Legacy laboratories, Part II

March 21, 2012

America was still in the midst of the Great Depression when the Ottawa Dental Lab was founded in 1937 in Ottawa, Ill.  Having overcome tough economic times when the business began, the lab has had the confidence to fund a growth spurt despite the recent recession.

America was still in the midst of the Great Depression when the Ottawa Dental Lab was founded in 1937 in Ottawa, Ill.  Having overcome tough economic times when the business began, the lab has had the confidence to fund a growth spurt despite the recent recession.

The lab is operated by Luke Caruso, son of the founder Lucien “Tony” Caruso, along with his two sons, Luke III and Jim. They opened a Chicago office in 2010. The lab‘s second location was opened in 2007  in Lockport, Il.

Luke Caruso, president/CEO, said having the Chicago facility enables members of the 110-person lab to connect with dentists in-person in the city more easily than it can from the home office in Ottawa, which is about 90 miles southwest of Chicago.

“We felt in some ways we were a bit remote,” Luke Caruso said. “We felt it would allow us to take shades and to capture more opportunities. It’s important with new technology for dentists to have us come over. We’re more of a resource than we used to be.”

Providing personalized service to the dentists who make up its customer base has always been part of the lab’s mission, even from its earliest days when the founder Tony Caruso’s philosophy was to treat every case as though it were for your mother.

Fairly early on, Tony Caruso noticed that bread trucks would leave the town and travel many miles to deliver .50 cent loaves of bread. If bread was delivered that way, he figured the lab could foot the bill to deliver its products to customers, too.  Today the business has a fleet of 12 cars that travel about 2,500 miles a day.

“Most labs don’t offer a personal delivery service. We do,” Luke Caruso said. 

The lab has extended that mission of providing personal service, by putting lab staff in Chicago so they can be close at hand when a dentist performs a costly procedure and seeks their assistance. It is also part of a  long-term strategy the lab is pursuing to compete in all arenas of the marketplace.

“We’re offering a wider variety of product mix at a wider price point,” Luke Caruso said.

The lab has invested in new technology to provide less expensive products that will enable it to compete with products made off-shore. Jim Caruso, vice president of administration, estimates that off-shore products have increased from making up about 5 percent of the market five years ago to 25 percent.

At the same time, the lab is going after the high-end customer through such initiatives as its Chicago office. Through investment in CAD/CAM technology, including  design software and milling capabilities, the lab has achieved its goal of offering a broad range of products and expertise.

“We’re pretty progressive in adapting to new trends. We do a lot of analysis,” noted Luke Caruso III, vice president of new product development. “We can work with any implant system. We can do custom abutment design via CAD/CAM.”

The lab has introduced 18 new products in the last year, said Jim.

“Some labs don’t even have 18 products on their entire menu,” he said.

Another part of the lab’s missions is to provide extensive training to its employees, most of whom come into the business without previous experience.

“We have a full-time trainer on staff,” said Jim. “It allows us to mold our technicians and to have standardization in how our product is made.”

Despite the new locations and wide range of new products offerings, the Carusos agree that their businesses is still is all about building a rapport and trust with its customers.

"A lot of it still comes down to relationships,“ Jim said. "It’s about making every dentist feel they are important."