In seven short years, Burkhart equipment specialist Louis Ullrich has moved cross-country, filled two positions and helped his dental customers navigate continuous advances in technology.
Trading his Southeastern roots for a new life in Anchorage, Alaska, did not come naturally for Louis Ullrich. His first winters in particular were a huge transition. “My friends thought I was crazy!” he recalls. Nevertheless, the Burkhart equipment specialist was determined to make the move, and today he can honestly say, “Alaska is a blast” for those who can handle the weather.
In part, it was serendipity that landed Ullrich his first job out of college with Burkhart Dental’s Anchorage branch. As an undergrad at Winthrop University (Rock Hill, S.C.), he spent his summers with a host family in Alaska, where he played college baseball. As it turned out, Burkhart account manager Arne Valdez was a neighbor of his host family, and in time the two became acquainted. “I eventually got to know the neighborhood kids and their families,” he explains. “Arne would take me fishing and turned out to be a huge influence in my decision to enter the dental market and join Burkhart.”
While some dentists continue to value a long-term relationship with their distributor rep and like to know a technician will be available to attend to their needs when there is a problem, others prefer ordering their supplies online. Sales reps will have to sell their differentiators to gain their customers’ business.
The Early Days
First Impressions Magazine: Tell us about your early days with Burkhart Dental.
Louis Ullrich: I joined Burkhart in 2010 as an account manager. Given that I was new to both the dental world and the work world in general, my manager decided I should train with the sales and service teams. I spent two days a week co-traveling with Arne on the sales side, and two days a week co-traveling with our service team. It was the best training possible, as I got to learn the industry from both perspectives, and my knowledge of dental equipment and supplies grew tremendously.
As an account manager, my primary role was to sell consumable supplies to customers, as well as to grow Burkhart’s supply business in Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula. Anchorage is home to a large majority of the population. The Kenai Peninsula has about 30 dental offices spread out between the small towns of Homer, Anchor Point, Kenai, and Soldotna.
First Impressions: When did you transition to your current role as an equipment specialist?
Ullrich: In 2015, when an equipment specialist position became available, my manager asked me to consider the position. He felt it would be a good move for me, as well as the rest of the branch. For the past five years, I had enjoyed my work as an account manager and felt I did well selling equipment. This was partially due to the large geographical areas I covered. Some of our offices are very remote, and it can be difficult getting manufacturer and technology reps to visit them, so I covered most of the sales calls myself. After five years, I had grown my sales to a very comfortable level and easily could have continued down that path. At the same time, I was ready to try something new.
Challenges & Rewards
First Impressions: How would you compare the challenges and the rewards of your work as a sales rep and an equipment specialist?
Ullrich: It has been great working in both of these roles. For starters, Burkhart Dental Supply has been an incredible company to work for. We are privately held and our current president, Lori Isbell, is a great leader. Our company culture and customer focused approach is truly unique. That said, my biggest challenge as an account manager was acquiring the large knowledge base necessary to succeed. Sales reps must be knowledgeable about dental products, dental anatomy, dental terminology, how their dental customers use the supplies and equipment, the Burkhart ordering systems and more. I still feel like I learn something new every day. I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to know it all in this field!
My greatest challenge as an equipment specialist has been to learn the construction aspect of the equipment installation process. I’ve had to familiarize myself with the utility terms, as well as the requirements for each piece of equipment, and then communicate that to each set of contractors – including electricians and plumbers – for each project. Since each project involves a new set of contractors, we must constantly teach and inform them about what utilities we want, and where they must be installed.
First Impressions: What have been some of the biggest changes you have encountered in the dental products sales industry? How have you addressed them?
Ullrich: I have seen some major technological changes.
- When I began work in 2010, we sold digital panoramic x-ray units and converted many film-based offices to digital practices. Today, we find most customers are no longer interested in 2D digital panoramic units, but rather 3D CBCT units. And, whereas 3D CBCT units cost well over $100,000 in 2010, today they cost as little as $65,000 and are becoming a standard of care in the dental office.
- The introduction of intra-oral impression scanners has also evolved since I joined the dental industry. Most offices relied on analog impression material when I started; today, most offices use a digital impression scanner. As the technology has evolved, the impression process has become simpler, faster and easier for patients. Our doctors prefer digital scanning, as it shows patients they are technology leaders and leads to increased case acceptance.
- With regard to consumables: Smartphones, the Internet and the introduction of online purchasing to the dental market have made it easier for staff to search for – and price – products online. This can work to the advantage – or the disadvantage – of supply reps. At Burkhart, bring more value to our offices than simply a good price on consumable supplies. Most doctors realize the value we bring to their offices, but given this is becoming an online world, distributors must adapt their business model.
Today, we transmit our orders online or through our laptops, whereas 15 years ago, reps often faxed or called in their orders. And, technological advances have definitely made information more accessible.
First Impressions: Would you say sales reps and equipment specialists today have it easier or harder than they did 10-15 years ago?
Ullrich: I think all dental sales reps face unique challenges today, as they did 10-15 years ago. Today, we transmit our orders online or through our laptops, whereas 15 years ago, reps often faxed or called in their orders. And, technological advances have definitely made information more accessible. For instance, when I started out, I ordered every catalog from every manufacturer and kept a library of catalogs in my car in case I needed immediate information. I would bring a large, heavy briefcase filled with manufacturer catalogs on sales calls, which I could refer to when my customers had questions. This put a lot of strain on me physically. Now, I Google information on my smartphone and can get most of the answers I need very quickly.
That said, it’s become challenging to stay on top of the constant changes in equipment technology. While some dentists continue to value a long-term relationship with their distributor rep and like to know a technician will be available to attend to their needs when there is a problem, others prefer ordering their supplies online. Sales reps will have to sell their differentiators to gain their customers’ business. Their persistence should lead to a long-term relationship with their customers.
Written by Laura Thill
Published in First Impressions Magazine, April 2018
Category: EquipmentBack to Articles