Dental supply houses can provide a time-saving alternative to managing inventory as well as a source of new product information

A new series created by Alan Stuart Markoff, DDS, MBA

Dental supply houses can provide a time-saving alternative to managing inventory as well as a source of new product information

In the first of this series, I discussed the four most important elements of overhead in a dental practice. In no particular order of importance, they are: laboratory, rent, salaries, and dental supplies. I have elaborated on the first three in previous articles. Now, we will discuss dental supplies in depth.

There are several mechanisms available to reduce the monthly cost of dental supplies. One can create a co-op with colleagues, perhaps a study group, or collegial neighbors. Obviously, you will not all utilize exactly the same items, but there should be enough of an agreement on most items to merit bulk-ordering and lower prices.

Once you do this, you can usually negotiate with one or more dental supply houses for across-the-board discounts. If one of the dental offices in your group has adequate supply space, you can buy in bulk, and store in that space. Someone, perhaps a dental assistant, can act as the quartermaster for the group and keep records.

You can also assign one of your chairside dental assistants to be responsible for all of the supplies. She can be taught to comparative shop, and purchase each item from the supply house that is offering the best price on any given item. This, of course, takes time, and takes her away from her primary duties.

The mechanism that has received my attention over the past few years is a dental supply house that will inventory your stock room. They will look at your expense records over the last year or two, and then agree to a budget that you set. Then, they guarantee to stay at or below that number each year. If they go over, they refund the difference, in cash, at the conclusion of the year.

This approach makes so much sense to me. For example, if your monthly supply bill is $5,000 ($60,000/year), they will stay at that amount, or below it. No one on your staff needs to be bothered with ordering supplies. No more comparative shopping. No more wasted time. No more being without something when you need it.

Every item that you utilize is on their computer. There is always backup and most importantly, there are, potentially, bimonthly meetings with your representative.

This last issue is very important. Do not see them as an interruption. See them as a learning opportunity. There are so many new products on the market, that I would hope you would want to be informed. Some aren't as good as what you are presently using, but many are superior and will make procedures much easier.

The key aspect to this approach is that it is unbelievably time-saving, and saving time usually means saving money. But, even if it is break-even, you are ahead of the game. You will save time, both yours and an assistant's, and very likely anguish. Nothing is more frustrating than to not have something that you need to complete a procedure, and that item resides in the warehouse of the dental supply house. Even a "quick-shot" delivery stops you dead in your tracks.

The assistant feels awful, and your gut is tied in knots. With your inventory system on a computer with a dental supply house, there is little chance this will occur. This is truly how a dentist spells RELIEF.

When you are on a system as described above, you may not get the lowest price on each and every item, but you will be very close.

And, you don't have to take the time to check this out daily or weekly. Together with your representative, you have decided what your monthly budget will be for supplies. If you exceed it one month, hopefully, you will make it up the next. You can, however, rest assured that the amount you selected per month will be the amount you spend each year.

This is a macroscopic approach. You have to step back and look at the yearly picture, as opposed to the daily/monthly picture, and you must have faith in the supply house and your representative that this is a win-win relationship.

This, then, completes a different view of options to reduce your overhead. Some may make sense to you. Others, or all of them may seem foolish or not doable. You have to decide for yourself.

Each of us has our own fingerprints and DNA on our practices. That, in a nutshell, explains our uniqueness. My purpose is to expose each of you to possible options to increase your take-home pay, and to visualize the end of the journey while you are either starting, or well into the trip.

Once the journey through private practice is completed, the only options are to lament what you didn't do, and then it is impossible to retrace your steps.

The practice of dentistry is not an easy venue in which to earn a living. It is stressful and fatiguing, and over a dental lifetime, can be debilitating. So, when you approach the end, it is more about the "numbers" than ever before. To have something put aside assuages the ego, so that you have more choices.

To realize this goal, start planning now. Reduce your overhead in prudent ways, and save the difference. Such sound behavior will change your golden years and allow you options you never dreamed possible.

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