During the three years All-Dent Ceramic Studio was holding courses for its clients in local hotels, owner Steve Romanzi was dreaming of something bigger. "I always wanted to have an entire facility dedicated to education," he says. "I wanted it to be a place where we could provide product training, roundtable discussions and a chance for dentists and technicians to learn together."
In 2005, he saw his opportunity. The full service, 12-person laboratory--founded by his father 54 years ago--had outgrown its space and needed a larger facility. Romanzi settled on a building in Glen Cove, New York (Long Island), that would allow ample space for an education center adjacent to the laboratory.
In August 2007, after two years of planning and design, the laboratory and education facility--All-Dent Learning Center--were ready to open. Although the construction went smoothly, the design process was somewhat challenging. "We knew what we wanted in the laboratory because we've had one for a long time," says Romanzi. "But we reconfigured the education center many times, trying to maximize our space."
Aside from the investment required for design and construction, Romanzi was looking at another big price tag to outfit the 2,000-sq.-ft. learning center: nearly $300,000 in equipment and furniture alone. The facility includes a hands-on clinic room with 28 workstations with handpieces, suction, color-correct lighting and computer monitors; lecture room with high-resolution projector and audio and video connections; and an operatory for live procedures, equipped with an intraoral camera, X-ray machine, live video stream and two-way communication to the hands-on and lecture rooms.
"Compared to those courses in hotel rooms, it's a whole different atmosphere," says Romanzi, noting that dentist-clients were blown away at their first visit. "More of them are participating in the educational opportunities because the facility is such a draw."
Part of the appeal is that the learning center has brought the laboratory's educational abilities to another level because it enables a hands-on component impossible to replicate in a hotel meeting room. "We've all sat through lectures where you learn something and it doesn't necessarily stay with you," says Romanzi. "When you actually have to perform the procedure yourself, it's a much more valuable experience."
Having his own facility also makes it easier to offer more frequent educational opportunities. Although he was doing it every three months before he built the center, he now tries to hold a clinic almost weekly (many of which are free), giving him the chance to regularly meet with customers.
Romanzi is also marketing the courses to dentists outside his client base by exhibiting at local dental society meetings and mailing to 10,000-plus New York, New Jersey and Connecticut dentists in his database. Currently, he's promoting a series of courses that started in May and feature high-profile speakers like Dr. Dale Sorenson, the Pankey Institute; Dr. Mark Pitel, NYU College of Dentistry; Dr. DeWitt Wilkerson, The Dawson Center; Dr. Gary Glassman on endodontics; and Dr. Gerard Chiche on anterior esthetics.
The center is also being used by manufacturers to hold product training classes and by local study clubs. Manufacturers' rental fees and efforts to bring in larger crowds with big-name speakers are helping to offset expenses.
With the dentist education programs underway, Romanzi will focus on the other part of his dream this fall: making the center a place for technicians to learn and network together. Although he acknowledges that some technicians may be uneasy getting their education from another laboratory, he's confident that concern can be overcome. "So much of the education in our industry is manufacturer-provided, which is terrific, but I would like to see much more of an exchange among technicians," he says. "We want other laboratories to join us and come here to learn together."