Oral Health Group

The Not So Grand Opening

November 13, 2020
by Irene Iancu, BSc, RDH, CDTP

Welcome back to part three of my article series, where did we leave off?

In 2019, I shared the first steps that should be considered when opening a practice, a little sneak peek into the world of @Toothlife.Irene and the vision of my dream dental practice and studio. As a dental hygienist in the beaches of Toronto, the challenges were becoming my reality, but I was ready!


I wrote about creating a business plan and finding financing, and I shared insights from my colleagues whom have had similar feelings when opening their own independent practices across the country.

My vision was very clear. I set achievable expectations, targets and goals. My “to-do” lists were getting shorter and shorter and at times I even impressed myself with how laser focused I was, devoted to the process and completely committed to opening day. In my mind the champagne flutes were already filled, the electric violinist I found on Instagram was hired, and the grand opening invitations on crisp white vellum paper with a subtle hint of peppermint were already in the mail.

Aside from the important stuff I mentioned about having a good accounting and legal team, figuring out the perfect location, working with awesome suppliers and contractors, there were quite a few things that I didn’t plan for. Shortly after my last article hit the blogosphere, we were all welcomed by an unexpected visitor, a teeny tiny little dream destroyer that froze time and all of my #goals.

I’m not going to sit here like a keyboard warrior and complain about all of the things that held me back and crushed my opening dreams, what good would that do now? I choose instead to share with you the things I have learned, things I wish I knew, and perhaps some of the things I might change moving forward.

I’m elated to share that Toothlife Studio celebrated eight weeks of being open on October 1, 2020. In the end, my mom was right again; you have to persevere, no matter what obstacles appear in your way out of nowhere. There was no champagne, no violins, and no crisp vellum paper. “Insert grand opening date here” remains an empty blank line on the Canva invitations I drafted what feels like a lifetime ago.

As a team, we navigated 270+ new patients during what everyone said would be the hardest time to open a start-up. They were right. Navigating a start-up is likely one of the hardest things to do, and if you add a global pandemic to that COBB salad you can bet your CERB pay cheque that it’s a whole different experience. Here are some of the things I did.

My financial skills became necessarily savage during the office build. I decided to opt-out of a designer to save some money. My contractors likely thought I was insane but $100,000+ was a lot of
cash to spend. So, I quit my high paying dental hygiene job as soon as I signed the lease, I cut back on teaching and I learned how to be a dental office designer. Seemed like a decent annual salary for an entry level designer such as myself. These days knowledge is at your fingertips, I didn’t need to index through my pristine gold-dusted 1990 limited edition Encyclopedia Britannica, to learn how an electrical circuit on a master switch operated, the different types of drywall needed in a commercial space to meet building code, or how to X-ray a floor to figure out if you can bring electricity and plumbing up to your dental chair through three feet of concrete.

The internet is a powerful place and so are you when challenged.

Sharing this entire learning experience brought me closer to the people in the community. I shared office updates during the build, the neighbourhood peeps would pop by and say hello or share a compliment about something that happened that week, like; “we follow your journey on Instagram, good job on the tiles!”. I used all experiences good, bad and at times disheartening, to share my journey with them as we worked hard to become a permanent part of their community. The journey remains documented in @Toothlifestudio Instagram Story Highlights, as a reminder of how far
we’ve come.

I made friends with local business owners like a lovely couple across the street who own the local coffee spot. Morning Parade makes a mean breakfast brioche and Elektra’s Cappuccino is artistry in a cup. Budapest Restaurant has been around for a decade (try the chicken schnitzel) and the convenience store across the street is where we all go for our lotto tickets in hopes of hitting a jackpot. Local business owners keep the community alive, and I have helped out those who don’t have dental coverage. It’s turned out to be a good move, one I didn’t know I was making at the
time. I just wanted to make some friends and, in the end, I also made some patients. Win-win.

In January and February, we had a couple of floods. Minor, but at the time felt catastrophic. We were ready for our opening; March 2020 was the month, and I was mopping puddles in the kitchen and cutting holes in the drywall! Later in February, our dental chairs were “delayed due to bad weather,” which was a bummer and ultimately led to yet another delay in opening. Little did I know, that wouldn’t be the last reason to push my opening date.

In March, elective dentistry in Toronto was shut down, and opening for emergencies wasn’t an option for me. So, I locked down in my office. I used to think I wasted the lockdown, but in hindsight, it was a mini blessing in disguise. I came to work every day, organized, cleaned, learned my software systems, created social media content, read books on business management like The first 90 Days and Radical Candor. I obsessed over making sure everything was perfect; every code needed to be manually checked, every digital form from Yapi (one of the best software decisions I made, btw) needed to be reviewed word for word to ensure no element was missing. Some might say I had too much time on my hands, but if you asked me back in March, I was in a panic that any moment now the ban on elective care would be lifted and I wouldn’t be ready. I never felt ready.

My friends who have children laugh; they say Irene back in March 2020 resembled a pregnant woman four weeks before giving birth. I was racing to get everything done before the finish line approached, little did I know the finish line was still four months away.

I graduated in 2007, and I wanted to use my 13 years of experience to create something magical. This includes four years in Perio, three in Pedo, a bougie Yorkville cosmetic practice, and overlapping seven years doing Ortho. This time was salted and peppered with both amazing and horrible bosses who inadvertently provided me the sum of my dental experience.

I made a list of things I loved about every person or office I worked for/ in and naturally I made a list of things I hated. These experiences would determine what type of boss I want to be. These experiences, some that have held a place in my heart or brain for over a decade needed to be celebrated, and what better way to celebrate good practices than by repeating them and sharing them with a team of my own.

Practices like the monthly meetings with Dr. Marvin Budd. We would sit in the same Elvis booth at Jack Astor’s and talk about anything but Perio surgery, and just get to know our fellow team members. The beautiful bouquet of flowers Dr. Cristina Udrea would give us all for our birthdays. Dr. Barry Lever’s generosity during the holidays. Dr. Dana Colson’s honourable mentions in the annual email to the entire patient base to recognize outstanding team members, and Dr. Carol Waldman’s team building week ends filled with laughter and delicious food. I needed to figure out a
way to incorporate as many of these amazing gestures into my office finding my own leadership style. I’m still working on the “being a first-time boss” part; I’ll update you further on this journey once I have a few more months of experience under my belt.

I have a toy poodle and I’d ride or die for Lou, but I’m told that love is 1000% intensified when you have a baby. I can see it in the faces and in the actions of parents bringing their little ones in for their first cleaning. In my Pedo practice life I learned this, and now in my practice ownership life, 10 years later, it is reaffirmed.

Make an impression with the moms, take care of their babies, help them laugh, dance, smile and sing in your chair, and the moms will take care of you. This has been my experience in the last eight weeks. The Toronto Beaches has a healthy private Facebook parent group, which I was lucky enough to be mentioned in twice! A mom posted a lengthy Google review on our public business page and shared it in her network. Over the next few weeks, nearly three dozen tiny new patients were booked thanks to that one review and Facebook group recommendations.

Setting up a new business isn’t finite or linear. Your plans and tasks are constantly changing, the to-do list gets smaller, then longer then smaller again. I believe it is my fear of failure that has given me fuel to work smarter, faster, and more efficiently. Temporary setbacks are always overshadowed by determination. You can do this too. All you have to do is start.

About the Author

Irene Iancu has worked in various specialties including Paedo, Perio, General Practice and Orthodontics. Her goal in her current holistic practice is preventing and maintaining an optimal mind, mouth and body. Irene connects the systemic effects of oral conditions to her clients, while making a change for overall health and wellness. As a Peer and Quality Assurance Mentor contacted by the CDHO, a Clinical and Theoretical Dental Hygiene instructor at Oxford College, and a practicing dental hygienist in Toronto, Irene shares her passion for education with us today in the hopes we can change the lives of our clients and their loved ones. Irene can be contacted at Irene@toothlifestudios.ca, www.toothlifestudio.ca, IG: @ToothLife.Irene, @Toothlife, @Toothordare.podcast.

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