The Edison Awards celebrate the top breakthroughs in every profession — including dentistry. Here’s why that matters so much.

IF THERE WERE an Edison Award for distribution companies, Benco Dental Chairman Larry Cohen (our dad) would have brought home as much hardware as Meryl Streep. Benco has always been an innovator — a trait borne of necessity. For a small dental depot in northeastern Pennsylvania to become America’s largest independent dental distributor, with operations from coast to coast, relentless focus on the customer experience was imperative. From inventing the roles of Equipment Specialist and Dental Designer to introducing dentistry’s original Windows-based ordering system and frequent-buyer club, Benco has long been the leader in helping practices become more productive and efficient.

Here’s the back story of just one of those innovations: how Benco joined forces decades ago with a small West Coast logistics company to build America’s first regional dental distributor.

In the mid-1960s, Benco was just one of hundreds of small, undercapitalized dental companies in towns across the country, each limited to a service area of about 50 miles. Customer orders were either delivered by the sales rep or shipped via parcel post, the U.S. Postal Service’s inefficient shipping service. This was before the interstate highway system had been fully built, making travel difficult, especially from rural areas like . . . Pennsylvania’s northeast corner.

More than 50 years later, Larry still remembers the day a sales rep visited Benco’s new office and warehouse in downtown Wilkes-Barre to introduce a faster, more reliable delivery company called United Parcel Service. At the time, Larry thought, “Amazing — how can a company compete with the post office?”

Founded in Seattle in 1913, UPS started as a delivery service for retail stores, then moved into common-carrier package delivery. It offered a level of service the post office couldn’t match: faster delivery to a wider area, automatic return of undeliverable packages, better documentation and weekly billing — all at a price comparable to that of the USPS.

UPS had only recently expanded into the Mid-Atlantic, and Benco was in the right place at the right time. Our early embrace of “Brown” opened new markets to a small-town company located more than 100 miles from New York City and Philadelphia. Benco rode UPS’s capabilities to become the first American dental distributor to leverage a single warehouse into becoming a super-regional player. Some might call it great strategic thinking; the ever-humble Larry calls it “pure survival.”

Benco’s theme for 2017 is “Redefine + Reinvent,” highlighting how the company has been (and still is) America’s most innovative dental distributor. Innovation takes many forms — products, services, even just recognizing a good idea when you hear one. This issue of Incisal Edge, featuring our annual look at dentistry’s Edison Award–nominated products (see page 44), is just one way we celebrate innovation and the role it continues to play in moving our profession forward.

As always, please reach out to either of us with your feedback — or, naturally, your innovative ideas.