Tracey Bell won the award for Entrepreneur of the Year at the Awards for Excellence in 2007 but she has certainly not rested on her laurels since then…
‘The Isle of Man is probably one of the best places - ever - to build a business,’ claims Tracey Bell.
She is a phenomenon. A whirlwind of energy and enthusiasm, she has raised her family – she has six children – alongside her working life. Her passion for her business has driven her success, not just on the island but in the UK too.
Now, with an imaginative online presence, she’s taking on the world.
When it comes to business, especially tricky discussions about improving clients’ appearance without going too far, she says she is polite but honest: ‘I don’t sugar coat things,’ she says, ‘I would rather be open than be someone I’m not.’
Tracey has another characteristic that marks many of the most successful business people: in times of recession, she sees opportunities and takes them.
She reckons one of her biggest breaks came in 1994 when she was able to buy a building at a coroner’s auction which she subsequently developed to house the Craigend Dental Practice.
Her highly successful NHS practice grew from there, eventually encompassing nine surgeries and 18,000 patients around the island.
In 2001 she left the NHS dental services to become a private dental practice, opening Kensington aesthetic clinic at 3 Kensington Road in 2003. In 2009 she opened her on-island polyclinic, based in the old St Bridget’s Hospice building in Douglas, providing not just general dentistry to her patients but a full array of medical services.
These included a fully operational laser clinic, aesthetic medical services, dermatology, weight management, cosmetic surgery and other medical provisions.
This provision continually grows as other medical and dental providers join the team, the most recent being Dr Paul Tipton a worldwide prosthodontics specialist.
‘In 2001 I was the first on the island to convert to a private dental practice – everyone else followed straight after but I was the woman at the front taking all the flack,’ she recalls.
Luckily she appears fearless but it took all of her courage to pull off the next tricky move - from running a successful business on the island to expanding into the UK:
‘That’s been a journey in itself – it’s a fight for your life in the UK!’ she laughs, ‘but I learned a lot: it taught me to negotiate and it taught me not to be too emotional or attached to a business and it gave me more insight into how to run a business.’
With both the clinics, she has expanded her services and collaborated with others to provide a true aesthetic medical clinic.
But this clinic not only provides medicine and dentistry but also routine beauty services, hair dressing and a fully equipped gym.
‘Of course I don’t do everything myself,’ saysTracey, ‘I simply find the best in the business that can collaborate and provide services under one roof.’
But she believes that the dental practice is still at the core of the business: it has 9,000 registered patients and she believes that providing a full team approach to oral health including dental hygienists, therapists and other visiting specialists in dentistry has been the factor in keeping the business growing in the more recent recession.
There are currently seven dental surgeries in the clinic, with another two being installed and options for further island expansion.
The other factor that has kept the business successful during tough economic times has been the ability to look for new channels to market:
‘In the 20 years I’ve been in business, I’ve seen times of recession, then good times, then recession again,’ she says.
‘I look back to about 2008 when, almost overnight, people lost the ability to have income and that was everybody, not just certain sectors. Probably over the last five years we have been more savvy in business and really looked at what people want.’
She believes that in this regard the Isle of Man offers a unique opportunity for any business because the small community aspect means that you inevitably get feedback about your products and services: ‘It all comes back to you here – it’s a bit like Chinese whispers!’
Tracey invested in education and looked at using social media imaginatively. Her YouTube channel now has over 2 million viewers and brings clients in from as far afield as Russia and Argentina.
‘It opens up a communication: we get 20-30 inquiries a day from You Tube. That’s built the brand around the world.’
It’s also seen her opening a call centre on the island with six new employees to staff it and taking the phones out of her Liverpool clinic so that every call is answered here.
‘That brings consistency in your message and it also means we can monitor consumer trends and our advertising,’ says Tracey.
Their online shop is also run from here, shipping products all over the world.
Because of difficulty recruiting on the island in previous years Tracey says: ‘I had to fight to put the call centre here but I insisted I wanted it on the Isle of Man.’
She was right as, once again, the recession provided an unexpected bonus: a much greater choice when it came to prospective employees: ‘Now I’ve got good people, I’ve got passionate people, and I’ve got people who want to succeed,’ she says.
She does admit that, even in the glamorous new clinic in Kensington Road, she does miss the old days at the Craigend Dental Practice, when her pensioner patients would bring her cream cakes in exchange for dental treatment. She laughs and says: ‘I’m still a softy. I love the Isle of Man and the people and still exchange cream cakes, or get my doors painted in exchange for dentistry.’
She clearly has a good relationship with her staff and she says they have a lot of fun at work but she also reflects ruefully.
‘As a mum of six I can’t help but care – it’s frustrating, it’s the weakest part of my business, that I care, and yet it’s also an advantage – you’ve got to love what you do.’
And when it comes to the core principle of her business, keeping her patients and clients happy, she offers this simple philosophy:
‘I think about what I want – I want results, I want five star service and I want value for money.’
That just about sums up an award -winning business ethic…