The Neem Tree dental group has a story to tell. Sophie Bracken went to the opening of the flagship practice in London’s Fleet Street to hear it.
‘We love the idea of belonging to stories, because life is made up of stories’. Stories are at the very core of The Neem Tree, a dental group that has recently opened its flagship practice in Fleet Street, central London, and The Neem Tree story is unlike any other you may have come across.
Nothing about The Neem Tree is by accident. Everything from the branding and décor, to the group’s philanthropic philosophy, is steeped in the principles of holistic treatment, community spirit and growing together. The neem is the perfect symbol of what the practice is striving to achieve, as managing director, Smita Mehra, explained to me at the launch of the Fleet Street practice:
‘A neem is a holistic tree and everything from the leaves, to the twigs and bark are good for you. It can be used to treat head lice, as a lubricant, a disinfectant, an astringent; it’s good in ecology as a pesticide…where do we stop?
‘What makes a neem tree even more clever is that its twigs are used in many parts of the world as a natural toothbrush, because it’s very good for periodontal disease. That’s the theme behind the holistic ethos of the practice – it’s very much centred around nature.’
The Fleet Street practice has a modern feel – it’s furnished with the very latest in practice management technology, and the two surgeries, the scanning facilities and the decontamination room are all top of the line – but this contemporary, high-end design is juxtaposed with a cosiness of rustic, earthy tones that is warm and welcoming, and will certainly put even the most nervous patients at ease.
Fleet Street is the third Neem Tree practice in the group – practices are also in operation in Esher and Wandsworth – but the opening of Fleet Street marks the launch of the flagship location within the group.
‘Fleet Street is the most high-profile location of all our practices, but we’ve also taken the branding to the next level here’, said Zayba Sheikh, chief operating officer.
‘It’s the flagship because it’s setting the benchmark of what we can achieve. The first two Neem Trees were the starters – they had a great foundation. Now it’s about evolving that and taking it to the next step.’
This is a clever concept, and the beginnings of another great story. Just as any tree needs strong roots to grow, The Neem Tree group has begun from strong foundations within its two existing practices, from which the Fleet Street location can flourish.
Keeping the branding consistent across all Neem Tree franchises is key to its success. ‘In the dental industry you don’t normally see branding. Most people running a practice are dentists, and it’s hard for them to keep up with branding,’ Zayba told me. ‘So that’s where we’ve really taken a different angle on it. Yes, we’re dentists, but we’ve really tried to focus on the branding and the marketing element of it.’
‘Like a tree grows, we’re trying to grow’, said Smita. ‘There’s the dental element – it’s a new dental practice, which is holistic and natural, but from the franchising side of things, it’s also a really exciting concept for us because the Fleet Street practice is effectively the first franchise practice in the group’.
Smita and Zayba are so passionate about their concept that they offer dentists the opportunity to franchise The Neem Tree brand, and invite interested dentists to get in touch with them. ‘Each franchise we open will just get better and better’ said Zayba.
Smita continued: ‘In Fleet Street we have our systems in place, and if a franchisee would like to open a practice in Northwood for example, everything we’ve done here we will put into that practice.
‘Dentists will see that we are very hands on. We’re not a corporate, we won’t say “go and open up, here’s a template”, because we care about it, and going forward, we hope that’s what will carry on.’
Every Neem Tree practice has the same branding, systems and standards, but every practice is tailored to the needs of the local community. The Fleet Street practice for example, located at the heart of central London’s financial district, will be open in the evenings for city workers and will work to accommodate patients ‘out of hours’. It’s also open on Saturday. New practices with different demographics would cater specifically to the needs of that community.
The bigger picture
Smita and Zayba tell me another story during my visit, which reveals the charitable ethos of The Neem Tree. ‘We’re in the process of setting up The Neem Tree Foundation,’ explained Zayba. ‘The idea is that for every £1 a patient spends, 1p will go into the foundation, and that will support sustainable projects in the UK and abroad.
‘We’ve begun a few projects so far, such as providing hand water pumps to rural villages in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Once the foundation is set up we will launch it in all of our practices, so all patients will become part of the bigger picture, and the staff as well.
‘From the top line of all the practices, a percentage will go towards the foundation, so staff are involved in the charity too. Just by working here, they are giving back. That’s really excited us as a team.
‘It’s also a story for staff to tell patients. It’s nice for patients and a practice to feel like they’re part of something bigger. It’s not just where you go to get a crown. We want patients to want to come to a Neem Tree because it’s part of the community.’
‘We want patients to engage with the meaning behind Neem Tree, which comes from the charity angle’ said Smita, picking up the story. ‘This is the start. And that’s another reason why this practice is so exciting’.
This patient journey story holds up yet another mirror to the giving nature of the neem tree, and I suspect that there are many more stories to come in the future. When I asked Zayba where she’d like to see The Neem Tree in five years, she was adamant that they would stay true to their roots.
‘We don’t want to grow into a large corporate. We want a handful of practices that are achieving quality dentistry, and standing by the roots, ethics and morals that we’ve put in place here, and finding the right people. It’s all about the people. It’s about creating a larger Neem Tree family. Like the tree and the branches, it just keeps growing’.