Dental distribution and supply trends: An interview with DC Dental's David Charnowitz

How are e-commerce and technology disrupting the dental distribution market? For answers, we talked to David Charnowitz, CEO of DC Dental.

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What do you think about your dental supplier? If you're like most dentists and office managers, you're demanding technology efficiencies, product expertise, and lower prices. That's a tall order, but it's why companies like DC Dental are rising to the top of the dental distribution game. DC Dental understands that to keep up in the age of Amazon Prime, you have to invest in your product. That's why the company recently put $2 million into automation improvements at its Baltimore, Maryland, distribution center. What does that kind of money buy you? To find out, we talked to David Charnowitz, CEO of DC Dental. Charnowitz also identified key trends that he sees shaping the dental market. Read our exclusive interview to learn more.


Interview with David Charnowitz of DC Dental

David CharnowitzAPEX: For those who don't know about DC Dental, can you give us a brief overview of the company?

CHARNOWITZ: DC Dental is an independent dental supplier dedicated to helping doctors do business more smoothly and more profitably. Since 2002, DC Dental has set a new, higher standard for service to dental practitioners thanks to its unwavering commitment to value, large selection, fast delivery, and top-notch customer service. The company, which is based in Baltimore, Maryland, currently serves several thousand customers throughout the country with a focus on the Mid-Atlantic region. Key customers are independent practitioners. The company has approximately 100 employees. As CEO, I see my role as setting the vision and continually shaping the company around changes in the dental industry—to better serve independent practitioners as the industry evolves.

APEX: Dentistry and the dental supply business are changing. Before we talk about the dental supply business specifically, what are three key developments in dentistry that you feel are driving change?

CHARNOWITZ: I see three dental industry changes that are closely intertwined. First, there is the rise of corporate dentistry, meaning multilocation, multidoctor dental practices that are affiliated with dental service organizations, or DSOs.
Second, a driving factor for the rise of corporate dentistry is the increased market efficiency that is becoming a key survival factor for independent practitioners. The challenge is that independent dentists, by the very nature of this cottage industry, are not set up to be very large or very efficient. It is the back-office functions of a dental practice—including patient acquisition, patient retention, human resources, staffing, insurance, compliance, supply chain efficiency, budgeting, and cost management—that pose the biggest hurdles for private practitioners who are struggling to stay competitive with corporations.

Third, while independent dentists are facing those back-office challenges, they are, at the same time, being pushed to adapt to the rapid advancement of clinical technology. These changes are happening quickly and can be a challenge to absorb and adapt to. Two prime examples are digital impressions and digital scanning.

APEX: Talk to me about the dental supply business and the impact of e-commerce. What's the big picture now?

CHARNOWITZ: Not only are individual customers moving to an online platform, but we are also seeing an increasing amount of e-commerce investment within the industry as a whole. Over the past 24 months, DC Dental has been upgrading its own e-commerce platform. We are making it more mobile-friendly, improving it as a tool to help customers identify the products they need, and making it easier for them order more efficiently. New features have been released every three months. A key differentiator for our platform is that it is not a marketing site built to bring in more customers. Our site is built purely to drive efficiency in how our customers order the supplies they need.

APEX: DC Dental has put a large investment into automation. Can you tell me about this and other things you've done to gain an edge in the dental supply business?

CHARNOWITZ: We invested in automation to improve efficiencies, streamline our distribution process, and bring a better experience to our customer. By doing this, we have shortened the time it takes to fulfill an order and are able to monitor and audit every step of the fulfillment process. This helps us better understand what happens when something goes wrong and when we get that call from a customer that something was not in the box when they opened it.

Not only has DC Dental made a large financial commitment to automation technology, but we have also invested heavily in a suite of business services that include insurance negotiation and OSHA compliance. We’ve also acquired mobile cone beam computed tomography (CBCT) technology.

The bottom line is that we are committed to rolling out new services that help customers run their practices more efficiently and more profitably so that they can provide a higher level of patient care. We are focused on adding products and services that add value by doing a better job of listening to our customers. By understanding what our customers’ challenges are, we can expand our role as a solutions provider.

APEX: As you've improved your processes and fine-tuned your business to address changes in the market, where did you have to make adjustments?

CHARNOWITZ: One recent example is related to the development of our new warehouse distribution automation system. We discovered early in the process that we had to do it differently from "standard" warehouse picking systems because they are not built to work around an invoice. An invoice is a financial event that happens post-sale. In most cases, it is mailed or emailed to the customer. But in the dental office environment, the feedback from our customers is that they prefer the invoice to be in the shipping box. So, we configured our system to include the invoice in the box 100% of the time. The system will not print a shipping label until the invoice is scanned and shows that it is in the box.

APEX: Without giving away any trade secrets, what does the future hold for DC Dental?

CHARNOWITZ: DC Dental is a nimble company. We are committed to keeping our ear to the ground as the industry changes. We recognize that we need to be there for independent practitioners to help them navigate these turbulent waters. Therefore, we will continue looking at the best and newest technology to make sure we are consistently delivering an excellent experience for our customers. We are a dental supply company focused on the needs of the independent practitioner. Our goal is to be a solutions provider, not just a distributor. We want to be a resource that helps them deal with the challenges that are making the industry more complicated, so that they can be more efficient, profitable, and focused on delivering a high level of customer care.

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Kulsrud Zacharyheadshot2Zachary Kulsrud is senior editor of PennWell's dental group. He serves as chief editor of Apex360 and managing editor ofDental Economics, while also managing the editorial group of DentistryIQ and Perio-Implant Advisory. Email him at zacharyk@pennwell.com and follow him on Twitter at @dental_editor.


Editor's note: This article first appeared in the Apex360 e-newsletter. Apex360 is a DentistryIQ partner publication for dental practitioners and members of the dental industry. Its goal is to provide timely dental information and present it in meaningful context, empowering those in the dental space to make better business decisions.

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