As many as 75% of all small businesses have an on-line presence, and you can count a growing number of dental laboratories among them.
Seizing the opportunities that the Internet provides, laboratory owners are creating websites that are more comprehensive than ever--and those sites are quickly becoming an invaluable tool in their marketing arsenals. "We see a definite value in designing and maintaining a first-class website. It gives us an opportunity to explain our philosophy to current and potential customers, answer frequently asked questions and address technical issues. The site has really helped bolster our image in the marketplace," says Greg Thayer, owner of Thayer Dental Laboratory, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. "Additionally, it supports our sales, direct mail, education and advertising programs."
Other laboratory marketers agree, saying that their websites have become a perfect complement to their promotion efforts because, once they've captured the dentist's attention, they can refer him to their website for more information. "It allows us to keep our marketing simple and to the point, and leave the details for the website. If we can get a doctor to the site, we have done our job," says Tad Friess, vice president of Rockert Dental, Wheaton, Illinois. "That's why we have our website printed on everything--from our case boxes to our delivery cars."
Being on the Internet also gives laboratories an opportunity to easily expand their marketing outreach. "Our website is helping us compete on a national level," says John Treasure, co-owner, Treasure Dental Lab, Idaho Falls, Idaho. "Last year, it received an average of 400 visitors a month, we had six dentists request a starter package and three of them are now clients. While this is not a lot of new business, the website along with our other marketing tools has allowed us to drop some of our problem clients and add more quality dentists."
Despite the fact that their websites aren't a big new-business generator, these laboratory owners say they're making an investment for the future. "If you asked me today if, penny for penny, it's been worth it, I'd have to say, 'not really,'" says David Nunally, owner of Derby Dental Laboratory, Louisville, Kentucky, who has spent approximately $5,000 on his website over the last 10 years . "But with the younger dentists coming into the fold, that will undoubtedly change. We're already seeing more and more clients communicating via e-mail and sending us digital photos, for example; people are simply becoming more comfortable with the technology."
Greg Busch echos that 'build it and they will come' philosophy. "I look at it as, we're out there, we have a presence, and when dentists start using the Internet more often, we'll be ready," says Busch, chief operating officer of Light Dental Prosthetics, St. Louis, Missouri. "It's going to become a bigger and bigger part of who we are."
Just as they would with any marketing piece, laboratory owners say they've tried to create a website that is consistent with the image they're trying to portray. For example, Marotta Dental Studio's home page includes images of masterpieces by Renoir, daVinci and Michelangelo to tie into the laboratory's slogan: Where Dentistry is Art. "We want dentists to be able to get a feel for what kind of laboratory we are. We're very into esthetics, and our entire marketing philosophy--including our website--aims to portray that," says Steven Pigliacelli, vice president of the Farmingdale, New York laboratory.
Similarly, MicroDental Laboratories, Dublin, California decided to build a separate website for the high-end division of its business-MAC, or Micro Advanced Cosmetics. The site has a dramatic, edgy look to appeal to clinicians who practice advanced esthetic dentistry. "It has a whole different feeling than our main website; it really capitalizes on today's 'Extreme Makeover' excitement," says Daniel White, vice president of marketing. (click here for more information on Extreme Makeovers.)
Another primary objective is to provide an informational resource for prospective and current customers. Many sites include details on their services, turnaround times, fees, warranty guidelines, shipping information, payment options and extensive product information. For example, MicroDental Laboratories' main website has a comprehensive list of its services running down the left-hand-side of its home page. A dentist simply clicks on a product name for descriptions, advantages and indications; he then can choose to see a product shot, prep guides, material properties or details on the fabrication process.
D&S Dental Laboratory's website is a good example of how organization and design can help maximize the site's impact as a marketing vehicle. The Waunakee, Wisconsin laboratory packages all of its educational and client support efforts on one page entitled "Learning Center." At one glance, visitors see a comprehensive list including its lending library, newsletter, lab education days, dental office mini-workshops, Arboretum Learning Centre and consultations with laboratory staff.
Other helpful information often posted on lab websites includes technique guides, seating recommendations, technical articles and links to dental associations and other groups. A "Reference Library" page on Thayer Dental Laboratory's website invites dentists to peruse practice management and clinical articles from Perceptions--Thayer's print newsletters--as well as articles written by Owner Greg Thayer for the Pennsylvania Dental Journal.
By providing educational content, laboratories are giving visitors a reason to return to their sites--especially if that content changes periodically. For example, Accutech Orthodontic Lab's home page features a different appliance every month, highlighting its features and benefits. "You can have the nicest-looking site in the world, but if you don't update it on a regular basis, it will almost be useless. There's no reason for potential or current customers to come back," says Daryl Mathias, one of the three owners of the lab, which has locations in Chesapeake and Richmond, Virginia. He recently contracted with a company to help him modify the site for an initial fee of $2,500, and monthly fee of $50.
The convenience and speed of the Internet makes it a valuable tool to encourage client communication and offer value-added services. For example, D&S Dental Laboratory's site features a "DDS Forum," which encourages customers to submit their technical questions to the laboratory's on-staff dentist.
Many use their sites to inform clients about laboratory news such as upcoming seminars as well as to offer on-line prescription forms, shipping labels and preference sheets to be completed and returned to the laboratory. For added convenience, MicroDental links to the websites of Airborne Express, FedEx and UPS so that clients can track their packages. "We've tried to build in as much usefulness as possible, because we want our customers to get into the habit of coming to our website for everything they need," says White.
Glidewell Laboratories, Newport Beach, California, has a special "sign in" feature so that clients can log into their accounts to check balances and case invoices, make payments online, inquire on ship dates and schedule a pickup . "They can also communicate with technical managers and view clinical video programs including preparation guidelines," says Mike Cash, CDT, manager of sales and marketing. Currently, about 25% of Glidewell's clients are using this feature.
Some laboratory owners aim to strengthen client relationships by personalizing their sites with photos and introductions to key managers and technicians. Along with the photos and biographies of his staff members, Treasure's site includes a quote from each one, saying why they enjoy their jobs at the laboratory. "It helps our clients and their staffs get to know each of us, put a face with the voice, and make our relationships with them more personal," he says.
Standing out in the crowd
As more and more laboratories launch websites or re-design existing ones, they're striving to incorporate features to help their sites stand out in the dentist's mind. Some are letting their work speak for themselves. Nucraft Dental Arts, Athens, Georgia, has a feature on its website that treats visitors to an impressive slide show of its work set to music . Similarly, Treasure Dental Laboratory has an extensive gallery of before-and-after photos, which briefly describes the objectives of the case, the type of restorative material, and the name of the clinician. "Eighty percent of our traffic is due to the before-and-after pictures," says Treasure. "It's an opportunity to showcase our best work and help the dentist feel confident in our technical skills."
Some sites are taking advantage of multi-media features to differentiate themselves. Rockert Dental Studio uses an animated character--"Dr. High Tek"--to guide visitors through the website. "We wanted to lighten it up and make our site a fun place to get some answers," says Friess.
Thayer Dental Laboratory's site uses a voice-over done by a local radio personality. The voice welcomes the dentist to the website and introduces subsequent pages as the dentist clicks on them.
"We wanted a method to grab a dentist's attention that other sites did not provide," says Thayer. "Also, we know that when a dentist hears the marketing message and reads it at the same time, we are helping to reinforce the Thayer brand name in his mind. And that's the name of the game, isn't it?"