To hear laboratory owner Mark Jackson talk about Vident, you might think he was talking about a big brother. After all, they did grow up together.
When Jackson and his partner, Keith Cunning, opened Precision Ceramics in 1981, they were using Vita® products and taking porcelain courses at nearby Unitek, then a Vita distributor. When Unitek was sold and Vident—the North American subsidiary of Vita—opened right down the street in 1984, Vident began to have an impact on the laboratory that is still felt today.
"Vident built a state-of-the-art training lab and suddenly we had access to advanced courses taught by internationally known technicians right in our backyard," says Jackson. "In the old days, every high-end ceramist hid their secrets. But Vident found these guys who were willing to share their techniques, and we were all so eager that multi-day programs would sell out in no time flat. I always say Vident brought the dental technician out of the back room and made him into a rock star."
The quality of the company's technical support was also invaluable to the young laboratory, as was the weight of the Vita brand. "When we started out, we were using VMK68 porcelain—the gold standard at the time," says Jackson. "So as a new laboratory without any name recognition, we were able to prop ourselves up with the Vita name." Throughout those early years, and even today, Jackson compares the laboratory's growth curve to a staircase rather than a ramp. "For us, growth has never been a linear climb. Instead, we've had a sales blip, then a plateau, then a sales blip, and another plateau," he says. "If I plotted our growth history, I would bet that every time we were having one of those sales blips, it was a time I asked Vident for help." In fact, Jackson can point to specific areas in which Vident has contributed to the lab's successes. A few examples:
All-ceramics. Jackson attributes his early entry into the all-ceramic market to the fact that Vident was teaching the platinum foil technique for porcelain jackets as early as 1984. Several years later, when VITA In-Ceram was introduced, Jackson was excited but turned to Vident for help implementing the system since the materials handled so differently. The company sent Vanik Jinoian and Tony Torres to the lab to help with the learning curve. "Vanik and Tony shared techniques with us and helped us get more efficient with the system," says Jackson. "As a result, In-Ceram was responsible in large part for our big growth spurt in the early 90s."
Implants. Jackson, who had been involved in subperiostal implants since opening the laboratory, also credits Vident staff with heightening his awareness of implant philosophy. "When the Impact components were introduced in the mid 90s, I became very interested in the logic behind the design, and the engineers at Vident spent time educating me," says Jackson. "I started approaching implant cases like a mechanical engineer instead of a dental technician, and I started to see better results."
Jackson also lauds Vident for getting technicians involved in the design of the Impac abutments. "Many implant companies at the time were putting all of their R&D into surface textures, coatings and other surgery-related protocol; the restorative aspect was seen as secondary. But Vident had a team of pros-thodontists and dental technicians who focused on the implant platform and everything above it." (In fact, Jackson believed so strongly in the implant line that he took a hiatus from the laboratory to head up Vident's implant department from 1993 to 1997.)
Shade communication. As a mail order lab, shade communication can be the difference between a profitable month and one in which Precision Ceramics loses money. Knowing 95% of shade accuracy comes from the value of the crown, Jackson was excited by the introduction of the 3D Master Shade Guide, which indexes shades by value. "It was very bold for Vita to take its Classic Shade Guide—the world's standard shade measuring device—and try to make it better. But the 3D Master Shade Guide is a logical system and has changed the way my clients and I handle shade communication," says Jackson.
The lab also uses Vident's Easyshade® digital shade communication system as an extra quality control step; since it's calibrated to read porcelain as well as natural teeth, he can use it to verify the shade of a finished restoration. "We used to have about 4% of our cases returned for shade adjustments; once we had these new systems—and the porcelains to go with them—that percentage dropped to 2.5%," says Jackson.
CAD/CAM. Vident's Celay manual copymilling system in the 90s was the forerunner to Precision Ceramic's involvement in CAD/CAM. "Although copymilling now seems like a simplified approach, Celay and our relationship with Vident introduced us to working with blocks of material and made us aware of the possibilities beyond the pressing and layering of ceramics," says Jackson.
Implementing a sales force. When Jackson wanted to hire a salesperson in the late 80s, he had countless questions about commission, goals and incentives, but wasn't getting any good advice. That's when he called on Vern Hale, one of Vident's founders. "Vern offered to come to the laboratory one night and he spent hours helping me put together a comprehensive plan for managing a sales force," says Jackson. "How often can you call the owner of a company and have him come into your business for that kind of one-on-one attention?"
That's the kind of value-added service that has kept Jackson's loyalty over the years. "Your vendors should become partners in your business and help find ways to make you more successful," he says. "I would tell any laboratory owner to choose a vendor just as carefully as they'd choose a business partner; ask yourself, what are they bringing to the relationship?"