As a small-business owner or manager, it's easy to think you can't succeed against bigger competitors. You're inundated with
television and print ads proclaiming cheaper, more convenient products and a better selection than you provide. You see mega-clinics
offering services and hours you can't compete with. Before long you're feeling helpless and hopeless.
I'm here to tell you there is hope and much you can do to compete with, and even beat, bigger rivals. In fact, many large
businesses and veterinary practices are desperately attempting to offer what you, a small clinic, are able to give your clients
and patients—personalized service. It boils down to recognizing your strengths and leveraging your scale.
Economies of scale are well-understood: bigger factories produce more products more efficiently that can be sold more profitably.
The same argument can be made for many service industries. Most veterinary practices aren't big businesses, yet too often
we attempt to apply the principles of big business to our small clinics with frustrating results. The steps and strategies
a typical veterinary practice must take to improve client service and patient care, profitability, and team spirit are different
than their larger counterparts. The five main areas we need to focus on are: 1) individualized service, 2) flexibility, 3)
specialization and niche offerings, 4) pricing differences and value opportunities, and 5) social media and community involvement.
When it comes to competing against large practices and retail stores, service is a smaller clinic's primary advantage. Small
is the new large, according to Wal-Mart. This year they hope to open several "small format" stores, roughly one-tenth the
size of a traditional Wal-Mart. The retail giant is making this move to combat sales losses and increasing pressure from competing
small retailers who've figured out that exceptional service slays the giant. What Wal-Mart has learned—and you can too—is
that size matters. People and employees feel less connected in a huge warehouse. The intimate setting of a smaller facility
can be a strength, not a liability.
To beat a larger competitor, focus on every client, every visit. You're practically forced to. It's tough to escape clients
and their pets in most small waiting areas. Make the most of that proximity and connect on a genuine level. Start a conversation.
Introduce two clients to one another. Foster a sense of belonging and shared concern. Greet clients and patients by name.
This approach makes me think of a small-town grocery store where everyone knows each other. Larger businesses can't do this
simply because their volume is too great.
"Go where they're not" is a great way to begin competing with big-box retailers and modern-day mega-clinics. "Where they're
not" is in the business of offering good, old-fashioned individualized care and service.