Small Lab 'feel' Propels Laboratory to Big-time Growth
Posted Apr 28, 2011, Published 2008-10-01
Things have happened fast for Keating Dental Arts. Just six years ago, Shaun Keating, CDT, opened the laboratory in a small space with a staff of six. Now, the laboratory employs 125 people in a 31,000-sq.-ft. facility and is on track to hit $16 million in sales this year.
Keating notes that sales exploded during his first year in business. He credits that growth, in part, to his participation on DentalTown magazine's internet message board where he frequently discusses cases with dentists. Its participants began touting the virtues of Keating's laboratory and business rolled in.
Shortly thereafter, he appeared on the cover of an issue of DentalTown and, in 2006, that magazine's readers voted Keating Dental Arts Best Crown and Bridge Laboratory.
But rapid growth also has its challenges. "It was always my vision to combine technical expertise with truly personalized service," says Keating. "I knew that as we grew into a larger laboratory, we had to try hard to make it feel like a smaller one." So to stay true to his vision, he made sure systems were in place to allow him to maintain that personal touch with every customer interaction.
Clearly it's working: Dentists continue to applaud the laboratory's service; on Keating's website a customer writes, "Keating is the 'Cheers' lab--where everybody knows your name."
One way the laboratory reinforces that sentiment is by gathering as much client information as possible--not just technical information, but personal, too--and entering it into the laboratory's computer system so it's at everyone's fingertips. These details about the office staff, the dentists' families, alma mater, hobbies, etc., are gleaned casually from conversation and result in an ability to treat each of the 500-plus customers as individuals.
"It gives us the opportunity to make small talk with every dentist. For example, we might say, 'Hey, how was quail hunting season this year?,' or 'So, your team had a big win last weekend,'" says Keating. "Or we might see that we did a roundhouse case for the client a few months ago and we can ask, 'How did Jane Smith like her new smile?' It blows them away that we remember the details."
Another service strategy is to basically give clients their own small labs within Keating Dental Arts. Each customer is assigned a team of technicians--including an anterior ceramist, posterior ceramist, waxers, model technicians, etc.--to do all of his work. Since the technicians on the team are thoroughly familiar with the customer's preferences, it's a way of achieving the level of consistency and personalized attention a dentist would expect from a very small laboratory.
Clients are also matched up with one of eight technical advisors whose sole responsibility is to discuss treatment planning and technical issues and work closely with department managers to ensure the success of each case. "Every person here cares about the cases and the people they're talking to, and I think that really comes through to the dentists," says Keating. "In the beginning, clients would always want to talk to me when they had a question or concern. But now they've built relationships with my employees and many customers have their own 'go-to' person here, which really makes the staff feel good," says Keating.
Keeping employees feeling good--and valued--is what makes this level of service possible. Back when he started the lab, Keating says he was worried he wouldn't be able to afford the comprehensive benefits package he was offering--including full medical coverage, 401(k) and holiday bonus--but he quickly learned that it was a worthy investment. "I found out that if you take care of people, it comes back to you tenfold," he says. "Honestly, this is just a happy place and that's because I've surrounded myself with the right people."
As for hiring the right people, Keating looks for personality first, and then talent. "We want positive employees who are 'people' people" he says. "You know how sometimes you see an athlete and say, 'you can't teach what they've got'? That sentiment applies here. You can't teach 'people skills' or sincerity. It has to be genuine."
Keating Dental Arts, Irvine, CA
Shaun Keating, CDT, has been pouring models since eighth grade, helping out his older brother who is a dentist. After spending 17 years working at another laboratory, he ventured out on his own in 2002.
Emphasizing relationship-building, Keating marketed his crown & bridge services locally as well as in other parts of the country by attending large dental meetings and using targeted direct mail campaigns. Quickly, the laboratory's growth surpassed even his expectations. "When we first did $5,000 worth of sales in one day, I was jacked...now it's hard to believe that we can do up to $100,000 in one day."
Keating acknowledges that as the lab grew, he grappled with the difficulties of managing the business of owning a laboratory. "I wish all I had to do was make teeth and work with technicians and doctors," he says. "The hardest part was organizing shipping and receiving, payables, sales and marketing, etc. It's been a learning experience."
In 2007, he added a denture department to better service customers sending combination cases and, most recently, expanded into offering milling services to other laboratories. "It's exciting to work with laboratories all over the country," he says. "Plus it's rewarding; we understand each other."
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