Folks who grind their teeth while sleeping rely on custom-fitted guards for prevention. For sellers of those guards, a complication is the custom-fitting. It requires an exact teeth impression, which presumably calls for an in-person visit.
But not if the seller is Pro Teeth Guard, a San Diego, California-based online dental lab that sells made-to-order teeth guards. Its impressions-by-mail process facilitates custom manufacturing — and satisfied customers.
I recently spoke with JP Ji, co-founder of Pro Teeth Guard. He addressed production challenges, customer service, marketing, and more.
The entire audio of that interview is embedded below. The transcript is edited and condensed.
Eric Bandholz: Tell us about Pro Teeth Guard.
J.P. Ji: We sell custom-fitted mouth guards for people who grind their teeth when they sleep. We send a kit to customers. They take an impression of their teeth and return it back to us. We then custom manufacture the mouth guard and send the completed product to the buyer. We offer adjustments, a one-year warranty, and a 60-day money-back guarantee.
We launched the business in 2012 when my mom started a lab serving local dentists. We now have nine employees and just over $1 million in annual revenue. During Covid, a lot of dentists shut down. At that time, online sales had become a minor part of the business, probably 5% of the overall revenue. So we said, “Let’s focus on our ecommerce site.”
Currently, the dental lab only services the ecommerce business. My mom is in charge of the technical side of manufacturing the product and making sure it fits perfectly. I’m in charge of marketing, customer service, and finances.
We use a scorecard for each role within the company — inspired by the book “Who: The A Method for Hiring” by Geoff Smart. Every position has core outcomes. We also have what we call “stretch outcomes.” A core outcome for a customer service employee is being able to follow processes, answer inquiries, and provide a great experience. A stretch outcome is spotting opportunities to improve, such as better efficiency.
I ask the employees, “What have you suggested this year or this quarter for improvements?” They won’t be negatively impacted or disciplined if they don’t accomplish a stretch goal, but it is a part of the role. We refer to customer service as “customer happiness.” Everyone in our company is a customer happiness manager.
Bandholz: You have 24/7 support. How does it work?
Ji: We use a third-party live-chat service called HelpFlow. It uses our internal list of frequently asked questions. We gather all the questions received through email and phone calls, build the list, and send it to them. Over time HelpFlow’s staff improves by updating the internal FAQs. We’ve used the service for seven years. Eighty percent of customer service questions they can now answer based on previous support tickets.
Most of the chat agents are overseas. The agents are assigned to multiple clients, not just us. They report on a metric called “chatted revenue.” They might document, “This customer chatted with us and then converted.” Some customers may have converted, but the conversion rate for those who engaged in chats is around 10 times higher than those who didn’t. The service charges a monthly retainer fee. It scales based on the volume, which works out to a couple of dollars per chat.
Bandholz: You also use a conversion optimization firm.
Ji: Yes. The firm, Conversion Crimes, conducts user testing to discover friction points on a website and where people get confused. Conversion Crimes sends a shopper who matches our target audience to our site — someone needing a night guard. The firm records the person navigating the site with specific steps and cues. For example, the steps may be, “Land on the page. scroll through. Don’t click on anything. What is this page about?” That tests whether a page conveys the purpose of our brand, website, or product — on mobile and desktop.
We send those recordings to folks at our user-interface agency. They will take notes and address those limitations. After we go live with a new design, we will repeat the process with another test.
Here’s an example. We learned that it’s hard for people to know which of our products to buy. We have four custom night guards, all similar but with different thicknesses and materials. Customers want to know which one they need. So we’ve integrated a quiz to help. Based on the responses, it will recommend the best product. That quiz has a high level of engagement.
Bandholz: What is your marketing strategy?
Ji: We started very strong on search engine optimization in 2012. It was easier back then. So that was our main channel for a long time, SEO and Google Ads. We’ve had our ups and downs with the Google algorithm. We’ve had updates that halved our traffic over time. Then we recovered. Now customers from organic search are about 15% to 20% of total revenue.
We still use Google Ads. And affiliates are a large channel — about 25% of revenue — because many are masters at SEO. If you search for the best mouth guard, night guard, or best guard for teeth grinding, our affiliates are typically the top one, two, or three results.
The rest is email marketing. We never cracked Facebook Ads. For a while, we were running retargeting ads on Facebook. That was okay. But even then, after the iOS 14.5 updates, retargeting was unprofitable for us. We probably spent the equivalent of a Honda Civic on Facebook Ads and never really got a return.
We’ve nailed our content marketing process pretty well. So far, it’s almost entirely for SEO. But folks don’t always search on Google for questions about mouthguards and teeth grinding. So we’re looking into investing in videos, such as on YouTube and TikTok.
A competitor started a TikTok channel. One of their videos about teeth grinding on TikTok got over 1 million views. We’re looking to leverage TikTok and the creator marketplace to try similar things.
Bandholz: Where can people learn more about you?
Ji: Our website is ProTeethGuard.com. I’m on Twitter and LinkedIn.