Going National

March 21, 2012

By now most of us realize the dental laboratory industry has dramatically changed and will never return to what it was five -to-six-years ago. In addition to technology and our stubborn economy, we are faced with two other important factors that are changing the face of our industry. First, the amount of laboratory work that’s being outsourced has increased at a higher rate than many industry leaders first predicted. This has obviously reduced a considerable amount of market share available to U.S. laboratories.

By now most of us realize the dental laboratory industry has dramatically changed and will never return to what it was five -to-six-years ago. In addition to technology and our stubborn economy, we are faced with two other important factors that are changing the face of our industry.

First, the amount of laboratory work that’s being outsourced has increased at a higher rate than many industry leaders first predicted. This has obviously reduced a considerable amount of market share available to U.S. laboratories.

The second factor is the type of competition many laboratories have to face in their day-to-day operations. More and more laboratories are joining forces with larger organizations or getting involved with groups that can provide the types of services and products that are being offered by larger corporate-type laboratories and the off-shore organizations.

While this is a natural result of our world economy and the advances in technology, it creates a different challenge for many dental laboratories. For some, it could mean their customer base is shrinking, and many have lost considerable volume to operations outside of their market.

In addition to having to increase marketing efforts, many laboratories are now looking to replace lost sales volume by expanding outside of their traditional regional markets by going national.

What’s involved?

For many owners and managers, this can be a daunting task, especially if they don’t have experience with out-of-state or national marketplaces. Doing business outside of your traditional or regional marketplace requires some serious thought, strategic planning and a budget to enable marketing of your services and products.

In addition, many states now-or will soon-have registration requirements to do business in their state as a commercial dental laboratory, so it is wise to check with each state where you plan to do business. You will need to review your internal processes and capabilities, if you have not had much experience in dealing with dentists out-of-state, to make sure you have all of your T’s crossed and I’s dotted before you start.

Checklist

You will want to address the following areas in your plan when going national.

Internal Considerations

Staffing

  • Properly trained phone staff

  • Customer service

  • Technical support

  • Sales/lead follow up

Shipping method

  • Shipping supplies and boxes

  • Shipping carrier outbound and inbound

  • Establish shipping charges policy

How to get started

  • Establish a getting started process with your lab

  • Starter kit

CAD/CAM capabilities

  • Allows you to compete with larger organizations

  • Ability to accept intraoral scans

  • STL file capability

  • Product flexibility

Website

  • Photo upload

  • Downloadable Rx and shipping forms

  • DDX capability

  • Reputation management

  • Include testimonials on marketing pieces as well as website

External Considerations

Existing market presence out-of-state

  • Consider marketing in areas where your lab is known

  • Consider regional areas (e.g. Midwest or Atlantic states)

Communication methods

  • Direct mail

  • E-mail addresses-opt in and opt out features

Referral system

  • Use existing accounts out of state to help expand via referral program

  • Possible account rewards loyalty program

Competition

  • Any niche to offer

  • Competitive pricing

Marketing Considerations

Marketing budget

  • Large enough to get the job done

  • Market within your means

  • Marketing literature

  • Corporate brochure

  • Technical sell sheets

  • Statement/case stuffers

  • Consistent branding throughout

  • Promote website

Getting the word out

  • State or national journal advertising

  • E-newsletters and e-marketing

  • Social media

  • Trade shows and seminars

When you’re ready

These are just a few considerations that you will want to think about prior to venturing into the national market; others will be your capabilities to compete against those who have invested in the new technologies, allowing them to promote a wide variety of products and systems.

We all know a national market exists-just take a look at the number of laboratories who attend national trade shows and advertise in national journals. You have to ask yourself: Are we ready now and can we support the additional business?

Marketing your business nationally, out-of-state or even regionally can be fun and very rewarding, but it is a process-not an event. It will take time and it will cost money. In the end, if done right, it can offer you and your business an opportunity to reach and gain additional market share to help offset your changing and possibly diminishing existing market.  

Bill Neal, CDT, is President of AMG Creative Inc. a marketing communications company in Fort Collins, Colo. He can be reached by calling 800-264-7448.