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Identifying Early Advantages in a Changing Market
Laboratory leverages its niche through technology and teamwork
When Reed B. Nunnally, now president of Derby Dental Laboratory, first considered joining his father’s business, what piqued his interest most was becoming involved in an industry that was in a state of transition. Since his father had started the laboratory in 1987, “The industry had been the same for the decades. Then with the emergence of new technologies and the potential for growth, it was becoming an interesting challenge,” Nunnally says.
After graduating from the University of Louisville with a business degree in marketing, Nunnally joined his father’s business in 2010, even though he admittedly knew absolutely nothing about the dental laboratory business. “Fortunately for me, I’ve loved the transition,” he says. “I can’t say enough about the team and the industry as a whole. And my father, David K. Nunnally, has been a great mentor and a vital part of our success.”
Located in Louisville, Kentucky, Derby Dental Laboratory was an early adopter of advanced technical and business strategies to succeed in the changing environment. “My father saw that CAD/CAM restorations were the future,” Nunnally says. “Derby became the largest zirconia producer in the area when it was new. The technology was pretty bad at the time, but we stuck with it. Derby continued to bring in more advanced equipment and better our quality, and over time the materials themselves improved. Now the digital laboratory is at the core of our business—our main growth and our niche.”
While the technicians are vital to Derby’s consistent quality, “We also depend on quality equipment, and we’ve invested heavily in that area,” Nunnally says. “For example, we believe that sintering is one of the most critical aspects in making full-contour zirconia as lifelike as possible. For that, we want equipment that’s consistent, that’s going to hold up over time—equipment we’re confident in. It’s a huge headache for us if we come in and find something has gone wrong in the sintering process overnight.” For that reason, Derby chose a trusted company with a long-term reputation for quality products—the Infinity ZR sintering furnace from Whip Mix.
One advantage of the Infinity ZR is its larger-than-average capacity. “However, as with any oven, you have to find that balance of how many units for how long and how hot,” Nunnally explains. “With Whip Mix, we’ve had great success. We fast fire the furnaces during the day with reduced unit counts but at night load them up with a lot of units. In the morning they’re ready for us, so it truly is versatile.” Nunnally also favors the Infinity ZR sintering furnace for production of very complex, high-dollar restorations such as Prettau bridges. The restorations can set in the oven individually and upright with the support structures needed for sintering.
“It’s very important to heat evenly,” Nunnally adds. “Otherwise you can have warpage on large bridges or the translucency isn’t quite as good. We get very consistent products out of this oven, and I believe that it’s not only the even heating, but a quality heat (the rise and hold temperatures).”
The Infinity ZR offers the quality of a higher-end oven at a value price. “We have 10 sintering furnaces and for us, redundancy is extremely important,” Nunnally says. “At its price, we’re able to have multiple sintering ovens, and I would prefer any day to have back-ups, instead of all our production hinging on a couple furnaces.”
As early users of zirconia, Derby had to work with sintering furnaces that offered only one sintering program. “If you poll any two labs, they’re going to sinter products a little differently—we’ve all come up with our own way that we feel makes the best product,” Nunnally says. With Infinity ZR’s 30 user-programmable sintering programs with up to 4 stages, Derby can achieve consistent results to its high company standards.
“A dental laboratory is a different type of business,” Nunnally explains. “Every case is specialized; every doctor wants something unique from us esthetically and in terms of function. That’s the challenge. We’re a production laboratory, but we want our clients to feel as if we were a boutique lab—we know you and you know us, and we’ll try to give you that custom product every time.”
In addition to its technological investments, Derby was one of the first laboratories in the area to have an external sales representative, and now the business has four. “We have a great sales team. We’re still a regional laboratory. We like that close-to-home feel and true relationship selling,” Nunnally says. “We walk into clients’ offices and build relationships with them, and hopefully they want to send us work, and our work will stand up to their standards.
“One sale does us little good,” he continues. “We’re looking for 40–50 cases from a dentist per month, and a 20-year relationship—adding up to thousands of transactions with every one of our customers, which we are expected to do correctly and on time.”
As another factor in Derby’s success, Nunnally credits their involvement with TEREC, NA (Technical Research Consortium of North America), a strategic alliance of leading regional dental laboratories across the United States and Canada that meets throughout the year. “They’ve been a great asset to me, sharing technical, marketing, and management knowledge,” he says. “We go to these meetings and come back with so much information. We help one another become better companies.”
With these strategies in place, Derby has experienced explosive growth over the last 5 years, doubling its business. When Derby moved into its current 20,000 sq ft facility, they never would have dreamed they would outgrow it, but they have. They have recently purchased a new building with plans to be moved in by summer of 2015. “It’s been a wild ride, but I cannot take the credit,” Nunnally says. “The true credit belongs with my team and colleagues. Without full buy in from our team, the change to a digital laboratory would not have succeeded as it has. Also, support from great vendors like Whip Mix and friends like TEREC has been invaluable to our success.”
For more information, contact: WhipMix