Attend enough industry meetings and you will inevitably encounter Billy Drake, CDT, owner of Drake Precision Dental Laboratory. He'll be the one who always has an insightful comment to make, and is never afraid to be the first to speak up. He's also the one who takes every opportunity he gets to forge relationships within the community--with fellow technicians and lab owners, vendors and dentist-clients.
This ability to establish relationships is at the heart of his lab's success. In 1982, when Drake bought the lab, it consisted of nine employees in a 2,800-square-foot building. Today, the lab is located in a new, 30,000-square-foot facility, employs a staff of 112, and is gearing up to celebrate its 25th anniversary.
The state-of-the-art facility is also the place where numerous relationships have begun. At the lab's annual customer-appreciation event, Day with Drake, clients as well as non-clients are invited to a free presentation given by a locally known dentist. A dentist-client also gives a demonstration using products fabricated by the lab, and the day concludes with lunch and golf. It's a marketing strategy and relationship-builder that works: last year's event was attended by approximately 200 dentists, and the lab had new clients sending in cases almost immediately. "The Day with Drake that started as a thank you to existing customers has turned into our largest sales event of the year," says Drake.
To Drake, the term "business partners" includes everyone he deals with, from customers to vendors to employees. "It's the relationships you have with those partners that tie them to your lab for the long term," says Drake, and he should know. Fifty percent of his accounts and 25% of his employees have been with the lab for 10 years or more. This year, the lab will celebrate the retirement of the first employee to have completed 25 years with Drake.
In the mid 1990s, Drake also formed partnerships with several area schools and universities that allow the lab to interact with future dentists. The lab's director of education and training, David Avery, CDT, lectures to junior and senior dental students at universities including the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Medical University of South Carolina and the Medical College of Virginia, addressing dentist and laboratory relationships. The students are also invited to spend a day touring and observing what goes on in the lab. These strategies have directly influenced who these students choose to work with when they become dentists; in fact, Drake has been the only lab some graduates have ever used. "One of my top accounts," says Drake, "is a former student impressed by David Avery while still in school."
Because Avery; Drake; Mark Stueck, CDT, crown and bridge manager/technical consultant; and Andre Theberge, RDT, CDT, lab manager, have garnered a reputation of being well-educated and knowledgeable, they are invited to participate in about 40 dental study group presentations a year. Traveling from West Virginia to Georgia, the group addresses topics such as removables, all-ceramics and implantology. In addition to offering dentists a valuable service, says Drake, these presentations, "build our clients' trust in our knowledge and ability to offer them a good product."
Drake also has strong ties to his peers in the industry. Clearly a believer in the value of networking, Drake's long list of industry affiliations includes the North Carolina Dental Laboratory Association, the Southeastern Conference of Dental Laboratories, the NADL, the CAL-Lab Group and the Dental Resource Alliance, which he helped establish in 1993. Participation in these groups has provided many valuable learning opportunities. "It's a mutually beneficial relationship," he says. "At meetings, we compare finances, discuss new products and tell each other what's working for us and how we're doing it. We share ideas, knowledge and strategies. It's not uncommon for me to leave a meeting thinking, 'That was a great idea he came up with. I'm going to try that!' Remember," he adds, "everybody has problems or challenges that someone has already solved."
Drake Precision Dental Laboratory, Charlotte, NC
Billy Drake, CDT, a well-known industry veteran, got his start as a technician in 1971 and became a laboratory owner 11 years later. Over the years, he has created a successful full service laboratory that serves dentists in 35 states and reports gross sales of $10 million per year.
Although much of Drake's success has to do with his many strong relationships within the community, he is also a savvy businessman who stays current with technology trends and stresses the importance of continuing education, for both himself and his staff. Once hired, all staff members must undergo a 90-day training period using the PTC system. Drake also employs two technical trainers to keep staff current on the latest technologies. Currently, he is planning a dentist-conducted, in-lab training program, to be held at the lab for his employees in the near future. The purpose of this training is to humanize lab work. As Drake explains, "Technicians must always remember that there is a person behind every crown or denture that comes out of the lab."
Last May, another one of Drake's goals--to run the most quality-oriented lab possible--was realized when the lab achieved DAMAS certification. "DAMAS certification requires that the lab use only FDA-approved raw materials with batch-to-batch traceability, document all customer complaints, resolve them quickly, and conduct third-party audits on a regular basis," says Drake. "These processes work together to ensure we are managing our quality system with consistent results."