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Technology & Quality

Ceramist Armando Doku is the founder and owner of Avaneer Dental Studio, a full-service laboratory with more than 30 employees located in Warren, Michigan. IDT asked Doku how he turned his fledgling laboratory into a booming business in such a short time.

IDT: Opening a laboratory is an incredible undertaking, and yet you've been able to build a sizable business. What experiences do you think have led to this success?

Armando Doku: I worked for a big laboratory for more than 8 years, so I learned the technical skills there, but I also went to business school during that time. What is really important in opening a business is being able to translate theory into actual manufacture. We are a full-service laboratory, growing more as clients come back around from sending their work offshore. Dentists still want competitive prices, however, so we need to sell them on the quality of the work, and we need to build a rapport with them, just like any other business. It's a lot of hard work, but I'm glad to have employees like Claudia Cadorin, one of my first collaborators in this venture.

IDT: Do you see technology changing how dental laboratories practice their business?

AD: Things will continue to change tremendously in the industry, especially with the technology. I think more dentists will purchase milling machines, but technicians need to go with the flow on this. Rather than clients sending us cases to work from start to finish, they may only need the laboratory as the designer or for milling or layering. Some technicians will also find themselves working more as consultants.

As more dentists purchase scanners, we will see exceedingly fewer physical impressions. With that, I see laboratories converting their modeling rooms into 3D-printing rooms. Laboratories that are not willing or able to adapt just will not be able to compete. Laboratory owners cannot get too comfortable or stop growing. Those not willing to move with these trends will probably get left behind.

IDT: Your laboratory is quite large for an independent operation. In an industry where it can be a struggle to find experienced technicians, how do you recruit and keep your employees?

AD: I'm an avid believer in company culture; everybody is here because they want to be here. We find people who have passion, even if they don't have the most experience. You can train skills, but you can't train passion or commitment. We might not be able provide the best compensation, but what we can do is make this a great place to work. I've had people leave higher-paying jobs to work here because they understand that a job is about more than just the money. We want to make sure everybody will get along and want to come to work every day. These are the things that help a business grow and stay successful.

Really we are one big team. I see the future of my business in being a full-service laboratory, and we will use our size to our advantage by sharing knowledge, rather than dividing people up into specialties. The more that everyone sees their role in the larger process, the more they are invested in the finished product. That's part of the team spirit, too. It's great for producing high-quality products and keeping our technicians happy.

IDT: What kind of experience has been the most eye-opening to you as a dental technician?

AD: I work on the bench as a ceramist, but I have found it is really important to work chairside. Everyone should try it if they have the opportunity. Being there with the dentist, able to see the restoration in the mouth, is invaluable to dental technicians. Otherwise we are blinded by the model, working only in the laboratory, unable to connect this thing we are making to how the dentist puts it into a real, live person. There are so many variables we're not aware of without this experience.