By Greg Thompson | Photography by Blair Phillips
The 1-year-old building that houses Marc Allen Orthodontics, in Huntersville, NC, blends harmoniously into the flow of a Southern community with admittedly conservative development ideas. Resembling a stone home with cedar shake, the nearly 5,500-square-foot office is a welcoming environment for patients.
A closer look at the homey edifice reveals a state-of-the-art commitment to environmentally friendly construction. Solar panels on the roof collect power that fuels a large part of the business. In fact, excess energy is sold back to the local power company.
The notion of “green building” is increasingly common these days, but Marc Allen, DDS, MS, took it a step further, opting to become LEED certified. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, an internationally recognized green building certification system that provides building owners and operators with specific guidelines.
LEED certification is not inexpensive, but Allen is not one to rush perfection. If it is worth doing, the North Carolina native believes it is worth doing right. After 9 months of planning and a year of construction, patience paid off with a freestanding building that features practical excellence, attractive design, and environmental conscience.
The nuts and bolts of LEED go to every detail, including removable walls, floors made of recycled products, and air conditioning units of a certain size. “We recycle our rainwater with rain gardens,” Allen says. “We have runoff areas monitored by the city. We have a certain number of plants for oxygen, lighting that prevents light contamination, and on-and-off sensors for when we walk into a room.”
Allen pays the mortgage on the freestanding building in the heart of Huntersville where he has practiced for 1 year as a sole proprietor. Prior to venturing out on his own, Allen spent 75% of his time as an orthodontist in a two-doctor, two-office practice for 12 years. The doctors now practice about 45 minutes away from each other’s offices.
The decision to go it alone was not an easy one, but it came down to personality, style, control, and consistency. “If I control my airspace, I control what I am presenting to patients, referring docs, and the team,” Allen explains. “When I leave on Monday, I am going to get exactly what I left there on Tuesday. If I want to give a pep talk on Monday, it will probably be a great Tuesday.”
Taking the LEED
The LEED-certified building that houses Marc Allen Orthodontics, Huntersville, NC, is designed to:
In a sole proprietorship, Allen explains, the business’s savvy—and its ability to be a respected brand—is defined by its leader. “As I’ve created an environment providing consistent quality and a predictably positive experience, we’ve realized the value of respect from families and referrals we’ve sought,” he says. “If you can earn a referral from another referral, or a second and third member of a family from the first one you treated, then you’ve stacked your cap with feathers.”
Allen concedes that the lovely new exterior entices patients to walk in the door, but that novelty wears off quickly if it isn’t paired with interiors that mimic the personality of the doctor and clinical excellence. “For the last year, we have invested in internal marketing and web development,” he says. “Our dedication to our orthodontic families is now our focus, and their ability to know us is enhanced. That shows great respect for them and confidence in who we are. I want them to understand my choices and believe in me.”
NORTH CAROLINA, TEXAS, CALIFORNIA, AND ON
As an undergrad at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Allen was in the perfect place to indulge a love of basketball. The Tar Heels won the national title in his senior year (1993) and went to the final four when Allen graduated with his dental degree in 1997.
When he wasn’t at the arena screaming for the powder blue powerhouse, Allen worked in the orthodontic department at Chapel Hill for about 5 years making models in the lab—all before applying to orthodontic school. When the time came to apply, he was ready to venture out, ultimately choosing The University of Texas for its clinical excellence and a change of scenery.
After residency, Allen traveled to Northern California to train with Ron Roth in San Francisco. Roth’s ideals guided Allen for the first 5 years of practice until other methods were gradually incorporated. “My philosophy is still based on Roth ideals, but I rely more on a diagnosis based on the face and how we can artistically detail that face. I always determine how the teeth can fit into the face to provide attractive, functional, and stable smiles. Involvement through Spear Education, as well as my Dawson, Pankey, and Kois doctors, has given me the knowledge to be current in treatment philosophies.”
Teenagers can be impatient, but Allen firmly holds that length of treatment should be a secondary consideration in the overall approach. “You can teach a monkey how to put braces on teeth if he’s not blind,” Allen says with a chuckle. “The hard part is caring about the artistic detail that you finish with. If a person stands on a soapbox and says, ‘I can treat everyone in 18 months,’ they’ve invested in a crazy marketing strategy. I say ‘I am going to do it right.’ The artistic finish is going to be perfect for that person regardless of the time needed. If we explain this with passion to the families, they too want it right.”
The evolution represents an approach that favors patience over expediency. It’s all part of a clinical journey from North Carolina, to Texas, and to Northern California—with stints in Pennsylvania, England, and Mexico helping out with cleft lip and palate cases. Each stop brought its own wisdom, but it wasn’t long before Allen returned to his roots in the Tar Heel state.
In addition to serving Huntersville and the Lake Norman area of North Carolina, the doctor attracts patients from uptown Charlotte. An upper middle class demographic mixes with those from more humble situations to take advantage of high-tech orthodontic care, including Invisalign®, Invisalign Teen™ self-ligating brackets, temporary anchorage devices, and laser tissue management.
Mastery of the latest technology has also gone hand in hand with learning how to diagnose surgery cases—a skill that carries its own set of rewards. With help from Drs William Arnett, Myron Tucker, Dan Spagnoli, and the Farrell brothers, Allen has the confidence and knowledge to freely recommend surgery when necessary.
“I have seen children grow from age 8 with severities that warrant surgery,” Allen says. “Eventually, you see a confident person emerge. The beauty in the change you see in their personalities is remarkable. I have been involved in hundreds of surgical cases, and it is one of the most rewarding aspects of orthodontics.”
Much like the thinking behind his LEED-certified building, the Texas-trained orthodontist is not content to hang a cookie-cutter Web site in cyberspace and hope for the best. After drawing the site on paper, Allen called a marketing company that helped him construct a truly custom site.
These intense Web efforts ultimately earned a marketing award thanks to vibrant colors, interactive content, and elements that change every day. “A team of creators who mimic your personality and capture who you are on a Web site is a key to success,” Allen says. “If you don’t have a site that describes you at a a glance, you are missing the boat. It’s about maintaining an image that is consistent with your personality.”
The cutting-edge environmental engineering of Allen’s structure may be largely transparent to patients, but the various funky art pieces projecting from the walls convey a healthy dose of personality. When partnered with clinical excellence, that truthful expression cements relationships that lead to multiple referrals.
Some of the art on the wall doubles as advertisement for local businesses. It’s a trade of sorts that mirrors Allen’s passions and helps business colleagues in the area. He’s even partnered with a nationally known artist to guide him in skillfully showing his work in the space.
As a person with “long hair and an earring” back in his younger days, the 41-year-old Allen jumps at the chance to help the underdog. “I was a big skateboarder and BMXer as a kid,” he says. “I was fast on the soccer field, frets, and keys, but short on the basketball court. I know success and fear. I look forward to supporting businesses that are based on passions, not necessarily the most lucrative choices. I love knowing people. If I can give back in a creative way, I know I’ve done the good deed.”
Owning the building means that the creative side can run wild with some confounding and even baffling works of art. Allen’s reputation as an “artist at heart” reached the point where he was asked to paint some children’s chairs for a charity auction, a task he was only too happy to complete.
Similar chairs in the office now complement the latest piece of art—8-inch artificial daisies with 2-foot stems growing upside down in artificial grass covering nearly 60 square feet. “I have a chalkboard shaped like a blog bubble suspended in the exit hall along with a bunch of rubber duckies—orange ducks, black ducks, yellow, pink, and rockin’ ducks—with one rubber duck leader,” Allen says. “It also has an artificial pond. It is my hope that over time, the bubble will speak to each patient. The idea is also to leave with impact—from various sources such as Zig Zigler, Confucius, or The Bible. Currently, I’m working on frets and wheels.”
Call it business as usual for an orthodontist who recently attended an Iron Maiden concert with seven other professionals in the community to keep the office hopping with rock and roll and pop music. “It’s not elevator music,” Allen says. “The entire office is playing the latest hits. It’s always kicking. The idea is to have a fun environment and expose every age group to stuff that makes sense to each in their own way.”
A wall of video games entertains waiting guests, and a specially designed ceiling intrigues patients and parents alike. “It’s a ‘floating’ ceiling undulated in all different directions,” Allen explains. “When you lie down, you are staring at almost a smooth cloud. It’s all backlit. My intention was a modern environment that was relaxing and exciting. I dreamed the design around this ceiling.”
The overall effect is a welcoming environment for patients and the 13 staff members who work for Allen. “I am fortunate to have an amazing team,” he says. “I encourage them to ask why certain things are happening so they truly understand the treatment and are able to answer patient questions. I want to have the smartest orthodontic assistants in the business. If they grow as individuals from our relationship, then their personal lives should flourish and they’ll bring a smile to the chair with each visit.”
The open culture extends to Allen himself, who answers questions throughout the day and uses his 20-minute commute time to communicate with patients. Patients and referring docs appreciate the personal touch that continues even after the braces are off.
“All patients who get their braces off get photo shoots with a nationally renowned photographer with their new smile,” Allen enthuses. “They get a canvas over wood, and I get a canvas to place on the walls. We put all of our patients in our advertisements, with their consent, and on our Web site and blogs. We are making them stars, and everybody wins.” OP
Practice Profile: Marc Allen Orthodontics
Location: Huntersville, NC
Office square footage: 5,500
Years in practice: 13
Education: University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (Doctor of Dental Surgery), University of Texas Health Sciences Center (Masters in Craniofacial Anomalies and Orthodontics)
Average patients per day: 50-80
Starts per year: New business
Days worked per week: 4
Top four products used: Prodigy active-passive self-ligating brackets; Herbst appliances; articulator; Dolphin Management
Web site: marcallenortho.com
Greg Thompson is a contributing writer for Orthodontic Products. For more information, contact the editor, [email protected].