In this episode, we interviewed Dr. Marc Leichtung, DMD and owner of US Dental Arts to understand his mantra of being a “dental warrior” and how it’s helped him grow his practice 5X month over month during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rolando Mia, from Zyris, is the host of our series, Dental Voice. In this show, we focus on the latest news, topics, and conversations happening in dentistry and asses differing views across the nation. In Season 2, we’re focusing on, “What’s Working and What’s Not”, where we’re debunking myths by assessing trial and error since the start of Covid-19.
Watch this video to learn the following:
- Why hygiene is critical for practice success during COVID-19
- Having a dedicated person in-office to call patients reassuring them to come back
- Dental marketing and capitalizing on social media
- How to be a dental warrior for your dental tribe
Hello, everybody. Welcome to Dental Voice Season 2 with Zyris. My name is Rolando. Thank you for joining us. The purpose of Dental Voice is to hear from professionals in dentistry, get their perspectives and advice. I’m really excited to introduce our next guest, who has a lot of great advice for what practices basically need to do to be successful in a COVID and post COVID environment. Everyone, please meet Dr. Marc. We’re going to hear a little bit about how Dr. Marc built his practice and grew it from the ground up.
He sold it and then bought it back. Dr. Marc also invented a product Snap on Smile, which basically revolutionized the industry with regard to aesthetics on the cosmetic side. Dr. Marc also worked in DSO, so he understands that. He is the owner of US Dental Arts. Today, we’re going to hear about what he’s done to grow this business and then thrive in a post-COVID environment.
How are you, sir?
Dr. Marc Liechtung:
I’m doing great, Ro. Great to see you and hear from you and know you’re doing well. Thank you for having me. It’s really an honor.
What Is a Dental Warrior?
The first thing that I want to ask is this, could you give us just a brief background on how you got here and some of the things that you’ve had to overcome to get this point before we get into the details?
Dr. Marc Liechtung:
Well, you know from the beginning of this, people should know, I look at myself as a and many of you may do the same, as a dental warrior. And that’s a positive aspect. You know, dentistry is a great, wonderful profession, and that’ll be the common denominator today for me because obviously I’m in it this for the long-haul and I’ve seen many different aspects as Rolando has alluded to.
I’ve been in front of the aisle at a convention walking in buying supplies, and then I’ve been behind the booth where I’ve created a product, marketed it, and lectured on my own and then was lucky enough to get absorbed and taken over by DenMat, which was a great honor. I got a chance to meet phenomenal people along the way, but I like to believe that really the beautiful thing about dentistry and we’ll get into that today.
If you’re somebody who just loves the business aspect or the aspect of corporate, it has that now in the last 10 years, we see the advent of DSO’s and I’m somebody who has done a lot in all the arenas. I’d like to believe that I’m been pretty successful in all of those arenas. I do want to add why one of the reasons I feel I was successful is because when I was creating a product called Snap-On Smile, which is a clinical product and learning all the pros and cons. So, I was in the mouth all day, every day.
Now that I’m building a really unbelievable in my group of young dentists and young professionals that have helped us build some great practices, I’ve absorbed myself into more of a CEO role of that business with that knowledge of dentistry. I don’t think anything can substitute people like us, these “warriors”, there’s so many of us, I’m not only one. You must have the knowledge of dentistry, because that is the most important aspect. We sell dentistry.
That’s amazing. want to get into a couple of things. First of all, the context you say, “dental warrior”, and basically it depends on us. What does that mean? Help us understand, because in order to grow, is it just you or what’s involved?
Dr. Marc Liechtung:
You know, it brings me back to a story. I must say, because this is where I’ve learnt what we’re up against. My father was in real estate and was successful. You know, he was a great fan and helped me along the way, but he was in corporate America and I’ll never forget the day.
About 25 years ago, I started a practice in the Lincoln center area of New York. And for those of you listeners who, who are ever in Lincoln center, the name of our practice here is Manhattan Dental Arts, come visit. You’ll see some great things and more importantly, you’ll see a great team, but my father came one day to the waiting room, he had a toothache and I saw him in the waiting room looking around. So, as I passed the waiting room and going to another room, waiting to get an open operatory, to treat him, I stuck my head out in the waiting room.
I said, “Dad, are you okay?” He was a gentleman, a man that has worked with hundreds of employees in corporate America. He looked around, saw two assistants, two young ladies at the front desk and me running around. And he goes, “Is this all yours?”, I said, “Yeah”, he goes, “It’s amazing.” I didn’t understand it at first but as the years went by, I’ve realized that, yeah, this is all ours. The team, the people, the payroll, the marketing, the supplies, the ROI and everything we do. That’s what he meant by this is all yours. He didn’t need to worry crunching the number. He was able to use the corporation’s accounting department, but we are the “warriors”.
We are the chief, cook, and bottle washer. We do the dentistry, we do the marketing, we do the selling and we hire our team. Then we train our team. So we are CEOs, CFOs, and CEOs of our practice. As we grow, we need to make that decision that we haven’t been taught in dental school. There’s nothing like experience. That’s what has made me realize that in order for us to be successful in this industry, you really have to master more than just a great crown prep.
Creating an Action Plan at the Start of COVID-19
So, let me ask you this and thank you for that. So, in our current situation, COVID-19 came into here and literally kicked everybody’s butt. When you look at the experiences that clinicians are having out there, when you look at the experiences that small business owners, large business owners are having out there, some of them are really struggling. Now, if I understand correctly, your businesses, your offices are doing well, help us understand what is it that you’re doing and why it’s working in a COVID-19 and post-COVID kind of environment.
Dr. Marc Liechtung:
So, March 17th, stock market was going down. I was recuperating from a knee surgery, one of the last surgical procedures done at a hospital for elective surgery. On the East side, I was in my apartment with my wife and you know, my broker called me about just like every other person had their broker call and said, we’d better get adjusted for pretty stormy next few months practices were about to be closed down. My staff was going nuts. I didn’t know what to do.
I think the most important thing that we need to learn from this is going in. There’s one word I’m going to say and it’s the elephant in the room is cashflow for those of us that were a little more conservative with the cashflow coming into the pandemic and utilizing all the programs that we were able to utilize was a big help once.
I realized that this was ahead of us that there’s no time for people like us, meaning clinicians, owners, and warriors. There’s no time for us to stick our head in the sand and say, “Oh, please pass over and let it just happen.” We have to pick action. I can’t go on without saying the accolades one million times to my administrative assistant, Bridget King, who has always been there for me to be a sounding board. And everyone has a manager Bridget. It’s a little more than just a manager, but everyone has somebody they need to run off their ideas and their fears. We all have fears. But when you look at what was ahead of us, we had to make decisions about furloughing or terminating.
We had to make decisions about how we’re going to handle the rent. When you put this all in perspective, I laid out a plan. My plan was to analyze every aspect of each practice I owned. What I mean was we changed marketing programs. We, we did some renovation. I bought two practices in New York City at an amazing rate at a very low price because people were getting out and I believe in this city and I believe in what we can do. Now, I’ll give you an example. I bought a practice in the East Village, in New York City, and it was a very underperforming practice.
This is the second month after a total renovation, we are going to generate five times the revenue this month. We built a quarter or a less than a quarter of a million-dollar practice and we’re on par. If we just take October, and I’ll tell you why that is so, so gratifying to me, and I’ll go through it with you and October, and we’ve done five times the revenue, and we’re now on par. If we keep to it and there’s no reason it won’t be a million-dollar practice, what’s exciting is we have the ability. We have the education. We just have to understand that there’s going to be tough times ahead. This is not easy. And what we’re doing in the cities we live in, we have to have a plan and stick to it.
Top 3 Things to Incorporate in Your Practice Right Now
One of the biggest issues people are facing according to the ADA is that practices are open, but the majority of practices out there now are tracking at 80%. They’re not seeing the patients coming in. You got a practice here that’s 5X. What are the top three things or key pieces of advice that you would give someone to change their practice?
Dr. Marc Liechtung:
So, if you look at the landscape ahead of us, back when we opened in June, and it’s amazing that practices are doing 75, 80% of their revenue, and that’s what I’m hearing. That’s wonderful. That’s a testament to us as a profession and professionals, because we’re really fighting the fight as I like to say.
Back in June, when we opened, we knew October and November would be the toughest two months, because there were no recalls, no hygiene. I am a believer that hygiene drives the bus. It’s the engine that moves all practices for the doctor’s treatment and patients comfort. But the fact is that we knew it would be tough. So, we were bracing for October, November, and we’ll get into that in a second. First thing is we prepared all the offices to the CDC and the ADA guidelines to the best of our abilities, right?
What we did was we used air purifiers. We use plexiglass, took temperatures, and did mouth rinses. We used Isolite in as many operatories as we could get it to help, not only the patient, but I run with a number of great associates that I’d put my mother in the chair with them. They are wonderful. So, I want to protect them. I want them to know and the hygienist to know, and the assistants to know that we are safety first. We knew that the recall system was down.
So, I have a recall or a recap person in every office. I believe that marketing is really important. We are the only business really doing this. I know that we actually go out and recall our customers every three, four, six months for an additional treatment. How good is that? We have to do this. When that’s gone, all flow of patients will diminish. So I increased the amount of people that are calling our patients and literally explaining to them what we’re doing for COVID.
We use the time to train assistants who are not good at taking impressions, did not do great perio charting, or things like that. I brought in a professional trainer and on zoom, we trained the assistants. But the most important thing I think is we had meetings with our clinicians and we said, “Listen, now is the time to do more with less when a patient walks in, let’s explain to them that we’re charging a COVID-19 fee and that COVID-19 fee we could do away with, if we do more work on this appointment.” So, as the patients come in, do more on them than you would maybe do the second crown, take out the second tooth and bone grafted, do what you would do on the second visit for two reasons.
One is we have less patients. Clearly, we have to diminish our schedules. Secondly, we don’t want people to come in and be more frantic and say, “I’m a little nervous from COVID-19.” We want to, I always say, give the perception of value of dentistry and commitment to the treatment. And that’s what we’ve done in the last several months. I’m happy to say that in the month of October, when we were all nervous, three out of the five have reached bonus levels, which are pretty lofty. Two of them are right on the threshold. So, it does take this constant evaluation of our business and how we’re going to maintain our focus to keep going with these numbers.
Wow. So, let me get this straight, you’re not letting COVID freak you out. You’re saying, “Hey, it’s here, let’s get through this.” The plan was sitting down and connecting with the team to figure out what was important, but the thing that got me the most, is this context of, “We’re going to get through this let’s prepare, let’s not sit back and then patient care.” So it’s huge. Let me ask you this. Did you have apprehension with your teams prior to everything opening up? Because I mean, think about it during this whole pandemic, dental offices, hygienists, dentists were expected to be the spreaders of COVID-19 and all that. How did you overcome the anxiety?
Creating an Environment Where People Want to Come Back to Work
Dr. Marc Liechtung:
You know, the whole unemployment program, although it was very important and I’m in favor of the programs that were put in place, obviously did hurt some of the people that would come back normally because of the extra $600. I’m sure practices throughout the whole country have this, but we have a really dedicated team.
When you have quality people working around you, people who want to genuinly come back to work with and trust you, and I think that’s the biggest factor. I think the trust that they have, knowing that no matter what the cost is to come to work, we will make it safe as possible. We need to go back to work, see patients who are in pain or are in the middle of treatment, doctors that need to get in there and make a living that want to go back to work.
We constantly had meetings to assess the fears of some of the people. Listen, did we lose some? We did. The back to school situation has been very difficult. I will tell you when a couple of our offices, we have designated rooms, the children to come and do their Zoom learning there because mothers that have kids are valuable to us. I have some treatment coordinators that without them, we would not have hit on pace to do $4 million in a practice or another private practice to hit $3.8 million.
So, we’re hitting wafting numbers. I’m not talking about practices that hit $60k and I’m not diminishing that. I’m just saying we are seeing big numbers for them to get bonuses. They are amazingly important, intensely important to our practice. So, when they said, “Doc, I have a problem with childcare.” I said, “Let’s use the lunchroom and bring your children, let them get educated there.” You could dip your head in every now and then, but at least I have my team back in place. That’s a huge boost. The comradery is still growing.
What a wonderful idea. So it’s all you, you did all of it.
Dr. Marc Liechtung:
No, every dental warrior has a team and every warrior has a posse behind them. So, you know, it’s me that have I taken risks in my life? Yes. Have I always had people around me that were very valuable to, to me to help me make those risks? I have it every day. I’m very blessed. I don’t take it for granted. I know. They know I don’t take it for granted. I would like to say one thing and that is I graduated University of Pennsylvania, did a fellowship in prosthetics, in a one-year fellowship to be a perio-operative person. I came home and my dad who was in business said, “You know, when you go for 2 more years of school, what do they call you?”
And I said they call me, “Dentist”, he says, “What are they calling you now?” I said, they call me “Dentist”, he said, “Why don’t you go out and make a living and see if you want to do it, you’re a dentist.” So, I said, “Let’s try it.” And you know what? It was a great move because I love merging and marrying the business, the clinical aspect and all that. It brings together to see if we’re successful. You can’t do that alone. The planning and the scheduling were definitely done by the team that I have. Definitely not alone by myself as an owner. I have a great team to support me.
Empowering Your Entire Dental Team
I’ve known you for quite a while. And one of the things that I admire, there’s a fierceness and a focus on being a professional. There’s a drive. You’re a tough person. Share with us how you’ve had to make hard decisions, having to hold people to their commitments, having to be that person, because you know, it’s interesting. You can bereally tough, but from what I understand, it sounds like your team really likes you. What’s going on there?
Dr. Marc Liechtung:
Yeah. Well, I’ve been married first for 32 years, so that tough is one thing. Knowing your place at all times is another thing and I’m blessed with that. And, and the team really does, I say the team now, I’d like to say that 20 years ago, 15 years ago, maybe even 10 years ago, they were “staff”. I probably had my door revolving more times than I would like the last several years, I really truly realized the value of a team. When you have good assistants and they become great assistants, doctors like working with them, you’ll life is made easier from the team around you.
That is something that, although you could be, you have to be tough in business when you’re dealing with leases and doctors and vendors, and you know, all the suppliers that we deal with, but understanding that you’re coming to work, valuing the people around you now, today is immensely and unbelievably beneficial to all of us years ago. I didn’t appreciate it as much. And I’m going to be the first to say it. I thought it was all me.
There are dentists out there that who own their businesses and they’re dealing with all the issues related to COVID and they’re taking everything on themselves. How did you see the difference?
Dr. Marc Liechtung:
A couple of things. One is, I built a very large practice in New York, about $5 million, and it was bought by a DSO for a little over gross. 2-3 years later I bought it back for 10% of what they paid me. During that span of 2-3 years although I was doing other things and building other offices, I missed this office so badly and that’s where I’m sitting now. I built it and developed Snap-On here. My point is that when I was out of this office for 2-3 years, I missed it so much that I swore when I came back, it’s going to be different.
Now, we know dentistry is tough. You know, it’s tough because you have patients who demand perfection and we need to deliver it. What I did do is say that I’m not going to discredit, and I’m not going to diminish the role of the people that help us make these practices great. I think it took me and I’m hoping that you learn from my knowledge of my mistakes. It took me that ability the aspect of not having it to want it more and make the changes and appreciate the people that got me to that number. I couldn’t sell that practice to that number by myself. I did it with a team and after I sold some of those teammates, they left. When I came back, a lot of them came back.
We built the practice up pre-COVID and you know, we were meeting just yesterday. We had a team meeting about getting on the phones more and fighting this November. I have a lot of confidence. You know, I find myself not being as nervous as I used to be. I’m a little older. I’ve done some things, but I also know that the team that we have in these practices, they’ve developed this structure in this plan that we have, that we’re going to be okay. Not that I think it’s not worrisome, but there’s no reason to show it. We are the captains of our ship. I’m talking to the captains and the captains need to lead. You come in nervous. You come in scared, you start treatment planning too aggressively. Things are going to come back, stay the course, do what you do best.
If you have to lighten your load, then you have to make those tough decisions. You have to let go of that team member because you must pay your rent, your lab bill, and keep the marketing going. So you get those new patients, little words to the wise, hope you’re not listening in my market area.
What I am finding is our dollars now are going further marketing wise than they work pre-COVID because a lot of our colleagues are not marketing. So you need to evaluate every aspect. Vendors will give discounts. Landlords will give breaks. We need to look at all the aspects under each rug. Every practice has a rug. Let’s look under it, see what we can improve it. You will feel a little better about yourself because you lowered your cost a little bit, and now you’re ready to market and get going and build the practice. So, every area is different.
Acquiring New Practices During COVID-19
So, it’s about investing in the practice. It’s about investing in the teammates. Let me ask you this. Several of our other clinicians have mentioned like Dr. Laskin, and then Dr. Schlesinger, this is actually an environment to invest and grow your business. You mentioned adding additional practices or going out, what advice would you give for dentists, other business owners who are potentially looking at practices around them that may not be opening, or they may want to acquire them? What advice would you give those folks?
Dr. Marc Liechtung:
I tell this to my clinicians. We have constant discussions clinically about treatment plans. I’m somebody who appreciates the beauty of the phones and technology. Today, I could be sent x-rays wherever I am and discuss the treatment plan with the doctor. One thing I tell them is when they’re doing tooth number 29, and they’re doing a beautiful onlay or crown on 29, look at the distal of 28. You don’t have to go far, just look left and right. And then you’ll see probably quadrant dentistry needs to be done. So, I say the same thing. When you’re looking out your window or your door, you’re driving to work, there could be a dentist, a couple of blocks, maybe within a mile that wants to get out and wants to get rid of his or her charts.
They want to get rid of it, rent the place, or leave the lease and they got their PPP. They want to transfer the charts. So, constantly know your surroundings and I agree with those doctors. This is a time that if you’re in it and you want to grow your practices, go do it. I am closing on another practice on the East side that I’m buying at 40% of its revenue. I made a deal with the landlord. That’s going to give us tremendous, more exposure with an awning, a beautiful window, and 4 month’s rent free. So, there are deals out there in every neighborhood. I believe there are aspects where it’s not expensive to buy a practice.
It’s taking that risk of debt. Don’t be afraid because we are clinicians. It’s literally 98.7% of dental practices in this country are solvent. They go forward. They are producing a living for the dentist. What I’m saying is it’s very rare for a dental practice to go under. We need to learn systems. If we don’t have it, somebody like me, who’s been doing it a long time who has systems, believes in hygiene treatment plan, coordination, recalls marketing. Yes. Somebody needs to know about us at our wares and today with SEO and all the good social media. You can get the word out much more inexpensively than years ago. Do not be afraid of that.
I just think that you have to keep looking around. The doctors that you mentioned, yeah, I think this has been, I hate to say it because it’s been horrific from their standpoint. I lost friends, but at the same time, from a business standpoint, if you told me, I’d be the way I am November 1st, when you told me March 17th, I would say, “You’re either on something funny or you’re just telling me nonsense.” If you look back, we’ve done some good things as a profession, as an association, and as clinicians, we’ve done some good things. I don’t want to diminish what we’ve done here in New York, but New York was ravaged. It still is. Yet, for us to hit some of these goals, this is amazing. I mean, they’re listening.
Tell the patient on the phone what your office is doing for COVID. We tell them, “It’s safe. You need to take care of your teeth. You need to take care of your health. We are doing everything we can, you will not wait. You’ll be brought right into to the operatory.”
I tell my clinicians and I’m with them all the time, “I can accelerate your education. I can teach you everything, but I can never substitute your experience. Your experience is going to be your experience. What I’m doing here is accelerating you.” A mentor of mine said that, “Mark, you want to have a practice that’s 10 years old. The only way to do that is being in practiced for 10 years.”
The one thing I’m going to say is that we are so lucky when we come out of this, on the other side that we went through it because some of us remember 9/11. Some of us remember here on the East coast, some of us remember different areas of the world with the floods and the fire. I mean, we are all dealing with different things, but if you stick to the plan, you stick to your team and you move on. On the other side, it’s going to be rewarding. That’s why I call myself a dental warrior.
Keeping up Your Energy and Confidence in Dentistry
Wow. Really great stuff. I love the energy. You’re not ignoring that this is a crazy time and you’re not ignoring that it’s incredibly difficult, but you’re choosing to focus to specific things. How do you keep that energy, the motivation, and stay positive? I’ve had a lot of experience with you. There were times when, I mean the proverbial poop hit the fan, and it really freaked you out. Now I notice there is a calmness and a focus to you. What happened? How did you get there?
Dr. Marc Liechtung:
If I came in looking to bail, what would the people who work for me say? What would my children say? We don’t have that opportunity. When we choose to be an entrepreneur, we don’t have the opportunity to bail. Listen, I come to work every day. I try to move every practice forward. Along with the help of my assistant. We move things forward. It has given me the confidence, because this is what I know. I know clinical dentistry, I know treatment planning. I know how to run an office. So, if I know your offense and I’m playing defense, and I know how to stop you. what’s there to fear?
I think that what’s ahead of us is going to be better than what we’ve come through. I’m not overly confident. I don’t sit back and have my druthers on decisions we’ve made, but for what we’ve been through and where we are, we’re a very confident group. We’re sure that we’re going to come out of it from the other side. I hope those that are doctors that are listening. If you have any questions, please reach out because I think we we’ve got it inside of us. And if you told me this in 1987, that I’d be somebody like this I’d say, “You’re nuts.” I’m going to practice dentistry my whole life.
Dentistry has so many different aspects. Rolando and I have traveled together and lectured together with some great clinicians. When you talk to them, they’re just like us. They’re really in love with dentistry. They love what they do. They care for their patients and they love their team and they stay on message. Stay on plan. The confidence grows with experience.
Maintaining Your Integrity
That’d be focal. So first of all, I would love to spend so much more time. If I were to ask you to kind of sum this up, what would your closing message be with regard to going forward from this point and thriving in the post COVID environment?
Dr. Marc Liechtung:
If I have to think about the one aspect that we have to do as clinicians it’s during these trying times, maintain your integrity, maintain the level of quality. I don’t build practices by lowering the insurance rates. I don’t build practices because I’m the cheapest guy on the block.
We have phenomenal clinicians and a hygienist came to me the other day and she thanked me after being with me for two years. She wanted to tell me, “Dr. Liechtung I love working here.” She doesn’t see me every day. And I said, “Lena, why?” And she said, “Because you’ve never ever had a meeting where you asked me to find stuff that wasn’t there.” What I’m saying is we must always remain true to ourselves and the integrity and the quality that we had pre-COVID during COVID must maintain throughout. When you lose that, you’re losing a lot more than you can imagine, you’re losing the ability to go to sleep at night and saying, “I’ve done the right thing.”
The one thing I always tell my doctors is treat them like they’re going down the block for a second opinion. That is the definite aspect of this job, of this profession. It’s beautiful, but you must maintain your integrity throughout this, this pandemic, and we’re going to get through it and we’re going to be great for it. You’re never going to have to say you compromised. Every aspect of the business should be evaluated. Are your dental supplies at 5% to 7% or your is your dental lab below 10%? Are you marketing at a rate that you can handle? And how’s my lease? We could talk about that forever, but the most important is the integrity, the compassion, and the level of quality that we bring.
Thank you so much for joining us, Dr. Marc.