Glidewell Laboratories, based in Newport Beach, California, is an industry-leading provider of high-quality dental lab products and services to dental professionals nationwide for a low cost. Established in January 1970 by Jim Glidewell, CDT, the lab specializes in crown & bridge, ceramic, removable full and partial dentures, dental implants and prosthetic components, and full-cast restorations. Glidewell is an industry leader thanks to its innovative dental technology, experienced R&D department, and dedication to providing free or affordable clinical and technical education to promote industry growth. Read on to see how Jim Glidewell began his career in dentistry and built Glidewell Laboratories into the largest dental lab in the world.
After graduating from Las Vegas High School in 1963, Jim Glidewell enlisted in the U.S. Navy, serving as a boatswain’s mate in Southeast Asia during the early stages of the Vietnam War. He returned to the Las Vegas area once his tour of duty was finished, and found work selling Prudential and New York Life insurance door to door. Jim was inspired to join the dental laboratory business after getting a glimpse into the industry through an old high school friend who operated a successful laboratory. With hope of finding a career that would do more than just pay the bills, he packed up his Volkswagen and headed to California to enroll in UCLA’s dental technology program.
Jim found the program shuttered upon arrival in Los Angeles, so he continued his trek south and ended up at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, California, which at the time was in the process of establishing a brand-new dental technology program. Under the tutelage of an especially gifted instructor named Wes Wallace, Jim began building his understanding about the world of dental technology. At the same time, he started working as an in-office technician in a dental office in Santa Ana, California, owned by Dr. Bill Stanley. Jim points to the priceless hand-on experience garnered under Dr. Stanley as one of the most integral parts of his journey to becoming the industry leader he is today. A number of months after Jim’s graduation in 1969, Dr. Stanley closed up shop abruptly to move to a different city, leaving Jim to strike it out on his own.
On Jan. 15, 1970, Jim Glidewell opened the doors to his first laboratory, serving five local dentists in Tustin, California. By the end of the following year, his growing business necessitated moving the lab to a larger building in neighboring Orange, California. Though admittedly not the most artistic ceramist in the industry, Jim continually found the ability to grow his business by hiring extremely qualified and highly vetted employees. He knew that, by treating his employees well and enabling them to advance their own careers, his company would grow as well. By 1973, the lab had established a solid reputation among local dentists, and Jim took the profits from the Orange business and reinvested them back into the company, a trend he’d continue for decades to come. The funds were used to open a second laboratory in a South Orange County city then named El Toro, California (now known as Lake Forest, California).
Throughout the 1970s, Jim sharpened his business acumen and grew his company substantially. First, the main laboratory moved for a second time to an even larger facility in Orange, California, this one located on Rose Street. With more production space available to the company, Jim decided to attempt a direct mail advertising campaign to reach out to non-local customers. Though it was extremely rare for laboratories to work with dentists outside of their region at the time, Jim knew that his alternative was running the risk of exhausting the ability to gain local customers and continue growing his business. By the close of the decade, Jim owned and operated nine laboratories throughout Southern California, with his businesses maintaining a favorable reputation and attracting new customers weekly.
During this time, however, one of the largest roadblocks facing the company’s growth was the cost and quality of vendor-supplied raw materials and manufacturing components. With nine laboratories to operate, problems exponentially grew more complicated. If a raw material didn’t meet the necessary level of quality, production would be slowed to a standstill. To prevent this, Jim leveraged his profits and started a quality control department specifically aimed at verifying outside manufacturers’ claims, with defective supplies promptly returned for a replacement or refund. Jim’s nine laboratories enabled him to have bargaining power with the manufacturers, and the overall quality of the products delivered to his companies and later to dentists began to rise.
The early 1980s saw Jim Glidewell’s nine laboratories growing and gaining new customers. In 1984, he consolidated all but two of the labs into a single 15,000-square-foot facility in Orange, California. Located on Palm Street, this lab had 42 employees and, for the first time, housed the company’s lab technicians, office personnel and Quality Control department under the same roof. The company’s customer base by this time was made up of more than 50 percent mail-order clinicians, and this new facility enabled the company to better serve its customers and send out cases on time.
Through its continued study of incoming materials, the Quality Control department built a knowledge base of which formulations, materials and products best suited the needs of the company. The department also branched into a research and development role, furthering its goal of discovering products specifically for the lab. First to be tackled by the department: dental articulators. Jim, alongside a team of two engineers, began surveying exactly how the technicians throughout the lab were utilizing the devices, discovering which aspects were most used and which were ignored. The fledgling Research and Development department solidified its ability with the release of its custom articulator, which was accurate and affordable, and could be produced in vast quantities. The R&D department would be a focal point of the company from this point forward, as it would go on to create countless inventions that would dramatically shape not only the company, but also dentistry as a whole.
As the 1980s came to a close, the Palm Street lab employed 175 people and served more than 3,500 dentists around the nation. By this time, more than 95 percent of all company business was from non-local, mail-order customers.
Growth of Glidewell Laboratories continued throughout the early 1990s, to the point where every inch of the Palm Street lab was utilized and a new facility was needed. After nearly a year of customizing a newly purchased building in Newport Beach, California, Jim Glidewell and his employees moved into the 71,000-square-foot facility on April 15, 1993.
The added space enabled the company to further pursue its R&D mindset of furnishing products specifically for use at Glidewell Laboratories. Jim knew that the path to future growth lay in vertical integration: the process where all components necessary for manufacture are produced by the company itself, vastly shortening supply chains — if not eliminating them entirely. The idea became a core, companywide concept: Vertical-integration-friendly steps taken by Glidewell Laboratories ranged from the opening of the company’s in-house operatory in 1995, to the fabrication of custom furniture designed specifically for lab technicians by the end of the decade. No other dental laboratory company was doing anything akin to this at the time. The benefits of this mindset pushed the company to ever-new heights.
As local dental technology programs began to close down, Glidewell Laboratories founded an internal education department that could take a competent person off the street and have them working with precision in the laboratory in a matter of weeks. The company hired Dr. Walter Havekorst to bolster this effort by directing the education of dental technicians as well as conducting cases for marketing purposes. Company employees were now able to receive quality, necessary dental treatment free of charge, with their casework featured across marketing collateral.
By the new millennium, Glidewell Laboratories had developed dozens of materials and lab services, including Capture® Impression Material, Transition Crowns & Bridges®, In-Ceram® Zirconia, Silent Nite® anti-snoring appliances and BioTemps® Provisionals. Each product experienced modest success, contributing to the continuation of company growth.
Now firmly established as an industry leader, the company began looking outside of dental technology for future inspiration. The R&D department started adapting many outside technologies for use in the lab. One of the most notable was injection molding. Revisiting its first success, the team devised a way to make an extremely simple plastic articulator that could be produced in-house for fractions of a dollar. Soon, case boxes, articulators and other production components were being pressed in-house.
When the recession of 2008 decimated dental laboratories around the nation, Glidewell Laboratories was diversified well enough to survive the economy. Over the preceding years, the lab had invested heavily in CAD/CAM technologies, exponentially multiplying the amount of production an employee could complete in a single shift. Once again, Jim Glidewell’s forward-looking vision and care for his employees paid extreme dividends.
With CAD/CAM technology employed throughout the laboratory, the stage was set for something previously unseen. In June 2009, Glidewell Laboratories released BruxZir® Solid Zirconia, a monolithic zirconia restoration that was indicated as a tooth-colored alternative to PFMs and cast gold restorations. Seemingly overnight, the material took off, as dentists nationwide prescribed millions of units before the end of the decade.
Spurred on by the success of BruxZir Solid Zirconia, Glidewell Laboratories began experiencing double-digit growth throughout the 2010s. Nearly all profit garnered from the laboratory is reinvested into the company, bolstering the R&D department and enabling the development of countless new materials and workflows. Although laboratory services continue to be the primary focus of the company, Jim Glidewell has made enormous strides into other segments of the industry, including intraoral and laboratory scanning, chairside milling and implant manufacturing.
Developments made today at Glidewell Laboratories are felt by clinicians and laboratories around the globe. More than 4,300 employees are strongly committed to Jim Glidewell’s goal of making quality restorative dentistry more affordable and accessible to patients across all economic spectrums.
“We strive to drive down restorative costs and expand patient access to affordable dentistry.”
— Jim Glidewell, CDT, President/CEO
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