Discussing the possibilities and future at the intersection of healthcare and commercial real estate
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Do you have aspirations of owning multiple practices? On today’s podcast episode, I interview Sonny Spera, a dentist who has grown his practice into five locations. Sonny shares his experiences from his first practice purchase to building a property from the ground up. Listen in and take notes as he talks about lessons learned throughout his process and tips for other clinicians to consider when becoming a practice owner.
[01:53] Sonny’s background and path to dentistry
The youngest of three in an Italian family, Sonny was granted a basketball scholarship to Syracuse and majored in chemistry and psychology. He went on to SUNY Buffalo for dental school. He now owns five dental practices in southern New York and northeastern Pennsylvania with six doctors and 60 staff members.
[04:02] His experience of building up to 5 practices
Prior to purchasing his first practice, Sonny worked as an associate for two dentists over a period of two years. In 1989, he began practicing and then purchased his own practice in 1991. Initially, he had wanted to invest with partners, but they weren’t interested in expanding to another location. Sonny believed he could make the purchase profitable, so he borrowed money from multiple sources, including his family and the bank. During his initial purchase of the practice, the seller also requested he sign a five year lease. Sonny declined after his wife suggested they would outgrow the practice before the lease ended, which they did.
With a vision for continued growth, Sonny began looking for another property that would work for a two doctor practice. He found a house in a commercial zone, purchased the property, and then added a 40×60 addition. They turned it into a six operatory/treatment room with a central sterilization that was handicap accessible. Sonny was then able to pay off his loans to the bank and debts to family.
As he didn’t want a mortgage or additional costs, he applied for a 10 year business loan, borrowing at prime. He then purchased a property with his sister and dad to use as a dental office. They needed to expand, so they bought the practice next door.
[20:54] Sonny’s advice for physicians starting out in real estate
The most important lesson Sonny feels he learned was to separate the business from the real estate, looking at both independently. He also suggests making sure you have the ability to grow or expand your business when you make the commitment to buy.
In dentistry, there’s a lot to consider when going in on a property: plumbing, electrical, x-ray units, use of shared walls, sound proofing for child areas, room for equipment, and more. You’ll need to be ready for changes in the business, and be prepared for your practice to shift according to your goals over a 5 to 10 year period. Make sure you’re set up to be expandable and adaptable.
[23:30] What to take into consideration when scouting locations
Sonny follows Howard Franz models, choosing locations that are in close proximity to key demographics. For example, if you’re a family-based practice you would want to find a convenient, visible location near other family businesses or school-aged communities.
[28:15] Sonny’s first job
Sonny considers his first real job as his job at a bakery with a friend. He described it as a neat experience that taught him a lot of things, including work ethic.
[29:43] What Sonny would be doing if he hadn’t chosen dentistry
Though he’s not sure he’d make a living as one, Sonny believes he may have been a basketball coach. He would want to be a dad, a teacher, or work with kids in some capacity to help influence and give back to the next generation.
[30:19] What Sonny is currently reading or listening to for news, information, or inspiration
Though his wife tries to persuade him to watch or listen to the news, he tries not to listen to it too much. He prefers to search for inspiration to share with others. Sonny is currently reading Grit by Angela Duckworth and Atomic Habits. Next on his list is the new James Patterson book about a New York police officer named Michael Bennett.
[31:56] What Sonny does for healthy self-care
Sonny enjoys looking up a positive, meaningful thought for each day and then sharing it with friends and family on social media.
[32:29] Sonny’s thoughts on whether the desire to heal is born or trained
Sonny believes that the desire to heal is mostly innate, but that it can be cultivated and influenced during someone’s upbringing or mentorship.
Thank you for tuning into the Providers, Properties, & Performance podcast!