If you have ever seen the movie ‘Jerry Maguire’, you have a pretty good idea how Team Solutions came to be. Unfortunately there were no catchy one liners like “Show me the money!” or “You had me at Hello”, so it will probably not be turned into a major motion picture anytime soon. I also did not stand in the middle of the company I worked for holding a goldfish in one hand, pleading “Who’s coming with me?”
Other than those clever images, the story unfolds much like the opening of the movie: A successful corporate executive questions the way business is done in his industry and asks – can’t we do better than this?
I grew up in my father’s dental lab. He vigorously urged me to leave dental technology, ‘work with your head not your hands’, but the industry already had it’s hold over me and I came back to it more than once. After 15 years in the family lab, I was invited by a large corporate lab group to take over labs that were struggling and put them back on the right path. It was fascinating work; seeing how labs succeed and failed and what causes each. I built many lasting friendships with people from all over the industry.
Technology began to grow and I watched as machines and offshore began to replace the skilled, dedicated technicians. I understood the ‘math’ behind these moves, but it still gnawed at me as I wondered “What are we losing as we remove all these people?” There could be no doubt that the technology and offshore options were here to stay, but in some cases they became the excuse to remove highly trained (expensive) people.
The technology, in some parts of the process, improves the product or saves money without compromising. Other steps required a real live person to adapt the case to the unique needs of the individual. However, as the old saying goes, “when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. In some labs the machines are used to solve every problem, and they simply cannot replace the thinking, feeling, and intuitive strengths of a well-trained human being.
I struggled for a solution that would work for everyone, as the overall quality of work dropped and technicians with years of experience left the industry, no longer needed. Yes, prices were lower, and in many cases the simpler products were acceptable, but we were losing our knowledge base, our history and our ties to how the industry developed in the first place. They say “a man who does not study the past is doomed to repeat its mistakes” and by eliminating these technicians, who had been making teeth their whole career, we had no sense of history to rely upon. Again, there had to be a better way.
I spent extended periods discussing this syndrome with industry leaders, manufacturers and clients. Finally we came to consensus that the industry could not continue in this direction without losing its core knowledge, something had to be done. I designed a program to team up dental technicians with computer technicians and to move customer service to the forefront of every equation. Regardless of whether we were discussing new equipment, or materials, or tools for communication, one question came first “DOES THIS MAKE THINGS BETTER FOR OUR CLIENTS?” If the answer was no, we dismissed the idea.
We debated values and terminology, ethics and warrantees as if it was a philosophy class. As we drilled down we found common themes began to emerge: labs today worry too much about ‘who is at fault’, they fail to deliver products on time, they quibble with their customers over pennies. Or they just give up and send all the work to China and take a middleman markup instead of investing the pride of workmanship in the restorations.
Finally we scrubbed a whiteboard clean and recreated the founding principles of the dental lab, and those became our mission, vision and values. Every element and every employee was carefully chosen to ensure the best result for the client. We would use technology to enhance the product without increasing the cost, but we would also rely upon highly skilled senior technicians who understand teeth and dentistry.
We found a location that was fairly easy to reach, and built our policies and procedures to be the best in the entire industry. We knew we could not be the ‘cheapest’ if we put in all these ‘extras’ but ‘cheap’ was never the goal, ’great service’ that was the goal and always will be.
Our sense of team would not just extend forward to the clients, but also backwards to the vendors and manufacturers we would work with. As a result we chose carefully which companies to align with, ensuring they would understand and appreciate our core values as well, and we were pleasantly surprised by the outpouring of support and enthusiasm our project created in the industry. The vendors gave us every advantage we could have asked for and lined up to support our new venture.
As we began to approach prospective clients the phenomenon repeated itself, we were welcomed with open arms. This was the first lab I know of that had a full complement of clients waiting when the doors opened! Some clients were so enthusiastic that they delayed sending cases just so they could send them to us instead of our competitors!
From start to finish this genesis has been a mind blowing experience, challenging and then reaffirming my faith in the value of integrity, the privilege and responsibility that go with close relationships, and the importance of doing what you believe in.
I am humbled by the experience and thrilled if you want to be part of it with us!
-Jason M DeFranco