Aaron Bushong

Aaron Bushong believes that treating his patients to views of Rib Mountain will help them relax and return.

The pitcher’s mound can be a lonely island, where self-confidence is gold, but it takes a solid team, and sometimes a new venue, to put together a victory.

That’s been the formula for Aaron Bushong, who has Wausau Smiles Dental on a winning streak.

The Rhinelander native pitched at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, as well as for the Wausau-based Wisconsin Woodchucks, where he fell in love with a woman and the area.

“My wife (Jenell) is from here,” he said, “and family is close by. It’s right in the middle of everything.”

As is the new Wausau Smiles location at 301 N. 17th Ave.

Bushong and company moved into the new digs in March but just cut the ribbon at the end digs in March but just cut the ribbon at the end of October.

The timing helped showcase the fall colors as the two-story structure inset to the hillside makes full use of its open view of Rib Mountain and the valley in between.

It’s the newest of Bushong’s six dental practices, which include Green Bay, Belleville near Madison, and a cluster in La Crosse, Onalaska, and West Salem. He gradually acquired them from a single owner in Green Bay, shortly after he left a previous clinic in Wausau and had to practice elsewhere due to a non-compete clause.

In 2014, he had an opportunity to return to Wausau and purchase a clinic from ForwardDental, a major statewide conglomerate with more than two dozen locations, most clustered around Milwaukee.

“It was a failing practice,” said Bushong, recalling that one big challenge was to keep staffers’ chins up during the ownership transition. “You just tell them, ‘Things will get better, you just have to give me some time.’ ”

The $2.5 million facility was financed in large part by a Small Business Administration loan.

The mind-numbingly detailed application process was a learning experience for operations manager Jackie Lucht.

“I learned I never want to do one again,” she half-joked.

But the effort appears to have paid off, as early returns on the new facility have been promising.

“Since we built this, our revenue is four times what theirs was,” he said. “We’ve gone from five hygienists to 14, and we saw 100 new patients just last month.”

One pain point discovered at the old Stewart Avenue multi-tenant space near Applebee’s was a series of inefficiencies. Resolving those led to some of the design at the new facility.

“They had been in that space for 20 years,” Bushong said. “So, there were cabinets with 20 years worth of stuff. We don’t have cabinets here for that reason.”

Not only does that keep the team’s supplies open, visible, and easy to track, stock, and order; it also allowed the design team of Bushong, Lucht, and marketing director Sarah Schueller to make the rooms narrower and fit more into the footprint.

Ten patient rooms — up from eight at the previous space — comprise the southern face of the facility. Each features full-length windows where nervous patients can lie back and gaze out upon Rib Mountain.

Even the instruments and lights, so often placed clunkily in front of the patient at other dental clinics, are positioned behind the visitor here.

Details matter at Wausau Smiles.

“It’s really an overall feel,” Lucht said. “People have a real dental phobia. So, we didn’t want this to look like a dentist office, even with the smell.”

The more relaxed the patient, the easier the path to the desired results, according to Bushong:.

“They’re here, they’re happy, and they’re going to come back,” he said.

Wausau Smiles packs a lot of technology into its new footprint, which occupies only the upper floor while the lower is rented by construction firm Greenfire Management Services.

One piece of equipment allows Bushong to form a fully rotating 3D image of a patient’s teeth and jaw. In at least one case, this enabled him to correctly pinpoint what had been misdiagnosed elsewhere, and treat the patient appropriately.

“Their personality will change,” Bushong said of improved teeth, adding an example of a gentleman who transformed from a dour demeanor to virtually all smiles.

It’s the very real smiles of very real people — never stock images— that Bushong has tapped into as part of the marketing approach he takes when stacked up against national dental conglomerates.

“They can’t market their people because they’re not around long enough,” Bushong said. “The advantage you have is you.”