Conventional wisdom in the dental laboratory profession is that the proliferation of CAD/CAM and offshore outsourcing is making the dental restoration a commodity. Dentists, some say, don't see much difference from one laboratory to another, and price sensitivity is higher than ever in this economic environment.
That's why savvy laboratory marketers are honing in on the key to differentiate themselves in this increasingly competitive market: it's no longer just about a top-quality product, it's about top-quality value. Whether it's providing exceptional service, being a technical resource or offering other value-added benefits, the goal is to get dentists to see you as the only laboratory that provides a total solution for their needs.
Here are four laboratories that are raising the bar and showing current and prospective clients alike they are much more than just a crown in a box.
R-Dent Dental Laboratory: Offering the Expertise of an On-Staff Clinician
Daxton Grubb has a realistic outlook on the price pressures in our industry. "Let's face it, we're all looking for the most value in every dollar we spend; dentists aren't any different," says Grubb, President of R-Dent, Bartlett, TN. "As a laboratory owner, I have to be aware of that and, instead of becoming frustrated, find ways to add value to our services to strengthen my stance on our prices."
In addition to staying up to date with digital impressions and other technology and providing continuing education to customers, Grubb enhanced his service strategy two years ago by hiring an on-staff dentist. In the laboratory two days a week and by appointment the rest of the week, Dr. Bob Hewitt offers hands-on tips and advice--at no additional charge--for clients working on complex cases, and also caters to new clients and younger dentists who can benefit from his 40 years of experience as a practicing dentist. In fact, Dr. Hewitt has become a valuable resource to many of R-Dent's clients and some request right on the Rx that Dr. Hewitt call them to discuss large cosmetic or implant cases.
Tapping into this unique service niche allows R-Dent to bring its role as a technical resource to a new level, because Dr. Hewitt both enhances dentist/laboratory communication and troubleshoots technical problems, such as impression-taking techniques. "We let clients know that we want to make our laboratory more valuable to them and he's here to help us both, not to judge their work," says Grubb, who budgets Dr. Hewitt's salary as a direct labor expense since his overall responsibility is quality control. "We've gotten a lot of positive feedback on this service. Any service we can offer that our competitors don't is an investment in our future growth."
Artisan Dental Laboratory: Diversifying to Enhance Client Practices
Fear and anxiety keep over 60 million Americans a year away from the dentist according to the ADA. That's a huge pool of prospective patients and Artisan Dental Laboratory is helping their dentist-clients tap into it.
Since January, the Portland, OR lab- oratory has been the exclusive provider in Oregon and Washington of continuing education programs on NuCalm™, an all-natural, drug-free technology that alleviates anxiety and stress.
To use NuCalm in their offices, dentists administer chewable tablets that contain natural anxiolytic neurotransmitters and affix two electrodes to the back of the patient's neck. The patient also wears dark glasses to remove visual stimulation and headphones that emit a low-frequency beat that paces the brain into the first stage of sleep. In addition to reducing anxiety, the system helps dentists save chairtime; Solace, the maker of NuCalm, claims that dentists who use the system complete procedures 30%-40% faster since they're working on relaxed, still patients.
To date, 15 of Artisan's dentist-customers have purchased the supplies from Solace to use the technology in their offices. "Clinicians rely on us to discover the newest technologies, and we think NuCalm is a great alternative to in-office sedation or relaxation techniques," says Justan Koch, President of Artisan. "It's one more value-added benefit we can offer them to help attract new patients and run their practices more efficiently."
Utah Valley Dental Laboratory: Helping Clients Increase Case Acceptance
Dentists sometimes say the same thing about patients that laboratories say about dentists: they only care about price. Uncomfortable in the role of "selling" their services it's often difficult for dentists to explain their fees and let patients know why they're the best ones to handle their restorative work.
That's why Utah Valley Dental Laboratory has developed patient education brochures that emphasize the value of high quality dentistry by explaining the dentist/laboratory collaboration. It lets patients know that, along with the dentist, an entire team of experts at Utah Valley is focused on creating their perfect smile. It also explains the importance of top-notch materials and techniques and the critical combination of function and esthetics, and assures them they'll be able to test drive their new smile with custom-made temporaries.
Personalized with the doctor and practice's name and provided at no charge to key clients, the beautifully designed brochures are essentially an endorsement that helps dentists create higher perceived value in their services and increase case acceptance. "We want to give our customers a marketing tool to assure patients they've made the right choice for their elective dentistry--and to explain why the dentist's fees may be higher than the office down the street," says Jim Thacker, Vice President/Business Operations of the Provo, UT laboratory. "It explains that not all dentists or laboratories are the same, and that there's real value in the fact that the dentist is using a premium laboratory."
Utah Valley also inserts pre-printed cards in every case presentation box that include a message from the laboratory, congratulating the patient on choosing a dentist who insists on quality materials and workmanship. "The dentists appreciate the time and money we've invested to create marketing pieces that lend them third-party credibility," says Thacker. "While the impact of this type of marketing is difficult to measure, it creates value for the dentist and shows we're partners in serving their patients rather than simply vendors."
Frontier Dental Laboratories: Investing in Dental Education
More and more laboratories are sponsoring CE courses to support their clients, but Frontier Dental Laboratories, El Dorado Hills, CA, is light years beyond that, truly taking a leadership role in dental education. CEO Paolo Kalaw just announced a commitment of $10 million--in addition to the $5 million given previously-- to the California Center for Advanced Dental Studies (CCADS), a post-graduate dental program that offers courses around North America and Europe.
Frontier's involvement in CCADS began in 2007 when Kalaw was approached about a new educational program being organized by a group of high-end clinicians. "It was an opportunity for us to get involved with CCADS to the point where we could help design the curriculum and fully participate in the program," he says. Although financed primarily by Frontier, along with the help of a few manufacturers, CCADS operates as a fully independent corporation with its own staff.
For Kalaw, the decision to get in on the ground floor of CCADS was a no-brainer. "Do you know the saying, 'a rising tide lifts all boats'? I felt that taking a proactive role in training dentists to distinguish good quality from poor quality was the best way to prevent our industry from becoming commoditized," he says. "Frontier focuses on the high-end cosmetic market so of course we don't want to see restorations become a commodity, but I also don't want that to happen to the industry overall because it devalues our community's professionalism."
The CCADS program is geared toward high-end dentists and emphasizes hands-on teaching and live-patient experience. Since dentist-participants work side-by-side with Frontier's technicians, it gives the laboratory an opportunity to meet and develop relationships with the kind of dentist it wants as a customer. "If we work well together, then hopefully it turns into a lasting partnership," says Kalaw. "We're not here for the short-term; the way you succeed into future generations is by building tight relationships and that's our focus."