Whether analogue or digital dentistry, aesthetics or tooth preservation, prosthetics, or periodontology – as a polymer specialist and digital solution provider, Kulzer stands for proven and innovative dental solutions. In this interview with Lutz Hiller, Member of the Board of OEMUS MEDIA AG, Marc Berendes, CEO of the Kulzer Group, speaks about current trends and challenges in the dental market, the reasons for skipping the IDS (International Dental Show) and the future corporate strategy.
Mr Berendes, the market is changing, the demand for innovative solutions is increasing. Which entrepreneurial decisions are currently ensuring Kulzer’s economic success?
A few years ago, we began to set the course to make Kulzer future-proof. To this end, we have, for example, introduced lean management, and are taking strategic steps to focus and invest our innovative strength in materials and the digital sector. Our latest new products Venus® Bulk Flow ONE, Venus® Diamond ONE and RetraXil® are good examples of this. With Venus® Bulk Flow ONE, we are fulfilling a clear customer wish: the first flowable single-colour bulk-fill composite.
Our activities are driven by the needs and pain points of the users. That is why we involve them early in the product development process, for instance with design thinking, in which we generate innovative ideas together with customers and opinion leaders. This makes us more accurate and faster. In the pandemic, we have managed to stay close to our customers and leverage digital channels. The commitment of our employees, flexibility and forward-looking decisions and activities make us successful.
What challenges does the dental industry face?
A major challenge is certainly the shortage of skilled workers, whether in practices, laboratories, trade, or industry. It is a matter of making the dental profession known and attractive and of examining one’s own position. How the employer supports the compatibility of family and career and provide security, but also: what possibilities do I have as the owner to continue with my practice, what models are there also for me as an employer?
What are currently the biggest challenges for Kulzer?
The shortage of skilled workers is also a challenge for Kulzer. Whether it’s flexible working models, pension schemes or mobile working – we are constantly working to position ourselves as an attractive employer for the future.
As in previous years, we were able to record very good sales also during the Corona years thanks to a talented team. Nevertheless, there were challenges: the first lockdown led to losses, as it did for many. But we were able to recover quickly from these. We had raw material bottlenecks from time to time. The changeover to the new Medical Device Regulation challenges us – like probably every medical device company that is active in the European area. A great team spirit, good planning, and perseverance have ensured that Kulzer is far ahead in comparison with the changeover.
“In terms of solutions and products, I see four topics that have great potential for the future: artificial intelligence (AI), the importance of oral health for overall health, sustainability and digitalisation. Currently mainly relevant for diagnostics and planning, I am convinced that AI still offers very interesting opportunities for the dental and the entire medical and medical technology industry. Our industry is aware of the growing knowledge in medicine about the importance of oral health for general health and this is increasingly understood by patients. Prevention and sustainable treatment of oral diseases such as periodontal periodontitis are thus becoming even more important.
In order to protect the environment and achieve climate goals, sustainability has long been a necessity. For Kulzer and its employees, the issue is just as important as it is for our customers. Our parent company Mitsui Chemicals is very active and innovative in this area. We are participating in the FDI consensus statement for a more environmentally friendly supply, increasing the proportion of recycled packaging material and generally reducing it where our medical products allow. For the production of our precious metal dental alloys, we use recycled gold or gold from conflict-free sources.”
Before Corona, participation in trade fairs was traditionally one of the most important marketing tools in the dental industry. Now Kulzer is not participating in the International Dental Show (IDS) for the second time in a row. Why did you decide to take this step again?
In 2021, we felt that the pandemic made the show too unsafe for our employees and customers, which is why we decided not to participate. We used the pandemic years and tried out different formats to maintain good contact with our customers – even though we were only able to meet them to a limited extent. During this time, we learned a lot and realised that we are highly successful with small formats that are individually tailored to our clients and that both sides benefit more. This is what we are concentrating on again this year. Smaller trade fairs and congresses will remain in our calendar. This is our current path and not a fundamental rejection of IDS, but a decision regarding the trade fair in 2023.
Will Kulzer’s external image change in favour of digital marketing strategies? What does your future orientation look like in this respect?
We are adapting our communication strategy to the growing digitalisation and use of digital media. This applies to the use of social media, but also to the digital offerings of classic media. Our digital offerings range from established tools such as the website, newsletter, or the international Kulzer blog to interactive webinars. Just recently, the first Venus® Bulk Flow ONE online seminar in Germany reached over 650 registrations. This shows that habits have changed during the corona pandemic and online trainings are more than just an addition to the existing programme. We are open to innovative offers and like to test new options. Of course, we will still use classic media for our external presence in the future, but in a much more targeted way than in the past.
“Kulzer has 1,400 employees worldwide who drive our company forward with reliability and passion. In order to meet the needs in practice and laboratory, innovation is elementary; we therefore develop our products in interdisciplinary teams of experts and – as already mentioned at the beginning – involve users already in the development process. In this way, we will continue to provide safe and reliable products of the highest quality that enable reproducible results.
In the summer we will move into our new R&D Competence Centre in Hanau, which will bring our research and development even closer together and make them more efficient. With the Mitsui Chemicals Group (MCI), we also have a strong parent company that supports us with additional polymer expertise so that we can significantly advance innovations. Since Kulzer plays a central role within MCI’s healthcare division, we are also striving to grow further.”
Kulzer has had a high media presence in dental trade media in recent months. How is Kulzer’s brand presence being strategically developed?
I am pleased when our presence is noticed and we “stick” in people’s minds. We are making greater use of online and print media to link our company name even more closely with our product brands. In the practice or laboratory, products such as “Venus®”, “Flexitime®” or “Pala®” are in use – often without knowing that Kulzer is the manufacturer of these products. Here we would like to associate our name as a group more strongly with our products. That is part of the strategy. In addition, the Corona era has had an accelerating and reinforcing effect on online use. Digital offers have become established – whether online training or online information via social media and websites. This allows us to establish direct contact with our end customers and we want to take advantage of this. In addition to the current activities, our focus will be on the individualisation of communication. We have a lot planned and I am looking forward to this year.
This article was first published in ZWP Zahnarzt Wirtschaft Praxis 1+2/2023.
Carefree laughter thanks to modern dental products