Why Darby Dental isn't looking back after leaving the "Big Six" Darby Dental

Jan. 1, 2013
Apparently, one exhibitor had had enough of trade shows, even before the 2011 trade show season began.

Editor's Note: In 2011, just after finding out that Darby Dental had decided to stop attending the "Big Six" meetings, I sat down with two representatives of Darby Dental: Gary Rosenberg, president, and Michael Bocian, vice president of sales and marketing. Here's what I had to write as part of my editor's note from a 2011 issue:

Apparently, one exhibitor had had enough of trade shows, even before the 2011 trade show season began. Darby Dental says in a widely sent letter that, beginning with last month's Yankee Dental Congress, they are no longer attending the "Big Six" meetings. Rather, they will focus on study clubs and smaller, more intimate meetings. Their perception is that dentists don't have to attend the show to receive special pricing, so why spend all of that money to exhibit?

"We didn't do this to destroy trade shows and we didn't do this so other people would follow us," said Gary Rosenberg, president of Darby. "We believe that if you want to be heard, you make a statement. That's what we did."

Also in the letter, Darby states its belief that there is no ROI for most companies and that was a major reason for not exhibiting. Darby also cites a perceived lack of interest among the dental societies to generate the much-needed floor traffic.

Another huge factor? Darby's perception that unauthorized dealers are present on the show floor as well.

"We know there are people at these meetings who deal in gray market goods and they are undercutting us on cost," Rosenberg said. "If you're in Manhattan and you're selling Louis Vuitton merchandise in front of that store, you're going to get arrested. If you're unauthorized and selling dental materials at a trade show, you're rewarded with more sales. That doesn't make sense."

Darby's pullout was one of the big buzzes on the Chicago Midwinter trade show floor, with many exhibitors wondering if Darby would miss out on sales by not being present. Rosenberg said the company didn't miss a beat.

"We found that we had the same number of order referrals from Chicago as we had had in years past," he said. "If someone still wanted to order through Darby, our manufacturer partners made that happen. In essence, we were present without being present.

"We didn't have to pull 17 people out of the office for three days. They were still there in our office, doing business for us. The money that we saved by not exhibiting has been reinvested in more customer service personnel and more sales people to better handle our customer needs. We've wanted to see a return on our investment from trade shows and this year, we're investing that money differently."

"I think there would have to be a perfect scenario to get us to come back to those shows," said Michael Bocian, Darby's vice president of sales and marketing. "There would almost have to be a complete change of philosophy, and I think that's a long ways off."

Fast-forward to the present

I recently caught up with Rosenberg and Bocian about what's happened since that change.

Proofs: Darby made the decision to not exhibit at the "Big Six" meetings before the 2011 trade show season. Have you noticed any negative impact from that decision?

Darby: Since this decision was made we have actually seen an increase in overall sales by reallocating resources to direct marketing initiatives and enhanced customer service. We are now also able to offer customers an even more robust rewards program.

Proofs: Have you had any positive or negative feedback from other dental companies about your decision?

Darby: The feedback we have received has all been positive. When we first went public with the announcement, our vendor partners and other industry contacts immediately reached out to applaud Darby for making this bold, but smart, move that they knew would allow Darby to enhance the overall customer experience. They understood the pain we were feeling and admired our courage to take a calculated risk like this. Since then, we have heard of several companies that have plans to reduce their floor space at trade events or to pull out completely.

Proofs: What are the main reasons why you chose to not exhibit at the "Big Six" meetings?

Darby: Year after year we were seeing a decline in attendance that ran parallel with a decline in show sales. All this, while our overall cost to exhibit continued to rise. We realized we were just there because that's what we always did and what everyone else was doing. As an all-telesales company, it just didn't make sense any longer to take on an expenditure that had no return, knowing that money could be spent to better serve customers and build the business. We favor smaller and more personal events where we can work closely with event coordinators for mutually beneficial results.

Proofs: Do you have an estimate on what you've saved and how you've reinvested that money?

Darby: We had a seven-figure annual trade show budget that has been reallocated to hiring additional sales people and increased pre- and post-trade show marketing efforts.

Proofs: You said in 2011 that it would take a "perfect scenario" and change in philosophy from trade shows for Darby to exhibit again. Do you see any signs of change in the world of dental trade shows?

Darby: I closely monitor and attend many of the major trade shows in an effort to evaluate. So far, there are no evident signs of positive change in structure to encourage more buying at shows. Coupled with this, attendance continues to decline and appropriate action is not being taken to address this. I listened to many manufacturers at a recent trade event tell me it was one of the worst meetings they have ever attended.

As president of Darby Dental Supply, Gary Rosenberg oversees daily operations and strategic partnerships by directing, expanding, and targeting the long- and short-term goals of the company. With more than 30 years of experience in the dental industry, Rosenberg also supervises the sales, business development, and planning elements of each division at Darby Dental. As with all members of Darby management team, Rosenberg shares a strong commitment to integrity and common sense as the foundation of doing business.

Michael Bocian oversees all sales and marketing efforts for Darby Dental Supply, ensuring that all programs and initiatives are integrated to support the objectives of each department as well as overall corporate goals. Along with the rest of the senior management team, he is responsible for the strategic direction of Darby Dental Supply. He joined Darby in 2001 as marketing director. He was promoted to vice president of sales and marketing in 2004. He has more than 25 years of experience in the dental industry with Darby and other leading dental companies.