As the larger dental dealers began to shift their focus to meeting the needs of group practices, David Charnowitz and the team at DC Dental doubled down on the independent practitioner—a move that’s helped account for the company’s significant growth in recent years.
DC Dental, a smaller company with an entrepreneurial feel, has a lot to offer independent practitioners, Founder and CEO Charnowitz said, including price transparency and a range of options for how they interact with the dealer.
Many solo practitioners aren’t interested in paying for the frills and value adds that are attractive to larger DSOs. With these groups the new focus for many dealers, independent practitioners feel it’s time to look elsewhere for their supplies. They’re moving away from the large distributors, leaving companies like DC Dental to fill the void.
“We went through a purposeful restructuring and took a hard look at where we felt the industry trends were going pre-COVID,” Charnowitz said. “Dentists want their industry back. The large dealers have a cradle-to-grave big box store mentality, which was once a great concept, but it doesn’t work for everybody. After the consolidation throughout the 2000s, there became fewer and fewer options and as a result, the dealers dictated how they were going to do business with dentists. Now, we’re watching that shift the other way, whether that means more digital and less in person sales or more pricing transparency.”
What Makes DC Dental Attractive To Independent Dentists
DC Dental’s business was split into three components as part of the restructuring: full-service, buying club and digital only models. The different models are priced accordingly, with dentists who want a sales rep and the full-service experience, for example, paying more than those who opt for digital only.
“We let them pick almost like ala carte,” Charnowitz said. “Part of the industry shift is not telling dentists how they have to do business. We allow them to tell us how they would like to engage.”
DSOs tend to be more sophisticated negotiators and will spend the time needed to get the best deal. Many suppliers have raised prices to make up margin points, leaving independent dentists stuck with higher bills because they’re more focused on running their practice than haggling over supplies.
With DC Dental’s price transparency, customers know they’re getting high-quality products at the best price possible. And price transparency, Charnowitz said, will drive a lot of future decisions independent practitioners make.
Larger dental dealers are also getting more involved in owning manufacturing companies. DC Dental would explore this as a strategy only if it would be consistent with its mission to help provide value to its customers.
“Our goal is to work for the dentist and get the best possible deals with the best possible range of services,” he said. “If a manufacturer gets acquired by a dealer, there are plenty of other manufacturers who produce similar types of products that we can engage with.”
A Focus On Education
DC Dental is invested in the success of the independent dental practitioner by providing price transparency so dentists can invest in the products that make them more efficient, and it doesn’t stop there. It’s also our job to connect dentists with other services or thought leaders that can help them cut costs and grow practice revenues, Charnowitz said. That’s why the DC Clinical Webinar Series was developed.
“Saving money on supplies is nice and we can do that for you, but that’s limited,” he said. “If we can help you expand the scope of your practice through additional tips, techniques and education, that is the key to long-term success.”
The webinars are free and are held two to three times a month, with many attracting thousands of participants. A variety of topics are covered, introducing dentists to additional revenue streams or how to get deeper into areas like orthodontics, implants and sleep apnea. There are also webinars that focus on the business side of dentistry.
And these webinars aren’t sponsored by manufacturers, so there’s no one making a sales pitch or pushing an agenda. It’s all about the education.
While more patients are considering DIY types of services for treatment like clear aligners and whitening, this trend isn’t really impacting DC Dental, Charnowitz said. Orthodontic products are typically offered direct from the manufacturer and whitening has never been a big category for DC.
“Our bread and butter is composites and restorative dentistry, which is not do it yourself dentistry,” Charnowitz said. “You’re not able to drill and fill or do a crown and bridge at home. I don’t see it significantly impacting us.”
Moving to the West Coast
DC Dental currently has locations in New York, Michigan and Maryland, and while there are no immediate plans to open a distribution center in the West Coast, Charnowitz does expect to be there eventually.
The company already serves clients on the West Coast, and because most practices don’t need products in one day, not having a location in that part of the country isn’t an issue, Charnowitz said. If there is an emergency, supplies can always be overnighted. As long as we can manage customer expectations, there’s no rush.
“We try to be very conscious of what our margins are so we can deliver maximum savings and value to the customers,” he said. “So, to add a distribution center just to say we’re there, if it doesn’t add to our objective but just to our overhead so we must charge more money for our products, it doesn’t make sense. With that said, expect to see us in the West Coast at some point, when the right business opportunity comes along to justify it.”
The Impact Of The Direct Sales Model
It’s been rumored for years that dental manufacturers are starting to move away from dealers to sell products directly to dentists, Charnowitz said, but it’s not something he’s really seeing. In the cases where manufacturers are pulling away from distributors, it’s because they’ve turned from a dealer representing their product to a competitor.
“Is it worth the manufacturer cutting us out for a few percentage points? The answer is no,” he said. “We don’t see this happening because manufacturers will lose far more than they gain. The only reason to do it is if they feel threatened by the dealer. We support our manufacturers. We don’t compete against them. We do have a private label, but we segment out our offering to make sure the right customer is being offered the right product.”
During his time at DC Dental, Charnowitz has seen plenty of trends emerge that impact the types of products being developed and sold. As more women graduate from dental schools, for example, there’s been growth in product segments that focus on wellness, such as those that support ergonomics.
And as the era of the SuperGP emerges, independent practitioners have expanding product needs. DC Dental has recognized that trend and offers the products necessary to perform the various specialty procedures GPs are starting to keep in-house.
"We add products daily,” Charnowitz said. “Adding more products they need as they take on more cases is a net gain for us.”
There are also changes in how dealers’ market to dentists and how they buy, especially in the aftermath of COVID-19, he said. Dealers will have to continue to have an online presence and put more effort into marketing via social media.
And when it comes to education, instead of in-person study groups, independent practitioners are turning more to online options they can access without having to travel. That’s a trend he’s especially seeing with the younger demographic.
DC Dental will continue to play its part, providing the best prices on dental supplies and equipment, with the focus always on the needs of the independent practitioner—whether they’re just starting out and need to outfit a new practice, are looking to invest in advanced technologies or just need basic supplies.
“We’re here to educate dentists about the best products and how they fit into their practice,” Charnowitz said. “We’re ultimately an entrepreneurial company used to working with smaller businesses.”