Stronger Than a Hurricane: A Reputation for Always Helping
Shawn Nowak and Nowak Dental Supplies value customer service above all else.
Eleven years ago, Hurricane Katrina decimated Nowak Dental Supplies. Twenty-two feet of water filled the company’s building near New Orleans, ruining everything inside.
In the aftermath, as Shawn Nowak and his sister Brandi trudged through the muddy wreckage, Brandi found one item that had not moved in the storm: the satchel that their grandfather, Benny Nowak, had carried around town when he started the company in 1944, selling door-to-door.
“The satchel was waterlogged and destroyed, but we saw it as a sign: Rebuild,” says Shawn Nowak, now the company’s President. “That was our motivation to persevere. Within 3 weeks, we had purchased a new building and were stocking back up.”
The hurricane forced them to start basically from scratch when it came to tangible assets. They had prepared for a few feet of water by moving everything in the building off the floor onto high shelves, but that effort proved futile. The only physical item that was salvaged was a backup of the company’s software, which Brandi fortunately had thought to take from the building before the storm, so they were able to salvage all of their records.
The family quickly realized, however, that their most important asset remained untouched by the hurricane—Nowak Dental’s reputation for superb customer service. If anything, Katrina helped in that regard by reinforcing the company’s values and strengthening the commitment of Shawn and Brandi to keep the business going for another generation.
“We had a great customer base that supported us tremendously during that time,” Shawn says. “Customers sent gift baskets and called with well wishes, and the NADL helped as well. That showed us that even though we are a corporation, the laboratory industry is still so family-oriented. We really felt the love and decided we should stay in this business and continue doing what our family has done for so many years.”
More Than Just Taking Orders
What the Nowak family has done is help laboratories make the most profitable decisions on supplies purchases by paying attention to them and their needs. Customer service does not mean just being friendly—though Nowak does insist his representatives smile while taking orders on the phone—but it also means helping with recommendations.
“We are not just taking orders by part numbers,” Nowak says. “We know each customer’s ordering history. We can recommend products that might be as good as what they’re currently buying but are less expensive. We can recommend bulk purchases in some cases. Our goal is to do what is best for them.”
The long view is most important. Rather than making slightly more on one sale, Nowak Dental aims to keep its customers for life, and that means helping them remain profitable.
Even in his ownership role, Shawn works directly with many customers. He frequently visits laboratories to evaluate their processes and make recommendations for how they could save money on supplies. Rather than engage in price wars, he makes suggestions for creative purchasing strategies that help both parties.
“I will not just undercut someone else’s price by a penny,” Nowak says. “I want to come up with good, fair, long-term solutions.” Even when he is not traveling, Shawn fields calls and emails from customers at all hours.
“I don’t mind my cell phone ringing all day,” he says. “My customers know I am always there to help them, regardless of official store hours. Somebody from Nowak Dental will always be available for anything a laboratory needs.”
One such situation arose when a laboratory owner on the other side of the country called Nowak after being the victim of a break-in and having everything stolen. The notion of losing everything hit particularly close to home for Nowak after Hurricane Katrina.
“I sympathized with him,” Nowak says. “I told him, ‘I will make sure you have everything in your laboratory tomorrow. I’m not worried about the money right now. I know you will pay eventually.’ To me, it was more important to help get his laboratory back up and running than to worry about the financial aspect.”
That attitude is a primary reason why laboratory owners and managers keep using Nowak Dental. They can feel confident that their supplier is making sure they make the most prudent purchasing decisions.
Because so many laboratories feel that way, Nowak Dental is now even larger than it was before Katrina hit. The company that Benny Nowak started out of his satchel now operates out of a 25 000-square-foot facility and services the entire country.
“No matter how big a company we have become,” Nowak says, “we still believe customer service is the greatest thing we can offer, and we still preach that to all of our representatives and follow through with it on a daily basis.”
4 Key Take Aways
Nowak Dental has a reputation for customer services that dates back to 1944 when Benny Nowak started the company.
Nowak Dental representatives do not just take orders; they track customers’ purchasing histories and make suggestions for alternatives.
Solutions are suggested based on long-term outlook rather than trying to undercut price for one purchase.
President Shawn Nowak personally visits laboratories and fields phone calls and emails to advise customers on the best purchasing decisions.