rest of the dental industry, probably 90 percent, was fragmented – small offices with two, maybe three, locations. When we started to grow our group in 1997, a lot of people just didn’t believe in the concept. It was difficult to get dentists; difficult to get team members. We started expanding our hours to evenings and Saturdays, which is not typical for a dental practice. The entire fragmented model was based on a small team, only a few employees, working around when the doctor wanted to work.
“So when our model started to grow, it shifted toward patient-centered rather than around the doctor’s schedule. We expanded hours; patients could get in on a moment’s notice. We still do that today. We always give the patient the choice of having a specific doctor, or the convenience. If they had a tooth break, or an emergency, they may not always get their regular doctor because he or she may not be available that day. But we will get them in to see a qualified provider. That really resonates with the public and it’s also less expensive. Because we have been able to scale our company, it’s brought costs down rather than increasing them. Our fees sit, roughly, between 40 to 60 percent of the market-based fees. So we’re considerably less expensive than going to a small practice.”
BVM: Does branding play an important role?
Broughton: “We are a branded company – some of the really large groups in the U.S. are non-branded. Going to the dentist is not something a lot of people want to do, so because of that they might get upset and go online and leave third-party reviews that can hurt a brand. That’s why a lot of larger groups that have grown quickly have removed the brand. Whereas, we’ve chosen to stay with the Light Dental Studios brand because of the benefits. It’s less expensive to reach our patients when we’re a branded company. We understand that negative reviews will kill the company and kill the brand and we’ve worked really hard on the model to give our patients a good experience. We return money to them if ever they are upset. It’s a ‘no questions asked’ policy, similar to what Nordstrom has. We do that in an effort to keep our patient base happy and content with the care they receive from us.
“The firm is still privately held, with just me and one partner, Dr. Angie Dunn, who owns 14 percent of the company and has been with me since the beginning. We have just under 40 providers and a staff of over 200. We’ve grown every year we’ve been in business and never had a layoff. I started in 1997, when I bought the practice from a solo dentist who had been practicing in the community since 1971. We started the actual group around 2007 and that’s when we changed the company from my name to Light Dental Studios and started to expand the number of providers.”
BVM: How do you reach out to patients and the community?
Broughton: “We have just finished building a state-of-the-art media studio, onsite. It’s unique for a dental practice. Even patients, when they see it, say ‘That’s really cool, it looks like a newsroom. Why is that there?’ And we tell them, it’s a way for us to get free content out to our patients. We’ll use it to showcase our different services; give the patients a sense, before they come in, of what it’s like to get an implant or a filling; or advise them on how to limit bad breath. We’ll use the studio for that. We’re also going to use it to tell stories. Because we’re a South Puget Sound company and we’ve grown from one office, I love to share the stories of business and how businesses grow. So, we’re going to use the studio to tell the stories of other people who have built companies in South Puget Sound, to be able to push that content out to our patient base and let them see what a business looks like behind the scenes.
“This has never been about money for me; it’s really about reaching out to help patients, to help our doctors and team members develop. We have a unique company culture in that we only promote from within. You have to start on the clinical floor and work with our company for a while before we look at promoting you. And all of our leadership training is done inhouse. We don’t send people out on courses or to different consultants; we train them ourselves with our managers and our leaders. Everything is internal. While some of us go to those courses to gain information, whatever we present is done by our people.”
BVM: You chose a group business model. Was a franchise model ever considered?
Broughton: “In the beginning, we set it up like a franchise model, because we were having difficulty getting doctors to come and work with a group. I offered them the opportunity to own half of their practice. And we had a management arm to our company, so every time we had an acquisition it came up as a separate EIN (Employer ID Number). But none of the three doctors at the time exercised the option to buy. So, once we grew to seven doctors, I removed the offer and we went to the group model.
“Today, our doctors are talented practitioners who could easily have gone out on their own. They don’t need the group, but they like practicing with others and what the group stands for – that we offer a very high quality product and we’re a patient-centered company. We have over 50,000 active patients and only a handful of negative reviews. And part of that extends from the way we built our work culture and the quality of doctors that work here. For marketing, everything is moving towards social media today. We have a huge following on Facebook (over 18,000) and it’s the easiest way to reach the patient base. Our new media studio will be amazing for producing that type of content for social channels.”
BVM: What makes Light Dental Studios such a success story?
Broughton: “We’ve grown every year by five to seven acquisitions. Sometimes we’ll buy a practice from a dentist who’s retiring and then merge it into one of our existing locations. We like larger infrastructure, our model seems to work well under that, so we are multi-provider in most of our locations. Our original location is the largest, with 20 chairs in a 31,000-square-foot building. That’s a really big practice. Within the next two years, we plan on that being a 30-chair office, when we move onto the second floor. Patients love it because the specialists are in one place, they don’t have to go to different locations. But if they do move to a different area, their chart moves with them, everything is in the cloud. So they just have to go to one of our other offices and all their information is accessible.
“Having so many patients, using technology allows us to predict how to deliver a better care product because we have so much data to look at. At our level, we see a lot of patterns from the vast number of procedures that come through our practice every day. Our doctors communicate daily with each other through apps and share any unusual cases that might give cause for concern. Having different people look at it provides a network for discussion and, collectively, they can solve the problem easier. Rather than being concerned about performance metrics, we train our doctors to be compassionate and care for the patients and give a good experience. That’s more important than how much they produce. And it’s been a big reason for our success.”
Light Dental Studios is one of America’s fastest-growing private companies, ranking 3095th on the 2019 Inc. 5000 list with revenue growth of 119 percent over the past three years. This is the fourth year that Light Dental Studios has appeared on Inc.’s 5000 list.
Inc. 5000 #47 Top Seattle Companies 2019
Inc. 5000 #2884 Fastest Growing Companies in America 2018
#1 Kid-Friendly Dentist in Washington State
Inc. 5000 #3236 Fastest Growing Companies in America 2017
Voted Showcase Best Dentist 2017
Inc. 5000 #3720 Fastest Growing Companies in America 2016
Voted Showcase Best Dentist 2016
Every Light Dental Studios location exceeds OSHA and WISHA safety standards with surgically wrapped instruments and strict protocols to keep team members and patients safe!
Their full complement of dental services includes:
Composite (tooth colored) fillings
Amalgam (silver) fillings
Handcrafted lab-made crowns and bridges
One visit crowns = no temporaries, no impressions
Full orthodontics (braces)
Invisible braces like Invisalign
Root canals, including molars
Oral surgery, including wisdom teeth extractions
Dental Implant placement and restoration
Dentures and partials
Customized oral hygiene plans for prevention
Space maintainers and retainers
AT A GLANCE
Who: Light Dental Studios
What: Full-service dental group
Where: 16 locations in South Puget Sound, Washington