"Change" was the most used word by American media last year. Unfortunately, it slips off the tongue much more easily than its message is heard or honored.
America has been down the long "Road of Economic Woe" before. Each time, prognosticators warned that "this time was different; this time we won't bounce back so fast," except we did. As is our habit, however, we don't seem to learn anything afterwards. As soon as the light at the end of that tunnel becomes visible, caution is thrown to the wind and our over-indulgent behavior begins anew.
Though it sickens me that our financial well-being can be so deeply affected by a relative handful of greedy crooks and incompetent policy makers, all of us, as Americans, must accept some blame. We've been a country out of accountability control for a long, long time.
Do you think, perhaps, that this recession is the last of a series of dark clouds that will mushroom into a perfect storm for our small community? Until now, the size of the lab market has remained relatively stable year to year. But now I wonder if we're going to see significant attrition. While we can feel fortunate that we don't work on Wall Street or any number of banking institutions, the innocent are affected by the guilty and, already, some laboratory owners are being forced to close their doors.
It's Time to Streamline
January is the month when promises of "change" are made in the form of New Year's Resolutions. Just about every editorial you read (this one too!) is a regurgitation of the awful state of the economy. Long ago, this word--change--became a cliché but now I think everyone understands its necessity and the importance of its power.
This time, change means belt tightening, a reassessment of numbers, profit expectations and personal values. In other words, we need to do some extreme streamlining on many levels. This year, with this New Year's resolution, we--all of us!--need to make "change" stick.
For example, read about what Unique Dental Group has done to streamline its operation. The result is that it has maximized both its resources and its employees' free time! Change in the form of streamlining can only improve your bottom line.
If, as predicted, business continues to slow down throughout the year, we have an excellent opportunity to create "do-it" time and implement all those "if only we had the time" projects.
As it is, change has been nagging at the dental laboratory community in earnest for at least the last five years. Some owners with a healthy interest in new ways to operate their business have become experts in lean manufacturing.
Because we've been plagued for decades by a lack of newcomers to the field, we've been forced to maximize the use of our time. Instead of getting burned out, CAD/CAM technologies have made it possible to do this efficiently and with more profitability.
On the other hand, we've never been categorized as overpaid and underworked. In other words, the great majority of us have never become fat cats, we're definitely not "spoiled" and now, many laboratories are relatively better positioned to weather the storm than those in other industries. But, still, we're going to feel it; I make no supposition that there's an easy street here for anyone.
Many of us will have to make adjustments to meet market needs; we should all be prepared for a lean year. But we need to resist the panic that makes us implode when we put too much emphasis on meeting sales quotas and not enough emphasis on changing how we conduct ourselves, evaluate what really matters to us and appreciate the importance of community. If we streamline our business and make it stick, it can lead us to long-term, sustainable financial security.
In 1933, President Roosevelt talked to Americans about fear during his inaugural address. "If I read the temper of our people correctly," he said, "we now realize as we have never realized before, our interdependence on each other; that we cannot merely take but we must give as well." Studs Terkel, who was 17 in 1929, wrote several books about the Great Depression. He said it was essential to "take part in the community; hope dies last. Help others and you feel alive."
Our staff looks forward to talking to you at LAB DAY where everyone can share their strategies for wading through these tougher times. As you see, this special issue of LMT is filled with all the products and equipment you'll see next month in Chicago at our 25th annual show.
Maybe your participation at LAB DAY is a one-way ticket out of the doldrums: continue networking and looking for ways to augment your business and you will persevere.