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Interview: “I am proud that our members continue to see the VGT’s work as adding value”


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Ed Kolsteeg, secretary of the VGT, the trade organisation for Dutch dental dealers (Photograph: Ed Kolsteeg)
Kasper Mussche, DTI

By Kasper Mussche, DTI

Mon. 23. April 2018


Founded in 1952 in Utrecht in the Netherlands, the Nederlandse Vereniging van Groothandelaren in de Tandheelkundige branche (VGT) has been the official organisation for Dutch dental dealers for over 65 years. Since 1990, the VGT has been spearheaded by its gregarious secretary Ed Kolsteeg, who spoke to Dental Tribune Online about the organisation’s development, challenges and importance to its members.

“We have 23 members,” Kolsteeg starts off saying. “There used to be forty, but a number of takeovers have reduced that number. Look at Henry Schein. What is now one member used to be 15. Unfortunately, owing to the emergence of postal order companies in around 1980, there have been a few bankruptcies too. In a way, 1990 was a turning point for the VGT. Before that, we used to talk shop with the various managements at meetings, but from 1990 onwards, we have been a very professional trade organisation.”

What are the main tasks of the VGT?
Our main task is communicating new legislation affecting Dutch dental dealers to VGT members in bite-sized pieces. Obviously, there are a number of laws being passed all the time, but only a few of them apply to dental dealers. Take the Medicines Act (Geneesmiddelenwet) for example, which is incredibly complex. Dental distributors only sell a small portion of dental medicines, but these products still fall within the scope of this legislation as a whole. Basically, we tell our members which new regulations and directives apply to them. They rely strongly on these updates, which concern a range of subjects, including radiography, dangerous goods, the environment and maintenance guidelines. Our main goal here is for companies to adopt the same legislation so that our end users, dentists, know they are doing the right thing. For that reason, we also send out more than 500,000 material safety data sheets per year.

Each year, we collect hundreds of unpaid invoices through court procedures for our members. We also negotiate with various ministries on our members’ behalf. The advantage of a trade organisation is that we can engage in conversation with the government directly. Obviously, this is preferable for the government, as it saves them having to talk to 23 separate companies. All in all, I think we are one of the most active trade organisations for dental dealers in Europe.

What is the greatest daily challenge for the VGT?
Our greatest challenge is in itself somewhat contradictory. On the one hand, each member wants to distinguish itself from its competitors. On the other hand, we can only mean something to our members if they apply the rules uniformly. The VGT seeks as much uniformity as possible—be it in terms of delivery conditions or sales conditions and so on—so we can help every individual member efficiently. Luckily, the trust and cooperation between VGT members is especially strong, which is also why we can achieve an extremely low percentage of unpaid invoices. This mutual trust is something we have built over the course of years, and I can assure you things work excellently this way.

As a trade organisation, what trends have you seen in the Dutch dental distribution industry?
Since we keep track of the turnover of our members, we can see how their overall sales figures fluctuate in years of crisis. If this is the case for some products and not for others, it is of course possible to draw conclusions from that. Apart from acquisitions by dental dealers, which now seem to have stabilised, chain formation has definitely become a trend in the Netherlands in the last couple of years. Investors buy up dental practices, invest money in them and of course expect their investment to pay off at some point. I also see that some of those chains are now expanding into other European countries. This definitely has changed dentistry from the perspective of the dentist, who is no longer independent, but now reliant on a monthly wage. Dental dealers do not have to be affected by this development per se. Then again, a chain that manages a hundred dental practices becomes a big purchaser. That way, it is possible to put pressure on the dealer regarding price formulation and reduction. So far, the number of these chains is still relatively low.

We have of course seen some other developments in Dutch dentistry as a whole. A discussion at the moment is the oral hygienist’s position as a facilitator to oral health, with oral hygienists being allowed to do primary caries drilling and filling—but this is not without problems for dentists. Another development in the past was the free-rates experiment in oral care. The experiment was supposed to run for three years, but the House of Representatives cancelled it after only four months. Of course, an experiment like that causes a great deal of discontent, which is why patients now pay officially set prices again, whether they have a tooth extracted in Amsterdam or Maastricht. The free-rates experiment is an example of a development that did not affect our dental dealers at all though, as it was merely about the income of dental practices. Lastly, there is of course the growing importance of digital dentistry, but this is the case everywhere in Europe.

What does membership of the Association of Dental Dealers in Europe (ADDE) mean for the VGT?
Being able to talk to peers about how we handle certain problems and vice versa is useful to us. That way, we hear about legal developments in other countries, which is often a sign that a similar development is likely in the Netherlands. Moreover, we receive information through contrast, the legal firm that provides EU legal advice to the ADDE. As the interpretation and application of laws differ across Europe, I think the ADDE should above all be an information organisation, rather than a managing one.

Finally, what have some highlights been for the VGT?
Well, there have been quite a few by now. After holding a discussion with the ministry of health, it was a personal highlight when I received a signed letter from the minister thanking us for our contribution. Receiving such a letter as the secretary of a trade organisation had me walking on sunshine.

Apart from that, our members finance the VGT. With 23 members and six people working in our VGT office, we are talking about a reasonable amount of money, so it makes sense for us to provide added value. I am proud that our members continue to see the VGT’s work as adding value and continue to rely on us.


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