My father and I own a pediatric dentistry practice, Bippo’s Place for Smiles, that has five locations in the Greater New Orleans area. I joined the practice in 2001 after graduating from the Louisiana State University School of Dentistry and completing my residency. I received a great education, but one thing they don’t teach you in dental school is how to run a business. Luckily, I’ve had my father as a mentor — and today have a bank partner in Hancock Whitney whose experts are always available to answer our questions and suggest creative financial solutions.
The Origins of Bippo and Our Business
In 1970, my father, Dr. Edward L. Donaldson Jr., was the U.S. Navy’s first pediatric dentist. While stationed in Cuba, he collaborated with an illustrator on a children’s book — “Bippo Visits the Dentist” — that brought to life Bippo the Hippo and used the character to tell a story aimed at easing children’s fears about dental visits. Following his Navy service, my father opened a pediatric dental practice in Gretna on the West Bank that featured Bippo as its mascot. Bippo’s Place for Smiles was born, and soon Dad opened up two more New Orleans area practices.
A few years after I joined my father’s practice, we embarked on a second wave of growth from 2008 to 2010, opening several new offices, and in 2011 replaced Dad’s original office by constructing a more visible building down the street.
One of the things I’ve learned in owning a dental practice is that in order to grow and prosper, you have to constantly reinvest in the business, whether that’s building new facilities, remodeling existing offices or acquiring new equipment — and that requires financing and a sound approach to managing debt.
Hancock Whitney has provided us with both access to capital and creative debt management solutions. We have multiple loans with them to support our various office buildings and remodeling projects, along with lines of credit to finance our equipment purchases, such as the panoramic dental X-ray machine we recently added to our Harvey office.
When there’s any sort of financing challenge, we go straight to our commercial banking officer, Rachel Nunez, a healthcare banking specialist. For instance, a couple years ago, the payments on two separate loans related to the remodeling of our Mandeville office became a bit onerous and we asked Rachel for help. She promptly proposed a plan to restructure the debt that reduced our monthly payments and gave us the breathing room we needed at month end.
A Quarterback and a Team
Rachel acts as the quarterback of our team at Hancock Whitney. She has an open door policy and whenever we bring an issue to her, she listens and then introduces us to a bank expert in our area of need.
For instance, she introduced us to bank experts in treasury management and merchant services who helped us implement solutions in areas such as credit card acceptance and reducing payment fraud risk. We’re also working with the bank to adopt their commercial card services, including virtual card capabilities for paying vendors.
Recently I’ve started having discussions with the bank’s experts in trust and wealth management about succession and long-term wealth planning. Someday my father will retire and turn the business over to me, and then I have to chart a future course. I have three children, including two in high school who have expressed interest in dentistry, so I’m talking with Hancock Whitney about options, including the possibility of someday bringing a third generation into the business.
A Reason to Smile
The practice is thriving. In addition to our five Bippo’s Place for Smiles locations — in New Orleans, Mandeville, Harvey and two in Slidell — we’re part owners of the Kids Dental Zone in Alexandria. We employ 13 general dentists, four pediatric dentists and an oral surgeon.
For a business like ours, banking is critical. In Hancock Whitney, we have a partner that guides us on financing, managing our cash, mitigating risk and planning for the future.
As a result, Bippo the Hippo and the many patients we see aren’t the only ones smiling. When it comes to our pediatric dental practice, I’ve got a pretty big smile on my face as well.