A pair of Pearl District wellness entrepreneurs find success through mutual mentoring.
The life of a business owner can be something of a pain in the neck—managing employees, pleasing customers, meeting payroll. But when dentist Katie Ball was presented with the opportunity to take over Bling Dental in summer 2013, she already had an idea of whom she’d trust to help her handle the various aches and stresses of entrepreneurship: Dr. Laila Marie Noll.
As a chiropractor, Noll could certainly ease Ball’s tense muscles, the result of long days working over patients reclined in her office’s signature massaging dental chairs. But as the owner of another health-related Pearl District business, Asula Wellness, Noll played an even more vital role. “When I was deciding whether to buy Bling, the patients were a big factor, as was the neighborhood,” says Ball.
“But I would not have bought the business if I didn’t have Dr. Laila as an example. I saw how she was able to run a successful and amazing clinic in the Pearl, and it gave me confidence in myself. I thought, You know what? I can do that, too.”
“In Portland in particular, people are interested in finding meaningful work, and having jobs where someone cares about their development.”
The relationship actually started with Noll in the role of patient. She’d just moved into the neighborhood, both to live and to work, and she needed a dentist. She noticed Bling while on a stroll and decided to give it a shot. “It was cute, and it was convenient,” she remembers. She made an appointment. In 2010, Ball joined the practice and became Noll’s dentist. After each session of “open wide” business, the two—both in their early thirties— chatted about life and work. And when Ball eventually developed some neck and shoulder pain, Noll became her chiropractor, furthering their opportunities for conversation.
Ball also paid attention to the way Noll managed Asula. There were the extras that made visits to Asula more pleasant— such as a sauna for patient use—and the way staff coordinated to provide unhurried, focused attention. Obviously, some of these features wouldn’t easily translate to a dental practice. (“A sauna would just be weird,” jokes Ball.) But she learned plenty from Asula’s business principles. “Dr. Laila’s office is amazing,” says Ball. “I didn’t just want to own a dental office, I wanted it to be an amazing office, too.”
It wasn’t until after Ball bought Bling that she told Noll how pivotal her example had been in the decision. “I had tears in my eyes,” Ball recalls. “I told her, ‘You inspired me just by doing what you’re doing, caring so deeply, and being so passionate about every detail.’ I don’t think she realized what an impact she’d had on me.”
In the years since, the friendship and informal mentorship have continued. For instance, recently Noll initiated a policy of meeting twice a year with each of her 29 employees over coffee, to discuss how things are going in the office. “From this, I’ve learned how to keep clients happier and staff feel like part of the team,” says Noll, who also cites a number of other changes that have resulted from these conversations, such as revising how patients check in and restructuring time off to help workers feel better rested. “In Portland in particular, people are interested in finding meaningful work, and having jobs where someone cares about their development,” she says. As the owner of a small business, Noll is able to address these things.
Noll shared this strategy with Ball, who initiated it at Bling. The two even meet with their employees at the same cafe, Sisters Coffee Company.
“I feel like we have so much to learn from one another,” Noll says. “There’s absolutely a community of business owners helping each other in the Pearl.”
– Alison Stein | Photos by Scott Gerke