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For each newsletter, the ADDE conducts an exclusive interview with a leading representative of the European dental trade industry. For this issue, we spoke with Ueli Breitschmid, in the dental industry since 1966. Known for being candid and forthright, the CEO and owner of Curaden and president of the Swiss dental association (Arbeitgeberverband der Schweizer Dentalbranche ASD) spoke about the changes in the Swiss dental supply business, the importance of regional trade fairs for dealers, as well as significant trends and developments in the industry. He continues to advise that dentists should think in terms of prevention.
ADDE: Mr Breitschmid, with Curaden Dental Depot, you are running the most successful online shop for laboratory and practice supplies in Switzerland. How has the supply business developed in recent years and decades, and what future development do you foresee?
Ueli Breitschmid: Curaden Dental Depot, a full-service dental supplier, has changed completely in recent years. One reason has been the development of information technology services for laboratories and clinicians, and another reason has been the focus on the digital workflow and 3-D technologies. Furthermore, online stores selling grey market imports, which bypass the official suppliers in Switzerland, have led to greater pressure on our business. Another negative factor has been the appreciation of the Swiss currency. This loss of margins cannot be compensated for by volume growth and higher prices charged for maintenance services or information technology support. In fact, as a typical dental supplier, Curaden has found it increasingly difficult to have an economically viable business. Even worse, the current qualifications of the existing employees in the sales and technology departments cannot keep up with the requirements of today’s customers. A new generation of employees in sales, service and consulting needs to be trained. Also, customer loyalty is difficult to retain with any staff changes.
What impact has this development had on your customers?
Well, the customer structure has changed dramatically: more and more corporate practices with five to 30 clinics have appeared and this has increased the challenge of remaining competitive. In addition, tech-savvy customers use the Internet for price comparison, especially regarding capital goods that require consultation and maintenance, and this leads to additional margin pressure in the devices segment. The customer may even bypass official dental dealers by buying his or her products abroad.
The challenge for today’s management is less the ability to promote one’s product expertise and more the ability to negotiate. We must present to the dentist the larger context for the management of his or her practice. The greatest challenge is ultimately being able to determine appropriate prices for one’s services.
DENTAL BERN was successfully held in June and Curaden had a large stand at the exhibition. With reference to DENTAL BERN in particular and to regional fairs in general, why should dental dealers visit these smaller fairs?
DENTAL BERN is a purely regional showcase of dental companies that are active in Switzerland. For foreign dental dealers, a visit might be inspirational, but DENTAL BERN will not exhibit much more than shows in Birmingham or Paris would. Local events such as DENTAL BERN face the significant challenge of remaining attractive to visitors, as well as profitable for exhibitors (which can be difficult). DENTAL BERN is held together with the annual congress of the Swiss dental association. This has the great advantage that the dentist can combine the congress with a visit to the exhibition. An argument against regional shows is that there are already many congresses with exhibitions, including for orthodontics, dental hygiene and implantology. This reduces the importance and necessity of attending biennial congresses and exhibitions. However, DENTAL BERN is not a small exhibition. A visit by dental dealers from abroad may be worthwhile if the company has particular companies or practices in mind that it would like to establish a relationship with.
What advice would you give European colleagues wishing to enter the Swiss market?
I can only give one piece of advice to my European colleagues: increase the attractiveness for your customer regardless of continuing pressure on margins and cost reduction. Not doing so will mean failure, just as if one ran an expensive and cumbersome organisation.
In your opinion, what developments and trends are significant for dental dealers?
The only growth area for dentists is and remains prevention. Prevention means the extension of the practice’s expertise to health counselling. Dentists are particularly well positioned because they have influence over the patient’s mouth. Unfortunately, their training is inadequate in this regard, since dental students learn a great deal about restoring and very little about the relationship between overall health and oral health. They also learn far too little about how patients should be motivated and instructed in order to help them maintain their oral health and be satisfied with their care. This cannot be relegated to a machine or computer. Personally, I see great opportunity for dentists in this area in the coming decades.
I foresee that practice facilities for conventional treatments will change little, except that devices will be equipped with sensors for remote diagnosis. Drilling will continue to be drilling. Perhaps, there will be treatment chairs in the future that provide even better comfort for long-term treatment for both doctors and patients. The facilities at a normal practice will offer greater hospitality instead of resembling a clinic. For oral health care instruction, however, one does not need any special infrastructure.
Thank you very much for the interview.
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