Laboratory owner Bill Van Evans can feel the breeze off of Chesapeake Bay--all the way from Canada.
Van Evans, who has a background in business management, was trained in orthodontics by his father-in-law and opened Orthodent in Oshawa, Canada--just outside Toronto--in 1988. About eight years ago, he opened a satellite lab closer to the city for better positioning in the Toronto market, and then went on to purchase two more existing laboratories in the Toronto area.
But he wasn't done; his goal was to create a network of about 10 laboratories. His next acquisitions were in the United States, where he made purchases in New Jersey in 2003, Florida in 2005, Virginia in 2007 (click here for Saunders Dental Laboratory profile, A Change of Exit Plans ) and a second Virginia lab just last month.
Since the American dental laboratory market is larger than the one in Canada, the U.S. seemed a logical step to take. But perhaps just as importantly, Van Evans was mindful of his goal to eventually retire to Annapolis, Maryland, where he has a home and enjoys sailing on the Chesapeake Bay.
To ensure his acquisitions go smoothly, he looks for laboratories with very specific features. The first is people--existing management who will stay for a transition and key employees who are not dependent on the laboratory owner to continue operating efficiently and profitably. "Those key employees become our managers and we reward them for their performance; hopefully, they will want to stay and grow with us," says Van Evans.
But he knows there's always a risk--which is why he also looks for a laboratory with a workload that can be incorporated into his other laboratories if necessary. "What if the employees up and leave? In order for me to feel good about a purchase, I have to feel comfortable that we could absorb the workload in our other locations," he says.
Other qualities he looks for in a lab: a diverse customer base, product mixes that complement those of his existing locations, and a track record of keeping up with technology. Oh, and ideally, the laboratory is within a few hours' drive of the Chesapeake Bay.