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Supply Clinic - A New Contender in the Dental Supply Market

Dentistry is going through a major change. You know that already.

The American Dental Association says dentistry is going to be transformed over the next 10 years, due to the emergence of Dental Service Organizations (DSOs), which are here to stay. They're already recruiting 50 percent of the dental school graduates, and their business models are getting more sophisticated, said Amol Nirgudkar, CEO of Patient Prism.

Nirgudkar interviewed Dr. Scott Drucker, founder and CEO of Supply Clinic, an online marketplace for dental office needs. They talked about how changes in the industry have produced the need for an online marketplace like Drucker’s. 

Why online marketplaces are important 

Nirgudkar said it really comes down to making practices more competitive and attractive to patients in a fast-paced, digital world. 

“How do you make dentistry affordable, accessible to the masses,” Nirgudkar asked. “We know 50 percent of the United States hasn’t seen a dentist, and with the other 50 percent, we have what, 60 percent of treatment plans have not been accepted in dentistry. And a lot of that has to do with the cost of dentistry. 

“I think the DSOs models are becoming more agile — they’re a lot more data driven — and I think all of them are going to focus on making dentistry. . . faster, better and cheaper. 

And that’s forcing even small practices to look for ways to make dentistry more affordable. Look no farther than Amazon for the next supply business model. 

Dentistry in an Amazon world 

Just as Amazon did with household purchases, entrepreneurs are finding ways to link sellers with buyers. 

“Can we create a marketplace where three is true price transparency?” asked Nirgudkar. “And when price transparency exists, people compete, and when people compete, the consumer wins. And we want the dental consumer to win because we know more than ever the link between oral health and overall health now — that whole oral systemic (health) movement — is taking foot, we know that dentists can really do a lot with improving the quality of life of patients.” 

Making dentistry more affordable to more people is better for dentistry, he said, because it represents a higher purpose: caring for the patient’s overall health. 

Developing an e-commerce marketplace for dental supplies

Supply Clinic, is an e-commerce marketplace providing lower-priced supplies in one place. It came about after he left dental residency and tried to find reasonably-priced products. His professors old him to reach out to big distributors, who were happy to give him a discount off the catalog price. Then he did some shopping of his own. 

“I went online and found every single item at substantially less than the discounted price,” Drucker said. “This was kind of like a ‘time out,’ and “what’s going on here?” sort of moment. “I didn’t end up purchasing from the distributors that I had originally been pointed in the direction of.” 

He realized the inefficiency could be improved. Face it, how many dentists want to take the time to shop six or eight sources to find the best price? 

“And, so, the mission was super simple,” he said. “I would love to work with a number of these smaller players and get everybody together in one place, on one platform that’s super easy and simple for dentists to go through and search a single item and shop who sells that item, and then add it to their cart and check out —  very basic e-commerce in a space that was lacking.” 

A page out of Amazon’s playbook — seller screening 

While some entrepreneurs have figured out a way to match buyers and sellers, many don’t take the next step of vetting the sellers and their wares. 

For example, Supply Clinic has a process where customers can leave reviews. That’s important to keep suppliers accountable and have them adhere to a certain set of standards, Drucker said. 

“We have internal metrics — we’ll measure how good they are about getting packages out immediately and that sort of thing,” he said. “We’ll work with them pretty actively to keep them up to par. One big piece of this puzzle that we are tackling that others are not is quality control, specifically, regarding patient-sensitive material.” 

“We take pains to make sure that anything that has the potential to impact patient safety has a verified supply chain.” 

So a dentist can have some piece of mind when purchasing a gray-market product at steep discount. 

A growing industry 

Global dental supply competition got a boost awhile back in a Texas antitrust case. Several dentists sued large companies for what they claimed was price fixing and collusion. Most claims have been settled. 

Drucker said the resolution of that case will open the eyes of the practitioners who will see how much they have been overpaying for supplies from the largest distributors and manufactures. 

That will make companies like Supply Clinic an important alternative for practices. Over time, the company has added more than 37,500 individual products available. More are being added weekly, Drucker said. 

“We ultimately want to be able to provide these bigger ticket items to practitioners,” Drucker said, referring to dental office equipment, in particular. “I think something that what we need to think about going forward, in that regard, is we need to be able to service, in someway or shape or form . . . so that we can properly take care of those that would buy big ticket items like that.” 

The company’s pricing is also attracting buyers from outside dentistry who need gauze, gloves, and sterilization potions, Drucker said. 

Think beauty salons, tattoo parlors and nail salons. 

Holding off Amazon 

Drucker said he thinks the fact that people outside of dentistry buy items from the site shows the low pricing is attractive. And that can make dentistry more affordable, and compelling, to patients. 

It’s a compelling to Amazon, too, and Drucker knows the retail giant is already trying to crack it. 

“I think two big challenges that they face is first, they don’t necessarily have any dental savvy individuals to to be fielding potential customer calls, and second is this quality control issue that I’ve mentioned before,” he said. “I already know that there aren’t systems in place to really ensure that security of supply chain, which I think will be a barrier moving forward.” 

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