THINKING BUSINESS
a blog by Chris Barrow

Virgin out – we must all be doomed

I have no doubt that the forums, study clubs and newsletters will be gloating over the news that Virgin have decided to slow down their advance into the provision of NHS healthcare and, thus, private dentistry. There I have been – for the last 6 months, standing up at meetings and using Virgin as an example of a giant retailer who sees the growth in UK dentistry and wants to take part. Warning all who would listen that, if Virgin started offering “points” for “prizes” that they would more than likely hoover up the UK family market as well as all of your best staff. Sunday night I received the first email from a dentist- sharing a link to the press release – and Monday morning I had a call from a reader of GDP-UK to quote the threads and some of the comments from members. So I did the logical thing at 12.30 pm yesterday – and called Chris Potts to ask what the real story was. Chris and I know each other well enough (our sons are best friends and have played football and DJ’d together for years). There is no competition or ego between us – neither of us are precious about our respective successes and failures over the years. So here’s the real story – ready? Just as it says in the press release. Economies are in turmoil, there is a credit crunch, the world banks are re-stabilising the capital markets, we have a US election and the “man on the Clapham omnibus” (anybody remember that phrase?) is being very careful financially. Not a good time to be investing in  healthcare squats for the family market in my view – I agree with Sir Richard – smart guy. Just like Tom Peters says – “fail fast” – and to further quote Seth Godin in his little book “The Dip” – “sometimes quitting is a winning policy”. It takes balls to stop before you get too far in and to change when your guts tell you its not going to work, either because you have the wrong people, the wrong amount of money or the wrong timing. So they have put the brakes on – they haven’t “pulled out” of anything but the Virgin team are going to focus their energies elsewhere until conditions improve – AND THEN THEY WILL BE BACK. So you’ve had a reprieve – make sure you use it wisely if you are offering family dentistry. As you can see from the photos I posted last night – I visited the practice in Sainsbury’s last night. Its exactly what I would have expected in terms of decor and branding – but the £16 check-up is clearly a considered attempt to “fill the book” and sort out any problems later. I called in at about 6.45pm last night and the waiting area inside the double glass doors was full. As I mentioned – it was interesting to observe people at the check outs prodding each other in the ribs and remarking on the existence of the service and the prices. Its working – even though it might not be concierge class. And it hasn’t required a gigantic capital expenditure to get it going – unlike the Virgin model. In the meantime (and before the moaners tell you that Virgin’s “withdrawal”s spells the demise of retailers and corporates yet again) let me tell you that I’m busy as hell at IDH and haven’t started in earnest yet. I have 21 enquiries for practice purchase before I start full-time – we haven’t even launched yet. The funding is in place and secure. I toured the IDH head office yesterday and its booming and full of committed people. Also, yesterday I was interviewing candidates for the first acquisitions manager to help deal with the enquiries. Today I am looking forward to a meeting with my colleague and Operations Manager Matt Jackson and the 5 Executive Directors of IDH to agree the 3-year vision, 12-month plan and 90-day goals for the Private Sector Division. To quote Michael Gerber, “we are moving fast and looking for runners”. I haven’t been this excited for years. The bottle is more than half full – so go and make some sales today and inspire your team with your vision and confidence. If anybody wants to pour scorn on Virgin – tell them they are not thinking at the right level.

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