Award-winning Sunderland dentist firm takes on nine new staff
The Echo's Business of the Year is going from strength to strength after taking on nine new members of staff.
And Sean Thompson, managing director of Ashford Orthodontics, says the Sunderland-based company is still recruiting despite now employing 40 people in a range of roles.
“We’re still ambitious and still taking people on and although we’re the biggest lab in the country we still believe there’s plenty of opportunity for further growth,” said Sean.
Ashford Orthodontics won both the Medium Business of the Year and Overall Business of the Year in the Echo’s Portfolio Awards, held last month.
Sean started the company in his garage while working in the orthodontic and oral surgery department of Sunderland Royal Hospital.
He had worked in private orthodontic labs before qualifying from Manchester University with a post-graduate diploma in maxillofacial prosthetics and technology and becoming senior orthodontic and maxillofacial medical technical officer at Sunderland Royal Hospital.
Recognising a gap in the market, Sean launched Ashford Orthodontics in 2001, producing appliances from his garage in the evenings while still working at the hospital.
After leaving the hospital, he was joined in 2005 by directors Craig Stevens, from Sunderland, and Graeme Winyard, from Durham, two experienced orthodontic and dental technicians.
“We started in Sean’s garage and then moved to premises in Frederick Street, Sunderland,” explained Craig.
“Expansion was rapid and we quickly outgrew our premises there, so moved to much bigger premises in Norfolk Street.”
Last year, Ashford Orthodontics moved into a new 12,000 sq ft laboratory in Southwick to accommodate further expansion of the business, which had grown significantly thanks to its investment into 3D technology.
“Dental practices anywhere in the world can take scans of people’s mouths and send them to us using a secure online portal.
“We then create 3D resin models of people’s teeth using our 3D printers and we then manufacture the appliances to their exact specifications right here in Sunderland,” explained Sean.
“Our early investment in the 3D printers was a big risk, as we bought two of them and they cost us over £100,000 and this was before dentists were really ready to implement the technology, but we understood the fundamental change in the way the business was going and the opportunities offered by digital innovation.
“Buying the 3D printers and scanners put us ahead of the game.”
The company now has a new generation of smaller 3D printers – six on the premises and a further three on order.
“Our move to Southwick allowed us further growth, and we needed the extra space,” explained Sean.
“But we’re thinking of getting the builders in as we need to create even more space to keep pace with demand,” he added.
Clinicians in The Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Sweden, Australia and New Zealand now use Ashford Orthodontics’ digital capabilities to place orders for the company’s leading orthodontic appliances.
“We have a reputation for quality and for reliability that is second to none,” said Sean.
“Not too long ago we were let down by a delivery company who failed to get appliances to a valued customer in Oxford.
“So we sent one of our own guys down and it’s this insistence on delivering for our customers that has led to a 100 per cent retention rate – we’ve never lost a customer yet and we have hundreds.”
The company’s latest recruits include two administration officers, a newly-qualified dental technician, a manufacturing apprentice, and plaster room technicians, with recruitment ongoing.
“We’re still actively recruiting - we’re looking for another admin officer, another apprentice and more people on the manufacturing side,” said Sean.