When I was little, vacations with my dad always consisted of two things: We always went to the biggest theme park, and we also saw what was produced in nearby towns—cars, beer, you name it, we saw it being made.
I carried on this tradition with my boys, too. Over the years, we visited 100 dental companies; my sons have all flown the nest, but they’re still talking about those trips. I remember one road trip when we left Phoenix and stopped at both Glidewell and A-dec. When you walk through those facilities, you get to meet these employees.
It reminds me of the investment book Beating the Street by Peter Lynch. When anybody asks Lynch, “How do you do this?” his reply is, “Every one of my colleagues is sitting in cubicles in Manhattan, reading the same 10-K annual reports and 10-Q quarterly reports. They’re all looking at the same numbers.”
Lynch, meanwhile, would make road trips: He’d get up Monday mornings, drive around the country for five days and get home on Friday nights. He had a checklist that he filled out whenever he’d stop in to see a company: Was it clean? Was he greeted? Could he meet the CEO? Was it weird? Was it dysfunctional? Was it messy? Lynch says these factors indicated if things were good—he could just smell success.
Meet the companies you work with
Last week, I visited 10 companies in Israel, and I saw the same principles in action: I could walk into a company and know right out of the gate if it was going places. I got to meet the founders and see if they’re just good at raising money and growing capital—like the folks you see on Shark Tank who’ve already got an exit strategy once their business is sold and flipped—or if this is their life’s work and passion.
Dentists who discount companies with “Well, the founder isn’t a dentist” miss the point: I’ve seen implant companies that first made their titanium mostly for NASA spacecraft and the military and only later went into dentistry, but when I walk through that factory with the founders they explain why they’re here now. My visits are usually only about an hour, tops, but these people have given 10, 15, 20, 30 years of their life to these products. It’s physical—you’re there, seeing it and touching it. It’s the best education.
Companies love to get time with their customers because a lot of the supply chain of dentistry is disconnected. If I make a product, I might sell a thousand units of my widget to a distributor, but I don’t know whom they actually sold it to. Meanwhile, companies that sell direct always have a connected presence with their dentists: They know their names, they know their cities—they’re so connected. Anytime I’ve walked into one of these companies, they hand me a product, educate me on it, and then follow up a few weeks later with an email or phone call to hear what I thought about using it.
Other advantages of visits
I hear you saying, “Oh, Howard, that’s because you own a magazine and you’re a nationally known speaker.” No, I’m talking about when my boys were ages 1–4 and no one knew my name other than my sons. I still called up and wanted to visit, and they still welcomed me in.
If you’re planning a trip, think of the tax advantages: If you spend four hours and one minute today on a trip, it’s a business trip. Why would you want to go 1,000 miles away and not want to declare it a business trip—and not want to press the flesh?
A tour of the facility is usually a mean and lean hour. I learn so much during that time: You start understanding how important the other stakeholders are. A lot of dentists think it’s all about them, but they wouldn’t have a job if it wasn’t for a patient giving them a dollar. They wouldn’t have any tools if there weren’t 500 dental companies making those tools that make them look great.
It’s team dentistry, and there are a lot of stakeholders and a lot of vendors. Go meet the other stakeholders in the industry! Meet your vendors. If Delta Dental gave you $100,000 for 2019, send a thank-you card instead of sending the CEO a profanity-filled note because his company denied some procedure.
Work the value chain, because you’re going to learn faster through show, touch, feel. You’re going to make relationships in your value chain, and they’re unforgettable experiences.