Organic Growth

Within the last calendar year, Lollipop Dental has more than doubled its revenue. Owner Dr. Mary Pham shares the keys to their success.

By Graham Garrison

Dr. Mary Pham

Dr. Mary Pham puts a heavy emphasis on relationships. Not just in balancing work with her personal life, but also in the way she and her team at Lollipop Dental approach their patients. “We treat our patients very conservatively,” she said. “When it comes to dentistry, some doctors recommend a lot of treatment to patients. We come from the mindset of, ‘If this were my child, I would do this,’ and that’s how a lot of our conversations go.”

Yet that conservative approach has led to phenomenal growth. Within the last year, Lollipop Pediatric Dentistry & Orthodontics, a dental group practice in communities in and near Orange County, California, has grown from $6.5 million to $14.5 million in revenue, with four locations and three on the way. How have they done it? “Our growth has been organic,” Dr. Pham said, “because ultimately we’re taking care of the patients like they’re our family.”

In an interview with The DEO, Dr. Pham shared some of her best practices and lessons learned through her organization’s growth.

Word of mouth

Lollipop Dental has doubled its revenue mainly by expanding the number of patients. “About 70% of our new patients are from patients who refer us to their friends and family,” Dr. Pham said. “We continually see support from patients that believe in what we’re doing, which is creating an amazing, fun, and educational experience for their children at the dentist.”

Listening to patients

Dr. Pham is not averse to adding more chairs and team members, but the motivation behind those additions may look slightly different than other practices. Over the years, Lollipop Dental has added several services from patients asking whether her practice would provide them. “In our strategy sessions with our team, we’ll ask, What are patients asking for that we’re not providing, that they have to go somewhere else, but want from us?’ Having a team that believes in listening to customers and fulfilling what they need is key, she said.

Laser-focused on the patient

When you have this kind of growth, you need the manpower, Dr. Pham said. “Your front office team can’t do all the things they were doing for 40 patients when now they have 80.” So, Lollipop Dental leaders are committed to looking for creative ways to support their team so that they can stay patient focused. “Everyone in our practice is laser-focused on the patients and the patient experience,” Dr. Pham said. “A lot of the administrative tasks that are not patient facing, such as insurance verification or billing, are done by our remote outsource team. Our outsource team consists of 35 team members, and handles tasks that include insurance verification, billing, and accounts receivable, as well as a call center.”

Develop leaders from within

As Lollipop Dental grew in size and profitability, Dr. Pham said she realized she wasn’t able to support a staff of 120-plus the same way she could a smaller team. “We went from 25 team members to now over 120 team members” she said. “So I started promoting from within, leveling up people that I saw were special and going through coaching and leadership development to allow them an opportunity to not only grow themselves, but help continue to support the organization as we grew.”

Identify partners

Even with its growth, Lollipop Dental has maintained about the same level of practitioners as it had a few years ago. In Orange County, California, there’s no shortage of dentists. Most of the dentists in the area work
part-time at different practices. “As we grew, three of our doctors became full-time,” Dr. Pham said. “They left other companies to work with us as we grew.” 

In the next step of growth, Lollipop Dental is offering partnership opportunities for doctors who are dedicated to the company and its vision and mission. “We want our best doctors  to have some ownership, and this also helps us to retain them with the company because they’re so amazing at what they do.”

Have regular strategy sessions

Lollipop Dental’s leadership team meets at least once a month with the specific intent to drill down into strategy – what worked, what didn’t, and what to implement the following month. “We meet three days a week to talk about our culture, our team, and to make sure we are on track to meet our goals,” Dr. Pham said. Lollipop Dental’s leadership team has a very active pulse on the day-to-day business. They do a recap of all the offices and departments every week, asking managers, “How did you do last week?” If something is not working, they brainstorm ideas to pivot and change it the following week. “We respond very fast.” 

The meetings normally consist of Dr. Pham, a regional manager, clinical operations manager, and pediatric and orthodontic clinic managers. “Then we have administrative and clinical leaders,” Dr. Pham explained. “Our leaders are responsible for implementing the strategies into each location and are actively involved in our strategy sessions.”

Share teams

Lollipop Dental’s strategy is de novo. “We find that with de novos, we can set up a practice exactly the way we want,” Dr. Pham said. “There is brand recognition, and a skilled team who live in a very localized area. Our offices are within a 15- to 20-minute drive of each other. So, we are able to share teams and get off the ground running without much downtime.” 

Be prepared to pivot

While Lollipop Dental grew from one, to two, to three and four practices, Dr. Pham didn’t feel there was a difference in the challenges her business faced. Rather, just the recognition that there was always something needing to be done. “For instance, the front office was missing way too many phone calls, so we needed to quickly solve the issue,” Dr. Pham said. “We pivoted and fixed that issue quickly with our call center. We put the issue into a task, assigned it to a leader, and executed quickly. With growth, the biggest challenge to adding more team members has been training them quickly with the same level of care that we are known for.”

Emphasize retention

Lollipop Dental’s goal is to retain every single person who is hired. “If you don’t have that support for them in place, then people don’t feel like you care and they’re not happy,” Dr. Pham said. “So, it’s really important to me where we get a pulse for how team members are feeling at 30 days, 60 days, and 90 days.” Lollipop Dental has built a 90-day template to track whether a new team member is doing well in their new role and feeling supported. “If we get feedback that they’re not feeling great in their new position, we brainstorm, work out the issue, and follow up. This is how people will know that you care. Their concerns are brought up, and we are truly intentional about fixing them.”

Be picky with new team members

Bringing people in and giving them the support they need to get acclimated has helped Lollipop Dental with retaining amazing people. “But also, we’re just pickier when we bring someone on,” Dr. Pham said. “We look more at the stability of their resume. Do they bounce around? Our goal is to focus on the patient experience and get the right people in that really believe in what it is that we’re doing, and give them the support that they need so that they want to stay.”

Set the example

Dr. Pham likens her leadership journey to the perspective of someone who used to look at parenting as a simple task, until they actually became parents. “Here you are without kids thinking, ‘it doesn’t look that bad,’ but then you have them and you’re wondering ‘Why didn’t anyone tell me how much I would love these human beings’… or how hard it would be to take care of them?” Opening a new practice is an amazing experience, Dr. Pham said, but it comes with a set of challenges. “I think that going from one location to now, how I’ve changed the most as a leader is that I’m a lot more resilient to things going wrong to where I understand that everyone in the company is watching how I respond to difficulties.”

So when Dr. Pham gets the news that a team member is leaving, or a patient is upset, she wants to set the tone by remaining calm. “It’s OK,” she will tell her team. “Let’s learn from our mistakes and pivot. That’s how we are better.” Dr. Pham said her team responds in a similar way to adversity. “It’s really nice to see what you’re doing rubs off on them unintentionally.” 

Let them know you care

“They call me the mom of Lollipop Dental,” Dr. Pham said. It’s important to nurture and connect with your team. This creates priceless dedication and loyalty with your people. “They want to know you truly care.

“I think you get to a certain point where I feel like I am now, where if I open four offices or 50 offices, it’s not really going to change my life that much,” Dr. Pham continues. “I feel content with my family life, with my marriage, and with my team. So, everything that I’m building now is to help all of those around me that have dedicated their lives to helping build our company. Building these offices, they’re not really for me. They’re more partnership offices for our doctors to have some ownership in what they helped build. For my team members who have been with me 8, 9, 10 years, who grew up at our practice, I want them to become leaders and equity holders too.”

For instance, one Lollipop Dental leader started with Dr. Pham 10 years ago as a teenager. She’s 27 now and recently became a mom. “It’s so amazing to see someone grow from a 17-year-old teenager to now a mom and a leader in a $50 million company,” she said. “Those are things that drive me now. I have these people who have essentially dedicated their whole lives to something they believe in. So, why not continue growing a beautiful company that can change lives and provide opportunities that not many people get?” 

Find Like-Minded People
Dr. Pham said being a part of The DEO has encouraged her to keep going on her journey as a dentist entrepreneur, even when certain circumstances have been difficult. “The people you meet in The DEO change your life,” she said. “Being able to talk to people that say, ‘Hey, you’re going to feel this, but you’ll get through it. You’re going to just bounce back. Don’t let it get you down. We’re all going through that.’ Knowing they understand gives you a whole other level of motivation.”