Small business: Expanding practices - Frances Pitsilis

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Dr Frances Pitsilis, owner of the medical practice Dr Frances Pitsilis and Skinfresh Clinic. She also has a professional speaking, media and TV work career. She speaks to groups, gives seminars and lectures to educate about chronic illness and cosmetic medicine. Last year, she was in the medical series, Is Modern Medicine Killing you? on TV One.

Dr Frances Pitsilis.
Dr Frances Pitsilis.

What is your core business?

Depending on how you look at it, my core business is really everything I do. I am in the business of "selling good health". The result of this is that not only will my customer/ patient feel and function better, but they will look better on the outside. I help people with chronic illnesses and seek to educate the public about how to be healthier and look better as a result.

Most people may think that my core business is helping people with chronic illnesses. They come to me because they can't sleep, they are tired, they are not functioning properly, they are anxious, they can't think or remember properly, they have hormone problems or they have just been unwell and have been everywhere and tried everything and nothing has helped. The conditions related to these complaints may include - irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, Fibromyalgia syndrome, insomnia, depression and burn out .

My job is to unravel what is really, too much or too little of anything. Most of my patients are either deficient in something or have too much of something else. The trick is to work out what it is and to know in what order and how to go about correcting these imbalances.

Tell me about your skincare business, Skinfresh Clinic and how it relates to the core business.

If the chronic illness business is my core business, then on first glance, many would think that the cosmetic business is an add on. Wrong. As a doctor interested in chronic conditions that included pain, many years ago, I learnt about and became an expert in the use of Botulinum Toxin for facial pain, tension headache and migraine. This led to my interest in doing more in the cosmetic field and what was quite interesting is that my research in this area taught me that to look good on the outside, you have to be good on the inside. So now, cosmetic or appearance medicine, as it is known in New Zealand, is really about not enough of something and or too much of something else.

I added to my core business of chronic illness, something that naturally grew from it - cosmetic medicine, because ultimately they are both helped by the same things.

Why did you set up the skincare clinic?

I set up the skincare/ cosmetic treatment business because I found myself missing the hands on work such as mole removal which I used to do as a General Practitioner. As a chronic illness GP I wanted something to do with my hands. After I learnt to use Botulinum toxin for pain, I decided I would enjoy doing dermal fillers - I found I had a natural gift for this. Now, no matter how busy I am, I always fit in patients for lip and liquid facelift treatments. With this type of aesthetic work, I think you either 'have it or don't have it", and I think I have it. I really enjoy the break from "brain work" by doing exacting but creative things with my hands - the dermal fillers. I love to see the look on my patients' faces when they like the instant result.

As a result of going into aesthetics over 10 years ago, I felt a responsibility to learn about how health and diet affect the skin. I was interested to learn that almost everything that helps internal health also helps the appearance and health of the skin. Now I have lectured several times internationally about this subject.

What market are you meeting with the skincare division?

I estimate that my market is 35- 65 year olds - mostly women. The age will depend on what treatment is being asked about. Younger women often ask about quick fixes for wrinkles and blemishes. In between ages want lip enhancements and non surgical nose jobs with dermal filler. Older women want to invest in their skin with good skincare. All patients/ clients are most interested in treatments that will give the best results with minimal time off or discomfort, and this is what my clinic nurses and I specialize in.

What has the response been from patients?

I think the patients like what we do. In particular, they like that we know about the best nutrition and supplementation and what to prescribe internally as well as externally for the skin. They comment that its like a one stop shop. The cosmetic patients end up feeling and funtioning better from corrected deficiencies and improved internal health.
And once some of the chronic illness patients feel better, they become interested in looking better - I take that as a sign they are getting better.

At what cost did you set it up? Have you continued to invest in it?

My initial cost in setting up the cosmetic side of my practice was very small, because I started with only injectable treatments and skincare - these are consumables. However, a few years ago, I invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in laser and light based therapy. This meant I had to borrow the money to fund a very expensive machine and I paid more to buy a medical standard machine. Now my clinic are the national trainers for this technology. This has given us confidence in what we are doing, and I'm sure this is extended to our clientelle. If you are serious about providing a full service then eventually, you must invest.

In the last few years, we have continued to buy new technology that keeps us competitive in our market. This includes International research standard skin analysis equipment, skin stem cell treatments and other technologies.

Once again, you must invest.

What has your brand expansion done for the central business's turnover and has it led to other ideas?

The laser / light machine has helped us to compete with other clinics that offer similar treatments. I discovered that the gentle laser modality of my machine is great for healing wounds and injuries as well as killing fungal toenail infections, so that ended up being a bonus. We charge for fungal toenail treatment. However, the gentle laser has helped me do some charity work for the community.
Also, the skin regenerative treatment technologies have given me an insight into regenerative technologies for internal health. So the two sides of the business have helped each other.

Do you have plans for other businesses?

I personally do not have plans to set up in other places or franchise what I do in my clinic. This is because I wish to stay in Milford and have a straight forward life as I am quite busy with my media work. However, I am currently working on a special research project that will help me be able to offer new therapies to chronically ill patients that do not respond to conventional treatments. I am working hard on this research and in getting this new treatment developed and ready for my clinic.

I am always researching to learn more so I can help more people. The more I know, the more I can help. You cannot stay still or knowledge and innovation will leave you behind.

I am restless and know that the amount of information out there is infinite and I will never catch up. Remember this, and you will not be at risk or become dangerously complacent.


Next week, we look at how SME owners and their senior staff can benefit from a good business coach or a good management course. With a plethora of business coaches out there, not all experiences have been positive. We want to hear all your stories good and bad and collect some tips on finding one who will make a real difference.

- NZ Herald

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