January 2018
Volume 14, Issue 1

Success and Survival

Bill Marais, RDT

Success and survival are intertwined in the world of dental technology and measured dissimilarly by all technicians. In defining one's own success, one considers both personal and career successes. Personally, I cannot separate the two; my professional success allows for my personal success and ultimately, the survival of my business. Throughout the years, it has been a challenge to keep our dental lab afloat amid severe changes in the economy and the world of dentistry/dental technology, especially those related to outsourcing, digitalization, and corporatization. Our lab has survived because we were able to emerge as a small, specialty dental lab.

In Disa Dental Studio's early years, we employed a few technicians and worked according to an in-lab time schedule. For most restorations and fabrications, we provided a 10-day, in-lab turnaround time. The workflow was unpredictable, we worked grueling hours, and I needed to adapt myself and my lab to meet the time demands of the clients.

After attending courses at the Las Vegas Institute for Advanced Dental Studies, I developed a name for full mouth reconstruction, and our lab grew. I found it equally important to attend the courses designed for the dentists, which taught me to view problems from their point of view. My presence at these courses became our top marketing tool. Work was increasing, but the unpredictability and chaos continued. In 2008, I attended a lecture by William G. Dickerson, DDS, FAACD, LVIM, FIAPA, LVIF, in which he told dentists that they could not have a practice that was both high-end and production oriented. His words were life changing for me, and I returned from Las Vegas determined to implement them in the lab. I wanted our lab to evolve into a high-end, specialty dental lab.

In order to dedicate the time, planning, and creativity necessary for every high-end case, it was impossible to work within the constraints of our revolving, 10-day turnaround time schedule. When we switched to the scheduling of individual cases to accommodate the high-end work, we lost 80% to 90% of our clients.

There were several reasons for that exodus of clients. First, dentists wanted the quick sale and were nervous patients would change their minds about treatment with too much wait time. Second, the front office staff at many of our clients' offices were not prepared to learn a new system (ie, scheduling cases with the lab). And third, egos were involved in some situations, making clients insistent about determining the due dates instead of the lab.

Initially, losing those clients was a tough blow to both my pride and pocket. I moved the lab to our home and continued our commitment to offering a high-end service. Because the remaining clients were the invested, committed, caring, and passionate dentists for whom we wanted to do high-end work, the initial client loss was actually a blessing, and the blessing continues today. We respond to phone calls, emails, and messages from prospective clients every day, and the fact that we schedule lab cases is definitely a deterrent to most. Any negative attitude expressed about our scheduling is perceived as a red flag, and we don't pursue those accounts.

I cannot stress enough the importance of building a loyal, positive, and respectful relationship with your dentists over time. There is no room for lab-hopping clients in a small, boutique-style lab. After the completion of many cases together, a solid, respectful relationship develops between the dentist and the lab technician. My valued friend and client, Claudia Denes, DMD, articulates a dentist's perspective, noting, “Irrespective of how amazing the new technology is or how good my clinical and technical skills are, the skills of an artistically gifted dental technician breathe life into esthetic restorations with form and function. There is no such thing as a ‘perfect' dentist/technician relationship. There is a lot of ongoing work needed in order to grow together, and both sides need to participate.”

The success and survival of the small, specialized lab depends not only on the adaptability of the technician, but also on the relationships forged with clients. On a daily basis, I corroborate, share techniques, and chat with a small number of invaluable, loyal, and accomplished industry friends. We all aspire to the same standard of excellence and strive to strengthen the niche of the small, specialized dental lab.

About the Author

Bill Marais, RDT, is the co-owner of Disa Dental Studio.

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