How veterinary practices rise up after the recession
With the real estate market recovering, the unemployment rate decreasing and the stock market on a nice tear, economists are declaring the Great Recession over. The economy may still be years from reaching its prior peaks, but it isn't in danger of reverting to recent lows either.
Having weathered this colossal financial storm, veterinary practice owners are now trying to pick up the pieces and are asking themselves tough questions: How do they get their practices back to inflated, pre-recession levels? How do they return to that golden era of profitability and value?
We asked several general and referral practice owners and managers for ideas, and they offered up their strategies for financial recovery. Some of these concepts have worked and others have yet to bear fruit, but here are four tips from practices like yours to increase value and profit in today's economic environment.Stand out from the crowd
If we've learned one thing over the past five years, it's that resting on your laurels is no longer an option. To succeed, practice owners must get creative and stand out from competitors. One large multispecialty practice has aggressively started to market their services in their area—a process that's proven to be successful.
"We've targeted the referring veterinary community and the general pet-owning community," the practice manager says. "Both marketing plans have been successful. Our gross is now up about 12 percent over pre-recession levels."
The practice reached out to the pet-owning public and got their name into the community through different types of media channels and efforts, including sponsoring community events, doing television spots, creating special interest news stories about the practice and their patients, and writing guest columns and blogs.
For local referring veterinarians, the practice tried more direct approaches, such as hosting dinners and taking trips to sporting events, all designed to establish a personal connection with the doctors. The manager made a point of stressing that the more intimate marketing efforts, while time-consuming, were by far the most effective.
Another example of standing out from the crowd is a two-doctor general practice that increased weekday hours. Three nights a week, the practice now remains open until 9 p.m. At first, according to the owner, this move seemed to cause more trouble than it was worth—they were barely breaking even. But now, it's beginning to pay off.
"We've noticed a definite pick-up in our practice's business from these later hours during the week," she says. "It's definitely paying for itself. But more than that, it's sending the message that we've taken the extra step toward helping people and their pets."
Another general practice instituted a house-call service about three years ago when business was suffering. The hope was that this added service would allow the practice to reach clients living in the far corners of their community while also keeping the doctors busy. But now that business is picking up, the practice is boxed in by this service and wonders how to discourage it.
"It's become almost a nuisance," the practice manager says. "When times were slow, this on-the-road service was worth the effort. Now there's too much time out of the office for key people and not enough revenue to make it worthwhile."
So in an effort to make the service beneficial for the practice while still keeping the clients who use it happy, the owners plan to increase the fees and travel costs for house calls and encourage these clients to come into the practice.