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Mon, June 7, 2010
The Straits Times

Next up - a bite of the China pie

By Francis Chan, Marissa Lee

The local health-care sector generated $4.1 billion in value-add in 2008, and output from biomedical firms quadrupled from $6.3billion 10 years ago to $24.4 billion in 2007. Such firms are key to Singapore's continuing growth as Asia's biomedical hub.

In the fourth of a six-part, fortnightly series sponsored by Spring Singapore, Francis Chan and Marissa Lee look at how product and service innovations have helped two firms become leading players in the fast-growing health-care and biomedical sector.

HOT on the heels of a recent acquisition in Hong Kong, Q&M Dental Group chief executive Ng Chin Siau is again on the hunt for opportunities to expand, but this time in mainland China.

With a knowing smile, Dr Ng admits that negotiations are currently under way with prospective partners in China, adding "that is all I can disclose for now".

Having grown his private dental practice from one clinic in Bukit Batok to 39 locations islandwide plus a mobile clinic in just 14 years, Dr Ng is clearly a man on the go.

In January, two months after Q&M secured a mainboard listing on the Singapore Exchange, the founder of the dental chain succeeded in a $9.6 million takeover of the Dental Implant Surgical Centre (Disc) in Hong Kong.

Disc specialises in oral and maxillofacial surgery - treatment to correct jaw and facial injuries or defects - and its acquisition will boost the dental capabilities of Q&M significantly.

But, despite having this acquisition under his belt, Dr Ng, 42, is now actively looking for a further route into the fragmented, but highly lucrative mainland China market.

"There are 200,000 dentists in China," Dr Ng pointed out. "In Shanghai alone, there are only about 1,000 dental clinics for a population of 23 million.

"In Singapore, 46 per cent of its population are seeing dentists as least once a year, but in China that is only 8 per cent. As you can see, the potential is huge."

Q&M began operations in 1996 as a small private practice after Dr Ng sold his three-room flat to finance the takeover of a clinic in the Bukit Batok heartland.

His caring and personable approach won him many new patients and soon he found himself in a position to expand.

To grow the practice, he enlisted the support of like-minded people from the dental fraternity.

Working 12-hour days and seven-day weeks with his friend Dr Ng Jet Wei - now Q&M deputy CEO - ensured a fast growing patient pool.

Backed by a group of investors, themselves practising dentists, Q&M clinics started sprouting all over Singapore.

Q&M expanded into Toa Payoh, Sembawang, Sims Drive and many other heartland towns. In December last year, the group opened its flagship Q&M Dental Centre at City Square Mall on Kitchener Road.

The 12,000 sq ft centre, comprising 32 treatment rooms, has a call sheet of 10 to 15 dentists at any one time, making it the largest private dental centre here.

Today, Q&M employs more than 500 staff, including 115 dentists, and provides everything from basic dental services to specialist and aesthetic dentistry.

"We have the largest share of dental clinics in Singapore and serve about 6 per cent of the population here," said Dr Ng, a Singapore permanent resident.

With its large network of clinics, Q&M has been able to place itself at the forefront of dental technology.

The Q&M Dental Centre is fully equipped with the latest in dental technology, such as 3-D radiography terminals, dental laser treatment, and systems capable of providing dental crowns in a day.

Dr Ng pointed out that being a pioneer in the acquisition of cutting-edge equipment and technology has allowed the firm to become an accredited training provider for many modern and ground-breaking dental procedures.

"So from being a dental services provider, we have also become a training provider for new equipment and techniques," he added.

In February, Q&M announced a 2 per cent rise in net profit to $3.82 million for the full year ended Dec 31 despite the recent downturn, while revenue grew 2.4per cent to $30.3 million.

As the firm continues on its steady growth, Dr Ng decided to embark on Q&M's first Customer Centric Initiative - a government programme that encourages businesses to commit to service excellence - early this year.

While there has always been a strong culture of service and patient care among Q&M dentists, Dr Ng felt that it was equally important to enhance the quality of frontline service staff.

This, he said, was to ensure patients came away from clinics with a good customer experience.

Next on the agenda is a paperless office and a central database for faster information sharing or transfers among Q&M clinics.

"We are currently paperless at the registration and billing stages, but not when making treatment notes," noted Dr Ng.

"To go fully electronic will be a massive exercise, but it's something we hope to do in the near future."

Further down the road, Dr Ng wants to consider new listings on neighbouring foreign stock exchanges, such as those in Malaysia and Indonesia, where he sees massive potential for dentistry.


"In Shanghai alone, there are only about 1,000 dental clinics for a population of 23 million. In Singapore, 46 per cent of its population are seeing dentists as least once a year, but in China that is only 8 per cent... the potential is huge."

Q&M Dental Group chief executive Ng Chin Siau, on the vast potential of China

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