An Interview with HuFriedyGroup President Ken Serota
As the Coronavirus pandemic continues to have an outsized impact on dentistry, HuFriedyGroup has been at the forefront of providing infection prevention solutions to help dental professionals and clinicians get back to work safely. Recently, HuFriedyGroup President Ken Serota sat down with John Stamper of DentalCast Productions for a wide-ranging podcast and video interview to share how the organization has adapted over the last several months. Here is a small sample of their conversation, edited and condensed for clarity:
John Stamper: The last we saw each other was in February at the Chicago Midwinter Meeting, and then everything changed with COVID-19. I’d love to have you start with your overall take on the business impact that COVID-19 has had on dentistry, and I think more importantly on the people and operations of HuFriedyGroup.
Ken Serota: I can’t think of anything more dramatic than waking up to find out that the offices of all of your customers are basically closed, with the exception of emergency procedures, as well as the potential impact of a pandemic on the workforce of your company. Couple that with the fact that we produce the tools and the protection that’s needed by both dental and medical practitioners to keep themselves safe while treating people who have been infected by the Coronavirus, and the challenges, John, just were enormous and expansive.
First and foremost, we recognized that despite all of the shutdowns, we were an essential business. We are one of the largest manufacturers of surgical masks in the United States, and we knew we had to keep our facilities running. So, we immediately shifted to 24/7 manufacturing of our masks and our face shields at our Long Island location. We also recognized that the instruments that we make in our Chicago facility would continue to be critical for servicing patients who have emergency procedures and requirements for dental treatments.
Of course, we had to take great concerns over the safety and well-being of our employee base, so we followed every guideline that was issued as we continued to operate. We didn’t miss a beat. We continued to produce the products that were demanded of us.
There was no way that we could keep up with the demand as you could imagine. The need for PPE was just so great. But we continue to do our best and allocate our limited supply to our long-time, historical great customers. And continue to allow them to feed their channels on PPE.
The second thing we had to address was what do we do with our people who don’t have to be in the office. We continued to consult via Zoom and talk about what we would need to do to continue positioning HuFriedyGroup to make sure that people don’t miss out on our messaging, particularly the need for our Instrument Management System (IMS™) along with PPE. We want to remind people: don’t forget about sterilization – PPE is so important to protect the patients and the clinicians, but if you’re not following the proper sterilization protocols, all the PPE you’re using could be for naught. We have provided a ton of resources on our GreenLight Dental Compliance Center™ platform and through social media as to what the proper procedures are that people need to follow to be able to both see patients in an emergency situation and prepare their offices for that time when patients would come back.
The other thing, John, is that we’ve seen cycles before, having the benefit on the Hu-Friedy side of a 112-year-old company. We took a look at the pre-2008 recession and our performance from 2007-2010 just to try to get a sense of how we performed as the market and the economy took a downturn. The playbook was written a little bit at least on that part, obviously not on the pandemic part. At that time, we continued to monitor our expenses, continued to invest in innovation, and continued to stay in close contact with our customers. When the market rebounded, our revenue and income from operations in 2010 was higher than it ever was. It exceeded the pre-recession levels by a significant amount, and that became the new floor. So, we fully expect that that type of performance will happen again. Timing is the question, but I’m highly confident that with the actions that we’ve taken now and that we’ll continue to take during the down-cycle that we’ll bounce back higher.
John Stamper: For companies like HuFriedyGroup, infection control was a part of your DNA before this even happened. So I’m curious on your thoughts: when all this happened, just knowing all the work that you have done – whether it’s GreenLight or IMS or anything else – I would think there was a nice level of confidence that, although a lot of this was unknown, this is who you are and you can be there for your customers.
Ken Serota: As you know, John, when we launched the rebranding of HuFriedyGroup, we adopted the tagline Best in Practice, and that really wasn’t a reach because that’s always been how we’ve operated. Education has always been a core value for us, and we believe educating your customer is the best marketing. So we’ve continuously spent a lot of effort on building tools such as GreenLight to provide the practitioner with what that they need to effectively operate their office in compliance with CDC guidelines.
Of course, a deluge of new CDC and state guidelines have come out and continue to come out, but our team has dug in and continuously updates our GreenLight site to have all the latest regulations and all the tools that are necessary for compliance.
We also decided to take a little bit more of an aggressive approach to help the dentist communicate all that they do in the dental office to their patients, to let those patients know that the practitioners have taken the appropriate steps to make the visit safe – that they’re going to take the proper procedures within the office to provide PPE to the patients, to their staff, and to themselves, so the infection risk is reduced to a minimum.
It’s not perfect. We’re still in a pandemic. But HuFriedyGroup customers, including our GreenLight and IMS customers, have taken the steps necessary to make their dental office as safe as can be possible, so that patients feel comfortable. We thought that it was so important to provide that information to help our customers.
John Stamper: It seems like a lot of practices in the downtime focused on staying connected with their patients. Could you talk a little bit about the practice-to-patient letters that have been out there, and what has been important in terms of communicating to patients?
Ken Serota: I would be surprised if there is anyone in the United States who has a television that doesn’t know what an N95 mask is now. But it was so important for us to make sure that people understood that maintaining the proper standard of care in the office goes beyond the mask that you’re wearing. Of course, the mask is of critical importance, as is all PPE. But people can’t forget about sterilization. They can’t forget about making sure that their waterlines are clear of contamination. So many of the things that we’ve been talking about for a long time, now more than ever, are at the forefront of what’s necessary in a dental office to provide that highest standard of care and be the best in practice.
And what better time to make those improvements and come back better than you ever were before? Bounce back higher. That really was the underlying theme we’ve maintained during the shutdown. What do we need to do to make sure that as patients get back in the chair that we bounce back higher? So that HuFriedyGroup as a company and our customers – dental practitioners, clinicians – can come back even stronger.
Everybody in their lives and in their careers gets punched in the gut. But how we’re defined is how we get back up again. We’re really focusing on that as an organization, and that’s why we’ve adopted our slogan “bounce back higher.” The bottom trajectory of the bounce is inevitable, but if you keep your eyes open and you listen and react, there’s no reason that you can’t bounce back higher than you ever were.