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In 2009, Monica Kim, CDT, came to a crossroads familiar to many small laboratory owners: would she step away from the bench to manage the growth of her then two-year-old laboratory or hire someone to do it for her? To Kim, the answer was clear. "I wanted to stay connected to the artistry of the work so I knew I had to surround myself with people I could trust to give me guidance from a business and marketing standpoint," says Kim, owner of Michaelangelo Dental Studio, Tujunga, CA. As a result, she hired Cris Pinedo, CEO, and Walter Orellana, Director of Marketing, both experienced in the dental laboratory industry.
It may sound like a bold move for a very small laboratory (with just one other technician and six clients) to hire a two-person team to run the business. But Kim's workload was rising quickly through word of mouth and the laboratory was on the cusp of substantial growth. "I knew that together with Cris and Walter, I would have the synergy I needed to take the laboratory to the next level," says Kim.
And she was right: today, Michaelangelo has a staff of 10 and sales have increased 425% since it opened four years ago. In fact, the laboratory grew by 80% in 2010 alone, a year in which many laboratories saw business fall off.
One reason for that growth is Kim's reputation in high-end circles. Not having to focus on managing the laboratory has allowed her to pursue advanced education with the most respected technicians in our industry. A sculptor by trade, she has trained with Willi Geller and at the Las Vegas Institute. She's also a member of the AACD and winner of two awards in its annual Smile Gallery Competition and, likely because of that, many of Michaelangelo's clients are AACD members.
"The success of the lab can all be traced back to Monica's training and background; she's an expert ceramist--or, as we like to say, a 'dental artist'--who has built an excellent team," says Orellana. "And that expertise is our focus when communicating with prospective customers. We don't spend thousands of dollars on ads or mailings, or bombard dentists with discounts. Instead, our goal is to give them an opportunity to learn something as well as to see our work."
To that end, the laboratory exhibits at the annual AACD and Texas Dental Association meetings and also shares a "Case of the Month" via email with a list of 600 doctors it has compiled over the years. But its best results often come through social networking--a medium that is responsible for bringing in approximately half of its current client base.
Initially, Michaelangelo got valuable mileage from participating in case discussions on DentalTown's message boards. "We realized that we could send out 200 mailers and get no response, but then we could post photos of our work and get 200 views in an hour. Right away, we knew social media was the way to go," says Orellana. Launching its own Facebook page allowed the laboratory to take social networking to the next level by documenting cases, posting photos of the laboratory and sharing news and events. Now boasting more than 350 Facebook "Friends," the page has become an effective way for staying in touch with current customers and allowing potential clients to learn more about the laboratory.
In fact, this is how one of Michaelangelo's largest clients discovered the laboratory. "He's heavily involved with social media himself and after reviewing our smile gallery on our Facebook page, decided to give us a call," says Orellana. "We talked for about 15 minutes and by the time our conversation was over, he had already downloaded an Rx from our website and told me he was shipping a case that night." The key to the laboratory's success with social networking--and all of its marketing outreach for that matter--is that it never goes for the "hard sell." "When we display before-and-after photos, for example, it's a way to share information on the specific restorative situation or materials," says Orellana. "But each case is also a story of how we've helped with a transformation, and that's what we want dentists to know about us."
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