Formula One dentists
The Lapointe brothers are building a province-wide chain of dentistry services clinics

After 20 years in the dentistry profession José Lessard still wasn't getting it right. His patient register always was full, yet whenever he tallied revenues and expenses, the long hours didn't add up to the profits that he was expecting.

"I am a dentist, not a businessman," Lessard said with a sigh. "In school they teach the profession well, but they don't tell you how to run a business."

After years of frustration, in February 2001 Lessard finally solved his problem. He sold his Gatineau office, to Centres Dentaire Lapointe, an 11-branch chain of dentistry service clinics, owned by Larry and Yves Lapointe.

And he couldn't be happier with the results.

"Being part of a chain makes life much easier," Lessard said. "I don't have to worry about administration, marketing and human resources. I can just concentrate on being a good dentist."

The vast majority of Quebec's 4,000 dentists and 900 denturologists practice in small offices of one or more partners, who share ancillary assistants, hygienists and administrative personnel. The system works well, but the Lapointes think they have a better model.

"We want our dentists to be Formula One drivers," Larry Lapointe said. "They shouldn't be putting air in the tires or filling up the tank. They need to concentrate on driving the car."

According to the Lapointes for dentists, "driving the car," means spending time with patients.

The Lapointes believe that for dentists, as for lawyers and other professionals, handling administration is like pulling teeth. And most dentists spend more time at it than they admit.

"Ask a dentist how may hours that he worked last week, and he'll tell you how many hours he was with patients," Larry Lapointe said. "He won't include the nights, weekends, lunch-hours and coffee breaks that he spends doing non-billable administrative work."

After years of schooling and rigorous training, today's dentists want to spend their time with patients, not filling out forms, hiring personnel or doing marketing said Lapointe.

And he seems to be onto something. During the past year, the company added four new clinics to its chain. Centres Dentaires Lapointe's 170 personnel - which include 20 dentists and 20 denturologists -- are on track to generate $15 million in revenues during 2004, more than double the total of just five years ago.

It's been a long haul for the Lapointes, both denturologists, who are taking the business that their father Ghislain founded, to heights that he never dreamed of.

Ghislain Lapointe, who was also a denturologist but is now retired, spent years running clinics in Longueuil and Saint-Hyacinthe. But it was only when his sons Larry, who is 41, and Yves who is 39, joined the firm after graduating from school during the mid-1980s that things started to really pick up.

In the beginning the Larry and Yves Lapointe focused their efforts on building up a dental supply lab Laboratoires Dentaire Summum, which produces crowns, caps and dentures for more than 100 dentist and denturologist offices. The integrated lab, which employs 40 professionals is now a key part of Centres Dentaires Lapointe's operations, but in recent years the brothers' focus has been on building their branch network.

The Lapointes are tapping into several industry trends that are making their business model increasingly tempting to the province's dentistry professionals.

According to Robert Salois, president of l'Ordre des Dentistes du Québec, advances in technology such as sophisticated computer systems, digital X-Ray machines and other equipment are making it increasingly expensive for young dentists to open their own offices.

"It can cost between $150,000 to $200,000 just to get started. But it can go higher than that, if you want to buy everything right away," Salois said.

As a result, it is not uncommon for graduating dentists to log several years doing piecework in a larger office before striking out on their own.

With years of dental hygiene education showing their effects in the lower cavity numbers, dentistry demand is now growing faster in esthetics products such as crowns, caps and dentures, where Centres Dentaires Lapointe strengths lie, than in traditional markets.

Despite its early success, it's still too early to say whether the Centre Dentaires Lapointe model has the ability to attract dentists, particularly established practitioners.

"I'd rather be on my own, making my own decisions," Leonard Baskin, a partner in Centre Dentaire Les Jardins Dorval, who has been practicing for almost 20 years said. "But for dentists who are just getting started, it sounds like a great way to learn, without all the administrative headaches."




Sidebar: Larry Lapointe's management strategy

o Centres Dentaires Lapointe handles non-core functions so dental professionals can focus on patient care.
o Centralize appointment scheduling with a computer network linking all 11 offices, and by marketing an easy to remember telephone number (1-800-Lapointe).
o Focus on offering a wide range of dental services including traditional examinations, cleanings and the fast growing area of dental esthetics
o Provide branch clinics effective service through access to an internal lab, -- Laboratoire Dentarie Summum, -- which manufactures crowns, caps and dentures.


Photo caption: According to Larry and Yves Lapointe, Centres Dentaires Lapointe helps dentists focus on their jobs by providing them infrastructure and management expertise.


Fact Box:
Company Name: Centres Dentaires Lapointe
Owner: Larry and Yves Lapointe
Founded: 1986
Products: 11 dental services offices, and a lab that manufactures, crowns, caps and dentures
Employees: 170
Sales: $15 million
Phone #: 1-800-Lapointe


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Peter Diekmeyer
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Montreal, Canada, H9S 1T6, 514-631-0025



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