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In Conversation with Courtney Schiefelbein of Smile Pop

Describe your business in a few words?

Smile Pop is an orthodontic and teeth whitening office in New York City where we want to be the best part of a person’s day and make each day feel like a blessing. The Smile Pop Team strives to not only make people look their best, but feel their best, too.

What made you take the leap to start your own business?

I got tired of answering to all the males dominating the industry and wanted to put my own spin on orthodontics. Yes, dental offices need to be clean and sterile but they don’t need to feel that way. I wanted patients to come to a place where they felt warm and invited. Many of my patients tell me how much they love coming to see us at Smile Pop because our energy and vibe are always so uplifting to them.

What was your background prior to starting your own business?

Eleven years of school, plenty of late nights and exams, and five years of working for several other orthodontists and dentists in the New York City area. I grew up on a farm in Illinois and never thought I’d be in New York City. But once I realized the midwest charm was lacking there, I decided to stay and make it my own.

Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

I never really knew what an entrepreneur was. The term entrepreneur now is so trendy and hot, but I feel like years ago I had no idea what it was. I’ve wanted to be an orthodontist since I was 13 years old and knew I always liked to go to the beat of my own drum and do things a little differently than everyone else. When I realized that the warm and inviting business model of orthodontics didn’t exist, I knew I had to go out on my own and create it. Many orthodontic dental specialty offices rely on referrals from dentists who send them patients – I built Smile Pop to eliminate that middleman [the dentist] and allow patients to come directly to me.

Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?

My favorite saying is, “Don’t bullshit a bullshitter.” To me this means don’t embellish or lie or make stuff up just to get clients, attention, etc. My marketing plan was to be transparent. I asked my existing patients to write a review for me sharing their honest experience. I started a YouTube channel to educate people about their oral health/smiles/Invisalign journey to make them more aware of what options were available to them. By helping them understand what is going on in their mouth, I was bringing value to them, giving them the power and freedom to decide if they wanted to correct their issues.

We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?

I always say that when I build my second Smile Pop store, it’ll be a cakewalk. When you sign a lease for a New York City retail sidewalk storefront, it’s a big commitment and there’s so much people don’t tell you. I signed a 40 pages lease agreement and understood about 25% of it and wish I understood more. With the pandemic, I had to shut down for 2.5 months yet still pay my NYC retail rent. Then, in the beginning of 2021, an upstairs tenant’s plumber cut the wrong pipe which ended up flooding my brand new office for 2.5 hours, causing me to tear down all my walls and rebuild again! No one really helps you – you have to buckle up and learn as you go.

What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?

I am so proud of Smile Pop because I feel like I not only achieved my goal of creating an environment where I enjoy walking into every week, but where I also can leave the positive impact and inspiration I deeply desire to share with my patients. People think I just create beautiful smiles, but really I’m trying to instill the confidence and joy in people for them to go on and share with the world.

When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?

My mentor told me that you can teach skill, but you can’t teach optimism and personality. When I interview, I look for optimism. I also do this “cotton roll test.” When they come in and do a shadow/trial run, I’ll drop a cotton roll on the floor to see if they pick it up. At Smile Pop, we are a team and no job duty is off limits. 

How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?

We had to shut down our store for 2.5 months and I had to jump online to reach and connect to my existing patients via Zoom. As an orthodontist – where I need to be hands on with my patients – it made it very difficult. Everyone was experiencing some sort of difficulty – myself included – yet I felt like now more than ever I had to step into a larger leadership role not only for my staff but for my patients as well.

What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?

Right now I am currently selling my Smile Pop whitening products online to make professional whitening more accessible and affordable, which is an area I’m actively trying to grow. I’d like to pop up additional Smile Pops in the NYC area and even create our own little charity, too.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?

That life is short – appreciate all the moments – even the bad ones. You get one life to live, so make sure you make life happen for you not to you.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?

That everyone is faking it! Most people don’t know what they are doing in the beginning, but eventually they figure it out. We are all learning and improving after experience.

How have you managed to stay grounded this year?

Over the past year I have had to put a lot more time worrying/talking about my patient’s mental health more so than their dental health. COVID has proven difficult for so many people, and at the same time – life still goes on. I have not only been vigilant during COVID, but I have been cavalier at times, too – even getting married in August 2020 rather than postponing.

Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?

I truly work hard, play hard. I make it a point to stay focused and get as much done as I can during my workday so that when I am done, I can still be a great wife, friend, daughter, and influencer to other people in my life. I am an orthodontist, yes, but I am so much more, too. I have learned to say, “No” to things and have been feeling less guilty about it. If I give away too much of myself to everyone else, I’ll have nothing left to give.

What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?

  • Wake up each day with a grateful heart. Every day above ground is a good day! 
  • Make sure you spend at least one part of your day where it’s just for you – for me it’s when I work out in the morning – this allows me to take care of my needs first (like my sanity)! 
  • Make a list of the top 3 important things you want to achieve in the day. Set some time aside each day to focus on them and do not allow any interruptions – even breaks – to maintain a flow.

What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?

Being an Entreprenista means putting on my big girl pants every day and going out there doing things that aren’t always easy. It means putting the sweat equity in, rising above the downfalls, and celebrating every tiny victory. If I can maintain a positive spirit, even better!

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