Success is All About Relationships: How I Chose My Dental Lab

  • by Larry Stanleigh, BSc, MSc, DDS, FAGD, FADI, FICD, FACD, FPFA
  • Jun 20, 2019, 10:16 AM
It was the spring of 1990. I had just returned from Northern Norway as the dentist assigned to Allied Command Europe Mobile Force exercises 200 kilometers (124 miles) north of the Arctic Circle in early February (it was a balmy 5 degrees Celsius, unlike the -27 temperature I left in Calgary, Alberta). I was one of two dentists supporting troops from a dozen NATO countries on this exercise.

I was facing the end of my military career. At that time, the Canadian Forces had more dentists than they needed for operational requirements, and they were encouraging dentists to leave with a financial incentive. If I wanted to receive such a ‘bonus’ again, I would have to stay for another 14 years. I could imagine another 4, but not another 14, so I took my bonus and decided to stay in Calgary.

I had broken my upper central incisors at age 11 in a pillow fight, and the crowns placed when I was 18 were dated and needed to be changed. It was recommended that I call a local lab to make the crowns to save some time. I asked my local dental colleagues who they recommended, and one lab in particular — Aurum Ceramic — was mentioned from multiple sources. 

I called Aurum Ceramic,told them about my situation and asked if they would make, deliver and bill the Canadian Forces for a couple of crowns for me. The lovely woman who answered the phone immediately transferred my call to Hans “Hyo” Maier.

Hyo was delighted to greet a dentist who would be new to Calgary. He asked me to come to the lab so he could get custom shading done on me. I showed up, and he gave me a personal tour. I had never had a tour of a commercial dental lab before, only the one that was used in my dental school in Toronto. He talked about how he started as a small family business and had a vision of excellence. He introduced me to all of the department heads — crown and bridge, dentures, orthodontics — and they all greeted me with warmth. In dental school, I was one of 104 dentists who graduated and was, thus, just another dental student. In the Canadian Forces, I was one of over 100 dentists nationwide and was just another dentist there as well. I even thought of myself as just another dentist, but I was not treated that way at Aurum Ceramic. On that day, I was special.

Hyo did all of this knowing they had an opportunity to create a long-term relationship with a new dentist in town. When taking my shade, he mentioned that Aurum is not the least expensive dental lab in town. In fact, their fees are generally about 10% higher.I found this to be an intriguing admission and asked him why. He told me they had studied their production very closely and found that about 10% of the cases (remember this was in 1990) needed to be redone for a variety of reasons: material issues, bad impressions, bite issues, etc. Hyo said that, this way, if a case needs to be redone, they don’t complain or whine about money lost; they simply redo the case, no questions asked, for no additional fee. The remake is built into the original price.

That is what sold me. It was the idea of looking after the customer/client without question because the relationship was important. This was a family-run business that treated customers like family as well.

I received those crowns two weeks later with a personal note from Hyo welcoming me to Calgary and letting me know that the crowns were free. I later learned he made those crowns himself.

It was then that I decided this was the dental lab I was going to work with. When I started as an associate in northwest Calgary, I went back to Aurum and spoke to the department heads. I told them that we were partners in our patients’ care. I said that even though we did not work in the same space, the work they did was critically important for our patients’ comfort, function and joy, and if there was anything I could be doing better, please just pick up the phone and tell me. If we want great work, we need to work together collaboratively. I am NOT perfect. I am doing the best I can, and I need my lab as much as they need me.

Needless to say, the dental lab technicians loved to hear this. They know their work is important, and having a dentist/client admit that and verify what they know and believe is a big deal to them.

I have been working with the Aurum Group for nearly 30 years now,and their commitment to me has been solid. They have a robust continuing education program to ensure I learn the newest information about techniques, materials and much more. And as I learned more, my dentistry got better, and my redo rate has been way below the 10% Hyo told me about on that day long ago.

I don’t question the fee they charge. I don’t care. It’s not about the money —it’s about great work, consistently, day after day. And Hyo is still working in the lab, making great prosthetics for us. And it is still a family business. His sons, Mark and Grant, are helping now, and the department heads have now become friends of mine. It is a big lab and internationally renowned, but its roots are solid and based on relationships. Because success is all about relationships.
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