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Midwest Orthodontic Manufacturing.


Flavored rubber bands for braces and flourescent mouth guards

If Jeff Fasnacht had been a happier insurance agent 20 years ago, it's unlikely he ever would have entered the orthodontics product market.

The Aurora native hasn't taken a single college course in dentistry, and many of his best ideas for the industry first were mapped out on cocktail napkins. But Fasnacht, 43, has set many a dentist on his ear with innovative products, including orthodontic rubber bands that release flavors when mixed with saliva and fluorescent-colored mouth guards for football players.

His Columbus-based company, Midwest Orthodontic Manufacturing, is awaiting federal approval for orthodontic bands that slowly release stannous fluoride. The product already has attracted nationwide attention.

Last year, Fasnacht's company sold 4.6 million bags of orthodontic rubber bands to dental product companies such as Johnson & Johnson, its largest customer. It is the leading manufacturer of the bands, often called "elastometric ligatures," which are used with braces.

It also distributes materials for mouth guards and makes arch wire frame products that are also used in braces. The privately held company reported sales of $1.5 million last year.

"Jeff is definitely an entrepreneur. How his company got started is a casebook example of how an entrepreneur gets started," says Kurt Ellis, president of the Columbus Enterprise Development Corp., a non-profit organization that operates a business incubator.

In the late 1960s Fasnacht was an agent for Metropolitan Life Insurance Company in Indianapolis, but found the job lacked the personal satisfaction he desired. "It's okay when you get started, but then after a while it's the same pitch everyday," says Fasnacht. "It's just like selling tires. Don't get me wrong--I have nothing against insurance salesmen in the Midwest."

Then he spotted an advertisement for Unitek Corp., a dental product company that needed a general salesman in the Midwest. "It was more fun," Fasnacht says. "There's something different in each doctor's office. You learned something new everyday."

In the late 1970s, Fasnacht bought into a Greenwood-based company that made orthodontic rubber bands. The small business had two machines that cut rubber tubing into orthodontic bands.

In his first year, the business grossed $1,500 a month. "Knowing the industry I was in, I made a pitch to all the major companies. I just jumped right in," he recalls.

Fasnacht also knew that orthodontic bands were a loss leader item for the supply companies, due to their large overhead costs. "He was able to offer them orthodontic rubber bands at a much lesser cost, and at a profit for a change," recalls Ellis.

Little more than two years ago, Fasnacht and his wife, Kate, decided to return to Columbus, where they had lived in the early 1960s. Bartholomew County officials helped move the company into the Columbus Enterprise Development Center in November 1987.

In addition to floor space, the incubator offered staff support and other assistance. Last fall, Midwest Orthodontics moved into an existing 7,600-square-foot building in a Columbus industrial park.

Ellis says Fasnacht is successful because of his background in sales in the dental products industry and his ability to listen. "Jeff is a guy who is always talking and always listening to his customers," he says. "He puts his ear to the ground and always picks up what people are after."

The entrepreneur always is looking for a new spin on an old product. Fasnacht came up with the idea of selling dental products that taste good. Working with rubber manufacturers, he was able to add peppermint flavoring to the tubing from which the bands are made.

Those who must wear braces now have the choice of tasting apple, bubble gum, pineapple, grape or other flavors, thanks to his patented process.

Shortly thereafter, Fasnacht was celebrating his success with the flavored bands when he came up with another idea.

"The idea was if the flavored rubber bands works as it was designed to do, what else could we do to improve this product?" he asks. The answer was a product that could help those who wear braces to have healthier teeth.

A major problem for those who wear braces is the build up of plaque on teeth. Brushing often is difficult, and the area where the braces are attached often leaves a white spot on the teeth. Fasnacht reasoned that if the bands could release fluoride, they would prevent this from happening. He says the product will have the same effect as if the patient brushes three times a day.

Ellis later got Fasnacht together with Jeremy Dunning, director of Indiana University's Industrial Liaison program. Dunning helped the company secure up to $266,000 for the fluoride bands through the Small Business Innovation Research grant program.

"It was just two weeks before the deadline and we just scrambled to get it (an application) together," says Dunning. "I just let Jeff tell me about the product and I translated it into `proposal-ese.'"

Market research predicts annual sales of between $12 million and $15 million, and a leading medical products company has agreed to market the new product. "The statements made to me by most are that it's a great idea, why didn't they think of it," Fasnacht says.

"They used so much engineering, they overlooked the simple way to do it. It didn't take a wizard to do this, just common sense."
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Article Details
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Author:Vlahakis, George
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Article Type:company profile
Date:Jan 1, 1990
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Next Article:Indiana Business's Industrialist of the Year.

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