Once the focus of great controversy, Interdent in Manila has grown to a staff of 700 and regularly services a few hundred laboratories in 78 countries.
Jerry Doviack used to be shunned at laboratory meetings. Now, 25 years later, laboratory owners are flocking to him for advice.
Jerry and his wife, Tina, owners of Continental Dental Laboratory in California, are the pioneers in offshore laboratory work. In the early 1980s--wary of a declining economy, soaring gold prices, HMOs and other disturbing trends in the insurance industry--the Doviacks began researching the feasability of offshore production. They settled on the Philippines and, in 1984, opened Interdent, Inc.--operating completely independently from Continental--to provide outsourcing services to laboratories around the world.
Although that out-of-the-box thinking didn't make them popular at the time, things have come full circle. "It's amazing how much attitudes have changed. Offshore lab work is no longer taboo and although we blazed the trail, many have followed suit," says Jerry. "It's reaffirming when people come up to me and ask, 'Jerry, how did you know it was the thing to do?' The truth is I didn't at the time. It was a big risk."
Building Interdent in the early years was an uphill battle given the industry's resistance to offshore production, but the Doviacks initially received support from large laboratories in Germany and Scandinavia; a few years later, some U.S. laboratories came on board. But even then, Jerry knew the key to growth was to develop an understanding of the expectations in each country's laboratory market, since each uses different systems and has varying ideas about esthetics. For example, despite their geographic proximity, France and Germany design their restorations completely differently, says Jerry, and the Hollywood smile still hasn't caught on in Europe, where the expectation is for natural-looking restorations, tetracycline stains and all.
"We knew we wouldn't be successful if we were merely one big lab churning out a one-size-fits-all restoration," says Jerry. "Our goal has been to produce a highly customized product." In order to get to that point, Jerry spent much of Interdent's first decade on the road every day, traveling to laboratory customers in different countries and learning their systems and preferences. Back at Interdent, he trained individual teams of technicians to do the work expected by each market.
Today, there are 38 teams of technicians who specialize in laboratory work for different countries. In some cases, labs send enough volume to get their own dedicated team that communicates daily with case updates. "They get consistency; the work matches their preferences and goes through our two-step quality control process performed by American CDTs and dentists on staff," says Jerry. "It's like having their own lab within our lab."
A production resource
From the outset, it was the Doviacks' vision to work only with labs, not dentists, which still holds true today, aside from some local business from dentists in Manila. "Our intention was always to be a production resource for other laboratories," says Tina. "The local laboratory can give its own dentist-clients what they want better than we can: expertise, experience and support."
Of course, over the past decade, competition from other offshore outsourcers has continued to heat up. Fully aware that many of these laboratories focus on price alone--"it's almost a race to the bottom," says Tina--Interdent continues to emphasize value-added benefits and foster relationships with its laboratory customers.
For example, Interdent has customers around the globe who send more than 500 units a month, and these laboratories get "white glove" treatment. Not only do they have their own team of technicians at Interdent, but they do receive preferred pricing, as well as faster turnaround and discounted supplies, including Mona Lisa teeth, Interdent's private label, three-layer denture tooth.
Interdent also has its own plastics division which manufactures the laboratory's patented case boxes, provided at no charge to its customers; custom-printed packaging is also available. The box is designed to reduce shipping costs by keeping shipments within specific weight and size limits.
"Anyone doing business offshore knows that the shipping costs are monumental; it's the second largest expense for us after labor," says Jerry. "So not only do we reduce our costs with these boxes, but we provide them to our customers because we don't ever want shipping costs to be an obstacle to doing business with us."
Twenty-five years later, the Doviacks aren't resting on their laurels. Jerry's still traveling--to Manila once a week and also to lab customers around the world--and maintains that although they were ahead of the curve, success didn't come easily. "It took, and continues to take, a lot of hard work. We have staying power because we diversified and didn't rely on one single geographic market. That's what helped us survive the ups and downs."