Written by Bonnie Quick
Dr. Alan D. Shoopak is not your everyday dentist. He is a visionary and a highly successful entrepreneur. His young patients call him “the cool orthodontist.” He wears his hair in the latest style and sports a goatee. He even wears an earring in one ear. This is not the Tampa Bay Dr. Shoopak came to in the late ‘70s, when he came to the University of Tampa from Yonkers, NY, because he wanted to learn how to scuba dive. He started out in college with a major in marine science. Somewhat an adventurer himself, Dr. Shoopak was intrigued by Jacques Cousteau and his underwater explorations on the boat Calypso and initially wanted to follow in Cousteau’s footsteps. But he was observant enough to catch on quickly that perhaps this was not a practical idea for a career.
Dr. Shoopak loved Tampa Bay and learned all about water sports, boating, and the beach. He wanted a lifestyle that was compatible to those desires, and he wanted a profession that would combine his enjoyment of people with his ability to work with his hands. Dentistry filled all the requirements.
After graduating from the University of Tampa in 1979, he went back up north to Boston to further his education, but his plan was always to return to the Tampa Bay area someday to live and practice. He graduated from the Tufts School of Dental Medicine in 1984 with his D.M.D. and an orthodontic certificate. Dr. Shoopak admits it was not easy for him. “I was not highly academic. I had to study and work hard to succeed.” But succeed he did.
When he came back to Tampa after dental school and two years of specialized training, he thought it would be the easiest thing in the world to slip into one of the orthodontic practices and do a traditional apprenticeship before opening his own regular practice. Nothing could have been further from the truth. He got a “this town is too small for all of us” attitude from everyone in the dental community but a new group of guys who were in the process of developing a new concept.
Dr. Shoopak contacted this dental service group that was in their infancy stages of development. This dental group was planning on opening dental practices in high-traffic commercial strip centers and malls. He stepped into a new wave of dental practices that offered one-stop shops for patients. He agreed to work with them to help develop the orthodontic part of this group practice. The rest, as they say, is history.
Dr. Shoopak did not realize how radical this concept was in Tampa Bay and even in the rest of Florida. The professional community had not seen this type of operation before. It was unheard of in 1984 to operate a dental practice in a strip mall, and it was certainly viewed as less than ethical by many to have a stringent advertising campaign. During the early years, the group took many arrows from some members of the professional community who alleged that the advertising arm of this campaign was illegal.
He coined the name Orthodontic Associates of Florida. He implemented an advertising concept that was simple and brand new for dental and medical professionals. They advertised affordability and convenient hours—two things unheard of in the industry. Plus, they dared to mention price. Their mission statement was simple: “Provide State-Of-The-Art orthodontic care as affordable as possible, in the most convenient and efficient environment possible.”
Orthodontic Associates of Florida hoped to attract consumers who thought obtaining orthodontic care was beyond their means—working-class people who were not able to take off work to frequent a dental clinic. The first innovative idea was to forego a huge down payment and to allow people to pay month to month. Traditionally, an orthodontist demanded a large down payment before they would begin active treatment. Not having to come up with a large sum upfront allowed many people to take advantage of an otherwise unaffordable service. This was a big step for the orthodontic professional community to accept.
The second innovation was extended appointment hours, catering to the convenience of patients. In a standard practice, office hours were 9:00am-5:00pm, Monday through Friday. The group stayed open late nights and even offered Saturday hours. Dr. Shoopak also secured the phone number 1-800-4BRACES and 1-855-BRACES-4-U. Patients who called were directed to the location of the office that was the closest to them. This single phone numbers served to be an integral part of his expansion in later years.
In 1986, he was asked by the Department of Professional Regulation in Tallahassee to take place in an “advertising” discussion. “It was a daunting experience. Here I was, only about 18 months in practice, talking to the Department of Professional Regulation that had the authority to pull my license,” said Dr. Shoopak. “But it was a fruitful session and was instrumental in helping develop universal codes and writing the statutes for advertising in dentistry that continue to exist today.”
Early in 1986, Dr. Shoopak partnered with another orthodontist, Dr. Dennis Buchman, who had a practice in Plant City in addition to working with the same group as Dr. Shoopak. “We just happened to be in the same office at the same time one day and began talking. We got together and opened our first office in what is the defunct Tampa Bay Shopping Plaza, across from where the Tampa Bay Buccaneers stadium is now.”September 20, 2013