by Howard Farran, DDS, MBA, Publisher, Dentaltown Magazine
In February 2014, Forbes published an article titled “Sears Still Missing the Boat:
6 Ways the Brand Can Be Saved.” Sears has been on a painful decline for the last
decade. When I was a kid, Sears was the be-all end-all. It was all things great. I can still
remember sitting around with my five sisters looking at the Sears Catalog. We’d circle
things. We’d make Christmas lists. It was fantastic.
Sears was one of the first department stores to carry exclusive product lines including
DieHard Batteries, Kenmore appliances and Craftsman tools. But now, it’s had its
lunch handed to it by Lowes and Home Depot. But why?
The smartest economic gurus in the U.S. and Canadian market insist the market is
split in two—half shop on price and half shop on service. But companies, department
stores and even dental offices have to have one of the two. They can’t cater to both markets
For Sears, it used to be all about the service. You knew when you walked into Sears
that its product lines were good quality and that you would receive great service if you
had any questions or needed help. Now, you walk into Sears and nobody can explain
anything about a battery or a tool or an appliance. Its service has taken a plunge but it
hasn’t made up for it in price. Other stores, like Wal-Mart for example, have the same
products but offer them at a better price.
On the other side of the coin, every time I go into Home Depot and have a question,
I get it answered immediately (and of course, realize I need more equipment and tools).
I end up being led by the sales associate to four other aisles to find things. It’s good business.
That store is staffed with a bunch of people who know what they’re talking about.
This is interesting to me on the dental side of things because I go into dental offices
all the time. Nine out of 10 dentists don’t let their staff talk intelligently to patients.
Hygienists are afraid to show patients a cavity on an X-ray because they’re “not the doctor.”
This is absurd.
The patient is sitting in the chair and the dental assistant is taking a PA and a bitewing
for an emergency. The tooth is completely bombed out. It’s obvious that the tooth has to be
extracted. The patient asks the dental assistant, who has been working for the practice for
years, what the verdict is. She doesn’t answer because she’s afraid of her own doctor. She’s
afraid of being knowledgeable staff member. So basically, the doctor wants to be Sears.
I often hear dentists use the excuse: “It’s illegal for a dental hygienist or an
assistant to read an X-ray.” Can you name one hygienist, dental assistant or
receptionist in America who is serving time in prison for reading an X-ray? It’s
not like you, the doctor, are going to go in there and take the hygienist’s reading
on the X-ray and just start doing a root canal blindly. No! You are going to
evaluate it for yourself. You’re going to ask her to clarify if her handwriting is
messy. You’re going to discuss what she saw versus what you’re seeing. This is
why the “it’s illegal” excuse is just crazy. It’s crazy for the patient’s questions to
be put off and it’s not fair for the staff. They’re knowledgeable, so let them
show it in the work they do. The same way the knowledgeable employees at Home Depot take pride in their work, your assistant’s knowledge in the work she does
is one of qualities that make her proud to work in your office. And it’s what keeps staff
The best thing about having knowledgeable staff is that they’re empowered to do well,
which means they’re often the longest-retained employees. Mary at the front desk might
not be able to say for sure whether a tooth needs a root canal, but between a little knowledge
about what might be causing the patients pain and the fact that she’s been sitting by
the doctor’s side for 20 years… patients trust that. It’s selling the invisible.
I continue to hear dentists talk about how they want to operate on service not price. They
want to develop a high-end practice. They want to do implants and veneers. It’s interesting
to note that these are the same doctors who often come to meetings alone rather than bringing
their staff. All I can say is “Where is your team!?” Where is the person answering the
phone at your practice? The person who answers the phone should be sitting in a class on
ortho or perio or root canals or gum disease. That person is going to be fielding 90 percent
of the questions. That incoming call is one of the most powerful things in dentistry.
The greatest stores (those that are continuing to be successful in this economy) are all
adding new services. Nordstrom added Topshop. Macy’s expanded their shoe department
and partnered with Finish Line. They’re also continuing to train long-term staff to be knowledgeable.
The workers know the brands inside and out. They offer specialty services like tailoring
and personal shopping. Or in
Home Depot’s case, tool rental and
installation offerings. They’re differentiating
themselves through staff as well as
product and service offerings.
You need knowledgeable workers.
Our team has busted our butts for 15
years to develop our online CE program.
All you need to do is spring for a
pizza or sandwiches and you can sit
around a table for an hour at lunchtime
with your team and watch a CE on
Dentaltown. Right now we have about
215 courses online. You could watch
one a week for four years and still not
finish them! These courses are particularly
great because they’re only an hour
long (which is about how long our
attention spans work effectively). You
need knowledgeable workers. You
shouldn’t be watching these courses
alone. You shouldn’t be learning alone!
There is a lot to be learned from
Sears. The failing department store
and the stores that are thriving have
one big difference—knowledgeable
staff. So, which model are you going