January 1, 2012
Dental Economics
Amber Allen, DDS, Omaha, Nebraska

Dr. Amber Allen has been very, very busy. During the past six years, she and her husband and business manager, Shane, moved from one state to another, changed jobs, decided to start a practice, found a location, planned a new office, lost the location, found another location, planned and built a new office, created a start-up practice … and, oh yes, had four children. Their family is thriving, the practice is growing, and Dr. Allen’s office was named the Dental Economics®/Wells Fargo Practice Finance Office Design of the Year (Small Practice) and Outstanding New Dentist Practice for 2011.

Dr. Allen, who received her Doctorate in Dental Surgery in 2004 from Creighton University, and Shane Allen moved from Mesa, Ariz., back to their hometown of Omaha, Neb., to begin their family. Dr. Allen’s decision to begin her own practice came after she worked in a “corporate” high-volume environment.

“While working a few years in group practices as an associate, I developed my own idea of what I wanted my patients to experience, and it was frustrating not to have more control over that,” she said. “Being able to shape every aspect of my side of the doctor-patient encounter is really fulfilling and allows me to take more pride in what I do.”

Shane Allen’s experience in managing Dr. Kathi Mansell’s Scottsdale, Ariz., practice made him familiar with the benefits of a well-designed dental office. “Patients loved it,” he said. “I saw the impression the office made on patients and the positive impact it had on the practice.” Unthank Design Group designed Dr. Mansell’s office, coincidentally located in Nebraska.

The Allens contacted Dr. Michael Unthank, who is both a dentist and registered architect, to create their office design with full confidence. Shane states, “Because of the job the Unthank team did on Dr. Mansell’s office, I knew we wouldn’t be taking any chances, and we saved more than their fees because of reduced cabinetry costs and by eliminating change orders.”

The journey toward Dr. Allen’s dream office began with a bump in the road, when the original leasehold space failed to materialize due to financial issues on the part of the building developer. The second location the Allens selected was truly a blessing in disguise. The new, upscale strip mall location allowed for expansive windows in every treatment room, a consultation room, and two sides of the reception area. Not only does this provide these spaces with natural light and an open, airy feel, it provides passers-by with a clear view of the attractive, inviting waiting area.

What patients and prospective patients see and experience when they walk through Dr. Allen’s doors is an environment that is warm and comfortable, yet highly professional. It features interesting, nature-inspired materials such as cherry wood, engineered quartz, “eco-resin” panels embedded with actual leaves, and attractive, contemporary lighting. Modular carpet provides acoustical benefit and can cushion a digital sensor if it’s dropped. The earthy color scheme is accented by historic photos of Omaha that are reprinted in aubergine ink on stretched canvas.There was also an unexpected bonus; the waiting area is in full view of the nearby Starbucks drive-through. In fact, the Allens have documented that at least 50% of their new patients during the first year (and an average of five new patients per month since) came to the practice because they saw it while waiting in line for their coffee!

Dr. Allen has this advice for those considering building a new practice — “Take some good continuing education courses to help you improve and diversify the treatment you provide your patients. The slower pace of the first few months in a new practice gives a practitioner who is learning more time to implement and become confident in new techniques. The Dawson Academy opened my eyes to the occlusal issues that I see every day, which, once diagnosed, lead to a lot of treatment that helps the patient as well as my business.”The linear nature of a strip mall location did not compromise the efficiency of square footage or traffic flow. The plan includes four treatment rooms, a private consultation room, a patient restroom, offices for Dr. Allen and her business manager, and a staff lounge and restroom. There is ample space for staff operations at the front desk, and for patient reappointing and payment. Not only does traffic flow freely, the spaces are “layered” from more public functions to those that are increasingly private.

She also states, “Plan, plan, plan … pay attention to dentist/population ratios in your desired location, and do not underestimate the value of visibility when starting a new practice. Be thrifty, but not too thrifty. It costs money to do it right, and more to do it wrong, and that includes everything from office design to equipment. Try not to focus too much on the smaller financial decisions. It may seem that by cutting corners you will save money, but that really is not as significant as fulfilling the ultimate goal of your new office and long-term happiness.”

Shane Allen adds, “Based on Dr. Unthank’s track record, we knew his team would provide us with a predictably efficient, yet unique office design, in which we would be proud to practice. The construction phase of the project went much more smoothly than we anticipated. We directed all questions from our contractor to Unthank Design Group, thereby relieving ourselves of stress and potential change orders. Complete, detailed drawings protected us from unexpected costs and errors on the part of the subcontractors and suppliers.”

During the two years since Dr. Allen began her practice, its growth has exceeded her expectations, expanding from one assistant to two, and from one day of hygiene to two in the near future. She has successfully used marketing strategies such as a “grand opening” for the public, which included a Halloween candy buy-back program. This garnered not only a great deal of traffic from local residents, but also a story on a local news program. The Amber Allen DDS website, for which the Allens have written all the copy, is colorful and friendly, with a “welcome to the practice” video featuring Dr. Allen. And, of course, there is that line at Starbucks …

As Dr. Allen’s practice continues to build its staff and patient population, she and her family have continued to move toward their personal dreams. Owning a family-centered practice allows the Allens to balance time in the office (Amber works four days per week, and Shane works one day per week) and time with their children (ages one month, 2 ½ years, 4 years, and 5 ½ years). Along with hard work and vision, the design of their practice has helped make this possible. In addition to their practice and personal success, the couple can now drink a toast to their double award-winning office — with a double espresso!