Interview with OpenRoom Founders About Their DSO Events, DentalForum USA 2022, and Nurturing Business Relationships

DSOPro caught up with Fiona Horan and Emma Faure, co-directors of OpenRoom Events Ltd., based in London, after what they called “a monstrous June,” hosting healthcare and retail events around the world. They started off in Spain, then held two events in Portugal, and wound up in Singapore. Their OpenRoom format brings together dental manufacturers and vendors on one side of the table and DSO leaders on the other for “speed-dating” style meetings.

Emma Faure’s first professional role was in marketing at a large trade show company working in the traditional exhibition trade show format. She then moved to doing something very similar on a manufacturing portfolio. After deciding to go solo, she continued freelance consulting in that industry. Then she met Fiona Horan.

Fiona describes her experience as similar, but in the world of financial conferences followed by marketing for trade show organizers in food and fuel retail. Then she met Emma.

The opportunity to work together came about during an event in Asia, in the fuel retail sector. “I can truly say it was the most badly run affair I’ve ever seen,” Fiona recalls. “It was worse than a disjointed child’s tea party. But we realized it was a very cool concept and ended up thinking, ‘You know what? We can do this, and a whole heap better.’ And that is how OpenRoom started.” 

Fiona describes OpenRoom events as efficient, enjoyable, productive, one-on-one meetings pre-matched between buyers on one side of the table and suppliers on the other. OpenRoom now offers this meeting format in a number of sectors. “We first dipped into dental in 2014 for the UK market,” she says. 

And this year they are celebrating the company’s 20th anniversary.

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What Attracted OpenRoom to the Dental Industry?

OpenRoom is most interested in industries that are consolidating into multi-site operators. This includes fuel retail, convenience retail, and veterinary, eye care groups, and dental. “Dental has now become our single biggest group of events,” Fiona notes. “We run it in the UK, Europe, the Asia-Pacific (APAC), and the United States. We’re now researching potential in the Middle East and North Africa.”

Because their format is predicated on putting owners and senior directors together with vendors and manufacturers in what one might call an intimate setting, they go after the main groups within a particular sector. “The key thing is multi-site operators,” she says. “That’s the distinguishing element that really plays into the format that we work with.”

How Does OpenRoom Recruit and Match Participants Together? 

Emma says of the process, “It’s very much a chicken and egg scenario. For our dental UK event, for example, a team led by Fiona goes out and hand invites the dental groups and DSOs at the senior level—either the founder, owner, CEO, head of clinical, or head of practice management, etc. Our programs are heavily curated, so we always make sure we get a balance between the dental groups and the vendor side fairly evenly spread. We find out what the DSOs procurement priorities are, what they’re looking at, and what their focus is for the next few years. We take our lead from them, and then secure manufacturing vendor participation based on that.”

Emma and Fiona believe it is important to keep the events fresh and to follow the trends. “AI is obviously a big thing at the moment,” Emma says. “And we know that in the US there’s a lot of talk around dental labs, so we’re bringing some new lab companies in.”

Because the success of OpenRoom meetings depends on a broad mix, they never overload programs with one product service category. Vendor representation includes clinical equipment, instrument, and materials manufacturers along with software imaging, AI companies, and dental labs. Increasingly, meetings focus on new technologies, such as cloud-based practice management systems. Occasionally, they include a finance house, bank, or a property broker that works nationally, as well as some professional services and recruitment companies.

When is the Next North American OpenRoom Event?

The seventh annual OpenRoom DentalForum USA event is in Scottsdale, Arizona, September 12-13. The days will be filled with talks from industry leaders, hosted roundtable discussions, and the signature one-on-one speed meetings. This format allows attendees to condense a year’s worth of informal meetings into two days without the uncertainty or ineffectiveness often associated with the standard dental convention.

The format is so successful that OpenRoom currently has a waiting list of vendors and manufacturers. “So, we are looking into offering Spring and Fall versions in the US in 2023,” Fiona notes. “We feel there’s enough scope, variety, and certainly enough demand to warrant having two a year.”

Fiona attributes this to the North American DSO market being so much more developed in terms the number of people involved, from the different industry stakeholders to the dental practices and DSO personnel. “It happened in North America way before it did in the UK, and Europe is running behind the UK, although it is catching up,” she says.

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Fiona and Emma are interested to see how popular their meeting style and planned programming is in APAC, which is a relatively new market for OpenRoom. “That’s an interesting space, because you’ve got Australia, which is quite mature, and huge territories like India, Indonesia, Thailand, and others, which are just starting to follow the model set in North America,” Fiona notes.

What Else Sets OpenRoom Apart?

“In terms of our vendor mix, what’s unique to our events is our ‘no distributor’ policy, so there are no blurred lines,” Emma points out. “This gives the DSO leaders an opportunity to speak directly with the manufacturer, and vice versa. They may still sell through their distributors, but they get an open-line conversation with the DSO, which is really appreciated.”

OpenRoom’s advisory board were adamant about the “no distributors” policy. “We sometimes revisit the question because companies ask, ‘Why can’t we come? Please, can we come?’ But DSO leadership insist that this is one of the real magic pieces of our events. They appreciate the opportunity to have a direct conversation without the distributor in the middle. As long as they keep saying that, we’ll stick with that policy,” Fiona explains.

Another unique quality is the size of the meetings. “We’ve never done an event with more than 200 people,” Fiona says. “People leave after the two days feeling like they’ve spoken to everyone, and they genuinely feel part of a carefully selected club and they like it. It works.”

How do Participants Prepare for the Meetings?

Fiona, Emma, and their teams spend quite a bit of time coaching suppliers. And they carefully select attendees. “It’s very important, for example, when the DSOs are being invited at the most senior level, that we don’t have a junior sales executive on the other side of the meeting table,” Emma explains. “We need to almost match ‘like with like.’ On the vendor side, we try to get the presidents, the VPs of sales, sales directors, or the founders of businesses.”

In addition, OpenRoom provides a small how-to tutorial to guide people through making the most of their meeting time. “We advise them not to fill their time with 15 minutes’ worth of PowerPoint slides, for example,” Emma says. “It is very much a get-to-know-you exercise, a market-intelligence gathering exercise, and a chance to really find out whether or not there is a synergy.”

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Interestingly, they often hear from a DSO that they don’t want to meet manufacturer X. “But then they have 15 minutes with them, and they come away with their minds completely turned around, because they’ve discovered that manufacturer X actually has a brand-new solution that is entirely relevant to their business. So, I would say to everybody, prepare to be surprised and prepare to be open,” Emma advises.

Fiona adds, “I know it sounds a bit schoolmarm-ish, but the really obvious thing is you’ve got two ears and one mouth. I think that’s fundamentally what it’s about: listen, don’t talk.”

In Terms of Procurement…

“I think procurement is an interesting thing,” Fiona says. “We’re working with Bill Neumann at Group Dentistry Now and have done a survey focused on the procurement process with him a few times. We’ve surveyed the DSOs in North America, Europe, and APAC about who makes the decisions, and how do they make them? And what’s the best way to introduce a new product? And then some generic things: What are your concerns? Is it the economy? Is it recruitment and retention? Is it regulatory? And then finally, what are you evaluating?”

Depending on the organization’s size, it may be the DSO owner who makes all the decisions, or there could be an entire department devoted to procurement. Either way, procurement immediately impacts the bottom line for any business. “Some have solid evaluation processes in place and are not swayed by cool advertising,” Fiona says. “There is a lot of variation in how long they take to evaluate something and how many people are involved in making decisions. It’s actually a hugely complex part of the business, but utterly essential.”

Emma says that many of their technology suppliers, across their entire event portfolio, have offered attendees unique opportunities. “Because people, especially the startups, really need to experience technology before they can decide whether to go ahead with it, if they come away with one or two trials, that’s a real bonus. The events have done their jobs when someone says, ‘I managed to get a trial with X, Y, and Z,’ and then I’m happy.”

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"Contrary to that mindless traipse around a large trade show, where you’ve got stand upon stand and you never get to see the person you really wanted to speak to, with OpenRoom you know exactly who and when you are going to meet. It’s really so efficient,” Fiona explains. “It also means you can prep for those meetings. You can research them through LinkedIn or the good old internet. You can go in super prepared.”

This Year’s Program

Among the features of this year’s conference are a panel discussion about the impact of the gender shift in dental schools, focusing on what dentistry—which is going to be increasingly powered by women—is going to look like. The future of AI in dentistry will be covered. There will be 5-minute presentations from new and innovative suppliers on what they’re doing to solve problems. “And people are always fascinated by private equity,” Fiona says. “Is it the bogeyman, or is it the savior? So, somebody will be dispelling the myths around private equity.”

The AI companies attending the event include DentalMonitoring, which is the event headline partner this year, as well as Dent.AI and Overjet. One fairly new procurement company, Method Procurement Technologies, is also participating. 

And the key findings of this year’s Group Dentistry Now survey will be presented. “We’ll also tease out some of the differences between North American DSOs and their counterparts in Europe and Asia,” Fiona notes. “In fact, we’re going to live stream a presentation by Bill Neumann into the Asia event in August and the European event in October because we think they will be interested in what’s going on in North America.”

What Are the Conversations, and How Do They Compare or Differ Among Countries? 

The UK dental groups and dentists feel very let down by their representation in government,” Fiona explains. “They weren’t considered frontline health services and were actually closed down during the pandemic. You can imagine the backlog and the terrible impact that’s had on oral health in general. Whereas I think in America it was recognized that they needed to keep dental offices open. Another distinction is recruitment; and retention seems to be the single-most vexing matter, regardless of which part of the world you’re in.”

“Particularly in dental,” Emma adds.

“It’s not often that I can see some upsides from the pandemic,” Fiona continues, “but certainly the fact that it has turbocharged teledentistry to a degree is a game changer. Would it have happened ultimately? Yes. But has it been really accelerated? Absolutely.”

What Other Global Differences Do You See?

“Again, because the US is so much more advanced with the DSO model, there are partnership models and cooperatives coming out of the woodwork,” Emma replies. “Europe and the UK aren’t there yet, and APAC, with the exception of Australia, definitely isn’t. So that is a difference in terms of the buying model.”

“Everybody is following the model that’s been set over in the US,” Fiona adds. “This is driven a lot by private equity because they are hugely interested in this sector. We have what’s called ‘creeping privatization’ going on in the UK, where traditionally dentistry has been provided by the National Health Service. That’s slowly being eroded. Insurance is a less mature market over here. And there’s more specialization in North America. You’ve got children’s dental specialists and implant specialists. We’ve yet to see that in Europe, the UK, or the rest of the world. You’ll find orthodontists, but that’s about it.”

What’s Trending in Your Other Markets?

“I think veterinary faces similar trends in consolidation to dental, although it’s slightly behind,” Emma says. “We’re seeing tele-veterinary. Veterinary also has big concerns over recruitment. It is a very female-driven sector in the UK, US, and Europe. And there is a lot of focus on customer engagement using social media and technology to gain some traction and loyalty from their customers.”

“And, again, private equity is all over it,” Fiona adds.

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OpenRoom has launched a new event for the US eye care market for optometry retail. “We’re using that as a launchpad for 10-minute meetings, which means people will have more meetings, but they’ll be shorter and sharper,” Fiona says. “We’ll let you know how that goes.”

More Details About the Company

Fiona describes OpenRoom as tiny. “We’re a very small team with 15 people, but we’ve got a fantastic team of young people, and they’re very attracted by the travel element. It’s really important that they spend face-to-face time with people who they’ve been emailing with and phoning for the last six months or so. That client-facing opportunity at the events is really critical. We normally have four of us at an event. DentalForum USA 2022 is going to be a big one, so we are going to really splash out and have five of us.”

“A lot of people are very surprised,” Emma adds. “They feel we punch above our weight once they work out how small we are.”

Final Words

“We really like the people in this particular sector,” Fiona confides. “One of our regular delegates said a really sweet thing that I thought was bang on the money. He told us he treats this event a bit like his summer camp. He comes back, he’s reconnecting with his old friends and he’s making new ones. A lot of them say it’s two or three days that they see as a highlight in their calendar. And long may that continue!”

Emma adds, “During the pandemic, in 2020 when we were unable to run our in-person event, we held a virtual event where we just focused on the one-on-one meetings. I think we had about 30 Zoom rooms running at once. It was quite stressful, but we got a lot of support. Even though it was online, people really liked the format. It’s definitely not the same, but we still managed to put something on for the market at that time.”

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About Fiona Horan & Emma Faure


About Fiona Horan
Fiona began her career in marketing, working with trade exhibition organizer Blenheim. There she was responsible for a small group of trade shows including the Forecourt Show, which ultimately led to the PetroForum events. Spotting a gap in the market, Fiona founded OpenRoom in 2004.

About Emma FaureEmma_Faure
Emma’s early career included spells at Blenheim and Reed Exhibitions Group where she worked as Marketing Manager on a host of industry trade shows. She then ran her own marketing and PR consultancy, Out of House Marketing, before founding OpenRoom in 2004.

OpenRoom Events Ltd.
OpenRoom is based in London and was founded in 2004 with a launch business forum in India. The company initially specialized in oil and gas but has expanded its portfolio to include events covering retail, healthcare (dental, pharmacy, optical/audio) and veterinary.

At the heart of everything we do are our company values. We care about our clients and about building events that deliver value to all our delegates. Our business depends on nurturing strong relationships with customers, business partners, and suppliers. Everyone in our team is committed to delivering results and high-quality events for our delegates. We foster an entrepreneurial spirit, not just seeking feedback but acting on it. We’re proud of what we do; always learning, always improving.

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