If you’re a dentist or even an administrator for a dental practice, one of your most important tasks is sourcing supplies. Sourcing dental equipment isn’t just about having quality products, though. Choosing the right suppliers can help keep costs down, attract clients, and generally streamline operations. How, then, should you evaluate your options and find the right suppliers?
Consider Group Purchasing
While there are many factors that go into choosing sources for your dental supplies, sometimes the dominant force is a simple one: convenience. Particularly if you’re running a small, independent practice, you may not have much time to deal with all the product representatives that come knocking. You also may lack the negotiating power to drive prices down. Joining a group purchasing organization (GPO) can give you the leverage you need. GPOs essentially give your organization the advantages of scale, and supplementary administrative staff, in purchasing relationships.
Managing The Middleman
Some GPOs are free to join, while others have scaled memberships, but one downside of these programs is that they mean admitting a middleman into your supplier relationships. In most cases, that’s going to make things a little more expensive, though sometimes their negotiating power can even things out. Still, there are a lot of businesses that prefer to work directly with their vendors, and for good reasons.
Among the reasons a business might choose to work directly with their vendors is that, whether you’re working with a GPO or a dental supply warehouse, deals are often only “deals” when compared to the markup they underwent behind closed doors. A dental supply warehouse will often look attractive from the exterior, offering special package deals, refill plans, and free offers but in reality, there’s no actual savings. Going straight to a direct-to-office supplier helps eliminate that markup and cut out the middleman, saving the dental office, and often times the patients, more money.
Another reason some offices prefer to avoid working with a middleman is that they worry about how adding additional layers to the purchasing process can impact the supply chain. The more layers involved, the more likely there are to be cost overruns, scheduling issues, and communication failures. No one needs to add more complications to such an essential process.
Know Your Audience
Overall, dental practices all have similar needs. Whether you’re choosing a GPO or an individual supplier, you’ll need similar products to every other practice, so does it really matter who you choose? The answer may be more complicated than you think. By tuning into your audience, you may discover specific needs or products that can bolster your practice.
Take, for example, a product like prophy paste or fluoride varnish. Prophy pastes are a staple for cleaning teeth, and both it and fluoride varnish come in many different formulations, most of which are broadly similar. If, however, you’re a pediatric practice, you might want to find a supplier that offers kid-friendly flavors and formulations, like bubblegum. It’s these small distinctions – the products that make your clients more comfortable and make a stressful experience a little more pleasant – that can make or break supplier relationships.
Be Willing To Innovate
Dental practices may have similar needs when it comes to basic products, but there’s still room for change and transformation, especially when it comes to more highly technical products. Interested in adding more automation or using more software in your practice? Being an early adopter can be highly beneficial in terms of long-term cost savings and building relationships. Products like Calaject, which is used to administer computer-assisted anesthesia, the CheckUp app that monitors curing lights, or Yapi, a practice management platform, can all improve practice function and patient satisfaction and make your practice more competitive.
Intangibles, Loyalty, And Added Value
Given all the factors that go into choosing dental suppliers, it’s hard to say exactly what elements should be more important – and each practice will weight these factors differently.
Indeed, it’s often the hardest to identify factors, those intangibles divorced from the products themselves, that settle relationships. Suppliers that demand Net10 payment might be too inconvenient to work with, for example, or maybe one company has a product representative who always shows up when you’re too busy and monopolizes your time. Sometimes it’s worth paying a few dollars more for a pleasant experience.
Every dental practice will eventually find its own fit when it comes to choosing a dental supplier, and these relationships will evolve over time. The most important thing is to pay attention to what your buying, how your patients respond, and whether your supplier relationships bolster or frustrate your operation.
Like so many other business decisions, it make take some trial and error, but you’ll find the right fit eventually, based on your own professional wisdom.