Inside Dental Technology
June 2015
Volume 6, Issue 6

5 Secrets to Help the Small Laboratory Get Ahead

When the big guy moves into the neighborhood, what do you do?

By Deborah Curson-Vieira

Most people agree that a little healthy competition is a good thing. But if you are a small laboratory owner, you may be faced with a quandary when the competition suddenly becomes a large corporate laboratory. Like many small business owners, when a corporate group moves into your area, your first instinct may be to lower your prices.

However, this may not be the ideal first step. Instead, recognize how your laboratory is different from the large laboratories, and identify the areas in which you can compete. When you immediately lower prices to compete, you are forced to work faster, often with lesser-quality materials, and make decisions you otherwise wouldn’t make. You are sacrificing quality.

When you lower your prices, you also tend to attract a specific type of customer, who may be more demanding. These clients want faster and cheaper work and tend to fail to value the level of effort and artistry required for dental restoration. Customers who are not driven solely by price understand that you get what you pay for and prefer quality to a low price.

However, you cannot sustain price differences without substantial differentiation. As you begin to move away from price as the only point of distinction, how do you set yourself apart and define quality for your customers and laboratory? Successful laboratories will identify the most important triggers in the customer experience and over-deliver on them to build strong partnerships with their customers. The following is a list of triggers.

Relationships and Communication

A significant drawback for larger laboratories is their size. Your strength is the personal relationships you and your team have built with customers. A recent survey found that the desire for personal service and easy communication was one of the reasons respondents didn’t feel comfortable working with overseas laboratories. High levels of communication and partnerships with technicians are a key advantage for a smaller dental laboratory.

The ability to support and be involved in the local dental community is another differentiator. Spending 3 days at a state dental meeting may not offer an initial return on investment, but the long-term payoff in supporting your local dental societies and dental schools is important for building brand recognition and loyalty.

Passion and Knowledge

We all know passion can ignite reactions and create results, which can be a good thing. Smaller laboratory owners have the advantage that they probably started their business because of a passion for the industry and patients. Share that passion and knowledge gained from years of experience by bringing dentists and their teams to your laboratory. Be involved at dental meetings, study clubs, and community events. Your dentist-clients are looking to you for advice on materials and rely on your industry information to help them make decisions on patient care. Your knowledge and experience is often worth the higher price.


The top reason dentists switch laboratories is not price, but rather consistency in quality and turnaround times. Highlighting your quality-control procedures, technical experience, and on-site production can help differentiate you from a large competitor.


Small laboratories can have an immediate leg up on competition with the service levels they provide. Leverage your size, relationships, passion, and knowledge to go above and beyond for your customers.

As a smaller business, you are likely to be more nimble and able to adapt to trends and customer requests much quicker than a larger laboratory. You can respond on a more personal level. Do you have account managers or technicians who provide in-office consultations? More than likely, an overseas or corporate laboratory doesn’t have that ability.

Understanding Your Customers

What is your market, and who are your customers? If you say all dentists are your customers, you probably don’t know your market well enough. Focus on the types of offices that use your laboratory and understand their needs. Ask yourself what problems they have and how you can help them. How can you add value to their practices? How can you help them in ways a larger laboratory can’t?

The Bottom Line

As the dental laboratory landscape continues to change, recognize where and how your laboratory can compete. Improving the customer experience and offering the personal service that your larger competitors can’t offer will help you redefine the meaning of quality and value for your customers.

Deborah Curson-Vieira is Customer Care Director for Dental Prosthetic Services in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

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