Hot off one of this year’s biggest deals in European dentistry, Kelsey Rees talks to Mirko Puccio, founder and chief executive officer of Primo Group, about his ambitions for the company
Founded in Turin in 2011, Primo Group has become one of the most captivating dental services chains in Italy to watch. From 16 dental clinics in 2015 in Turin and Piemonte, the group has grown significantly in a short amount of time under the stewardship of independent healthcare investment firm Archimed.
It now has 50 directly owned clinics and has seen revenues jump 36%.
The background of company founder and chief executive officer Mirko Puccio doesn’t lie in dentistry, however. In fact he studied business economics at the University of Turin.
Before he founded Primo, Puccio worked as a commercial director at a number of different companies such as dermatological and aesthetic company Sifarma, communication advisory company Visibilia, and insurance broker Trium Partners, until he wanted a more stable market, which then led him to healthcare.
Fast forward to October 2019, Puccio now found himself in the enviable position of running the fourth biggest player in the Italian dental market. This followed Archimed’s sale of Primo to Aksia. In a canny deal, the private equity company also acquired and bolted on Italian dental and polyclinics chain Oasi Medica to Primo Group.
With a new backer comes a fresh team and new ambitions. Primo’s new goal is to move up the ranks and become the second leading dental group in Italy (behind arch-rival DentalPro) within the next 18 months. Plans to open eight new clinics by the end of this year and 20 new clinics in 2020 are already in motion, along with expansion into new areas of Italy, such as Sardinia.
His ambitions are plausible. Italy’s dental landscape is particularly fragmented.
‘We will continue in Lazio and Puglia, and we are starting in Umbria for the next six months. After that, at the end of 2020, we will start on Sicily,’ he said.
‘Our strategy is to continue to open new clinics, starting from scratch in some areas. We also want to consolidate our market, making some M&A deals, similar to our deal with Oasi Medica. We will look to buy single clinics and small chains,’ he added.
WE BELIEVE THAT
IN THE FUTURE,
WE CANNOT GROW
AS A COMPANY
JUST WITH NEW
PATIENTS. WE HAVE
LOYALTY IN OUR
FOLLOW US ALONG
‘But what we have to find are good quality clinics. We have small clinics, we are not large, but we want our standard practice to be about the patient.’
With a business that is 85% self-pay and 15% insurance, this patient-focused outlook is what largely shapes Primo’s approach to acquisitions, which Puccio sets out to achieve through only acquiring clinics which offer the highest quality of treatment.
‘We begin by trying to understand the quality of treatment that each clinic delivers in the market. If we are not confident about the quality of treatment, then we do not want to put our name on that kind of clinic.’
Puccio explains that when building a brand such as Primo, a strong brand reputation is vital to establish growth. This is why he only wants to work with clinics with good value dental treatment, ‘providing the best quality of care for the patients,’ he said.
‘We believe that in the future, we cannot grow as a company just with new patients. We have to encourage loyalty in our patients, to continue to follow us along with their families.’
Putting its patients first has also played a role in what kind of treatment Primo offers in its clinics.
Rather than moving up the value chain to dental implants or cosmetics, Primo would rather focus on providing the highest possible quality in the services it does offer.
‘We’re not focusing on one specific treatment, we are not the major player in or are specialised in implants, aligners or cosmetics.’
‘What we want to be able to provide is a good dentist that can solve almost all of your problems.’
Looking to the future, and beyond his 18-month goal of becoming the second- largest dental group in Italy, Puccio wants to continue on that trajectory, and become the best clinical chain in Italy.
‘We are working hard in customer satisfaction. We are building a call centre to find out from our patients what we can do to be more proactive and more efficient for them and to understand how their treatment was, how was their experience, how were their doctors and how we can improve. We are trying to understand if everything in our clinic is going well.’
It seems, however, that Primo is comfortable in its home country for the time being, with expansion outside of Italy unlikely to be on the cards any time soon.
‘It’s early for us, but we’ll think about it. Why not? Our first focus is to continue to grow in Italy because it’s a big market for our company. Why not? But it’s not our main goal at the moment.’
LIE WITH OUR
PATIENTS – TO
DELIVER THE BEST
SERVICES IN ITALY.
I HOPE IN EUROPE,
BUT FOR SURE,
Following Archimed’s sale of Primo Group, Puccio expresses gratitude towards the healthcare investment firm for its support financially and in the recruitment of a top-tier board. Now under the ownership of Aksia, Puccio remains optimistic about his new partners, the role they will play in Primo’s growth, and other opportunities that they will be able to bring to the table.
‘I hope they will be involved. What we are trying to build is a real company, a real platform to manage many clinics around Italy. Not just in dental, but in the future, we can open in other markets of health. In the future, I hope that the relationship with them will continue to stay strong. Aksia doesn’t just play a role in money and finance, but we are asking them to give us confidence to take us outside our market. They have many contacts in other markets, so we can build a new way to see our market if we merge different points of view.’
Puccio concludes with a statement about what lies ahead. It echoes many of the themes that run through our entire conversation.
‘Our priorities lie with our patients – to deliver the best treatments and services in Italy. I hope in Europe,’ he chuckles. ‘But definitely in Italy.’