Traveling through the peaks of the Tahitian islands, soaking in the beauty of the Amalfi coast, enjoying a balloon ride in Stockholm and swimming with the dolphins in the Caribbean all sound great to Rob Bausman, co-owner of Dockstader Dental Lab, Inc., Fresno, California. But experiencing these wonders along with his clients sounds even better.
Seven years ago, when Bausman saw a lot of his clients putting work before family and fun, he decided to do something about it: he launched Cruise with the Experts, a luxurious, weeklong Regent Seven Seas cruise that combines vacation with continuing education. In addition to sailing to exotic locations, the cruise includes three half-day seminars—all approved for CE credits—conducted by various speakers when the ship is at sea. Topics include: head, neck and TMJ; implants; functional jaw orthopedics; and orthodontics. The annual trip is offered to both clients and prospective clients—as well as their spouses, family and friends—and, since 2001, 775 dentists have participated.
Bausman's main goal is to strengthen his relationships with the attendees. "Life is about relationships," he says. "Not all about work." So he makes it a point to have dinner with different dentists each night, hosts two cocktail parties and also socializes with them on land excursions. "The best part for me is getting to see my clients outside of their element and having the opportunity to make lifelong friendships and business partnerships," says Bausman, who owns the 48-employee full service laboratory with four partners. "We never talk business—we just simply enjoy each other's company."
On each cruise, the number of attendees ranges from 60 to 300 people, including dentists and their guests. Participants pay for their own travel and cruise expenses (which vary depending on the destination); attendees also pay a $495 seminar fee, which offsets all of the lab's expenses.
Although passengers book the trip directly through a designated travel agent, Bausman and his secretary, Elizabeth Barker, spend the better part of the year planning the event, including choosing the destination, ensuring that the ship is equipped with the necessary facilities and coordinating with the travel agent and cruise representative. But the commitment has proven to be worth it: the laboratory has gained approximately 50 new clients over the past seven years.
Bausman, who is in charge of marketing, works with a $10,000 budget, promoting the event through its website, on-hold recorded message, dental magazine ads and direct-mail brochures. The brochures are designed in-house and mailed to between 5,000 and 10,000 dentists. It's the lab's biggest marketing expense, but the lab recently got some help from one of its manufacturer partners: Nobel Biocare.
For the lab's 2007 cruise to Italy, Nobel Biocare not only paid a portion of the brochure's printing costs, but also had the company's sales team market the cruise to its customers while on sales calls, resulting in about 35 additional registrations. In return for its help, Bausman handed out Nobel Biocare product brochures onboard the ship and offered each seminar attendee two complimentary Procera® crowns. The arrangement worked so well that Bausman is continuing the partnership for this summer's cruise to Alaska.
The numbers show that dentist-attendees can't get enough: nearly one-third of them return for additional trips. "The doctors love our cruises," says Bausman. "You can tell by looking at our photos—everyone's smiling from ear to ear."