THE REPURPOSED OFFICE OF INCISAL EDGE DESIGN AWARD WINNER DR. SCOTT VAN TIMMEREN STEMS FROM A PARTNERSHIP BETWEEN FURNITURE PIONEER HERMAN MILLER AND BENCO DENTAL THAT JUST MIGHT CHANGE THE FACE OF PRACTICE DESIGN.
BY ALEXANDRA LEVINE
OFF A FOUR-LANE boulevard in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Dr. Scott Van Timmeren is breaking in his new office. To drivers passing by, it resembles any other commercial building — but to the patients and employees inside, the space boasts one of the most welcoming doctor’s offices for miles.
Dr. Van Timmeren’s is the first of many dental practices that can now take advantage of a partnership between Benco Dental and Herman Miller, a top-of-the-line furniture manufacturer worldwide. The collaboration will enable Benco to have a hand not only in the financing and installation of dental equipment, but also in the design of the office space itself.
“Never before have we had anything to offer as far as front-office furniture; until now, that’s been left up to the doctors,” says Dave Bordewyk, a Benco equipment specialist. “But now we have the ability to offer the full solution — we can tell the doctor we’ll get everything done from A to Z, from the chairs in the operatories to the tables and benches in the reception room. Benco has always had dental products, but this is the first outside-of-dental partnership that’ll give us an easy add-on to any order, or to any office that’s starting new, remodeling or relocating.
“We’re the first dental distributor to partner with [Herman Miller], and I’m not aware of anybody else with a partnership like this,” he adds. “If they do have access to office furniture, it’s definitely not to this level.”
Dr. Van Timmeren was an old classmate of Bordewyk’s — the two attended junior high together in Grand Rapids — but they lost touch when Bordewyk moved away. Three years ago, though, when Bordewyk returned to Michigan to join the Benco team, he reached out to his childhood friend. Over lunch and a few cups of coffee, Dr. Van Timmeren talked about what he saw for the future of his practice, and Bordewyk told him how Benco and Herman Miller could help. Thus began the year-long project.
Herman Miller, a businessman from western Michigan in the early twentieth century, edged his way into the furniture industry when he helped his son-in-law purchase a local furniture business in 1923; the small shop was eventually renamed Herman Miller in his honor. Nearly 90 years later, the company bought Nemschoff — at the time the leader in health-care furniture — strengthening both brands and broadening their reach.
Even then, though, the company’s primary business focused on prototype health-care systems; the vast majority of its projects were in large medical buildings or acute-care facilities. Until the partnership with Benco Dental, Herman Miller never had a distribution arm reaching out specifically to private dental offices.
That all changed recently, when Benco managing director Charles Cohen reached out to Darin Wright, who works on health-care distribution for Herman Miller. “He expressed an interest in exploring whether there was an opportunity for us to work together,” Wright says. “It would give [Benco] access to the Herman Miller product lines, because they didn’t have anything like that in their offerings.”
BENCO AND HERMAN MILLER KNEW WHAT WOULD BE GOOD FOR US, NOT JUST WHAT WOULD BE GOOD FOR EVERY DENTIST.
Dr. Van Timmeren became the collaboration’s guinea pig. Before going into solo practice, he had worked with a group that had been in the same building for nearly 40 years. The facility was not well-maintained and he was in the market for something new, though, so when the time was right, he made his move: a short move, to a spot just half a block from the old one. It certainly didn’t hurt that the new space was located just 15 miles from Herman Miller’s national corporate headquarters and design center.
In the summer of 2014, Dr. Van Timmeren and his wife, another local dentist whom he met at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry, took a trip to CenterPoint, Benco’s design showroom at the company’s home office in Pittston, Pennsylvania. “We sat in all the chairs and operating stools,” Dr. Van Timmeren says. “We saw all the designs to decide on the best fit.”
Shortly after, Dr. Van Timmeren took a trip to the GreenHouse in Holland, Michigan, which houses Herman Miller’s health-care showroom. The dentist, along with the Benco and Herman Miller team, handpicked everything from furnishings to fabrics. They browsed chairs of every shape and size — body lounge seating, tandem, freestanding, couches, benches and the company’s iconic Aeron chairs. Construction started in February 2015, and was complete at the end of July. “The day we got the certificate of occupancy from the city, we moved in,” Dr. Van Timmeren says. Two days later, the place was packed with patients.
The new office is bright, with large windows across the reception area, the walls are warm with soft hues, and natural wood abounds. (Get a look at it in our annual Design Awards feature, which begins on page 36.) The space is far more open than the old one, which was on the third floor of its dingy building. Now Dr. Van Timmeren occupies the first and only floor.
But for the doctor — who runs a one-man-show family — this design project has meant a lot more than just giving his office a facelift. The look, feel and vibe of a practice have a great impact on the way patients view the quality of care, he says: “It’s more about patient comfort and what’s appealing to them. It’s them knowing that the way our office looks can relate to how much we care about the quality of our work.”
“It was hard to tell people where our old office was or have them come see it for the first time as new patients and wonder about how the care was going to be, whether we were using up-to-date procedures,” he adds. “But now there’s no question that the office fits the quality we’re providing.”
The Benco and Herman Miller teams behind the project, meanwhile, are industry veterans. “The eye they have for this business is from seeing so many different offices,” Dr. Van Timmeren says. “They get to see what works, what doesn’t work, what looks good and what doesn’t look good, and from that they can figure out what’s best for each individual.”
On the Herman Miller side, Darin Wright negotiated the contract with Benco, figured out where to launch and helped train and educate Benco staff on how best to represent Herman Miller’s products to the dental market. He’s not new to the medical world: Prior to joining Herman Miller, where he has been for six years, Wright spent 15 years in the medical-device industry, did sales and marketing for operating-room products and services, worked for a small obstetrics-and-gynecology manufacturer and then became involved in health-care office furniture and education.
Equipment specialist Bordewyk is no rookie, either. He spent many years with another dental distributor, Henry Schein. But when he and his wife were looking to return to Grand Rapids to be closer to family, his former manager at Schein, now a Benco director, brought him on.
“They knew what was going to be good for us, not just what was going to be good for every single dentist,” Dr. Van Timmeren says of Wright, Bordewyk and the rest of the Benco/Herman Miller team. “It was tailored personally, based on what our styles were, and they knew how to lead and direct us toward the best result.”
Since the project was completed, Dr. Van Timmeren has had a number of other dentists come see the space. And now that Benco and Herman Miller have successfully finished one dentist’s office, they’re already brainstorming ways to better serve the next.
“It’s a new area for both of us, and we’re learning a great deal about each other, about the dental market and what we can do together to help dentists have great spaces,” Wright says. “We’re early in this — we have ideas and thoughts, but we just kicked it off aggressively in August, so we’re still learning. That’s one of the things that excites us: for us to learn about the dental marketplace, and for Benco to learn about our products.
“Benco’s sales force is in dental offices every day, but they’ve had no products like ours to represent, and we have not had this type of distribution or sales coverage in the dental marketplace,” he adds. “So they now have incremental products and services that they can provide to meet dentists’ needs, and we can leverage Benco’s expertise in the dental market to learn about how we can best position both of our companies.”
Now, when Dr. Van Timmeren pulls off that busy four-lane street into his quiet, tree-lined parking lot, he doesn’t need to think twice about what he’ll see when he opens the front door. There’s the big, open waiting room. There’s the circular layout, with the operatories on one side and hygiene and sterilization on the other. There’s the large front desk in between, with patient check-in and checkout areas on opposite sides of a closed door. There are even more visible screens for patients to view X-rays and images of the inside of their mouth.
“I would absolutely recommend this to other doctors in private practice,” he says. “To be able to use Benco and Herman Miller to find the right pieces that will work well in a dental setting, then help with the design and layout and get all the pieces ordered — it was a smooth process.” One to built to last, courtesy of a 12-year, three-shift warranty, which includes parts and labor.
“To have an intermediate to work through made it very easy,” Dr. Van Timmeren adds. “My patients love the look and feel: It’s up-to-date, looks great and will last a long time.”
a journalist based in New York, is a regular contributor to Incisal Edge.