Who can really say how we're doing as a community as we enter the second quarter of this new year? Though slightly more than half of you say business is slow--certainly slower than the first quarter of 2008--it hasn't dampened your spirits or your enthusiasm for moving forward and up. Those who have systems in place and who've created a solid business model say they're prepared to weather the storm. The question on everyone's mind, though, is, "How long is it gonna last?"
We are quickly learning how to be and how to survive like squirrels. When squirrels practice preparedness, it's instinct. When we do it, it's wisdom.
Last fall when we asked, "How's business?" many of you expressed a tremendous amount of anxiety about how much further down the markets would plunge before we bottomed out. There was also much discomfort because, at the time, we were in limbo awaiting the results of the presidential election.
I promised that I'd check back to ask again how you are doing. We'd all hoped things would have settled down and whoever became president would "rescue us from the nightmare." As you well know, the financial turmoil cannot be rescued with any kind of quick fix. It's going to take a lot of time and there are many challenges ahead. Things have not settled down. Though various economic indicators measured since February show signs of improvement and, as of press time, the stock market has stabilized above 7,500 for several weeks, we're still not convinced we've bottomed out.
Despite the frustrations and challenges that lie ahead for all of us as we hopefully bounce back from the bottom, I hear you: most of you are telling me that you are nowhere near ready to pack it in. In fact, business is actually up this quarter for about one in four laboratories--in some cases, markedly so--in comparison to the first quarter of 2008. Clearly, most laboratory owners are confident about their ability to succeed: nine out of ten laboratory owners expect to be in business five years from now. Every indicator says that your strong entrepreneurial spirit is in charge here and you are busy spearheading ways to drum up business and keep the revenue streaming in.
This is good! You don't need a Pollyanna pep talk, just reaffirmation. As I've said before, you know your power now and you're making sure you use it. Here's what some lab owners are doing to maintain their competitive edge:
- Becoming fully integrated in digital dentistry
- Building new facilities to better house and take advantage of digital equipment
- Expanding products and services
- Branding lab services
- Cross-training C&B technicians in the denture department
- Honing cosmetic and implant skills
- Steering clear of low-end pricing; aiming for quality
- Doing more all-ceramic work
That's not to say you don't have your plate full of problems to digest. I think we all do! The market--in general--is softer. There's a lot of scrambling for new business, competition is evermore intense and, as old-school technologies phase out, you're being squeezed out of your comfort zone.
On the positive side, decision-makers who are looking forward, who are embracing the changes--taking place at breakneck speed, I may add--seem poised and ready to pounce on the new materials and technologies coming to market. A note to manufacturers: Aside from being caught doing the "economic-slumber limbo rock," there are just two other issues holding decision-makers back from purchasing new technologies: first, they need to figure out which systems to buy; then, they plan to wait for prices to drop.
To a squirrel, it's all about the acorns.