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a blog by Chris Barrow

Is the UK ready now for a dental franchise model?

A client asked this week, "why don't you think that dental franchises have taken off in the UK?"

It's a very good question, as franchises are reputed to be the most successful business start-up model in the world, measured by ROI and steady profits.

Many of us have read "The E-Myth Revisited" in which Michael Gerber suggested that every business, no matter how small, should be established as a franchise-prototype - capable of being scaled, cloned, repeated across multiple postcodes.

Some may have read "The E-Myth Dentist" - a book that I had the privilege of co-authoring almost a decade ago (I don't get royalties).

So where are all the dental franchises?

Here are my thoughts:

  • Dental schools and foundation trainers continue to teach dentists to mainly operate in silos of associateship, buying from a retiree or opening a squat with no blueprint;

  • True dental entrepreneurs frequently want to do their own thing;

  • The old rules against incorporation are gone, but the echo remains;

  • Franchise operators have largely left the UK unexplored - what do they know?

My only experience of this was a business I worked with 10 years ago, who attempted a pure franchise model to open in-store concessions within a major supermarket chain.

The business model was sound, the funding was in place and we ran extensive advertising for potential partners.

I was one of a team who interviewed those wannabe candidates.

What we found exclusively was that the applicants were either:

  • aforesaid entrepreneurs who carried on wanting to DIY their business;

  • others who were risk averse by nature, thought the franchise would be zero risk and abandoned ship (before we sailed) when it became clear that there would be some financial risk and lots of hard work.

Countless hours of interviews and not a single applicant - after which the owners changed their business model and simply launched a traditional practice model.

I accept that one swallow doesn't make a summer (what's the opposite of that?) but in 30 years I've seen little else.

Different in other parts of the world, by the way, where perhaps an enterprise mindset is more popular.

Why am I composing this post today?

Because, given the deafening acquisitions and due-diligence silence from the dental corporate sector, as they all "BUPA-ise" themselves (cut expenses, close, sell, rationalise) and given the continued interest in ownership from a small but influential minority of younger dentists, is this a moment when a franchise-prototype might become attractive?

Maybe my former client was too early to market?

I've listened to conversations in recent weeks about "junior equity partners", the kind of escalator ownership model that has served other professions (accountancy, legal and more) for years - younger partners building equity by paying older partners for theirs.

I've heard existing Principals who want to open satellites by co-sharing with bright associates (and hygienists, therapists and practice managers).

(Note the bold emphasis - an opportunity)

Banks are ready to lend, given a good plan and, of course, appropriate security.

Is it time for the franchise to make a proper appearance in the UK landscape?

I don't have the bandwidth to drive that but I'd love to work with and advise/coach/mentor anyone who does.

It might just be a next big thing.

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