Prima Dental reveals its magic formula for success

After 15 years-plus of annual growth Prima Dental was rocked by Covid-19, but last year sales were already exceeding pre-pandemic levels and a major recruitment drive was underway, which begged the question – just what is the business doing that is so right?

By Andrew Merrell  |  Published
Prima Dental Group's Quedgeley headquarters, one of its three buildings on Waterwells Business Park.

There is an old saying that ‘the harder you work, the luckier you get’, but application alone does not explain the success of Prima Dental – in the healthcare sector, its name has become a watch-word for performance, quality and service too.

While many of us are asleep, staff at the Gloucester-based firm continue to meet customer demand from 93 countries around the world, manufacturing its market-leading precision carbide dental burrs using the same machines used to make high-end Swiss watches.

Other key ingredients sustaining that success include a continual investment in both machinery and people, and a dynamic culture encouraging staff to accumulate skills and progress.

Matthew Dickerson, recently appointed group financial controller at the Waterwells headquartered business, started with the firm in 2007, when it was based on the Madleaze Industrial Estate off Bristol Road.

Dickerson came to the specialist manufacturing business after working in finance for firms in Gloucester and Bristol, and as Prima Dental invested in developing him, it also began its own journey which would see an incredible and dramatic transition of the 150-year-old business.

‘I had no idea of the journey we were going to embark on or what the business would go on to achieve. We have had consistent growth of at least five per cent year on year, apart from Covid, but returned to form quickly,’ Dickerson said.

The firm’s turnover was £29 million before the pandemic, and is now in excess of that figure by 20 per cent and since last year it has recruited 70-plus new staff.

Looking across the factory floors at one of Prima Dental's three premises on Waterwells Business Park, Stephenson Drive, Gloucester.

‘What I did see was a firm willing to invest in its staff; even back then. It supported me while I completed my ACCA exams (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants), and throughout my study.

‘It invests in developing staff at all levels of the business.’

That qualification and his accumulated experience allowed the 39-year-old to progress to his current position, when in 2021 Richard Muller moved from managing director to executive chairman and Alun Jones left his role as finance director to become MD. More senior appointments have also followed.

Kavita Patel started at the firm in April 2021, but came to Prima Dental with 20 years in manufacturing under her belt. She was employed to concentrate on the firm’s emphasis on training staff across its production lines.

‘Career progression has always been attractive for me. I don’t mind starting low, but I like to be able to work my way up and I think that appeals to a lot of people,’ said Patel, 44.

‘Staff can always ask for support or about new roles and we can help. We want to establish a culture where staff are capable of everything to make us as dynamic as possible,’ said Patel.

As well as the variety of the job dictated by changing orders and product development, the flexibility of the shift system was another appealing factor for many at the firm, she said.

Marian Draghici, 30, started at the firm in 2016 after moving to the UK from Romania and is testament to all of the above. He progressed rapidly and is already what the company calls a 'cell leader' – the equivalent of a shift manager.

He is about to fill one of the new manufacturing technician roles that will help ensure the smooth running of the night and day shifts.

‘There is always opportunity and always new roles because we are always changing and adapting,’ said Draghici.

‘I started from the bottom and worked my way up. Prima has been really supportive helping me progress.

‘It is great to be part of a firm which has continued to expand through the hard times we have had and which continues to invest. It feels like there is always opportunity here.’

Prima Dental now sells 60 per cent of its sales in the United States of America, but has a presence in what it calls the ‘key markets’ of India, Brazil and China, which it has a plan for further growth.

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