At Webster Dental Care, efforts to keep pace with training and technology keep employees feeling up to date in an increasingly competitive business.
An annual staff education day brings together workers to attend sessions on topics such as legal matters or customer service, often led by out-of-town experts and including peeks at new technological offerings.
"Some dentists don't update their technology for 20 years," said office manager Laurie Knaple, who worked at three practices before joining Webster in 2011. "If I felt strongly about something that I think our patients would benefit from or something I think is worth the investment, it's so nice when you get a 'Yes.'"
With about 140 employees working at six Chicago-area locations and an administrative office, Webster Dental Care ranks as the No. 2 small company on the Chicago Tribune's Top Workplaces list, according to a survey conducted by Exton, Pa.-based consulting firm WorkplaceDynamics.
Dr. Steven Rempas started as a single practitioner on Webster Street in 1976 and brought in specialists to work with him before moving operations to 2829 N. Lincoln Ave. in the Lakeview neighborhood.
Twelve years ago, in a bid to finance his extended vacations and eventual retirement in Hawaii, Rempas turned his attention to practice management. He first bought a Cicero practice. Today, there are locations in the Portage Park neighborhood, Hoffman Estates, Skokie, and La Grange Park; and a Mundelein practice set to open this fall.
Benefits include medical and, of course, dental coverage; paid time off and a 401(k) that is matched up to 3.5 percent. Then, there are the occasional office lunches, standard holiday parties and company picnics.
When privately held Webster acquires a practice, Hawaiian-themed photos and decor appear — Rempas collects hula dolls and art — new signage is built and technology is updated. Still, each office maintains its own character, Knaple said.
"There's diversity not only in the staff; it's a reflection of the communities that we're in," she said.
The entire staff of the Cicero location is bilingual, while the Skokie office has Sunday hours to accommodate a large Jewish community.
"I think people like working here because we take new ideas and every employee into consideration," said Dr. Mark Zieba, a dentist and minority owner.
One employee suggestion resulted in Webster Dental being among the first Chicago-area dental offices to offer Groupon specials for services. The company, which has $17 million in annual revenue, retained about 22 percent of those customers.
Zieba started at Webster Dental in 2000. Rempas was working on a patient who mentioned he had a brother in dental school. Rempas called the student — a young Zieba lived around the corner from the practice — to train as an assistant.
"I called the kid up and asked 'What are you doing this summer? You need to work in a dental office. You start Monday,'" Rempas said. "I kind of like always having young students around. It's a good way to stay current with what they're teaching in school."