Creating a Multi-Generational Legacy at Turlock Dental Care
A decade ago, Dr. Robert McCulla, DDS was burned out after thirty years in private practice. And he was in debt. After a long career running Turlock Dental Care serving the community in Turlock, California he figured the best course of action was to quit dentistry and sell his business. So, he registered for a program called Exit Strategy Workshop at Scheduling Institute and began thinking about a future without the burden of running a practice.
But then something unexpected happened. As he started working with Jay Geier, Founder of Scheduling Institute, he realized that the best thing for him and his legacy wasn’t to walk away from dentistry. Rather, he learned, he had another option: Transforming his practice into a thriving business that would allow him to plan for his retirement on his terms as well as providing a legacy for his family. Suddenly, Dr. McCulla was once again excited about dentistry and the possibilities in front of him and he got to work.
To grow, Dr. McCulla required an increased staff. Fortunately, his two daughters returned to Turlock where they were raised and began working at Turlock Dental Care. His older daughter, Catherine, is now Chief Operating Officer in charge of operations. “She never had any plans to be in the dental business,” Dr. McCulla says. “But she went away to college and after some time in Japan she came back. She’s probably done everything in the office except become a hygienist or a dentist. And now she runs the office!”
Dr. McCulla’s younger daughter, Emma, initially worked as a hygienist at Turlock Dental Care. “She did that for seven years,” Dr. McCulla says. “Then we were at a meeting with Jay Geier a few years ago, and he challenged Emma by saying ‘Are you doing everything you want to do and can do?’ And she replied, ‘No’.” Emma applied to dental school, graduated from Western University of Health Sciences, College of Dental Medicine and is now one of three Associates at Turlock Dental Care.
“And my wife fills in as needed too,” Dr. McCulla says. “She’s been very supportive in all these crazy things that I’ve done over the years!” With his wife and daughters in the practice and the addition of several hygienists and other staff, a new and bigger office was required.
Dr. McCulla knew that he wanted to stay in Turlock. “We’re in the middle of the state of California, in the Central Valley about halfway between Fresno and Sacramento, halfway between San Francisco and Yosemite,” he says. “When we first moved to Turlock after dental school, it was a small 20,000-person town and had a small college. I started my practice with a 1,300 square foot, four-op office and in 2000 we built a building we thought we’d never outgrow. Since then, the area has boomed, and Turlock is up to about 80,000 people now.”
Dr. McCulla knew he wanted to build a new building to house his newly reinvigorated, now growing practice serving patients of all ages, offering general dentistry, family dentistry, orthodontics, sedation dentistry, and cosmetic dentistry. “We bought the property in 2018 in a place that’s very visible,” he says. “We’re at a major intersection with 40,000 cars a day going by.”
Jay Geier of Scheduling Institute introduced Dr. McCulla to Design Ergonomics to help create the larger office for Turlock Dental Care. “We heard from Jay that Design Ergonomics was helping dentists with new buildings,” Dr. McCulla says. “Design Ergonomics created the office layout, worked out how everything is organized, as well as the efficiency of the office, and the organization of the treatment rooms.” The plans created by Design Ergonomics were then used by Dr. McCulla’s builder as they worked on the project.
The detailed knowledge of how to create an efficient dental office provided by Design Ergonomics was essential for the Turlock Dental Care project. “Our interior designer had never done a commercial building before and our contractor had never done a dental building before,” Dr. McCulla says. “We met on Zoom with the Design Ergonomics team many times during this project and ironed out details, things like where does this outlet go? Where does this pipe need to go? Where does the nitrous need to go? The help from Design Ergonomics during the building process was just invaluable.”
When the new 20 operatory office (16 ops currently outfitted) was nearly ready to occupy in late 2021, Erica St. Pierre, a Design Ergonomics Practice Liaison and Clinical Trainer, was onsite to help the team get set up and organized. “Erica helped us understand where to put supplies, how to label things, and how each op would be set up,” Dr. McCulla says. Over the course of two days, St. Pierre touched on efficiency strategies for nearly every aspect of the sterilization, inventory, and clinical areas. She also provided guidance to doctors and assistants on effective positioning and use of the new high-performance operatory equipment Design Ergonomics had introduced into the new office design.
Once the team had been in the new office for a few months in early 2022, Erica traveled to Turlock a second time for further dental training programs. “She was reinforcing things to make sure everybody was still working in the right positions, with the doctors in the right spots,” Dr. McCulla says. “We had a couple of newer doctors, and all those things kept the process going.”
The beautiful exterior and interior design of the new Turlock Dental Care offices combined with super-efficient systems has benefited the practice in many ways. “It’s just so much easier than our old office,” Dr. McCulla says. “The wear and tear on our bodies is less because we’re positioned better in the rooms, and we can work quickly and efficiently. Our supplies are also more efficient. We’re not over-ordering because there’s no place to hide stuff in this building, and that’s a good thing! Our whole team will say, it’s just amazing.”
The new office, which won an ANDYZ award for Best Commercial Space Design in Northern California and Nevada from Designers Today magazine, benefits patients as well. “Patients know they’re getting the state-of-the-art and that they’re being well taken care of,” Dr. McCulla says. “They recognize we’ve invested in this facility to take care of them. We hear patients talking all day long about it. Just the other day there was a patient that I was checking after hygiene. He’s a contractor who didn’t work on our building, but he said: ‘How does it feel to walk into the most beautiful building in the state?'”
The practice that Dr. McCulla once considered selling is now thriving and growing quickly. “My role will change over time,” he says. “I’ll be moving more into a CEO position, focusing on cosmetic dentistry, with a focus on doing veneers, sedation dentistry for fearful patients, and clear aligners like Invisalign. I will be mentoring the associates, coaching them, helping them.”
At the same time, Dr. McCulla is creating a legacy for his daughters. “I’m a believer that if you let money flow it attracts more money,” he says. Spending the money on a new office has been a great success for him and for his family. “If you invest in your facility and invest in your team, make them happy and healthy and wealthy, and grow their lives, you will be able to give back to your community. We do free days of dentistry, we help support a new public library, there’s a grief center in town we’re supporting, there’s a children’s museum we’re going to support, and we underwrite the Farmer’s Market downtown.”
Dr. McCulla recently attended a Financial Freedom seminar at Scheduling Institute, ten years after the meeting where he expected to learn how to sell his practice. “This time I took my entire family,” he says with excitement, describing his new role helping his extended family reach their dreams though their work at Turlock Dental Care. “I invested in my daughters going to this meeting to hear about financial freedom firsthand so they can plan their futures too. Rather than rent three hotel rooms, we rented a penthouse suite for the whole family and brought my son-in-law’s parents to babysit for the two grandkids. My goal with all this is that I could have a thriving practice while having more free time like this.”
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David Meerman Scott is a Boston-based marketing strategist, keynote speaker, and bestselling author. He’s written 13 books that have sold nearly a million copies and is best known for The New Rules of Marketing and PR, now in an 8th edition and available in 29 languages from Albanian to Vietnamese. His latest book Fanocracy: Turning Fans into Customers and Customers into Fans from Portfolio / Penguin Random House is a Wall Street Journal bestseller.