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Cover all the feed-store angles

Get veterinary clients out of retail and back to your practice with a little marketing know-how and communication finesse.
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Jan 01, 2012

Marketing. The mere mention of the word is likely to send some of you equine practitioners running in the opposite direction—for a lot of reasons. Maybe you were taught that product marketing was unethical. Maybe you don't have space in your vehicle for products. Or maybe marketing just doesn't "fit" with your personality.

But the playing field out there has changed. Local feed stores now carry the basic essentials of veterinary care—penicillin, eye ointments, vaccines, hoof tools, triple-antibiotic ointments, dewormers, syringes, and more. And if we want our clients to know why we should provide their veterinary services, it's up to us to tell them—or face the consequences.

AVOID THE SIN OF OMISSION

Consider the very possible case of Mrs. Jones. Her horse, Dakota, is lame, and Mrs. Jones has no idea what's might be causing the problem. Because she already buys her dewormer at the feed store, on her next visit she speaks to the 17-year-old store clerk who suggests a joint supplement that might help if Dakota's lameness is caused by arthritis. Mrs. Jones buys an $80 tub of something that won't even begin to address the problem. Unbeknownst to Mrs. Jones, Dakota has a simple hoof abscess. Either the horse gets much worse and requires a veterinary visit, during which Mrs. Jones will complain about her bill because she's already spent $80 on the problem, or, worse, the abscess drains and quietly resolves on its own, leaving Mrs. Jones with the impression that the joint supplement worked, making it more likely that she will consult the feed store clerk in the future instead of turning to her veterinarian.

Many veterinarians say they'll leave the retail market to the feed store and focus on veterinary care, but doing so gives clients an alternative to your expert medicine—and takes a bite out of your revenue. Don't let it happen to you.

COACH CLIENTS WITH CALENDARS

Competing with feed stores for face time with clients starts with a plan for preventive care and a solid system of visits and reminders. Here are three places to start:

Vaccinations. If you don't have a specific vaccine protocol, it's time to create one. If you don't send regular vaccine reminders to every client, it's time to start. Vaccinations continue to be the one reason we see a horse on an annual basis (or even twice a year), and that visit is often the launching point for a comprehensive exam or at least a reminder for the client that there was something wrong with Rusty that she noticed awhile back. Most of these vaccines are available at feed stores and all of them are available on the Internet, but many horse owners don't want to give injections themselves. If your fees remain competitive with other local veterinarians, you'll hold onto this business.

Dewormers. Horse owners are confused by the variety of dewormers available. They want to know what to use, during what time of year, and how often. Create an annual deworming schedule and include recommendations for pregnant horses and foals. Print the schedule (along with your vaccine recommendations) as a marketing and educational tool, and be sure to send deworming reminders.

Many clients will jump at the chance to buy a set of dewormers for the entire year along with the schedule of what to give and when. This may reduce the number of visits to your practice, but it will also reduce the clients' visits to the feed store.

Joint supplements. If you recommend joint supplements, stock them yourself. Some horse owners take joint supplements themselves and give veterinary products to cats, dogs, and horses. Why let the nonprofessional at the local feed store be the one who advises your client on when to give them?