Plotting Your Strategy: An Interview with Vident President Fred Ketcho
Plotting Your Strategy: An Interview with Vident President Fred Ketcho
When Fred Ketcho became president of Vident, a VITA company, he walked into the industry with only a limited background in the dental laboratory field. But that didn’t last long. He dove right in, perused the market research, met industry professionals and implemented a strategic plan. Recently, he paused his busy schedule to answer a few questions about Vident, strategic planning and what lessons dental laboratory owners could learn from the company’s experience.
As the new president of Vident, a Vita Company, what are your top three objectives?
My top three objectives are to review our strategic direction and make sure it aligns tightly to the realities of the dental laboratory market; assess Vident’s vision and mission and insure that it matches the needs and desires of the lab community; and keep the channels of communication open to all laboratories so that we can continue to provide strong products, technical support, education and services that yield measurable quality and productivity gains for the labs.
How will accomplishing these goals affect your dental laboratory customers?
By creating a partnership with laboratories and focusing on strategic business growth, not just products alone, we can not only grow together, we can discover a new way of doing business. The integration of materials and systems into the dental laboratory is something we’re very good at, most recently where we’ve been able to go in and provide customized training, unique marketing programs and the most cost-effective material systems to customers such as DSG, National Dentex and Frontier.
I understand Vident completed a strategic plan recently. What did you get out of that experience?
I got a deeper understanding of our industry as a whole. I learned what our current and emerging customer requirements are and how best to position Vident to uniquely address these needs. We also considered the predominant operating models of our major competitors to insure we were delivering a more sustainable, differentiated proposition to our customers that better supports our customers business and associated challenges.
What three pieces of advice would you give to dental laboratory owners embarking on the strategic planning process?
1. Laser focus your strategy and team on your markets and customers.
In all the labs I’ve visited, it’s the ones that understand their markets wants and needs intimately that are succeeding, and you simply can’t get that understanding without constantly directing your attention outward. I’m a huge proponent of empowering teams to look to the market for solutions…whether it be exploring new product opportunities, services or efficiencies you can put into place. Consult with your customers frequently. By doing this, you are strengthening your relationship and setting the stage for increased business.
2. Understand your company’s strengths and limitations…play to your strengths while building the necessary organizational competencies to support your strategy
So many of us try to be all things to all people. Recognize what you excel at and what needs work. Be honest with yourself. Are you the best esthetic lab in your market? Great, then why are you trying to compete on price with the production lab next door? And if you want to compete in the production segment then make sure it fits with your strategy and capabilities. And more importantly, as I mentioned in my previous point, do the market research to ensure success. It’s a bit like the saying “Give the people what they want.” But make sure you know what they want and make absolutely sure it plays to your strengths.
3. Effectively execute…objectively assessing, measuring and adjusting along the way
It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in or how large you are. If you’re not continually measuring you never know where you stand or what your potential is. Many labs measure by unit output, or labor cost and time; many measure sales, of course. Not all labs are capable of measuring minute details, but you need to start somewhere in order to discover efficiencies. I attended a lecture on lean presented by Mary Borg of Safelink recently and a fascinating takeaway was that many labs begin losing efficiency as soon as cases arrive. Rather than handle each package individually and shuttling it to the correct department, there is a tendency to sort and batch process as many packages as they can; this means bottlenecks and fits and starts to the production process. And this is only the first step in handling a case!
Top-line sales growth as a measure of success is fine, but until you understand the soft costs, like the time lost with the bottleneck example, you will not have a clear profit picture. Of course, once you understand all the requirements for maximizing your profit, the real work of instituting change begins. Here at Vident I’ve encapsulated this idea with our new “continuous improvement” initiatives. We’re constantly measuring, assessing and adjusting in order to create the best consultative relationship with labs possible. Will it match my own goal of Vident being the absolute best consultative partner for labs across North America? Let’s get together in 12 months and find out. But through many incremental, relatively painless adjustments we’ve been able to generate some very positive results and show our lab partners ways to dramatically increase efficiency. And it all started with objectively assessing and measuring.
How did the strategic plan cause you to reevaluate Vident's place in the market?
We noticed that we were spread thin – by having field sales reps call on both labs and dentists we were not completely satisfying either one. Imagine a sales rep who has a great relationship with a laboratory and he’s looking forward to hand-delivering that new furnace and porcelain kit; then a call comes in from a dentist nearby who is having questions with his VITA Easyshade Compact and has a patient in the chair. That rep is likely to call his lab and postpone his visit in order assist the dentist. This leads to great customer service for one, and questionable service for the other.
By realigning our field reps to focus on a lab or dentist specialty we are able to offer superior support to both labs and dentists. While there is always going to be cross-training and our reps retain the ability to assist with all of our products, this key change allows us to insure our reps are more knowledgeable, responsive and working to drive better business outcomes for our customers.
What was the most surprising thing you learned during the strategic planning process?
The most surprising thing was that lab owners are really pulling for each other and the industry as a whole. Sure, there is healthy and sometimes very heavy competition, but I’ve yet to meet a single person in this industry that does not have the best of intentions. In fact, even laboratories that do not use VITA products respect the brand and its heritage. The entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well among dental labs, and it’s a strong community. This played a key role in our strategic planning…the idea that we’re not just here to make a sale, but to benefit the lab and the industry as a whole and to continually think long-term health and growth of the market. This attitude is not common across all industries, and it makes it a real pleasure to be in this business.
Your company has shuffled some personnel lately, what was the most important thing you learned from that process?
I mentioned earlier that we were spread thin in our field sales organization. Internally we also found that we had people that had expertise in certain critical aspects and were not being used to their full extent to the benefit of our customers. Whether it be in technical services, marketing, sales support or customer service, we had some really dedicated staff that were underutilized.
The most important thing I learned is that our customer facing field teams, and support organization behind them, had to be better aligned to allow a clearer focus and accountability around the customer segments that we serve.
What advice would you give a laboratory owner who is in the process of changing personnel, whether that be hiring or letting people go?
Set individual short- and long-term goals for each member of your team. This is over and above productivity expectations. Learn their desires, learn what they are good at and, most important, learn what they want to become. Then put into place a process for each person to achieve agreed-upon goals. You’ll learn real fast who wants to grow with you and who wants to simply arrive each day, get the work done and get out the door as fast as they can.
You don’t have to place everyone on a growth path – some excellent employees may want to be measured on number of units, or quality of work, without any further career aspirations. And that’s fine. But it’s your job as a leader to figure it out and motivate each person individually insuring a strong level of engagement behind your overall business strategy.
And if the agreed-upon goals are not being consistently met, your job becomes easier when personnel changes are required.
So what's in store for Vident in 2011 and how will this be beneficial to laboratory owners and technicians?
Vident has great products with a strong tradition of reliability and strength, but we’ve never really stepped up and shared our culture or our vision for helping dental labs succeed. What you’ll see this year is a much more transparent, consultative and partnering approach from us. We’ll continue to provide excellent products, but we’ll also be delivering additional value-added services to reinforce our commitment to the success of dental labs, including increased on-site and distance-based training, laboratory efficiency reviews, productivity assessments and resulting recommendations. Let’s not forget that we have a keen eye on the global market with VITA and its partners around the world. And we’ll be an excellent resource for what’s impacting your business both locally and globally.
Is there anything I should have asked that I didn't?
No, but there’s one thing that I’d like to add. I believe that our vision statement, that was carefully produced by our Vident colleagues, recaps our discussion from today very well:
Vident is the undisputed leader in improving the well-being of patients through the highest quality and most cost-effective restorative dental solutions that deliver exceptional experiences to our labs and clinical customers…one smile at a time.