COVID-19 and Brexit – what will the future of the dental industry look like?

Daniel Davis discusses how J&S Davis adapted to the pandemic and how he sees the future of the dental industry unfoldingDaniel Davis discusses how J&S Davis adapted to the pandemic and how he sees the future of the dental industry unfolding. 

What’s the story behind J&S Davis?

J&S Davis originally started in 1908 by my grandfather and his brother, Joe and Solomon Davis. Following the Second World War, they worked together with Mark Schottlander until after the Second World War. The next generation didn’t really get on too well so J&S Davis restarted in the 1950s.

We’ve always been about innovation and unusual products. My father introduced the first air turbine to the market (the Sandri whistling drill), for example. There were quite a few well-known names but there’s also quite a few industry names who have worked with J&S Davis. It was quite an influential company.

The 1980s came along and financial constraints came in due to interest rates. It was sold to Planmeca in the early 1990s, when my father retired and I stayed on as a director of the company.

In 2011, I was offered the opportunity and I bought it back.

What do you stand for?

We are a wholesale company. We provide niche products to the retailers who then sell them on to dentists, hygienists and therapists. We’ve always gone for products that add value. It’s got to be something different.

We introduced disposables to the dental market in the 1960s. For example, disposable impression trays and needles. We’ve got quite a range of specific products and also portable and mobile dental equipment. There’s now more pressure on dentists to carry out home visits and visit care homes. You can pretty much do anything that you can in a surgery but it can be a more challenging environment.

Pre pandemic, our salespeople were visiting dentists and attending seminars. They are knowledgeable people and know our products to the nth degree; they know exactly how to use them and they’ve only got one product to sell for each type. For example, if you wanted an impression paste, we have one choice for it. They have to know these inside and out.

What we offer to our suppliers is a mutually exclusive arrangement. We won’t sell anything that competes with them. And we will know the product inside and out. We’ve built up a reputation – they know that if our dealers get in touch with us, we will give them all the information.

I’ve been in the dental industry for almost 40 years so I know a lot of people. One of the things about the dental exhibitions, when there was such a thing, is that you can go around and you know a lot of the faces. It’s a lovely community.

How do you see the next year unfolding?

There are so many variables at play at the moment. We can’t just look at the dental community and base assumptions only on that because there’s so many other external factors.

The first thing to consider is the end of the furlough scheme and the impact that’ll have on the economy at large. There’ll be more people losing their jobs. And what impact will this have on dentistry – will people be more or less reluctant to go? At the moment, the NHS side of the dental profession is really struggling to catch up.

Then we’ve got the delights of Brexit. At the moment, one has to assume that it’s still the case that there won’t be an extension at the end of the year. I personally think there should be.

I think this situation means it’s crazy for both Europe and the UK to leave each other at this point. We’re also not ready; there’s three months to go and they’re still consulting on and clarifying various things.

And I don’t think I’m ever going to get my head around how Northern Ireland fits into the new structure.

New regulations

On top of that, you’ve got the medical device rules. As a direct result of Brexit, eventually the CE mark will no longer be recognised in Great Britain. By the end of June 2023, this will be replaced by a UKCA mark. This can be used from January 2021. But in order to sell into Northern Ireland, you have to have a CE mark on your product.

So even if you want to sell to the whole of the UK, you have to have a CE mark as well. Even though they say we will not be bound by the new medical device regulations coming into force next May, they will apply. As a result, regulatory costs, in theory, could double.

I think what will happen is come 2023, products will disappear from the market. There will be quite a few global manufacturers who say: ‘Why on earth do we need to have a special mark just for the UK? We’ll just skip the UK.’ So there will be products that will come off the GB market.

What impact will this have on dentistry in the UK?

At the very least, it will reduce the choices for dentists. At the worst, it could mean there are some types of products that cease to exist in the UK. But at this stage, we don’t know. The uncertainty that has been there since the referendum, hasn’t gone away. COVID has just increased this.

So what’s going to happen next year? I think people will become more and more confident about returning to the dentist. Even in a local lockdown, dentists are not shutting. In the same way that you can move around for medical reasons, you can also go to the dentist.

Whatever happens with COVID, I don’t think that it is going to have anything like the impact that the first lockdown did on dentistry.The SOPs are very clear. They cater for COVID levels 1-5 and we’re at four at the moment. Nothing in there says close your doors.

I also think there has to be a way of trying to fund technicians directly. There is no quick fix for it but there needs to be.

What lessons have you taken away from the pandemic?

I think what we’ve learnt is what lots of other businesses have learnt – the use and importance of IT. Teams, Zoom and Webex meetings, for example. I’m now coming in about two or three times a week. We can pretty much do everything from home if we need to.

Coincidentally, it helped that our phone system was in ‘the cloud’ and so we were prepared for a working from home situation. It worked very well. That’s been the biggest change. But I was keen to start getting people back in the office as I really see the value of face-to-face meetings.

Video meetings are great, but they have their limitations and they can be pretty sterile.

What sets you apart as a business?

I think the fact we are family owned and run means there’s a personal touch. Everyone takes a keen interest in following things through – everyone’s friendly and knowledgeable. Most of the people who work for J&S Davis have done so for a long time. There’s a lot of experience and stability here.

Also we only handle top quality products. It’s very rare for somebody to come back with a complaint. We have a very good reputation for a very quick reliable service.

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