Look at what's really worth the effort in veterinary practice

Look at what's really worth the effort in veterinary practice

Amidst all the hype abAmidst all the hype about establishing online services and being the best product resource for our clients, we should stick with what we know—good medicine.out establishing online services and being the best product resource for our clients, we should stick with what we know—good medicine.
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Dec 01, 2012

What's the latest buzz in our profession? Work hard to squeeze every last drop of product sales out of your clients and immediately launch your own online store. Many gurus in the world of veterinary practice management have been recommending this approach for some time, but in my opinion, it's not a viable solution and not worth the time and effort.

Two companion animal practice owners in my area launched their own online stores. One told me that 1 percent or less of his total products, medications, and pet food sales are generated from his online store. The other, who has been operating his online store for more than three years, sees the same 1 percent or less of practice product sales generated by the online store. Hardly seems profitable enough for the time and energy involved, does it?

And what about our colleagues in large- and mixed-animal practice? Most lost their medication and product sales 20 years ago to feed and supply stores. One Missouri mixed-animal veterinarian told me it took 10 years to lose the product sales at his practice. He predicted it would take about 10 years for companion animal practices to lose their product sales to pet stores, big-box retailers, and human and online pharmacies.

So if we're truly facing imminent doom, what should we do? Dig our practices' graves and wallow in woe? Of course not. Take a step back and do a reality check: Are we product salespeople, or are we veterinarians?

It's inevitable—there will be change in veterinary medicine. I say embrace it and position your practice for that change.

I relish the idea of reducing my product inventory and freeing up my inventory manager's time so she can spend more time with our clients instead of with boxes, orders, and stocking shelves. I'm ready for the day when my employees' time won't be spent counting pills and making labels, when I'll have increased shelf and cabinet space for other items, and when I'll just fire off a prescription and leave it up to my client to find the best deal on their pet's medication or the most convenient location to fill it. Let the client do the shopping for the cheap, cheaper, and cheapest. People love sales and coupons. Let them have what they want for pet medications and products, too.

As for me, I'm not going to hide from change, complain about change, run from change, or even ignore it. Instead, I'll provide new services that are valuable to my patients and their owners. I'll raise my fees 10 percent to 40 percent, as needed. I'll come up with new marketing ideas to generate more business. My staff and I will have less inventory to keep track of and more time to focus on the basics of veterinary medicine—excellent patient care and customer service. What will you do?

Joan Freesh, MS, DVM, is the owner of the St. Louis Cat Clinic in St. Louis, Mo. Please send questions or comments for Dr. Freesh to
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