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How this dental lab grew 250% with an innovative business model

Andrew Singer

Dentistry writer

3Shape

Illusion Dental Laboratory, based in Mumbai, India, has achieved 250% business growth over the last five years. During this period, the dental lab and authorized 3Shape partner, has also expanded its workforce from 950 to over 1800 employees.

Illusion Dental Laboratory owner, Sameer Merchant spoke with 3Shape about his innovative business model that is helping to drive digital dentistry and his company’s growth in India.

An innovative business model to grow digital dentistry

At an IDS conference in Germany, Illusion lab owner, Sameer Merchant met with 3Shape Co-Founder, Nikolaj Deichmann. At the show, Merchant explained his vision to Deichmann for growing not only digital dentistry, but both his business and 3Shape sales in India.

Merchant wanted to hire thirty young dentists in twenty different cities. Each dentist would have a 3Shape TRIOS intraoral scanner. The dentists would provide intraoral scanning services and act as digital dentistry ambassadors to all local clinics in their respective areas..

As Merchant explains, Deichmann had faith in his vision and was supportive.

“I wanted a doctor’s first experience with digital dental scanning to be with 3Shape. A dentist will always remember it and compare everything else to it. I did not want their first impression to be with a cheap scanner or some other company’s scanner. It had to be 3Shape.”

Sameer Merchant

How Merchant’s Business Model Benefits Stakeholders:

  1. The ease of the digital workflow would so impress dentists so that they would want their own scanner.
  2. Scans being made by Merchant’s team of dentists would be sent to Illusion lab, bringing in new lab customers and spurring growth.
  3. Adopting digital dentistry would drive practice growth for the dentists.
  4. Illusion would become a reseller partner of 3Shape hardware and software.
  5. 3Shape brand and sales would grow in the country.

E & E – Education and Experience

Innovative business model with digital dentistry

Merchant named his business model, “E & E” – Education and Experience.

“There are approximately 250,000 dentists in India. I believe their first experience with intraoral scanning should be a 3Shape TRIOS.

We use qualified dentists, who are trained at our center, to go out to dentists in their respective cities. They provide education on what digital dentistry is, and at the same time, give the doctor/customers experience with scanners and the digital workflow.

Depending on the doctor, some want to try and use the scanner, others just observe. But importantly, either way, they get to see how easy it is and the quality of scanning. We, or they, do the scan, send it to a lab, and get the restoration back. I would say that 90% are amazed at how simple the workflow is. It serves to convince them that this is something worth investing in for the future. ”

“Every single day we are scanning with hundreds of doctors who are experiencing digital dentistry for the first time. And that is key. For us, it is a very cost-efficient way to introduce dentists to digital dentistry.”

Have scanner will travel

Merchant created a call center where practices can schedule appointments with his staff of dentists to come and visit with a scanner. Illusion sends out their dentist who scans a patient, checks the file, preps, occlusion, and then sends the job to the lab.

“By coming out to visit them, we are able to answer their questions like: can I scan? Is it difficult… how long does it take?

There are a lot of dentists that have the money to buy a scanner, but they are stuck in the mindset, why would I want to change? Why would I want to experience the pain of changing?

Because of this, it is important that we do not use normal people to go out and demo scanners with them. We use dentists. We hire good dentists that are young. They understand technology, and they can easily explain to a fellow doctor, in dental terms, what is needed.

When the doctors see a fellow dentist, who is maybe 10-15 years younger than them scanning a patient, they think, of course I can do that.

Our goal is to eventually have every dentist purchase a scanner. If they cannot afford one, we get them in the habit of using one by coming out to them. I believe that once you get in the habit of using digital dentistry, it is very hard to go back to analog.

Once they see the results and how good the whole workflow and system is, they will eventually buy one. It is just a matter of time.”

Merchant estimates that 30-40% of the dentists that his team visits try scanning. Once they begin to get comfortable with it, they want to place an order.

Subsidizing the purchase of a dental scanner

In India, as around the world, scanners are expensive. Merchant supports doctors with their purchase by subsidizing it through bundling other products into the deal.

“We know that for example, this doctor does so many aligners per year, or restorations. We also know that if he or she adds a scanner, their practice will grow by 30-40%. So, we do a bundling which includes subsidizing the cost of the scanner by having them send their lab work to us. It is a win-win for both of us.

A dentist buys an intraoral scanner to grow their practice. So, by us helping them to purchase the scanner, they will gain more business because they are now digital, and in turn, we will gain more business from them by being their lab.

For example, we had a dentist that had one clinic. After purchasing a TRIOS, his business grew so much that in just one and a half years, he now owns four clinics. He has also now bought a second scanner.

Dentists are very excited about the results from going digital. They tell us that we have completely changed the way they do dentistry. They say that “it is so easy and convenient. I never imagined it would be so simple. My assistant and patients love it, and my practice has grown by 30-40%.”

The importance of support when using the scanner

Merchant’s team makes a professional’s dive into digital dentistry easier by placing a strong emphasis on customer support. Aside from his travelling doctors with scanners he has an IT team standing by. Merchant says that his team can answer customer issues within two hours.

“The key for us is providing great support. It’s what a dentist wants. When you buy such an expensive piece of hardware, software, it’s not an everyday expense. It might even be the most expensive hardware that they have in their practice, so they are always worried about support.

We have four IT technicians standing by and then our dentists who also act as support. We are the only company in India with 30 dentists on call. So, if there is a problem in one of our cities, they can reach out and within two hours, we will be there to solve the problem or provide training and education.

Because we are local, we do not need to bring doctors out to our corporate office. We provide them with continuing education because we are going out to their practices.”

Digital dentistry will play a major role in improving the entire workflow: from the dentist to the lab perspective and in growing practices.

A key differentiator: they are a lab, not a reseller

Merchant’s company also has another key differentiator. They are a lab, so by necessity, they need to keep up to date with the latest software and workflows.

This makes Illusion unique when compared to typical resellers. His company needs to use the solutions for their business, so they must have a keener understanding of software functionality and workflows.

Merchant says that he will always have one of his dentists attend 3Shape webinars. They then relay the new information to the other 29 dentists so that his teams keep up to date.

And again, because the lab uses the software, they are able to teach the workflows to doctors through hands-on experience.

Merchant has also launched his own YouTube channel so that he can create tutorial webinars targeted to the Indian mindset and professionals.

Where it all started for Sameer Merchant

“I decided to go digital with my lab about five to seven years ago. But even before that, we had bought a scanner eleven years ago. We knew back then that analog would only last a little while longer and that we would have to go digital. Through my connections in the USA, we could see that what was happening there, in terms of digital adoption. I knew it was going to happen here.

Our journey began with another scanner maker but then we connected with 3Shape. I think that having TRIOS and the lab scanners really took us to the next level. The software and quality of hardware really helped propel our growth.

Although we have made a tremendous investment, we can see a 100% ROI. And because of that, we are investing more and more, including a plan to purchase 125 TRIOS scanners in 2021.

We feel digital is here to stay and it will only grow. In fact, it is growing at a faster pace than we expected in India.

Of course, Corona has been a roadblock, but I think that it is getting back on track. You know, people cannot avoid dental treatment. So, it is just a matter of time before patients start returning. Digital dentistry will play a major role in improving the entire workflow: from the dentist to the lab perspective and in growing practices. It may take a little bit of time for people to invest because of Corona right now, but in the second half of 2021, we should start seeing a positive impact.”

About Illusion Dental Laboratory

About Illusion Dental Laboratory

Our mission at Illusion Dental Laboratory is to provide only the highest quality dental restorations delivered in a timely fashion with attentive customer service. We strive to provide the perfect blend of technical expertise, personal service, and dependable results. We strongly believe in relationships based on communication and feedback. We take pride in using only the best restorative systems be it Bruxzir, Lava, Zirconia, Tilite, PFM, All-Ceramic, Implants or Temporaries.

About Andrew Singer

Andrew Singer

Dentistry writer

Andrew Singer is a journalist at heart and has specialized in writing about medical technology. Since 2014, he has worked in the field of dentistry, translating complex digital dental technology into understandable pieces of content. In 3Shape, he is responsible for ensuring that stories about digitizing dentistry serve as an inspiration for dentists that are investigating starting their journey into digital dentistry.

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