Richard Markules, Garrison Dental Solutions
Trip to Michigan
At Zen, we really love when we have an opportunity to go out and meet the people we work with. A recent visit to Michigan brought us together with Rich, the Head of North America Sales at Garrison Dental, and it was truly special. This meeting marked a pivotal moment in our journey, as both Rich and I dedicated significant time to brainstorming and developing strategies aimed at elevating our partnership. Our shared mission, which has always been the primary goal of our respective companies, remains focused on helping private practices get top-notch products while having direct relationships with manufacturers.
Rich, with 17 years at Garrison Dental, joined the company when it was a decade into its existence. He initially stepped into the role of a sales manager, entrusted with the task of establishing the sales group for North America. At that time, there were only two customer service representatives who laid the foundation for the inside sales department at Garrison Dental Solutions.
Before his tenure at Garrison, Rich’s professional background was firmly rooted in the banking and mortgage industry. He had managed large call centers across the United States, overseeing various financial services, including credit card processing and mortgages. His transition to Garrison Dental coincided with a turbulent period in the banking industry, marked by a housing market crash and economic instability.
Despite the uncertainty in the banking sector, Rich seized the opportunity to start working in the medical field. A friend who was a recruiter guided him toward the position at Garrison Dental, and though he had reservations about the unfamiliar territory of the dental industry, he took a leap of faith. Garrison Dental was a relatively small company at the time, but it held grand ambitions for growth. What drew Rich to the company was its strong family-oriented culture, a refreshing departure from the corporate world where he had previously worked, characterized by a disconnect between employees and company owners. The welcoming atmosphere and close-knit environment at Garrison Dental were particularly appealing to him.
Early years of Garrison Dental
Right next to the manufacturing facility, there’s a dental office that holds a special place in Garrison Dental’s history. This dental practice had a unique role in the company’s origin story. It all began in the basement of this building, where Dr. Edgar Garrison ran his dental practice. When Dr. Edgar Garrison retired, his son, John, took over the practice, maintaining the family tradition of dentistry. While John was practicing upstairs, the foundation of Garrison Dental Solutions was laid in the basement. About eight years later, they moved into the building that still houses Garrison Dental today.
In the early days, Garrison Dental outsourced a significant portion of their manufacturing. However, a transformation occurred over the years, and now the majority of their manufacturing takes place at their in-house facility.
For Rich, the knowledge that Garrison Dental manufactured its own products instilled a deep sense of confidence in the products he sold. During his early days with the company, he attended a trade show and noticed a great interest from customers. Many visitors flocked to the Garrison Dental booth, eager to see what was new. This demand often led to increased sales, a testament to the innovative product lines and the strong loyalty of their customer base. Rich found it surprisingly easy to promote their product line, given the reputation of Garrison Dental and its commitment to innovation.
In the past, when Rich first joined, many dental practitioners were using older methods, such as the Tofflemire matrix system. This required a more detailed and technical sales process, explaining the advantages of the sectional matrix system. Today, the landscape has evolved. Approximately 70% of dental practices have transitioned to using sectional matrix systems for their restorations, making the sales process less technical. The focus now lies in highlighting the superiority of Garrison Dental’s products over their competitors. While there are still some Tofflemire users, the process of explaining the benefits has become more streamlined and focused on product differentiation.
Shift in the dental industry
Nowadays, Rich believes the most significant change in the dental industry is the shift from solo practices to a more corporate landscape. When he first joined the field, solo practitioners were the norm, often passing their practices down through generations. An example of this traditional model was the Garrisons, where three generations of dentists – Edgar’s father, Edgar, and John – continued the legacy. However, in the present day, there is a notable trend toward corporate entities known as DSOs (Dental Support Organizations). This transition away from solo practitioners passing practices down to their children to a more corporate structure has reshaped the industry. While Rich recalls that Heartland Dental was one of the pioneering DSOs when he started with Garrison, this corporate model has since become more prevalent.
Regarding what makes a private dental practice strong and resilient, Rich believes it’s much like any successful business. The key lies in the relationships they build within their community and the devoted followers they accumulate. An example close to home is Spring Lake, Michigan, where practices like Ed Crenshaw Garrison’s were deeply intertwined with the community. The positive impact they had on their local area contributed to their strength and success. In Rich’s view, this community-oriented approach is not only a blessing but also the essence of how business should be conducted.
Online business operations
Rich believes that the landscape of the dental industry is continuously evolving. Notably, there has been a significant shift towards online business operations. The growth of online sales and e-procurement is becoming increasingly prominent, much of it influenced by giants like Amazon. With the changes brought about by COVID-19, the role of dealer representatives visiting dental practices has dwindled. The industry is embracing more online processes.
Rich also stresses the importance of partnering with organizations that share similar values. Garrison Dental takes pride in offering their products through multiple channels, including e-procurement and direct dealers, with a strong focus on catering to the needs of the customer. The key is to collaborate with partners who share the same vision and commitment to customer care.
In their interactions with dental practices, Rich and his team often encounter the challenge of staff turnover. They understand that practices undergo personnel changes, and it can be stressful for the doctors. Rich highlighted that they offer webinars and online resources to help new team members become acquainted with Garrison’s products, especially if they’re unfamiliar with them. This support ensures a smoother transition for the practice and its staff.
Rich also emphasized the impact of COVID-19 on the industry and how Garrison Dental adapted to the changing landscape. In response to the limitations imposed by the pandemic, Garrison Dental elevated its commitment to educational technology. They began producing webinars and other online resources that allowed customers to see their products in action during various dental procedures. These resources were a direct response to the absence of trade shows in 2020 and 2021, which traditionally provided an opportunity to meet customers in person and showcase products. With the shift to online resources, customers could now easily access instructional material by visiting Garrison Dental’s website or YouTube channel, enabling them to gain a better understanding of product usage.
In conclusion, at Zen, we are grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with Garrison Dental Solutions. In our interactions with the team, we emphasize our commitment to learning and doing things the right way. Every time Rich and Tiger connect to discuss ways to work together, the central question is, “How do we best serve the customer?” This guiding principle helps them refine their internal processes and continually improve their collaboration. We look forward to continuing this productive partnership!