Thinking Outside The Box
Laboratories use unique business strategies to excel in spite of a down economy
Many laboratories have found themselves struggling in the current economy. Tried-and-true operational business strategies are just not yielding the same proven results as they did in the past. Now, some open-minded individuals in the laboratory industry with fresh ideas have implemented unorthodox business strategies that are proving immensely successful in today’s economic landscape. Each one of these business men and women have taken a different approach to running their respective laboratories, however, their ability to implement original business strategies without compromising quality or customer service sets them apart from the rest of the pack, and has allowed them to excel in a way that traditional thinkers could not have imagined.
Addressing Unmet Needs
Many of the laboratories boasting unique business strategies recognized unmet needs in the dental technology industry as an opportunity to expand their reach. One digital solution provider focused on assisting laboratories expand their product portfolios and grow profitability is Core3dcentres (core3dcentres.com), a digital production centre with manufacturing facilities in seven countries servicing an immense network of more than 800 laboratories all over the world. By joining forces four years ago the founders of Core3d have created a global company that can take advantage of combined manufacturing resources and know-how to better meet market demand, benefit from enhanced purchasing power, and offer their laboratory partners the most comprehensive digital solutions suite in the market today. Mark Maier, the president of Core3dcentres’ North American Operations and Chairman of Core3dcentres International N.V., says that the creation of Core3dcentres was a function of the dramatically changing laboratory market. “As little as five years ago, there were only a handful of closed CAD/CAM systems to choose from in the dental market and the sole product was zirconia copings and frameworks. But a closed system is inflexible and only as strong as the weakest link in the chain. And, with a weak economic backdrop, dramatically intensifying competition, and price compression we needed flexibility to advance and expand our offering, so we moved to an open architecture industrial milling platform where our customers could select their own scanner and CAD system, and we could provide the most flexible, precise, and productive restorative work-flow solutions for their needs. In recent years, the CAD/CAM options have greatly expanded to support comprehensive aesthetics and implant dentistry—the core strengths of Core3d and the prime areas where we can help customers differentiate and grow their business.
As a global network of digital production centres, Core3dcentres is able to offer their customers one of the broadest portfolios of products in the dental technology industry. “We can process every restorative material for every clinical indication. We’re supporting all the biggest branded materials, and we have our own internal brands too. Our company functions as a one-stop-shop for our customers and we can get them pretty much anything they could possibly need,” says Maier.
In addition to the customers who take advantage of Core3dcentres’ massive product offerings, the laboratories under the Core3dcentres’ umbrella also benefit greatly from the company’s branding and support. “Core3dcentres is a global business with local strengths,” says Maier. “We want to help the laboratories in our network grow their businesses, and we see ourselves as a strong channel to help labs develop a full-service lab capability and to compete on a value-added basis rather than on price,” he says.
Bringing specialized products to a broader audience and investing in higher education to provide needed counseling to clients is the mission of Lenny Marotta, CDT, MDT, PhD and owner of Marotta Dental Studio ( www.marottadental.com) in Farmingdale, New York. His laboratory is meeting the unaddressed needs of his customers by being a resource for them. His mission is to provide clients with assistance and guidance whenever it is required. “I think that the relationship I have with my clients is very different than the kind of relationship most laboratories have with their customers,” he says. Marotta’s background is unique by laboratory industry standards—he has advanced degrees in fields like biomedical engineering, and is recognized as a Master Dental Technician. With such a background, Marotta is able to not only assist his customers with bread-and-butter services such as crowns and bridges, but is also a valuable resource in more complex cases or rescue situations. “My clients are encouraged to come to me when they need help. I will always make time to have a conversation and discuss options with a clinician in the midst of a very difficult case,” he says. Marotta also makes himself available to clinicians who need assistance from a technician chairside, and has even added an operatory to his laboratory. “It’s a service I can provide to my clients that many other laboratories do not offer, and it makes me indispensable in an industry where there often isn’t a lot of communication between the laboratory and the dentist,” explains Marotta.
Marotta has also expanded Marotta Dental Studio’s services by branching out beyond restorative dentistry into the medical arena. “We do a lot of craniofacial work now. We make noses, ears, skull plates for people with head injuries, and prosthetics for kids with cleft palates,” he describes. Marotta believes people in the dental technology industry are currently producing some of the best work in the medical prosthetics field. “Those of us who work for dental laboratories just know so much about prosthetics and prosthetic processes. I think that it’s natural for this industry to move in that direction and provide services for both dental and medical clinicians.” Marotta notes that the reason his laboratory was able to start manufacturing craniofacial prosthetics is because the process requires similar background and equipment. “I can create both dental and the medical prostheses because new CAD/CAM technologies we’ve incorporated into our business is able to handle both. It’s a great way for the dental technology industry to expand its reach into other specialty fields.” Marotta was able to use his own expertise in order to meet the needs of the dental industry, as well as the medical industry, and as a result, Marotta Dental Studios is flourishing.
Demonstrating Industry Awareness
While some innovative laboratory owners are looking to fill a perceived gap in the dental industry, others are using their marketing savvy to approach their operations from a whole new angle. Terry Fohey, CDT and owner of Nucraft Dental Arts is one such laboratory owner. Fohey describes dentistry as a very visual science, and believes that esthetics is not only one of the most important aspects of any given restorative case but also is a business driver. Although many laboratories take photographs of their completed cases to broaden their portfolios, Fohey takes the process a step further. Often he hires a photographer take professional shots of his patients after treatment is completed. “We don’t shoot dental pictures,” explains Fohey. “We shoot human pictures.” With the patient’s permission, Fohey will also have an article written about particularly successful cases and publish the articles, along with some of the photographs, in a local news outlet. This method of marketing his services is unique in dental technology, and allows Fohey’s work to reach a much larger audience than that of many other laboratories in the industry. These articles allow Fohey to bring esthetics front and center, and expose the consumer directly to the work of a specific dentist, and by extension, Fohey’s laboratory. “It shows potential patients the high level of work dentistry is currently capable of providing, and allows the consumer to connect with dentists who are able to perform the type of work they want done.”
These articles also help Fohey develop relationships with his clinician clients, as well as their patients, which leads to increased loyalty and, ultimately, more business. “Relationships are the most important part of any business, especially in a field as personal as dentistry. Allowing someone to stick his or her hands in your mouth requires a lot of trust. As health care professionals, we have to respect the trust that patients put in us and connect with the people we’re working with. Getting to know our patient helps the entire dental industry perform at a higher level,” says Fohey.
But what if the gap you perceive within the immediate dental technology field cannot be filled by local laboratory businesses? This is the problem that Karina Gonzalez, COO/Co-Owner of Innodent Laboratories ( www.innodentlabny.com) in Beacon, New York, found herself facing. Gonzalez, who has more than 20 years experience in the medical/dental profession, is also COO of All Access Dental ( www.allaccessdental.com), managing a group of dental practices located in New York and Florida. When she first started working in dental, Gonzalez was not looking to enter the laboratory industry. However, she was routinely finding that the laboratory work done for her practices was not up to her clinicians’ standards. After some time, she decided that starting her own laboratory was the only way she would be able to consistently control the high-quality work her clinicians demanded. “My business partner and I figured, we know what we want, let’s just build our own laboratory to satisfy our needs,” she says. Gonzalez and her partner recruited talented, published technicians, and leaders in the industry to create the extremely high-end work her practices needed. “We really wanted to enhance our own internal operations from a practice management standpoint,” explains Gonzalez. “And it worked.”
Innodent was conceived as a laboratory only meant to service Gonzalez’s group of practices, however the work created there was of such a high-quality that Innodent began taking on a life of its own. “When the laboratory started to build a roster of clients that weren’t in my network, it was truly a testament to the type of business that we had created,” says Gonzalez. Now, Innodent has been growing exponentially, and recently moved to a new space that is double the size that the laboratory inhabited previously. “We’re hiring new technicians, we’re incorporating new technology, and we’re trying to create a place where technicians can grow and improve their skill set as well,” explains Gonzalez. Innodent’s investment in new technology has enabled the laboratory to compete with overseas markets, while keeping their work in-house. It is Gonzalez’s understanding of the dental industry as a whole that allowed her to build a custom laboratory that catered to her group of practices’ needs. It was an effective tactic, and now Gonzalez finds herself leading an exceedingly successful laboratory in addition to her dental practices.
Offering Unwavering Quality
While a unique business plan helps draw attention to a laboratory, if the business does not produce good work, it will not see a high level of success. One characteristic that all of the afore-mentioned laboratories have in common is an unabashed dedication to the quality of their work. Lenny Marotta passionately explains, “In the laboratory industry you cannot be concerned with nickels and dimes. You have to consistently use the best quality materials, the best technology, and put your best foot forward on every single case.”
Karina Gonzalez agrees, and says that Innodent routinely researches new materials and techniques to ensure they are offering their clients the best restorations possible. “It takes investigation, but we are always able to determine a course of action that offers our clients top-of-the-line products, while maintaining the laboratory’s budget and profit margin.” Gonzalez also believes that in order to provide excellent services for her clients, Innodent must diversify their products and have offerings that appeal to clinicians performing all sorts of restorative work. “You can’t pigeonhole yourself. Not only must your work be excellent, but you need to be able to meet the varying needs of all of your customers,” she says.
Maintaining a high-end business expands beyond the laboratory’s output. Terry Fohey explains that not only must the work be of the highest quality, but laboratories, especially those with unique business plans, must be willing to reach out to their clients and provide the best one-on-one service they can. “I always tell my clinicians and their patients that we’re all going down into the foxhole together, and no one can quit once we enter the foxhole. We are all fighting to give that patient what he or she wants,” he says. The ability to work closely with the dentist and patient allows Fohey to hone his craft and create exceptional restorations, while demonstrating exemplary customer service.
Helping Others Grow
Another quality shared by these companies is a commitment to sharing their knowledge and helping others in the dental technology industry succeed. Mark Maier says that even though Core3dcentres sees itself as a partner for growth in the dental technology industry. “We really want to help our laboratory customers grow their businesses and differentiate themselves by offering a higher level of product,” says Maier. Core3dcentres actively works with their laboratories to provide continuing education and support. “It is critical that we are able to support our laboratories. For example, just because someone buys a scanner does not mean they know how to be productive with it right away. Through education, we can teach these laboratories how to immediately start profiting from new technology and how to incorporate it into their workflow to achieve maximum profitability.” Maier also describes that because Core3dcentres is a global company, they are able to compare how certain technologies fare in different regions and markets. “All of these different markets have different dynamics and some of them move faster than others in certain indications. Since we are a global company, we are able to take different local knowledge and transfer and implement it in other regions. It truly helps our laboratories grow much faster than they would organically.”
Lenny Marotta is also deeply invested in sharing his wealth of industry knowledge, and was recently hired as a part-time faculty member at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ, soon to be merging with Rutgers University). He is also an Associate in Clinical Dental Medicine, a division of Prosthodontics at Columbia University of Dental Medicine, a Clinical Professor at the Institute of Manufacturing Research at SUNY State University of New York at Farmingdale, and an Associate Clinical Professor at New York University College of Dentistry in the departments of Periodontology and the Implant Dentistry Advanced Education program in Prosthodontics and the Department of Biomaterial and Biomimetics. Marotta says that his passion for teaching was instilled in him by his own mentors, “All of my mentors told me that one day I would be teaching others, that one day I would be sharing what they taught me and passing it on. I never forgot that, and now sharing knowledge has become my personal philosophy,” he says.
Marotta is extremely active in the educational areas of the dental technology industry. He often gives tours of his laboratory and operatory, offers apprenticeship opportunities for dental technology students, and generally has an open-door policy for anyone who wants to know more about the industry. “I’m always sharing information,” he explains.
Employees at Marotta Dental Studio also benefit greatly from Marotta’s enthusiasm for education. “I want all of my employees to have an education in dental technology,” says Marotta, who runs a home-study program from the laboratory where employees may earn a masters degree and become Master Dental Technicians. Marotta will also sponsor any employee who wishes to take their CDT exam and become certified. “We have so many opportunities for education here at my laboratory. It benefits everyone in the long term to have such educated and experienced technicians on staff.”
Even in a down economy, there is still a multitude of ways for businesses to succeed. Thinking outside the box allows people to find solutions to problems never before addressed by an industry, or recognize gaps in service that need to be filled. However, even with fresh ideas, success cannot be achieved without a commitment to producing a good, quality product and a desire to learn new things and pass that knowledge onto others. Leaders in the dental technology industry who pursue unorthodox business strategies are able to take their knowledge and apply it in new and innovative ways never seen before. These are people that the industry should keep an eye on; they are shaping the future.