Decades-Old Principles Still Work for Nowak
Brandi Nowak prioritizes customer service just as her grandfather did when he started Nowak Dental Supplies
Benny Nowak loved the dental laboratory profession. When he was 11 years old and his father passed away, Benny became a dental technician to support his family. Years later he was devastated when a lung disease eventually forced him to leave the bench, his granddaughter Brandi Nowak says.
In order to stay close to the profession, Benny and his wife, Helen, started a distribution business in 1944. Benny sold supplies to dentists and laboratories out of his bag, and Helen handled the bookkeeping.
"Whatever the manufacturers sent him was what he sold that day," Brandi says.
In his second year, Benny recorded sales of only $2,000, but he persevered and built a thriving business. Brandi and her brother, Shawn, are now third-generation owners of Nowak Dental Supplies.
"I'm not sure how he survived the first few years, but he did, and slowly but surely he grew the business," Brandi says. "He focused on customer service. He worked hard to be everybody's go-to person for not only supplies but also knowledge. When dentists or laboratories had questions, they knew to call him. We still do that today. We train ourselves and our team so we know what we're talking about when customers call us for information."
Another philosophy Benny used to build the company was treating every laboratory the same, regardless of size.
"Whether it was a one-person laboratory or a 50-person laboratory, everybody received special attention, and that is another principle that we maintain today," Brandi says.
The parallels do not end there, however. Like Benny, Brandi and Shawn were forced to start the business almost from scratch—61 years later. Hurricane Katrina destroyed their building in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 2005, filling it with 15 feet of water. When they finally went back in, they found debris from as far as two blocks away. They were left with nothing but a backup disk of records—and Benny Nowak's bag, which had been stored on a shelf and somehow had managed to survive the storm.
"We struggled with whether to reopen," Brandi says. "It was a difficult decision because we were left with nothing. One backup disk was all that was left of Nowak Dental."
Drawing inspiration from the bag, they decided to reopen the business, but like Benny's first few years, the weeks following Katrina were difficult. Brandi, Shawn, their father, and their aunt started working out of their father's home with no employees, no merchandise and just one phone line. Adding call waiting was not a priority for the phone company as so many people were without phones entirely at the time, so the Nowaks just tried to keep their calls short.
"We had to ask, ‘Can we really do this,'" Brandi says. "I held on to the fact that my grandfather's bag had survived the storm, and this was something we needed to do. He started a wonderful legacy from scratch, so we could start it again despite having no building and merchandise."
After 3 to 4 weeks, they moved into a new building in Carriere, Mississippi. Not long after that, the Nowaks encountered another challenge when a dump truck drove through their building, destroying one side and spilling dirt all over the floor. Still, they persevered, and today Nowak Dental is even larger than it was before the storm. The company was named the National Association of Dental Laboratories' Supplier of the Year in 2012.
"Every year, we are growing," Brandi says. "New technology comes out constantly. It is a growing and changing field, but if we keep customer service at the forefront of our company, then we will continue to have success."
Indeed, despite everything that has changed in the dental industry over the years, Brandi and Shawn Nowak have rebuilt Nowak Dental Supplies the same way Benny Nowak built it six decades earlier. No matter how large the company gets, however, its focus remains on exceptional, personalized service for all clients, regardless of size, just as it was for Benny in 1944.
"I think he would be so proud," Brandi says. "He loved the laboratory business so much."
Nowak Dental Supplies At-A-Glance
Founded: 1944 by Benny and Helen Nowak
Current Owners: Brandi and Shawn Nowak
Headquarters: Carriere, Mississippi (previously New Orleans, Louisiana)
Awards: 2012 NADL Supplier of the Year
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