Beginning with the end in mind

By Judi Griffin
Photos by Charlotte Bell

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Doctors Travis Hildebrand and Kenny Havard built their relatively new practice on the old Chisholm Trail traditions of working hard, blazing trails, and adjusting to population shifts. They decided to team up early in dental school, and the partnership of Georgetown Pediatric Dentistry & Orthodontics opened in 2008 in a leased space–just one month after the doctors finished their pediatric residencies. They almost immediately began designing a building for their growing future practice and looking for the perfect location in a desirable area. In March 2014 they re-opened in their own custom building in Georgetown, Texas, with twelve completed operatories and five more plumbed and ready to go. The team also opened a satellite practice in nearby Copperas Cove only three months after that. It has four completed operatories and room for three more.

They have had a lot of success that has come unusually early in their careers. They attribute it to a lot of hard work along with their philosophy of “beginning with the end in mind.”

Can you tell us a little about how your partnership started?

Havard: We became friends during our first year of college at Stephen F. Austin State University and then continued on to dental school together at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. We have been friends ever since. I completed my pediatric residency at the University of Kentucky in Lexington while Dr. Hildebrand completed his at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

Hildebrand: We started building the practice in a leased space with four operatories and room for three more while we were still in school. We finished our residencies in July 2008, and we saw our first patients in August 2008. We were both associating part-time in other practices early on to help pay the bills.

Havard: We were pretty fortunate in the beginning. It grew faster than we planned, and the practice took off pretty well.

Hildebrand: We started as the first and only pediatric specialty practice in town, but we also opened right as the economy took a downturn. The aggressive population projections that the city had on their websites didn’t pan out. That slowed the growth of the practice down a little bit. We still were very fortunate and able to support both of us within a couple of years. We were in a five-year lease term, but we knew that eventually we wanted to buy our own real estate for the practice. We thought the sooner we got it built, the sooner it would be done and we could start building equity.

You also opened a satellite practice in Copperas Cove, Texas, just three months after your new building opened. How did that come about?

Hildebrand: Begin with the end in mind is what we were always taught in dental school, and it is true in life as well. It sounds like a negative outlook, but at some point you want to retire. You enjoy your job, but at some point it will be time to move on. We knew that with the local population growth projections, it would take a long time to be busy enough for two full-time doctors in Georgetown, but there were needs in other nearby towns.

Havard: From 2008 to 2012, it was pretty stagnant in Georgetown. We had always set out to have two locations. We didn’t intend to build this office and start a satellite at the same time. They just each set off on their own trajectory, and they just happened to open within a few months of each other.

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The subtle Western theme occurs throughout the practice.

A lot of practices have two doctors, but it is somewhat unique to start out with two doctors as equal partners just out of dental school. Please tell us a little about that model.

Hildebrand: The benefits of having another person with you to help with not only the dental side–consultations and treatment planning–but also the business side and administration are huge. How about being able to take a vacation and knowing the practice is going to run smoothly? We aren’t quite there yet, but we are getting pretty close. With two practices, we are still in a growth mode and have things to iron out. When we had one practice, it was super easy to have one person gone. Sharing a call schedule is another big advantage.

The disadvantage that some people might experience occur when the two personalities don’t mesh. Finding the right personality and being pretty similar on the practice philosophy is important. Having known each other for so long, we knew where we stood on a personal level. We both trained in dental school at the same place. It was by design that we went to separate locations for our pedo training so we got a variety of experiences and peers from across the country.

The advantages far outweighed the disadvantages, with the big elephant in the room being having enough patients to support two doctors. That is where we were fortunate to find part-time associate positions for a while. We also had some mentors that had been in practice for a while that helped us make educated decisions on things.

Havard: It is a pretty unique model to start with two partners right off the bat. The more common scenario is one dentist starting out on their own to grow a practice. They then bring on an associate that eventually buys into the practice. With that, you usually have a pretty significant age difference between the doctors, and that is where you can get into differences with treatment planning philosophies. I liken it to when my wife and I got married at 21 straight out of college—we were broke and didn’t have a thing. In a way it was easier because we both started with zero. There was never a sense of “this is yours, and this is mine.” It’s the same way with Travis and me. We both started horribly in the red with student loans and business loans. We were just starting from scratch. I think we have had an easier go just because of that shared experience.

Hildebrand: I would definitely advise going into business as a partnership. It is tremendously helpful with the right person. There are so many decisions that have to be made and things to accomplish to build a building. I just can’t imagine being the dentist that is seeing all the patients in addition to designing the office and having it constructed. I don’t know how it would get done. Something would have to give.

This office has a charming Western theme that is really tastefully done. How did you decide on it?

Hildebrand: We tried to think it through. We wanted Mom and her three-year-old to be comfortable, but we also wanted the 14-year-old to be comfortable. These little ones are growing up to be big ones. We need to keep that in mind.

Hildebrand: As for the theme, we wanted to have something that made sense in Georgetown, Texas. Georgetown has roots in the Wild West days and it is on the Chisholm Trail. It felt like it made sense to have a western theme.

Havard: We felt like it fit well, but we took great steps not to overdo it. We don’t want a 12-year-old to walk through the door and think it’s lame–especially with the orthodontic side growing. [They have had a part-time orthodontist, Dr. Steve Wood, as an associate on the team since 2012.] Most of our orthodontic patients are adolescents and teens, but they typically started with us as young kids. By the time they are ready for braces, we are right there. There’s that relationship developed over the years, and they trust us. We’ve likely been telling the parent for the past five years that their child is going to need braces. They appreciate being told early on what they can expect. This has given them years to prepare for the expense of orthodontics.

Hildebrand: We think of it as old meets new–an old Georgetown theme meets new technology. It’s also new meets old–new kids come into the practice and grow up to be older kids in the practice. It’s the full transition.

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Alyssa Vester, RDH and one of her excellent patients.

Can you tell us about the impact that Burkhart has had on your practices?

Hildebrand: From my standpoint, having Account Manager Michael Zuelke here is like having another employee on the team. Michael has a nice system in place for basics like ordering, but he is also a really good resource for business management and telling us how things work well in other businesses. He has been a great resource for finding solutions to our problems. Equipment Specialist Felix Gutierrez has been another great resource for us.

Havard: Michael Zuelke is a consultant for us in that he is always out there looking for products that are a better value or on a promotion that will save us money.

Hildebrand: I like his philosophy of knowing that he does better when we do better. It’s not just that he does better if he sells us something. For example, he takes care of ordering our direct-only items from other vendors. He wants us to not be worried about that stuff. He wants us to be taking care of our patients. He knows that we will be more successful long-term because he is doing these other things for us. It is hard to quantify that. There is a lot of value to us in the relationship and having Michael as a resource, consultant, and advocate for our business.

Havard: Burkhart’s service department has bailed us out on many occasions, and we haven’t lost any significant patient care time because of it. Our vacuum went out at 1 p.m. one afternoon and they were here until 10 p.m. installing a temporary vacuum. We were up and running the first thing in the morning. We have called at 5 p.m. when our autoclave was out, and they will have a new one in our office before we see our first patient the next morning. I can’t say enough good things about Burkhart’s service team.

Tell us about your proudest professional accomplishment?

Hildebrand: Being six years into our careers and having this building and our practices is something you can only dream of happening.

Havard: We were told by many people that this was unusual to do so early in our careers. Our philosophy was that we were growing out of our leased space, interest rates were low, and we found a great location. We knew we only wanted to do this once and the sooner we got started, the sooner it would be paid off.

Hildebrand: Our early success really helped us be able to do something like this. Had we not been grinding it out hard for the first five years, there is no way this could have happened. It took a lot of cash and determination to make it happen.

Havard: We did do it a bit different compared to what most people do. Most people associate for longer before they start their own practice. We kept the end in mind. Where do we want to be long-term? We might as well get started on that path. Begin with the end in mind.

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