Tucked away in a mist-shrouded sliver of the Alps, the country of Liechtenstein rarely registers on the mental map of the world. This 160-square kilometre-large nation is home to just 36,000 people and has neither an airport nor an international railway station within its territory. The fastest route from the north to the south of the country entails leaving Liechtenstein all together and driving along the highway in either neighbouring Austria or Switzerland.
But despite its diminutive size the odds are high that unbeknown to them people around the globe encounter a little piece of Liechtenstein every time they pass by a construction site or drive their car or even visit the dentist.
The Alpine kingdom is, in fact, home to some world beating companies from the Hilti corporation whose trademark red and white cases containing a full range of power tools can be found at building sites globally, to ThyssenKrupp Presta Steering whose steering columns are found in a third of all new cars on the market every year.
But perhaps nothing is more synonymous with Liechtenstein than the country’s leading export: False teeth. Located in the municipality of Schaan, just north of the capital Vaduz, Ivoclar Vivadent is a global dental behemoth. The 60 million artificial teeth the company manufactures annually in 10,000 different shades and shapes, account for 40 per cent of all the false teeth sold in Europe and 20 per cent worldwide.
With a turnover of some 600 million Swiss francs, Ivoclar has 1.3 million dentists in 120 countries using its products. And one market where the number of its clients is rapidly rising is India.“Our business in India has been growing in double digits yearly for the last four years,” says Marcel Ohri, the senior area sales manager for Ivoclar in India.
One reason for this he explains is the popularity of Ivoclar’s cosmetic dentistry products with “Bollywood dentists”.
“Our main clients so far are really the Bollywood dentists, the ones whose patients are looking for highly aesthetic and high quality products.”
And so it transpires that every time a Bollywood starlet sashays across the silver screen, her bright white smile might well be powered from far away Liechtenstein. One star that Ohri knows for a fact to have used Ivoclar products is former Miss Universe Lara Dutta.
“There are probably many more Bollywood actors whose dentists are our clients but since we are in a business-to-business industry, unfortunately we rarely get to know the end-users,” shrugs Ohri.
Ivoclar has been selling its products in India for the last 10 years and currently has a representative office in Mumbai. While the focus has so far been on the top end of the market for composites, all-ceramics and implant aesthetics — the core focii of the company — Ohri says that India’s burgeoning middle class is where the real future lies.
“As people have more disposable income, they become more interested in preventative care rather than simply seeking cures.” India, he says, currently represents a $100-million market for the products Ivoclar is active in and he expects it to grow between 8 and 14% in the coming years.
The challenge for Ivoclar in India is thus to develop a customised portfolio of products where the quality will remain uncompromised but the price will be low enough to attract the middle class.
Moreover, other factors distinguish the Indian market making customisation a further necessity. If you look at a typical dentist’s office in Mumbai, says Ohri, it will have 25 patients in the waiting room many without an appointment. In Europe, by contrast, dentists see far fewer patients in a day. As a result, for the Indian dentist time is of the essence. “So, we need to develop products that provide quicker solutions but are still reliable, for the Indian context,” Ohri explains. The chairman of Ivoclar, Christoph Zeller, is in India this week, accompanying Liechtenstein’s hereditary prince, Prince Alois, on a state visit.
“We have identified India as a key market for the future, so Mr Zeller’s visit is part of the sweeping change in the mindset of our company where we are now thinking of what customers need in Asia, not just Europe or the United States,” concludes Ohri.
And once the Chairman is back home in Liechtenstein the ongoing discussion of whether or not Ivoclar should set up a manufacturing facility in India is expected to heat up. Either way, the links between India, one if the world’s largest countries and Liechtenstein, one of the tiniest look set to grow ever more toothsome.