Stay dry in the financial storm

Stay dry in the financial storm

Feeling pelted by the recession? From your fellow owners, associates, and practice managers, here are 17 ideas for making the best of the downturn.
Apr 01, 2009

During one gloomy November day in the Detroit suburbs last year, every single pet owner who came to see Dr. Andrew Rollo at Madison Veterinary Hospital had a story to tell about losing a job or almost losing a job. "And these were the people who were coming in," says Dr. Rollo, an associate veterinarian and Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member. "Think about all those pet owners who weren't. It gets you down."

Dr. Rollo, with his auto-industry-dependent clientele, may be seeing the worst of the worst in this recession. But veterinarians across the country are also struggling, with fewer new clients coming in the door, fewer regular clients making appointments, and fewer clients in the exam room opting for recommended care. You may be having conversations that amount to "Pin the procedure on the pet" as you try to match what people can afford to what will keep their pets reasonably healthy—not to mention what will keep your practice's doors open and your team members drawing paychecks.

But, as they say, necessity is the mother of invention. We talked to veterinarians and practice managers across the country who are turning to imaginative solutions, refining their business practices, and honing their client communication skills as they look for ways to survive and even thrive. Here we offer you some of their strategies, which you can use in your own practice—even as the economic fallout continues to rain down.


The worst thing you can do, says Dr. Marty Becker, author, Good Morning America correspondent, and associate at North Idaho Animal Hospital in Sandpoint, Idaho, is to present a pet's treatment, wellness, or diagnostic plan expecting the client to say no. A defeatist attitude will be evident in your body language and tone of voice, and then—guess what?—the client will say no. Instead, your whole demeanor needs to communicate authority and confidence. "When I'm talking to a client, I raise my head, drop my shoulders, make eye contact, and build rapport with the pet," says Dr. Becker, a member of Veterinary Economics' Editorial Advisory Board. "Then with my whole body facing the client, I defend my Plan A. And you know what? I've been in the clinic all day today, and not one client turned down my recommendations."


A positive experience doesn't end with attitude—it extends to value. And right now, clients are seeking value more than ever. "People want the most for their dollar," says Dr. Ernie Ward, owner of Seaside Animal Care in Calabash, N.C., and a Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member. "It doesn't mean they won't spend the dollar." When a client questions whether his pet really needs that blood test, be ready to explain why it does. For example, explain that if you use diagnostics now to rule out the reasons for vomiting in a dog, you may be keeping the client from coming back once, twice, maybe three times searching for answers.


Now is the time to eliminate phrases like "You may want to think about ... " and "We could try ..." and replace them with "Your pet needs ..." and "This is what I'd do for my own pet." When Dr. Barbara Darnell, co-owner of Shelter Island Veterinary Hospital in San Diego, realized that her clients weren't opting for fecal exams for their pets, she got rid of the "maybes" and "mights" and started talking about the "needs." "We're not making the decision for clients, but we now make our recommendations confidently," she says.