Smileworks is Liverpool’s most popular dental practice, and also a previous MSIF client!
Smileworks received £7,500 from MSIF in 2014. Smileworks started as an idea conjured up by two dentists, Ed Challinor and MJ Rowland-Warmann whilst on a Virgin Atlantic flight to Miami, at 34,000ft in the air.
How did you come up with the idea for Smileworks?
Whilst on our flight to Miami, we were discussing all that is wrong with dentistry, and MJ described it as being a little like flying ‘it’s something you have to do and it can be either a nightmare or an absolute delight, depending on which airline you choose’. That was the moment the Smileworks idea was born. Our motto is, you get the best service possible at 34,000ft, and that is the theme that runs through our entire airline-themed practice.
We had a vision to create a futuristic practice brimming with beautiful things and state of the art technology. We wanted to create a caring and calm environment where people wanted to come in for treatment, instead of dreading it. We also wanted to create a great place to work… We’d both worked for some horrible bosses in our time and wanted to build a creative, low stress environment where our practitioners were free to express their talents and care for our patients.
How did you find your initial search for funding?
We looked in so many places for funding and were just getting rejection after rejection. They say you should persevere, but after dozens of attempts with high street banks, private banks, dental funding companies and even friends and family, our options were exhausted. We found out about MSIF from a kind soul in a high street bank who had just served us another rejection. He told us about Paul Humphray at MSIF, and told us to try an MSIF loan, which we did!
What was the initial stage of setting up the business like?
Extremely hard. We were working all hours and suffering with the constant fear of failure. We also had the added pressure of constant funding rejections and not knowing whether we were doing things right or wrong. We were literally dancing around the room when we got the approval of our MSIF funding. It was the first piece of good news we’d had and it started us off on our journey. It was such a powerful thing to get a break and a real start on our dream.
How has Smileworks grown since its creation in 2014?
We started off with just an exam bed where MJ was treating facial aesthetics patients for Botox and Filler. MJ has an exceptional talent for facial aesthetics so our patient base exploded and set us up with a nice pre-selected group of customers who trusted us to also do their dentistry work, once we had saved enough to buy some dental materials and start dentistry. Before we received the funding we rented a room in Rodney Street from colleagues who were kind enough to help out when we had nowhere to go. We got some really good advice and insights from early helpers like these.
How do you attract your customers?
Ed operates an enterprise-level digital marketing suite that delivers hundreds of qualified leads from a variety of channels. Also, our patients like us and what we do, so we receive a lot of recommendations.
We believe marketing is everything and every tiny detail is important for our brand… from the taste of the mouth rinse to the choreographed patient journey… everything has been planned, tested, practiced and executed with real care.
People get a good feeling when they come to visit us and that’s 100% by design. We have the best dentists so the environment has to reflect a supreme level of quality. We have a healthy patient referral base and other practices are now starting to refer their patients to us for Oral Surgery, Implants, Dental Radiographic Imaging and Orthodontics.
What has surprised you most about running your own business?
How fast it can go from really awful to really great. Dentistry is a capital intensive model so instead of the one or two years of facing down failure we’ve had more like four. But then we broke even, paid off all of our investments and are finally making profit and building up cash reserves.
Running a small business is not for the faint hearted and it’s certainly not the fastest way to get rich. You have to literally sacrifice years of your life to make a real success. But, when that time comes, we’ll have an opportunity to build some real wealth and have the freedom to do anything.
What are your plans for the future?
To grow our business by acquisitions or organically. And eventually to work less and enjoy more.
If you could give one piece of advice to others who are starting up their own business, what would it be?
Learn marketing. Learn finance. Learn sales. Your idea is worth nothing without you being an expert in these three areas.
Also, go and see MSIF, they’ll give you a sensible answer to any of your funding queries, and they know what they’re talking about!