Pearly white profits

Consider these tips from veterinarians who use dentistry to hold on to profits even as demand for other services declines.
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Feb 01, 2009

Ten years ago many veterinarians reveled in an expanding economy with affluent clients. It was a climate in which practicing veterinary medicine—and building a dental program—may have been easier. Now you're facing a recession, along with increased Internet pharmacy competition, new vaccine protocols, and pressure from better-educated and more demanding clients.

But before you get stuck reminiscing about the good old days, consider the opportunity in front of you. If you can launch a strong dental program now, you may be able to keep your profits from sinking—and position yourself for greatness when the market rebounds. Dr. Jeff Rothstein, MBA, a Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member and president of Progressive Pet Animal Hospitals and Management Group in Michigan, knows firsthand the effects of the current economy. Michigan has been hurting since the stock market crash in 2000, and many of Dr. Rothstein's clients are directly affected by the ailing American auto market. "I feel like I work for the car companies because they impact us so much," Dr. Rothstein says.

Here's the rub: If he's making dental care work in a tough market, so can you. Use these ideas to improve patients' dental health and push your dental revenue from 2 percent of your profits to 10 percent or more. Here's how.

Check your measuring stick

In the 1990s some practices in the Detroit area experienced growth of 10 percent to 20 percent a year. But that ended for many practices in 2001. "It's not been unusual in the past few years for practices to be down 5 percent or more," Dr. Rothstein says.

So get real about your losses. To start with, Dr. Rothstein says, emphasize the seriousness of this decline to your team. "We shouldn't say, 'We're only down 2 percent and that's not bad,'" he says. If you've been forced to increase your prices when the cost of products and services has increased, your 2 percent decline may be more significant than you think. "Being flat doesn't mean you haven't taken a loss," he says.

The good news is that you can take control by managing your profit centers. "Whatever you're doing, you can do more of," Dr. Rothstein says. "And dental care has a good profit margin."

Make new friends, keep the old

Take a look at the potential market for your dental services. Before you rush out and try to attract 100 more clients for dental procedures, make sure you've evaluated your current client base. "Many of us could be doing a lot more with our current clients," Dr. Rothstein says. "It's about being an advocate for the pet. You and your staff can increase your passion for services you may have previously been ho-hum about—like dental care—and clients will notice."

And it's easier to promote your services to existing clients than to find new ones, says Dr. Scott Linick, FAVD, owner of Plainfield Animal Hospital in South Plainfield, N.J. "Your clients are already familiar with you and appreciate your recommendations," he says. He asks his associates to devote two to five minutes of every 15- to 20-minute office visit to talking about dental care. Many clients schedule a dental procedure immediately.

To be successful in dental work, it's important to let go of any fears. Don't be afraid to make a small investment in better equipment. Don't be afraid to suggest dental care to clients who are already tightening their belts. And don't be afraid of longer procedures that may take more of your time and require a bigger financial investment from clients. All these fears can be overcome.