The Group Dentistry Now Show: The Voice of the DSO Industry – Episode 4

Our podcast series brings you dental support and emerging dental group practice analysis, conversation, trends, news and events. Listen to leaders in the DSO and emerging dental group space talk about their challenges, successes, and the future of group dentistry.

On today’s show, Dale Sanford, VP Marketing & Development at Mortenson Dental Partners, joins Bill Neumann. Dale shares ways to gain insight on how to grow a DSO and he reveals some exciting new sessions which are planned for their Scaling Up Group Dental Symposium. Find out more about their 5th annual meeting, which includes a Q&A with the legendary O. Wayne Mortenson! Their event will be held August 21st – 23rd in downtown Louisville, KY.  Register today! *Receive a 15% discount with the code: groupdentistrynow*

The Group Dentistry Now show has listeners across the North America, Australia, Europe, South America and Asia. If you like our show, tell a friend or a colleague.

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Full Transcript
Welcome to the Group Dentistry Now Show, the Voice of the DSO Industry. Kim Larson and Bill Neumann talk to industry leaders about their challenges, successes and the future of group dentistry.

Bill Neumann:
I’d like to welcome everybody back to the Group Dentistry Now show. I’m Bill Neumann and I’m really happy to have Dale Sanford from Mortenson Dental Partners here today. Dale’s going to talk to us about Mortenson, and then really focus in on their event in August, the Scaling Up Group Dental Symposium. Dale, welcome to the show. Dale has been with Mortenson Dental Partners since January 2017. Prior to joining to Mortenson and getting involved in the DSO industry, Dale spent 30 years in the retail grocery industry, and 27 of those years with a company that you may have all heard of, the Kroger Company. So, hi Dale. How you doing? Welcome to the show.

Dale Sanford:
Hey Bill, I’m thrilled to be here. Doing well, thank you.

Bill Neumann:
Great, so first off, take us through a little bit of history with Mortenson and like I said, I think most of our audience knows who Mortenson is, but some might not. I think it’d be kind of nice to get caught up, if you do know a little bit about Mortenson, how many practices, how things started out there.

Dale Sanford:
Sure, I’ll be glad to. We were founded by Dr. Wayne Mortenson and his wife, Sue. As the story goes, they were farmers in Arizona. They had started a family, and as anyone who may be familiar with the farming industry, it’s very difficult, very contention on Mother Nature, and weather, and water is very important. There were some irrigation opportunities, water opportunities that they were trying to overcome. One day, as I understand it, Sue told Dr. Wayne, “We can’t raise a family like this anymore. You’re going to go to dental school.”

Dale Sanford:
SO they packed up the family, and they moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where Dr. Wayne enrolled at the University of Louisville School of Dentistry, waited tables on the side, and eventually graduated and opened a small practice in Middletown, Kentucky. That’s a small suburb of Louisville. His original practice is still there today, but that’s where they started. They grew eventually from one to two, and two to three. Then as their children began to graduate from dental school, Dr. Wayne and Sue were opening practices for their children, and then friends of their children, and eventually I think as it stands today, Dr. Wayne and Sue have about 20 family members in the business, either providers or in different capacities.

Dale Sanford:
We’ve grown from that single office to by the end of this year 150-155 practices. I guess we’re in nine states now, and that’s where we are. It’s truly been a labor of love for Dr. Wayne and his family, and there’s a lot of us who feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to come and join what’s going on here.

Bill Neumann:
It’s a great story, from farmer to dentist, to DSO leader. Mortenson’s also one of the largest, I believe, DSOs. It’s actually employee-owned.

Dale Sanford:
That is correct. You know, there’s a lot of things here that we do try to maybe differentiate ourselves a little bit from other organizations. But, one thing that was done early on much before I got here, was Dr. Wayne and the leadership team made the decision that they were going to self-fund an ESOP plan. So, every team member that works for Mortenson Dental Partner is truly an owner. When you talk about we’re employee-owned, we truly are. If you take that another step up, we’re truly doctor-owned and doctor-led where major stakeholders in the company, in terms of ownership, are our doctors. The majority of our leadership positions are held by doctors.

Dale Sanford:
So, those are some things about what has been real important to Dr. Wayne, and the company really stands on. We want to be doctor-owned. We want to be doctor-led, and we want to be employee-owned.

Bill Neumann:
That is fascinating, really, just the whole story. I know Dr. Wayne and a lot of the philosophy at Mortenson is giving back. One way Mortenson gives back is through the scaling up, and the education that you provide there whether it’s emerging groups, or solo practitioners, or dental students, or even larger groups. Tell us a little bit about why Mortenson decided to start the Scaling Up Group Dental Symposium. This is in its fifth year now. What was the philosophy behind starting that? Tell us a little bit about that.

Dale Sanford:
Sure, you are correct. This is our fifth year. I know every company has a set of values and a mission statement that they operate by, that the company that I worked for did. I can tell you in my short time here, the thing that’s different from my past, is that we truly live by that. We make decisions by that. One of the values that’s important that we espouse is to share abundantly, but share abundantly what we know, what we’ve learned. There’s lots of different perspectives from that, but one that was thought of was how can we get back to the industry? How can we lead a legacy on this industry that has benefited all of us so much?

Dale Sanford:
That’s where scaling up really was born. It’s how can we hold an event that adds value whether you’re a recent grad from dental school, whether you’re a single or solo practitioner, or whether you’re trying to scale up a couple of practices, or maybe even you’re beginning to think about forming your own DSO or group. What can we do to give back and really share with people what this organization has learned, both successes and failures as we’ve gone through that trajectory. I think if you’ve been to an event, you know one of the things we pride ourselves on is we’re pretty transparent. We’re going to share our misses as well as our hits, you know?

Dale Sanford:
I know based upon the feedback that we get from attendees, I think there’s an appreciation of that. We do try to be as sincere as we possibly can, and share with folks so that they can learn from us. I think in terms of why the event was born, it’s truly a way for our company, but then specifically Dr. Wayne and Sue and his family to try to give back to the industry.

Bill Neumann:
Yeah, and that’s great. I’ve been to two of the four events that have occurred so far. You’re right, certainly a lot of sharing of great information. Transparency is wonderful. It’s not all about just the successes, but some of the mistakes that you’ve made as an organization and learned from. Tell us a little bit, give the audience a preview of what to expect this year because things have changed a little bit. It’s not in November anymore. We’re now in August, August 21 through the 23rd, which is great. It’s going to accommodate people’s schedules I think a lot better. What’s the same this year, and what’s a little bit different?

Dale Sanford:
Sure, well we’ve built out a packed event, I think. What’s the same this year? I think you can always count on hearing from a handful of Mortenson leaders. We know based on feedback there are individuals that the attendees love to hear from. First and foremost is Dr. Wayne himself. In the past four years, Dr. Wayne has always kicked off the event from the main stage. This year, we took a different approach. Dr. Wayne has recently stepped out of his CEO role, and he’s serving as a Founder and advisory-type role. He’s still in the office every day and in every meeting. He has stepped aside from that official capacity as CEO, so we thought why not change it up a little bit and let’s give the attendees an opportunity to visit with Dr. Wayne personally.

Dale Sanford:
So, he’s going to hold a couple of breakout sessions, where if you want to talk to Dr. Wayne, you can show up to the breakout session. He’s going to be there, and he’s going to answer all the questions you have, and talk to you. I think that will be very well attended, but I think Dr. Wayne loves talking to two or three folks as much as he does 20 or 30. He’ll be sitting there waiting to see who comes back. No preconceived agenda. No objective. He’s just going to be there to answer questions and talk with folks. Dr. Will Engilman, our President and CIO, always we get rave reviews. People love to hear about the technology aspect, specifically data analysts and business intelligence, and just how we use our data here to make strategic decisions. So, Dr. Will will be on the agenda. Last year we got some feedback that the folks really loved the small leadership segments that we did. So, you’ll see a greater emphasis on leadership topics this year. Then of course, we’ll have Bill Beckner, our new CEO, to kick off the session for us. Those are the folks from inside Mortenson. I think you’ll find that even though we have some Mortenson speakers, we really like to bring in a variety of folks, as well from outside of the company. That’s where we’ve got a long list.

Dale Sanford:
[Cecille 00:10:16] Shower, one of our primary sponsors from Patterson Dental, will be back again to give us the state of the DSO industry. Then we’ve got a number of new folks on the agenda. We’re bringing in Nick Partridge from Five Lakes. That’s a consulting firm that’s been helping us strategize and navigate the insurance payer networks, and some things that we’re doing. We really thought that would be a relevant topic for the group, considering what’s going on within that piece of our industry today.

Dale Sanford:
We have a focus on real estate this year. We’ll have Colin Carr from Carr Healthcare Real Estate. You know, real estate… I held a panel last year personally on that, and it was well-received from the group. We got feedback that’s not something that we as the attendees and the participants had thought a lot about in terms of how we can manage our real estate or real estate portfolio, to improve the profitability of our organization. So, we’ll have that. Then we’ve also got a couple of strong financial topics. Karan Garg from Houlihan Lokey, who is a repeat presenter, but he was here last year. He’ll be back with us, giving us some insight on the financial aspects of the dental profession and the industry.

Dale Sanford:
Then we’ve taken a different twist, and we have a new partner coming in this year called Cain Watters. Dan Wicker, who’s the managing partner there, they’re based in Dallas. They’re a wealth advisement firm, if you will, but they’re a little unique in that they have about 10,000 clients, and they’re all dentists. So, they specifically provide financial advice to folks in our profession and specifically around planning for future and planning for your future so that you have the financial freedom to do what you want to do when you want to do it.

Dale Sanford:
We thought that’d be great for any portion of our population, be it the dental grad, be it that solo practitioner, or be it someone who’s starting a DSO. Gosh, I could keep going. We’ve got a great keynote speaker this year, Jason Barter, who’s coming in. Jason is a leadership speaker, motivational coach. He’s all over social media, YouTube. He’s a published author. I think that theme that we’ve got a greater focus on leadership this year, it’ll be a nice way to close up the conference with him. So, that’ll add some variety.

Dale Sanford:
Then probably last but not least, we want to focus on hygiene a little bit more this year. We know hygiene is so important to both our patients as well as our business model and our industry, and we think there’s some good learnings there that we can talk about and work with the group on around hygiene.

Bill Neumann:
It sounds jam-packed, for sure.

Dale Sanford:
Yes.

Bill Neumann:
No understatement there. You talked a little bi more of a hygiene focus, a leadership focus. You talked a little bit about real estate last year. You talk more about it this year. Some outside-the-industry speakers, which I think is great. We talk a little bit about tunnel vision. Sometimes it’s all about dentistry. It’s nice to get input from outside the industry and see how you can apply that to your DSO and your individual dental practices. It sounds like you’ve got a lot of exciting things lined up. You also really talked about, you addressed it earlier, how you can help out the dental students so the content is really dental student, whether you’re a dental student in an emerging group, an established DSO and you’re looking to scale content, really there’s something for everybody there.

Dale Sanford:
Yeah, we really tried to put together an event that’s going to be worthy of the attendees’ time. We know for all of us, time’s a precious commodity. There are a lot of options out there with other conferences, and we don’t want to try to compete with those, but at the same time we want to be sure that if somebody’s taking the time to travel here to Louisville and attend our conference, we want to make it well worth their time. We always keep that in mind. We also have a couple of things this year. Last year for the first time, we did a tour of our support center. We’ve recently opened a new support center here in Louisville.

Dale Sanford:
Since a year ago when we held the event, we’re double in that space. By the time August gets here, we’ll have a complete new portion of our support center open. We’ve doubled in size, and we’d be glad to give folks a tour of that. We had a great turnout last year for those behind-the-scenes tours, so if you came last year you’ll see a little bit of the same thing, but you’ll also see a brand new portion of our support center that will have recently been opened.

Bill Neumann:
That’s exciting, and certainly this kind of leads into the next question I really had for you, or our next statement, which is we talked about time being a precious commodity and there seems to be more and more DSO, emerging group, dental group practice meetings, whatever you want to call them. There certainly seems to be about at least one a month, sometimes more than one a month. One of the things that’s a little bit different is letting people attend or see, I mean you alluded to it earlier, the transparency. You get behind the scenes and see the support center. I was able to take advantage of that last year when it was half the size, and it was pretty impressive. It’ll be really interesting to see how things have changed within a year, so I’m very excited to see that.

Bill Neumann:
That’s one way you differentiate yourself from maybe some of the other emerging group DSO meetings. Anything else that you’re doing that might be a little bit different?

Dale Sanford:
I think so. Again, we value relationships and we value being able to have the time to build those relationships, be it with repeat attendees. We have a number of attendees who have been coming since the first year. We also have some very dedicated sponsors. One thing that we want to do is if you come to the conference, we want to give you the time necessary to network, to mingle, be it with other attendees, be it with Mortenson folks, or the sponsors. We just have a little bit different objective there. You won’t find a sponsor floor with 100-150 sponsors. We keep our sponsors to around 30. We want to be sure that they get a good return on their investment in sponsoring our event, so we want to be sure they have to have some good conversation with attendees.

Dale Sanford:
Likewise, we want attendees to have the same opportunity. Don’t feel rushed to get through a vendor floor just to see everyone, or pick up swag, but really have a good opportunity to have some meaningful conversation. We also do that from an attendee standpoint in that we’ve really grown to the size that we want to be. We don’t have an objective to continue to grow our attendees every year. We’re comfortable with where we are. We feel like it makes for a good conference. Intimacy is probably a good way to explain it. We just want folks to feel, while we’ve got a packed agenda, they’re also not rushed. They have time to meet folks and have good conversation.

Dale Sanford:
We also like to showcase our city of Louisville, and we try to have a really good networking event on the night of the full day, Thursday. This year for the first time, we’ll be at the Mohammed Ali Museum in Louisville, Kentucky, which is just a really cool venue. A great museum, great story there. Also, we’ll set aside enough time for folks to be able to see that, but also just spend time together continuing to network. I think that’s what’s important to us. We want to hold an event that’s small enough to provide those opportunities, but relevant enough to warrant people’s time.

Bill Neumann:
Yeah, that’s great. I think you’re right about keeping it intimate, because networking is, depending on who you are, could be as important or more important than the actual content. So, a great mix of a manageable crowd, small and intimate, able to talk to the people you want to talk to, the networking opportunity, and then get the content that you want. It seems like every year you’re adding [inaudible 00:18:37] your attendees. They want more real estate, you add some more real estate, some more hygiene, add to the leadership. So, I’m excited to attend the event again.

Bill Neumann:
I guess the big question is for our audience is, “I want to attend. How do I register?”

Dale Sanford:
Yeah, absolutely. Registration is very easy. If you just go to ScalingUpGroupDental.com you’ll see a button there on the home screen to register, and that’s where you can do it. If you’re interested in the behind the scenes tour on Wednesday, there’s a specific registration page for that as well. You’ll see it as soon as you get there. But yes, ScalingUpGroupDental.com.

Bill Neumann:
That’s great, so yeah ScalingUpGroupDental.com. The event is held August 21st through the 23rd in Louisville, Kentucky at the Omni, which is a great hotel. It was there last year, and they’re back again this year. Really nice. We’re almost brand new, less than a year old. Yeah, just a great venue, great town, great time of year to be in Louisville as well.

Dale Sanford:
Yes.

Bill Neumann:
I think it’s going to be a great event. I know it’ll be a great event. I’m looking forward to seeing you again, Dale.

Dale Sanford:
Thank you.

Bill Neumann:
I appreciate you taking the time today and explaining to our audience not just about the history of Mortenson, but how important this Scaling Up Group Dental Symposium has become for the dental industry and for DSOs and emerging groups specifically.

Dale Sanford:
You know, and we also have for the first time, the ADA will be participating in our conference. We have Cassie Yarbrough, who will be presenting from the main stage. She’s the lead Research Analyst for the American Dental Association. We’re just thrilled to have them this year to bring that perspective for our attendees.

Bill Neumann:
That’s great. The ADA certainly has probably more data than anybody else on the industry. Thanks again, Dale. Everybody, make sure you go to ScalingUpGroupDental.com and register for the event. We’ll see everybody there in August.

Dale Sanford:
Great, thanks Bill. Thanks so much for all you do to support us here at Mortenson, and as well as the industry.

Thank you for joining us today. The Group Dentistry Now show has listeners across the North America, Australia, Europe, South America and Asia. If you like our show, tell a friend or a colleague.

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