Networking Proves Crucial to Small Lab Owner's Exit Plan
Posted Apr 28, 2011, Published 2008-03-01
Bruce Keeling, CDT, knew there wasn't much of a market for a small laboratory that was dependent on its owner for its success. Although his four-person business in Phoenix had the reputation of being a boutique removable lab with a specialty in precision attachments and implants, he was the only one who did the setups and implant work. "When I started thinking about retirement, I knew I would have to merge with another laboratory or bring in a partner whom I could train to handle my technical work," he says.
Before he found the time to research those options, he was approached by a family that owned a few other laboratories and was interested in expanding into the Phoenix area. However, because of a death in the family, the deal never came to fruition.
At the time, Keeling was a member of Dental Services Group's affiliate program--a group of independent laboratories not owned by DSG but entitled to a number of membership benefits. Yet he never really considered selling to a laboratory group, thinking they generally look for larger laboratories. However, after casually mentioning the failed deal to someone at DSG, word traveled straight to the top, and Keeling got a call from George Obst, then CEO of DSG.
It seems that Keeling's laboratory was in the right place at the right time: DSG had another removable laboratory in Phoenix that it wanted to expand. In 2003, the group acquired Keeling's lab and merged the two to form Progressive Dental Services Laboratory, which now has 25 employees.
When Keeling decided to retire about two years later, he was invited to stay on as a consultant and trainer--an opportunity he still relishes. "As a young technician, I learned a lot from others who really helped build my business," he says. "My goal was always to be able to do the same and share what I've learned over the years." Since he now works just two weeks a month, he also has time to realize his other goal: spending more time on the golf course and on his motorcycle.
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