Louise Reay and heather muir have returned to the town they grew up in with exciting plans for Uddingston dental care
When Louise Reay and Heather Muir took over Uddingston Dental Care earlier this year, the two Glasgow graduates admitted it felt very much like a homecoming.
Both Louise and Heather hailed from the small South Lanarkshire town and, when the opportunity arose to take over Neil Simpson’s three-surgery practice, it seemed like the perfect fit.
Having graduated in the same class from Glasgow Dental School in 1998, Louise did her VT year up in Aberdeen while Heather completed hers in Whitburn. Louise then worked in Govan before the two friends crossed paths again when they both worked in Hill House, Hamilton, a practice Heather co-owned with her brother Scot. Louise then moved on to a locum position in East Kilbride before spending the last six years as an associate at a practice in Stonehouse.
Heather and Scot, who also owned Love Your Smile in Prestwick, sold both practices in 2009. Scot then became a director at the Scottish Centre for Excellence in Dentistry in 2014.
After working as an associate since graduating, Louise was starting to think about making the step up to practice principal and, with Heather selling the two practices she was involved in, an opportunity arose for them to join forces back in their hometown. They had previously discussed the possibility of owning a practice together as far back as 2007 and now seemed like the perfect time for both of them.
Heather had worked with Neil Simpson in Uddingston in 2000 and, when she heard that he was retiring, she got in touch. The practice had only just moved into new premises in 2010, having previously been situated a few hundred yards down Main Street for more than 20 years. Like many practices in Scotland at the time, the practice was forced to relocate to accommodate a new LDU and Neil took over the former Uddingston Library building at 1 Main Street, which had lain empty for a number of years.
Having been friends since before university, Louise and Heather weren’t deterred from going into partnership.
Louise said: “We have been friends a long time and, as we are both mothers, we have a lot of common goals and priorities. We make a good team and work really well together.
“Heather’s experience of running practices has obviously been a big help because she has done it all before but I have picked up ideas from the practices I have worked in and we have complemented each other really well so far.”
From finding out that the practice was becoming available to officially taking over took around nine months and Louise and Heather opened the doors to their new practice on 1 April this year.
Louise said: “We wanted to keep as much as possible the same to make the transition as smooth as possible for both staff and patients, but we had some clear ideas of how we could develop and grow the business.”
One of the first steps they took was the introduction of late nights and early mornings, as well as alternate Saturdays, to provide more flexibility for patients. The changes have proved really popular.
Heather also paid tribute to the staff, who have been on board since the start and have helped the pair immeasurably.
She said: “We could not have achieved this without the flexibility and cooperation of the dental nurses, associates and hygiene therapists who have been so willing to alter their working hours.”
The change in hours proved so successful, and led to such a sudden increase in patient numbers, that Heather and Louise decided to fast-track plans to introduce an extra surgery.
When formulating their business plan for the practice, Louise and Heather had highlighted the potential for adding a fourth surgery and moving the LDU to a different location. As they were proving to be really busy, they decided to press ahead with the work now rather than waiting a year, as they had initially planned.
The LDU was situated off a corridor that led to the original three surgeries with the X-ray room at the end. Behind the reception desk, the staff quarters consisted of a staff room and office leading to a small extension that housed a kitchen with loft space above.
The plan was to combined the large staff room and kitchen and move the LDU into what was previously the kitchen. The LDU room could then be converted into a fourth surgery, meaning all the patient and staff-only areas could be kept totally separate. The loft space in the extension was then to be floored and turned into storage for records and other stock.
With the plans in place, Louise and Heather turned to Bruce Deane from IWT Dental to turn them into reality. Louise explained: “I’ve known Bruce for many years and he helped us install our new computer system. I knew he was involved with this new dental business and we discussed how he could help us.
“Bruce project managed all the work, from sourcing the chair to co-ordinating all the contractors. He’s got a great reputation and has been very reliable. We have been delighted with the progress of the work.”
Heather said: “The great advantage of using IWT is that we simply have one point of contact for both our dental and IT equipment, from purchasing to maintenance.”
Louise explained that, despite the upheaval of moving an LDU and installing a brand-new surgery – featuring a brand-new Stern Weber s 280 TRC chair – the work has been completed without losing a single day of seeing patients.
She explained: “Bruce has managed to arrange all the work around a busy practice and it hasn’t affected patients.
“We’ve also taken the opportunity to repaint the waiting room and install some new flooring to make it feel less clinical.”
The move from associate to practice co-owner has been fascinating, explained Louise. She said: “Heather has had some experience at this but I’m totally new to it, so it has been an eye-opener. I’ve had to get used to the admin and I have learned a lot.
“However, I do feel that I benefitted from my time as an associate. I wouldn’t have wanted to do this any earlier in my career, as I felt I needed the experience.”
However, one element that has made the transition run even more smoothly for both Louise and Heather has been the presence of practice manager Janice Penman, who has been with the practice for more than 30 years. Janice has been working in Uddingston since before Neil Simpson took over and she has proved invaluable in helping the new owners settle in and hit the ground running.
Louise said: “Janice has been excellent throughout the transition and knows the practice inside out, which has been a big help. We wanted to keep things as settled as possible after we took over and she has helped us so much and been incredibly supportive, as have all the staff.”
Even though they are a predominantly NHS practice, Louise and Heather are keen to offer a range of other private treatments to give their patients plenty of choice.
To this end, Heather completed an MSc in Facial Aesthetics from the University of Central Lancashire and is fully qualified to provide a full range of non-surgical facial aesthetic treatments. The practice also offers tooth whitening and implants, and associate Lesley Struthers has just completed a Six Month Smiles course adding another string to their bow.
When asked “What’s next?” Louise, who also works as a part-time CPD advisor at NHS Education for Scotland, insists that they are just interested in “getting our heads down and getting on with it”.
Louise said: “Learning how to be a manager as well as a dentist has been challenging but we’re really enjoying it.”
And Heather said: “We can now focus on our customer service skills to create a comfortable and desirable workplace for both staff and patients alike.”