Our Company History
Burkhart maintains its company mission and culture through over a century of change.
Nearly 131 years ago, William E. Burkhart, D.D.S., recognized a need to provide dentists not only with the best tools for caring for their patients, but with the education to care for their patients in the best way. Hence, Burkhart Dental Supply (originally named Tacoma Dental Depot) was started in Tacoma, Wa., in 1888.
Since then, the company has been handed down through five generations of family. But the original mission – to provide the customer with great service – and the strong company culture based on teamwork and satisfied employees, has remained intact. Even in today’s electronic age, where dentists can gather product information and order supplies online, the people who run Burkhart Dental Supply maintain that dental customers still want – and benefit from – traditional face-to-face service from dedicated sales reps.
A Period of Growth
In 1974, when Perry Burkhart Jr. joined the company as a territory account manager and equipment specialist, he did not foresee the company growth he eventually would manage. Upon the retirement of his father, Perry Burkhart Sr. in 1984, Perry Burkhart Jr. was appointed president. In spite of the 1980s being a decade of high interest and inflation, Perry Jr. embraced opportunity and new technology, and added twelve branch locations over the next 20 years.
In 1991, he moved the company to a larger, 36,000-square-foot complex, which housed the corporate management offices and distribution center. Recognizing the opportunities that computers presented, he automated the new distribution center and, the following year, issued laptops to all account managers to support order entry and provide a purchasing history for each account.
As the company turned a corner and entered the new millennium, Burkhart opened its 15th branch in Salt Lake City, Utah. From the time Perry Jr. became president in 2006, Burkhart Dental Supply grew from $13 million to $117 million. In 2006, Burkhart Jr. turned over his presidency to his daughter, Lori Burkhart Isbell.
The Best Candidate
Growing up, Lori Burkhart Isbell never intended to be involved in the family business. Following college, she spent several years teaching fourth grade. Then, in 1999, she accompanied her parents to an annual sales meeting and discovered how much she enjoyed “the people and professionalism,” she says. “I decided to interview for a customer service management position. My dad said I’d get it only if I was the best candidate.”
She was, in fact, the best prospect to fill the position. “I was motivated and did well,” she says. “Later, a position opened in Denver, Colo., and I moved there to become a branch manager.” This leadership role gave her an opportunity to learn about how the company functions at a branch level.
Indeed, after a year in Denver, followed by two years in Tacoma working as a field sales rep, where she built her territory from scratch, Burkhart Isbell’s father knew she had the drive to run the business. For the next two years, Perry Jr. and Lori made a gradual transition. In the end, father remained chairman of the board of directors, while daughter became full-time president of the company.
Talented employees, personalized service
Today, Burkhart Isbell oversees 18 company branches in the West and South, and 400 employees, including 120 salespeople. She has strong convictions about how her employees interact with their customers. “I ask everyone at Burkhart to focus on three things,” she says. “Act with integrity that earns client trust; be a knowledgeable resource; and always work in the client’s best interest. I believe that our fulfillment of these principles differentiates us.”
Burkhart Isbell recognizes that the business environment has changed over the past 10 years with the growth of the Internet. “But our clients still want to be treated with respect and served at the highest level,” she says. “About seven years ago, there was talk in the industry that online ordering would become the dominant way of doing business, but I don’t think this is so. I believe dentists still want that personal contact with their sales reps. So, while we offer online ordering as a convenience to our customers, we continue to provide personal contact and personalized service. This is how we differentiate ourselves.”
This calls for excellent, well-trained salespeople, she adds. “We believe in hiring talented salespeople and providing them with top-notch training,” she says. “We must enable our sales reps to do more than just sell supplies. We must ensure they have the tools to support dentists in new and different ways. Often, our salespeople are competing against indifference. If a dental office regards every distributor as the same, they are much less motivated to make a change. So, we really need to differentiate ourselves.”
Burkhart Isbell attributes her company’s success to “the commitment of its associates and its leaders’ ability to build on successes and learn from decisions.” Along those lines, she plans to spend the next several years maximizing Burkhart’s potential in the markets it currently serves and taking advantage of additional opportunities as they arise, she says. “There are dentists who are looking for personalized, consultative service, and we want to make ourselves available to them.”
Whether new or established, however, being a great distributor rather than just a good one depends on building a strong company culture, in which employees feel valued and are motivated to take care of the customers. “People want to be part of an organization that is fair to them, and fair to the customer,” says Burkhart Isbell. “We are very fortunate to work with wonderful people. They have made our company that much richer.”
Written by Laura Thill, published in First Impressions Magazine, August, 2009
Dr. William E. Burkhart starts Tacoma Dental Depot in Tacoma, Washington, to supply the emerging dental community in the Pacific Northwest with dental supplies.
Tacoma Dental Depot is renamed Burkhart Dental Supply.
William E. Burkhart passes away. Son Archie Burkhart is appointed president of the company.
Archie Burkhart dies unexpectedly at age 45. His sons, Everett and Perry Burkhart Sr., take over the company as president and vice president, respectively.
Yakima branch opens.
Burkhart builds a new facility, doubling its warehouse and showroom, and including eight operatories, which services study clubs for dentists.
Spokane branch opens.
Burkhart implements its first computer system.
Anchorage branch opens.
Perry Burkhart Sr. retires. The board elects Gary Halsan, who worked his way up from delivery boy, as vice president and CEO.
Halsan passes away at age 42. Perry Burkhart Sr. returns to serve as president.
Perry Burkhart Jr. is appointed president.
Portland branch opens.
Eugene branch opens.
San Diego branch opens.
Denver branch opens.
Burkhart Dental Supply moves to a new 36,000-square-foot complex, which houses all corporate management offices and a distribution center.
Phoenix, Sacramento, and Union City branches open.
Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Dallas branches open.
Irving Distribution Center opens.
Houston branch opens.
Salt Lake City branch opens.
Reno Distribution Center opens.
Perry Burkhart Jr. names daughter Lori Burkhart Isbell President of Burkhart and remains Chairman of the Board of Directors.
Boise and Austin branches open.
Lakewood Distribution Center opens.
Burkhart expands into Kansas and Missouri.