Is Dentistry Scalable?
Peter Pizzi, MDT, CDT
Recent articles and several top lectures have recently broached the topic of the scalability of the dental profession. Technology has procured a place and private equity has helped to create scalable dental centers and dental groups in many states in the US. In his Zero In On article "Dentistry turned scalable: the graveyard of private practice," Massimo Mazza references the "Starbucks concept" and how dentistry can and will become the next scalable industry. As he details in Onward, How Starbucks Fought for Its Life Without Losing Its Soul, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz demonstrates that his goal was to create a Starbucks on every corner and become the most dominant coffee brand in the world. Obviously, he has succeeded in doing so. But what I think is not quite as obvious is the way in which it was done.
Schultz wanted to create a culture. He fully recognized that as his Starbucks brand grew, so too would small independent coffee businesses, but this did not dissuade him. Schultz's vision for the success of Starbucks did not rest on eliminating the competition. In fact, his creation of a culture surrounding his coffee brand encouraged the growth of independent coffee sellers. In 1980, approximately 13,000 independent coffee shops existed in the US. Today, according to the Specialty Coffee Association of America, there are close to 40,000 coffee shops nationwide, excluding the major chains. Howard never intended for Starbucks to be cheaper than the other brands. When they first started as a coffee bean store, the focus was on quality, rather than price. Even as Starbucks became one of the largest coffee chains, the emphasis still has not shifted away from quality over price. By design, Starbucks is still one of the most expensive of the chains and generally regarded as offering a high-quality product.
As I travel around all different parts of the world, I see the same phenomenon of scalability occurring from laboratory to laboratory. It seems that the laboratories racing to discover the fastest and cheapest method of production are actually struggling, while most of the laboratories that built a culture focused on quality production are thriving. Just as the worldwide popularity of a business like Starbucks demonstrates, the answer to success may lie in scalability; the easiest and cheapest way to make a product does not guarantee success. In the coffee business, Starbucks showed us how a growth strategy focused on quality and the creation of a culture surrounding the business has been the key to their success. Yes, they created a scalable business; however, at the same time, Starbucks helped create a better market for independent coffee bean sellers and never had the goal of putting smaller shops out of business. Instead of focusing on lowering prices to shut down the competition, Starbucks actually improved the coffee industry by providing healthcare benefits to part-time employees and fostering a "coffee culture."
Today, modernization and technology has made scalability possible in almost every field, including the dental profession. However, the booming success of Starbucks indicates that scalability does not have to signify a loss of vision or lack of quality. I hope that we in the dental profession will follow the example that Starbucks applied in the coffee industry. As we begin 2019, let us look ahead with a vision for what our future can and should be.
About the Author
Peter Pizzi, MDT, CDT