In 2008, owner Rory Puckett was at a crossroads: business was so slow, he thought he might have to close the doors of his three-person laboratory, Puckett's Dental Studio, Inc. in Dawsonville, Georgia (www.puckettsdental.com). In addition to servicing dentist-clients, he had dabbled in subcontracting alumina restorations to other laboratories but what those labs really wanted was milled zirconia, a service he didn't offer.
He began researching the option of buying a complete CAD/CAM system. The $100,000-plus price tags were daunting at first but after several months of in-depth research on different systems and talking with users, his gut told him he could make a go of it. "Three of my key subcontracting customers assured me that if I bought a system, they'd send me their zirconia work. I felt I could generate enough sales to cover the cost of the system and materials within two years. It was either try this route, or get out of the laboratory business altogether," says Puckett.
He purchased the Dental Mill System from Turning Solutions, a 3Shape scanner and Protherm and DuoTron Furnaces from B&D Dental. His total cost was $150,000. The CAD/CAM system was installed in December 2009 and, after a month-long learning period, he was ready to use the equipment on a production basis. "Even though I had some previous CAD/CAM experience, there was a lot to learn. But the Dental Mill and 3Shape scanner are made for each other and therefore are easy to integrate. We use one of the DuoTron furnaces for same-day copings and re-mills, and the other is our workhorse that runs overnight," he says.
His subcontracting customers came through for him and, in addition, he began a direct mail campaign marketing zirconia restorations to 2,000 laboratories in neighboring states using LMT's mailing list of laboratories. By January 2010, he had more than doubled his monthly sales, from $13,000 to $28,000. After a steady increase, his sales hit $55,000 in July, the highest in his 14 years in business. His wife quit her job as a corporate buyer for a Fortune 500 company and is now the full-time office manager at the laboratory and he's hired another part-time employee.
While he still services a handful of dentist-clients, he's basically changed his business model overnight: now 90% of his customer base is laboratories--mostly two to three-person operations--and 90% of his work is metal-free. "It's been remarkable. Our biggest seller is a zirconia framework layered with porcelain. Our full-contour restorations are also starting to take off," says Puckett.
Although his daily routine is busy--the lab is fabricating about 60 units per day--it's a lot less stressful because the fabrication process is so much simpler. "I used to feel like I had to do every step. Now, my nephew does the scanning and loads the milling machine, a part-time employee cuts the copings out of the blank and I do the finishing. Plus, I find that laboratories are easier to work and communicate with than dentists," says Puckett.
His next step: adding a 1,000-sq-ft training center to his laboratory to teach other technicians about digital technology, how to stain zirconia and work with scanners. "The market is going digital. Within the next 10 years, every lab will need a scanner," says Puckett. "I hope my story will be an inspiration and a reminder that there are many opportunities and you don't have to just work for dentists. For those who are struggling, there's hope."