Celebrating 10 years of America’s Best Young Dentists: #IE40Under40 Q&A with Dr. Andrew Lyons, Class of 2020
In 2020 Dr. Andrew Lyons and his partner in business and life, Dr. Joya Lyons, earned recognition from two national magazines, and successfully rebranded their independent dental practice in the midst of a pandemic. How did the Incisal Edge 40 Under 40 honorees and Dentaltown’s first cover couple triple their Charlotte practice’s bottom line in one month while turning a year of obstacles into opportunities? Dr. Drew links the positive results to an idea that crystallized after the couple began working with an assortment of photographers in and out of the office. “My wife and I love pictures, you can tell from our website and social media. We have three different photographers. We’re not celebrities, so that’s kind of embarrassing,” joked the 36-year-old dad of two.
“They each have a niche. One handles branding, one takes our family photos because she can crop and edit our kids when they’re not looking in the right direction, and another we met when our son was born in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit). She’s a NICU nurse who only takes pictures of premature children.” Before long he was asking himself the question that changed their professional purpose: “Why not give health to people at your highest level?”
“When you first get out of school, you are totally flooded with information, and you feel like you need to be all things to all people. You feel that every time you refer a patient, you’re doing them a disservice. I think we’re mistakenly taught that’s how to grow your business.” Dr. Drew Lyons
When they established their first startup in 2014, just 3.5 years after earning dental degrees at Meharry Medical College – and opened two weeks after their daughter Brielle, was born – they relied on that guidance. By offering a “different dental experience” and delivering high quality care, the duo earned respect in their community. However, practice growth – and their sense of fulfillment – didn’t align with their expectations. “When you have a basic schedule with a little bit of everything, you never think about it as blocking opportunities….but when a patient walks in and they don’t know why they are there and think they just need a cleaning, they’re probably going to walk out a little bit underserved because they don’t know necessarily what it is you offer,” said Dr. Lyons. “I think this happens to every young dentist: A patient goes out and gets veneers and later says, ‘I didn’t know you did veneers here.’” Taking inspiration from niche service model of their photographers, Dr. Lyons began to envision a dramatic shift from their established brand. They dug deep, focused solely on their passion for cosmetic dentistry and began limiting other services, even weekend hours. The result: Smile Savvy Cosmetic Dentistry. “We found out that when someone wants to come to you for the right reasons, they will travel to see you, take time off, they will figure out the finances, and we’ve become that, and it’s beautiful,” said Dr. Drew.
Life through a different lens.
With the help of a new perspective, and an enduring faith, Dr. Lyons found the answer that had eluded him.
“I just realized what makes me happy. I’m very spiritual and I believe that you’re supposed to give your gifts and your talents to people, and not just your vocation. When you deliver a smile, it’s such an exchange of energy. I can’t even explain, to be honest. I started chasing that. A couple of cases go really well, and you see the transformation in that patient’s life and realize … ‘I could do this every day.’” Dr. Drew Lyons
“It’s one of those things where you take a step towards it and it opens up doors for you, and so you keep going,” he said, referencing the positive reinforcement that arrived in the form of a CE scholarship. “The course was very expensive, and they were offering a scholarship. My son had just been born prematurely and they wanted people to submit a compelling story, so I did. I want to be great at this and here was my opportunity tell them. If you know exactly what you want to do, who you want to be, you will get confirmation along the way.”
Turning obstacles into opportunities.
Every undertaking arrives with challenges, and the rebranding of Smile Savvy Cosmetic Dentistry is no exception. However, not every project has Drs. Lyons at the helm. “I don’t think there could be a better partner,” said Dr. Drew of his wife Dr. Joya. “If you make a decision to live with somebody, to have kids with them, I think you can probably run a business together. (laughs) It wasn’t the biggest decision we’ve made in our marriage. There are a lot of bad connotations about working with your spouse. But we are so different. I’m a visionary, dreamer, I-think-we-can-go-here kind of guy. She’s very numbers driven, all facts and data, so I need that and it works really well. Sometimes we reverse roles … I love it.” Together, they faced three barriers to progress and pushed through to success.
Obstacle No. 1: Flawed guidance
At the outset, Dr. Drew and Dr. Joya felt confident that their shift to cosmetic dentistry and a fee-for-service platform had merit, but were met with advice to the contrary from experts.
“We had coaches, and worked with consultant groups, three different accountants and financial advisers. When I told them my wife and I wanted to be a cosmetic dentistry office and fee-for-service, they advised against it. I just wish I would’ve listened to the voice inside three or four years ago.” Dr. Drew Lyons
“I’m a big believer in vertical growth, I want to see how much we can do with the four operatories we have, versus merging and acquiring half of Charlotte. The barriers were almost self-inflicted because I was working with people who didn’t support the vision.”
Obstacle No. 2: A global pandemic.
The coronavirus prompted a shortage of PPE and, in many cases, oral health care team members. For Dr. Drew, the latter of those two provided a surprising turn of events.
“When Covid happened, some of our old team decided to go onto different careers. It almost was a blessing in disguise, because we were able to go ahead and recruit. People gravitated toward us from offices that were already like what we wanted to be.”
Among those newcomers arrived a fee-for-service expert. “To have somebody, Miss Janice Dixon, who understands (fee-for-service) and knows how to make it great for the patient, it’s a diamond. There’s no way we’d be here without her and our entire staff. I talk up my team because my wife and I are grateful. It’s good to have people who not only believe in what you’re trying to do but who have lived it,” he added.
The results:An outstanding surprise.
“We tripled our bottom line in a month’s time. My wife and I were floored. There’s nothing about people being in purpose, when they see and support the vision. Right now, we’re a pretty small office (six) and we love it that way….There were days where I’d see 40 patients but wasn’t productive. Versus a day where we saw 10 or 12 and we loved what we did, and it was productive. It’s not about the money, but you have to measure somehow, and that’s why we have to talk numbers.” Dr. Drew finds the most joy when the entire team advances. “We now offer full team benefits, and even a year ago we had no plans of it. We could not.”
None of it came without courage and fortitude.
“It can test your faith… It is incredibly audacious at any time, especially during a pandemic, to decide that when we open back up we’re not going to see kids under 13, or participate with insurance, and we are only going to make it known that we enjoy doing cosmetics,” he said. “But, if it wasn’t for that bold step that we took, I guarantee we would not have seen that return. It’s a test of leadership if anything — creating that vision, staying in there and giving it all the support it needs.”
Dr. Drew offers advice for other dentists in the same situation
On finding your niche:
It’s always possible to up your game.
“Any dentist can pick their favorite thing to do and do it at a higher level, and it can be very profitable and very fulfilling.”
On the transition from a PPO practice to a fee-for-service business model:
There is no playbook. Don’t be deterred if the switch is not straightforward. Communicate with your patients that you’re still there for them. “When you say fee-for-service what does that really mean in your office? It was a pleasant surprise that patients can still use their amazing benefits, but we don’t have to be bound to rules that we didn’t agree with. They can still use insurance, we’re just not contracted to that fee and some of the other stipulations.”
On technology and social media:
Dental photography. Ignore the ‘go big or go home’ rule. “I don’t feel like I’ve mastered it all. There’s definitely better equipment that I want. But we’ve simplified it and made it cost efficient. I don’t have a $4,000 camera; I use my Phone 10S and a really cool attachment you clip to the phone to control the lighting. What I’ve learned: Every step deserves to be documented with a picture. I can see more looking at a picture than from my point of view chairside. Many times I won’t make decisions until I’ve looked at pictures of the case.”
Embrace the “2020-esque” vibe.
“My cases are with me everywhere I go. l don’t communicate to my lab with pen and paper….You can even record a video as you are talking, and it just feels 2020-esque. We shouldn’t be just writing our thoughts when we can show them. Having it right here on my phone — I know there are better cameras, but I love this.”
Select the right social media content, then organize it. “We’ve always had an Instagram page, but we totally cleaned it up,
@drdrewlyons_drjoyalyons Smiles by Dr. Drew and Dr. Joya. We had to revamp. We deleted a lot of old posts and reposted them in a way that was more organized. We had to learn Instagram’s ever-changing algorithms, practice how to turn a post into a question and find out what people like. Even though we’re talking cosmetics, people actually love my wife and I, and our story more than they love our smiles.”
On entrepreneurship, and life:
Dr. Drew shared the best advice given to him by his brother-in-law, J. White, a renowned musician:
“My brother-in-law said he was gifted with the curse to love playing the saxophone, even when the gigs don’t fill up and it’s not productive. Now he’s got Billboard contracts, royalties from his songs playing on every platform. He told me, ‘It’s not that you don’t believe, you’re allowing yourself to believe other people who don’t even know what your gift is. You’ve got to hang in there and just trust that it’s going to open doors for you.” Dr. Drew Lyons