Of the two million farmers left in the United States, half struggle to turn a profit. But many of the profitable farmers have reinvented their role to ensure their survival. In the process, they created two new words that describe their enterprising efforts: agri-tainment and agri-tourism.
It's not just Farmer's Markets anymore. These markets, the oldest farming tradition dating back to the 1600s, continue to flourish across the country. Now farmers invite city folk to give country living a try (think City Slickers). They ask families to bring the kids out for hayrides and to navigate through corn mazes (often designed using GPS technology) and then come out after dinner to enjoy creamy homemade ice cream and neighborly visits [in fact, there's a very popular one, pastoral view and all, just down the street from LMT!].
They also create hugely popular and profitable Halloween extravaganzas. One farm, outside Philadephia, for instance, creates jobs for 250 people, attracts about 65,000 visitors every fall and generates over one million dollars in revenue. That's 20 times more than the $50,000 the owner made as a farmer.
What's going on in the farming community has its lessons for us in the dental community. I don't say this to take anything away from the many enterprising members of our own community. It's just sometimes good to take a step outside our familiar turf and take a look around at what others are doing. Also, it's mentally healthy to remember we're not the only ones undergoing massive change and to recognize we're not, by a long shot, the only industry challenged to reinvent the ways in which we create revenue streams.
The lesson of what farmers are doing is that they're bringing local communities together with their farm as the hub. That's touchy-feely good and makes the community aware of the farm's place in their lives. The farmers are building consumer awareness and profit at the same time.
Those who are heavily invested in reinventing their laboratory not only know this, they revel in their internal challenge to one-up themselves in thinking outside the box. At the Zahn Expo last month, attendees were upbeat and looking forward to all the new products and technologies making their debut; market conditions have not sullied their attitude. Two thumbs up, you guys; this has not been an easy ride!
I took a few minutes for a Coca Cola break with Uri Yarovesky, owner of Opus One dental laboratory in Agoura Hills, California, to talk a little about all the changes we're experiencing as a community. (See Zahn Expo coverage on page 16 to learn about Yarovesky's innovative product launch.) He commented about the importance of emphasizing to dentist-clients the value of personalized, intimate interactions--a foolproof strategy destined to supersede depersonalized long-distance business transactions. Even as certain techniques face commoditization, restorative work is not boilerplate. Dental patients will always want a certain level of esthetic customization. Labs can capitalize on this.
In comparison to just a decade ago, we now have amazing tools to create interpersonal engagement while at the same time doing it in less time than ever. Of course I'm talking about the internet and how it has changed everything about the way we connect with one another. Details from our Internet Usage Survey begin on page 24. You'll see that it is dramatically impacting every interaction we have with our clients and our suppliers.
Some lab owners are even finding social network sites, such as Facebook*, to be a convenient way to stay connected to clients throughout the day. I recently came across the following 100-plus-year-old quote from John Muir, the environmentalist and founder of the Sierra Club. "When we try to pick anything out by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe." Think about how "connectivity" is the buzzword of this decade and how the more things change, the more they remain the same. We continue to be human and human interaction is how we survive.
Are you one upping the corn maze? I'd love to hear your story.
*P.S. When my son was in college I recall being envious that grown-ups didn't have the access he had to connect with old friends through the then-closed network called Facebook. Now we can all connect on it and, as its users top 550 million, the world has clearly confirmed it's an incredible tool. Small world that it is, my son now works there and his cousin (my sister's son, Jesse Eisenberg) plays the role of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network movie. We're all connected. Let's remember the value in that as we brainstorm ways to reinvent and one-up ourselves.