5 tips for choosing a dental distribution partner

Aug. 26, 2019
The relationship with their distribution partner is one of the most important ones that dentists will develop in their careers.

Whether you’re a dentist, student (and thus, a future dentist), hygienist, or practice administrator, at some point in your career there is an excellent chance that you’ll make purchasing decisions either for someone else’s practice or for your own.

Choosing a distributor is often subjective, as everyone is looking for something different based on their individual needs and capabilities. However, whether you’re making this choice for a new boss or your own practice, here are tips that will guide you to ask the right questions to get the most out of this partnership, which is exactly what this should be—a partnership.


Ask yourself: How many customers is my sales rep taking care of? Are there too many for the rep to attend to my needs? Is the company’s experience relevant to what I need to grow my practice? How many of the large DSOs are partnering with this company?

Chances are, if someone has locked down a lot of the group activity, then the company’s game is on point. The answers to these questions tell you a lot about the company and whether they know how to partner you with someone specifically good for you.

On a local level, it might behoove you or a member of your team to become familiar with the local branch. The local team performance says a lot about what they are capable of and can make or break your decision to put your needs in their hands. If you call in your orders often or enjoy talking to someone in your area who will handle your service calls personally and quickly, it is helpful if they know you better than most. If the local office routinely sends you to an automated directory during office hours, they might not be as “local” as they say.


Asking about logistics is crucial. If you give a company your business and then find out their nearest distribution center is 10 states away, you won’t get your supplies in a timely fashion. Ask about delivery expectations. If they have a fulfillment center that allows ground shipments to reach you within one day, this will make procrastination a bit less stressful if you forget to order something.

Product availability is also key. You probably won’t hear about stock levels unless they’re worth bragging about. The companies with several centers will carry the largest inventory. Some distributors also have their own equipment repair centers and financial and technical service centers, making them a one-stop shop for anything you need.

Loyalty program

Many customers fall into the trap of bargain hunting for every little thing they need. I can assure you that this is not the way to go. In the long run, spreading your purchases across many distributors (online or otherwise) will ultimately kill your purchasing power and limit your loyalty earnings. The secret is to pick a partner you feel is the strongest and let them do their magic; they know what they’re doing.

The loyalty plan will save you money while earning points and membership levels. The points you earn can be spent on things you wouldn’t normally buy (but have always wanted), or on emergency purchases (such as a replacement for that autoclave that looks older than dentistry itself). It pays to be loyal. As you spend, you earn faster and get discount pricing elsewhere on service calls, e-services, repair costs, and more.

One more note here: if a dealer’s pricing is too good to be true, it usually is. Inferior products can be purchased at big discounts, but the price to be paid for purchasing black market products can be heavy. In some cases, it can cost you your whole practice. A good salesperson (or growth advisor, as I refer to them) will show you the overall value of sticking with them.

Sales and service teams

I can’t say enough here, because the local service technician you depend on can be the office’s best friend. Many customers prefer to wait for “their” tech to be available rather than have another team member visit. Service techs are also the first ones consulted about new equipment purchases when an office is ready to buy.

Tenured service technicians have experience working on the equipment their company sells. Chances are that they not only know what brands are best, they can fix them more easily and at less cost than someone else. There is no better relationship in the dental field than that of technician and his or her regular offices. (Hint: We sometimes use our service technician relationships to figure out which salespeople are good for our offices.)

Regarding salespeople, the best ones attempt to grow your practice by whatever means you let them. Dental technology is rapidly progressing, paving the way for doctors to practice more efficient and pain-free dentistry. A good salesperson should not try to sell you a 3-D pan if your needs lie elsewhere, but the person should be letting you know about the technology that’s available.

That being said, when you meet your sales rep, it is important to lay your cards on the table immediately. You should be completely honest about your purchasing intentions, plans for relocation, growth and retirement plans, and anything else the person should know. A great salesperson should help you understand where your money will be better spent or saved depending on your purchasing habits. An upfront look at your plans will keep the person from wasting your time with useless product pitches.


Now that you know this information, consider some additional factors about the company. Is their accounting policy too strict for you? Do you need to pay invoices in 10 days or fewer? That loyalty and prompt payment history might come in handy at this point. Consider the type of support a company provides after selling you equipment. Find out what you are supposed to do when you have questions about items you purchased.

Ultimately, it’s crucial to do research and ask the right questions. If you have colleagues who deal with any local teams, receiving inside information and positive or negative feedback should be a breeze. With good research you’ll have the best information available to choose the company that is the perfect choice for your office.

Matthew Newman is currently the operations manager for the Baltimore/DC/Northern Virginia region of Patterson Dental. A 20-plus year veteran of operational management, he has spent most of his career in the fields of distribution center management and hospitality. He writes articles on operational management, office synergy, and a variety of other topics on which he believes he can contribute helpful viewpoints. He can be reached via LinkedIn at,