Mike Rolves sees today’s field of dentistry as one of untapped potential. “There’s a lot of opportunity for growth, in a way that’s comparable to the pharmacy business years ago, prior to Walgreens and CVS becoming as large as they are,” Rolves says. “And there’s a need for dentists to have support in their construction and facilities, as well as their overall business model, to have the support to focus on seeing patients.”
This is partly what drew Rolves to Heartland Dental in 2018 as its senior director of design and construction. Having spent the past 12 years working for Panera Bread, moving up from senior manager of design applications to director of design while overseeing new buildings and remodel programs, Rolves saw an opportunity to grow even further. “It was also very much aligned with my values,” he explains. “Heartland’s mission is to support dentists and their teams as they deliver the highest-quality dental care to communities they serve, so it was very inspiring for me to be able to join that team.”
Rolves joined the company at a pivotal growth period. KKR, an investment firm, had recently entered the picture as a majority stockholder and Heartland Dental was moving forward with plans of a major expansion, with the goal of opening up 47 new locations in 2018 alone. As leader of construction and design teams as well as facilities and special projects teams, the senior director hit the ground running, working to open up new locations while also remodeling existing ones. “At the time when I started, there wasn’t a design team as much as a collection of project managers,” Rolves says. “So there was a perspective of how do we divide and conquer, to have designers focused on the front half of projects and construction managers focused on the back half.”
In order to hit the growth targets, the development team does its work of scouting new locations by tracking areas of population growth, patient profiles, and nearby competition, and finding the best real estate in high traffic areas, with a large focus on states in the southeast. One of Rolves’s early hurdles was to improve the accuracy of Heartland’s construction schedule management, focusing on implementing predictive tools so that teams would be prepared. “This allowed the stakeholders of Heartland to focus on actual dates rather than constantly trying to hit a moving target and allowed my team to receive feedback on the built environment,” Rolves says.
Much of that feedback helped them to ensure that their office layouts supported dentists while also improving the patient experience. “There’s been a lot of work to make sure that our prototype aligns with work performed in those offices, as well as the anticipated growth,” Rolves says. “We want patients to know that from the moment they walk in the door they will be greeted and welcomed, and that there’s also a privacy and comfort level in the treatment areas.” His team also focused on making spaces flexible enough to introduce new technology as it came in, such as new X-ray machines and scanners.
Rolves is participating in a search for different ways for Heartland to manage its overall building life cycle, adding new programs to help with financial management beginning from location approval, and using conditional surveys to gather all relevant information on lease rules and remodel programs. “It’s a one-stop location where they can gather all of that information, which will help us with efficiency,” Rolves says.
Throughout the process, Rolves has also worked to stay on top of changes and other opportunities in the industry. He’s had a lifelong practice of going to several different conferences each year to network with peers, not only in other dental offices but with other retail developers, finding out what their challenges are as well as valuable advice they may be able to offer on potential vendors and programs. And he also tries to learn from the advice of different motivational speakers to gain new perspectives, particularly in leadership. “My philosophy is to hire the right people and then empower them to make good decisions, and give them the autonomy to run their area of the business,” Rolves says. “I always try to look at ways that we can try to innovate and learn, and be nimble in how we approach our work.”
All of which will continue to be important as Heartland Dental continues on its growth track. Since Rolves began in 2018, Heartland has opened 107 new locations, with 70 planned for 2020; from there, it plans to continue building at a 15 to 20 percent growth rate. “The really big undertaking my team has right now is to make sure that we can continue to do that effectively without falling behind, and making sure that we have processes in place and an understanding of what the future looks like,” Rolves says.
It’s a challenge that he looks forward to. “The most exciting part of my job is in being able to lead a group of great people, and watch them succeed and be able to grow,” Rolves says. “We want to make sure that patients not only receive the best dental care, but that our practices also have the latest and best technology to deliver treatment.”