Nearly four years ago I wrote one of my first dental industry articles on this site about Hu-Friedy’s Nevi campaign. Since then, I’ve been a big fan of the company, their marketing, and the ways they support the industry and dental education. Fast forward to February 2015 when I had the opportunity to tour their factory during the annual pilgrimage to Chicago for the Mid-Winter Meeting and see firsthand some of their craftsmanship and innovation. If you are ever in Chicago, I highly recommend taking the tour if you can. And now, I am very excited to share some insights from Patrick Bernardi, Chief Marketing Officer at Hu-Friedy, in the latest edition of 5 Questions With…
Michael Dunn: Everyone in dental knows the name Hu-Friedy. But where does the name come from?
Patrick Bernardi: The Hu-Friedy name comes from our founder, Hugo Friedman, who established the company in 1908 on the Northwest side of Chicago. Hugo was an Austrian immigrant, and was incredibly focused on quality. He held himself and his employees to high standards, and this passion for quality continues to be a huge part of what makes us who we are more than 107 years later.
An interesting part of Hu-Friedy’s history is the story of how Richard Saslow acquired the company from Hugo in 1959. At 27 years old, Richard Saslow didn’t know much about the dental business, but he shared the same passion for excellence as Hugo. The two of them made a deal, Hugo went to Florida for a short vacation, and was going to teach Richard everything he needed to know about the business when he returned. Unfortunately, Hugo died of a stroke while in Florida. So, Richard had to learn the business from the ground up, by asking a lot of questions.
Asking “why” and questioning whether there was a better way became a hallmark of his 40-year leadership, under which he transformed the 6-person boutique firm into a global leader in the dental industry. His son, Ron Saslow, shares this constant drive for improvement, and as CEO since 2004, has grown the organization significantly with this philosophy of listening to our customers, understanding their needs, and helping them perform at their best so they can provide the highest level of care to their patients.
MD: What has changed in your instrument manufacturing process over the years and what has stayed the same?
PB: Good question. Although we have integrated technology into various aspects of our manufacturing, much of the instrument-making process still involves handcrafting by skilled artisans. For instance, we have invested in sophisticated heat treatment technology that allows us to have precise control over the heating process, which is critical to creating the right mix of strength, flexibility and corrosion-resistance in a metal. We also employ advanced robotics to perform bending operations, which frees up our skilled craftsman to perform the more technique-sensitive work, such as finishing the working end of an instrument.
Maintaining our strong instrument making skills is critical for our future success. That’s why we took the bold step of developing an instrument maker apprentice program in 2014. This innovative, 2-year training program involves taking four employees out of their usual roles on the manufacturing floor, and putting them through rigorous, in-depth training of all aspects of making an instrument. The training covers the manufacturing process from start to finish – for instance, visiting a steel mill to understand the raw material, extensive training by internal and external experts in metallurgy and heat treatment, and hands-on training on instrument finishing, and every step in the manufacturing process.
It’s a big commitment on our part, but one that is well worth it given the importance of maintaining our instrument making expertise in the future.
MD: What trends do you think will have the biggest impact on the dental industry in the next 5 – 10 years?
PB: From a product and service standpoint, the biggest impact will be technology. Just as we see it happening in our lives and the world around us, everything is becoming more digital and more technology-driven. We expect more from the products and services we use every day, and that expectation will surely be reflected in dentistry. Whether through products that provide greater clinical efficacy, improved ergonomics and patient comfort, or services that offer simplified interactions and time-savings, integration of technology will continue to shape the way dental practitioners care for their patients.
For the industry overall, group practices are a growing facet of the dental landscape. This is a relatively new model for the dental industry, and will undoubtedly shape the way practitioners, manufacturers and distributors do business. Additionally, the orthodontics specialty continues to grow, as does product innovation, as evidenced by the popularity of clear aligner solutions. An opportunity that Hu-Friedy realized here was for instrumentation designed specifically for clear aligners. Accordingly, we launched the Hu-Friedy Clear Collection, which consists of instruments designed to accent, individualize and optimize the biomechanics of the “invisible” aligner experience and help practitioners streamline chairside manipulation of ortho clear aligners.
I think another topic that will continue to have a major impact on the dental industry is infection prevention. As regulatory requirements change and dental patients are increasingly aware of this topic, the dental industry as a whole will need to develop products and systems that ensure overall staff and patient safety. We are very proud of our leadership in this area, and even prouder of our instrument management system, (IMS) which is uniquely suited to help with compliance, safety and efficiency.
MD: Hu-Friedy is a big supporter of dental schools and hygiene programs. What are some of the ways in which you support dental education?
PB: We are extremely fortunate to have developed such strong relationships with our schools customers. The instruments a dental or dental hygiene student uses in school are often their first real taste of the career they are embarking on, and we are proud to be a part of that experience. As the hand instrument provider for nearly 98% of dental and dental hygiene schools, we have a designated customer care team just for school accounts, who understand the unique needs of schools and students.
Our Clinical Education Managers take a consultative approach to serving our schools customers. Rather than simply selling instruments, they try to deliver industry information, educational content, and work directly with each individual school to determine which instruments are best for their program.
We also offer custom kits, which allow schools to select the instrument designs and preferred colors for grips/rings, then our team puts them together in the exact order in a cassette for each student, sometimes hand delivering them for the school.
Beyond this, we are committed to educating dental practitioners throughout their careers, offering a range of continuing education, professional education and resources to help clinicians advance their knowledge.
MD: What’s next for you and Hu-Friedy? What can we look forward to?
PB: We’re always working with our network of Key Opinion Leaders, dental educators and customers to stay abreast of the latest procedures and clinical developments. As a company, we’re focused on bringing unique products to market that solve unmet needs across all dental specialties. We do extensive market research and customer preference work to ensure that every new product is delivering on our promise of helping practitioners perform at their best.
Of course, we do much more than provide products. Developing new programs and services is another way we provide value to our customers. We know that proper maintenance and sharpening is the best way to extend the life of a high quality instrument, and we also recognize that time is scarce in a dental practice. To make this easier for our customers, we recently launched a service program for U.S. dental practices, in which we offer sharpening and maintenance of all Surgical and Ortho products free of charge for the life of the product. Look for more of these types of programs to come!
Thank you, Patrick, for sharing your insights with us in my “5 Questions With…” series. Have questions of your own for Patrick or the Hu-Friedy team? Reach out. I bet they’d love to hear from you.
Thank you for reading.