Getting to know my dad on a more ‘business’ level
By Amelia Kozlowski
For the past 3,398 days of my 6,073 day life, Kozlowski Orthodontics, which opened on Sept. 15, 2008, has been one of my dad’s biggest and most valued accomplishments. I’ve always only thought of my dad as just my dad, the orthodontist that all my friends go to, and the “good at math guy” who used to help me with my middle school Algebra. As I’ve grown, I’ve realized that there’s so much I can learn from my father about his business and his success as both an orthodontist and a businessman. Other than the Bible, my mom, and my Papa, my dad is one of the wisest people I know, and I thought that now was the perfect time to dive right in a learn a few things.
THE VIKING SAGA: When did you know that you wanted to start your own business?
JEFF KOZLOWSKI: Well, I’ve always been interested in starting my own business. The question was, ‘what kind of business would it be?’. I had a newspaper route when I was nine and 10 years old that was like my own business, and then I thought about going into business and actually getting my MBA. When I decided to go into orthodontics, that was going to be my path to owning my own business. I knew long before I started Kozlowski Orthodontics.
VS: What are some steps that you had to take in order to get your business up and running?
JK: Some steps that people don’t think about when they’re starting their own business is going to a bank and proposing a business plan to the bank with predictions of how the business will grow and how we will engage customers, in dentistry we call them patients. That’s actually one of the challenges is that in health care, they are patients that we treat, but they are also customers of your business. Many doctors only think of them as patients but if they’re choosing to use your business for services, then they’re both patients and customers and should be treated accordingly. So the steps really are building the infrastructure, hiring the team, and then going out and marketing the business. I talked to other dentists to see who had patients that they could refer, talked to people I knew in the community, went to PTA meetings, things like that.
VS: How do you and your team come up with marketing ideas?
JK: There’s so many really intelligent orthodontists all around the country that we network with, whether it be through going to meetings, some are done on Facebook groups, and some of them are good friends of ours that we talk to on the phone on a regular basis. The car magnet idea wasn’t something I came up with, I have friends who put their office name, phone number and website on them but I really wanted mine to be just the logo where people didn’t really know what it was. I had some criticize me saying, ‘well that’s not a very good marketing if they don’t know who it is,’ but I think it’s what we call ‘sticky marketing’ because when they find out they’re like, ‘ohhh that’s your office I know that.’ When coming up with ideas we try to think of things that will be fun for our patients and fun for us and sometimes we just have brainstorming sessions as a team.
VS: That brings me into my next question, so where did you get the idea from your Koz logo?
JK: First, I knew that I wanted Kozlowski Orthodontics to be written in all lowercase. One night I was sitting on the island sketching it out and I had drawn a little smiley face in the ‘O’ of orthodontics when my wife, your mom, came by and drew a couple little hairs sticking off the top of it the way I sometimes sign a smiley face in a card. I figured that would make a really nice logo so I worked with my brother-in-law, your uncle Jeff, to help us design it and it was a very intricate process. When you look at the logo now, it’s just simple, but if I were to show you the 20 or 30 different versions we went through, we were really meticulous about it. The eyes would be too close together and it would look shifty, or they would be too low and it would look unintelligent. I spent a lot of time showing the different ones to women between the age of 35 and 50, who are my primary consumers because they either choose orthodontics for themselves or are making all the decisions for their kid’s orthodontics. They all had very minor differences and it seems silly to think about whether there’s going to be three, four of five hairs but eventually we came up with one that just looked very natural.
VS: What is one of your favorite parts of being your own boss?
JK: Being my own boss, clearly, I get to make all the rules! I honestly think it’s being able to set my own schedule. For the most part, if something comes up in life or family, I can make the decision to modify my schedule, within reason. I can’t just cancel my whole next week of patients because I feel like playing Fortnite all week, but I also really enjoy hiring a talented and dedicated team and watching them grow and develop in their skills.
VS: What have some of the benefits been from creating your own business?
JK: The ability to nurture and watch my business grow, to watch my team grow, to see the volume of patients and the influence we have with patients in the community in terms of goodwill, positivity, and life changing smiles. Back when the business first started we were making around 50 amazing smiles a year, and now as we’ve grown I get to have an impact on hundreds of people a year.
VS: How has your Economics major in college helped you in the business world?
JK: If you were to talk to a real businessperson, someone with a MBA, an Economics degree is like graduating kindergarten haha. But compared to most medical and dental doctors, we’re not really trained in business yet that’s what we do. Like I said before, yes patients are your patients and you’re the doctor, but they’re also consumes. For so long, dentistry and medicine could only focus on the health care aspect of it and not realize that it’s a business with customer service. Having the background in Economics has helped me to analyze my business better. I didn’t only study biology and pharmacology which might help me prescribe an antibiotic, which I do once every 10 years, but I deal with accountants and attorneys daily when it comes to managing the business. I think it allowed me to see that the business of orthodontics can be treating patients as customers and customers as patients. I don’t want my business to be compared to other medical offices, I want to be compared to places like Disney or Nordstroms, places that take care of their customers, have great customer service, and take care of their employees.
VS: Changing gears a little bit, how did you get involved with lecturing about orthodontics?
JK: Have you seen how long my answers are, I can talk all day long! First of all, you have to be good at what you do. If you’re doing crappy work, no one wants to see what you do or how you do it. Secondly, you need to document everything. You could be a great orthodontist but if you don’t have photos, x-rays and progress treatment records, you have nothing to show people. I’ve lectured all around the U.S. and all around the world and I think the biggest reason why I keep getting invited back is because I am unafraid to show both my successes and failures. Orthodontists are very, very particular. If you put up a picture of a tooth that’s off angle by 1/10 of one degree, they’re going to tell you it’s garbage. It’s kind of like when you get a 99 percent on your exam and I ask, ‘what happened to the other one point?’. I was open to teaching other people about orthodontics which is part of the reason I keep doing it.
VS: Lastly, what is one piece of advice as a businessman that you’d like to share with others?
JK: Money isn’t everything. Quality of life is a balance between life inside of work, life outside of work, income and lifestyle. The best piece of advice I could give to people is that if you do it for the money, you’re not going to be as successful as if you do it for the right way and for the right reasons. If you do that, money will follow. Other people can see if someone is just focused on making money, but if they’re focused on making a difference, then they will be fulfilled in their position and money will follow them.