Clients consistently turn to veterinarians for advice and assurance on products, pet food, and pharmaceuticals for their pets, so a retail business that can add to your clinic’s bottom line is a natural step for many. Below are some tips to help implement a retail business for your practice.
Be Selective with Products
Evaluate your product offerings and determine which ones move quickly. Focus on items that are backed by your medical team, turn over quickly (less than six months but ideally in a month or two), and are favored by clients. If you routinely recommend over-the-counter products during appointments, have them accessible for your clients to take home that day. Limiting choices to what your team specifically and commonly recommends helps to manage inventory and develop trust with clients. Even in the case of products that clients can buy at a pet store or grocery store, like Nylabone chews or nail trimmers, if they are readily available at their vet’s office, clients are typically happy to check that item off their list and support a small business in the process.
Implement a Loyalty Program
Consider implementing a loyalty program where clients receive a “freebie” when they reach a certain dollar amount. These freebies could be an account credit, a service such as a free nail trim, or a product that retails for under a certain threshold. This is a simple strategy to boost sales in a way that will help staff guide clients to products that they would likely buy anyway while helping them reach their dollar goal for the loyalty program.
Keep It Focused
Keep it small in the beginning by viewing your retail offerings as an expansion to the services you’re already providing. Focus on stocking products that are important to your clients and esteemed by doctors and staff. This approach will help garner more repeat clients, more foot traffic, and a better-established relationship with clients.
In addition to over-the-counter healthcare products and general pet merchandise, be sure not to discount in-clinic pharmacy sales. Veterinarians do the work of attending conferences, communicating with drug manufacturers, and determining which products are best for their clients and pets. Instead of directing clients to drugstore pharmacies or, worse, online sites where they could unknowingly purchase less-than-ideal products to save some money, why not stock the products you’re recommending? This isn’t to say you should stock every product ever mentioned in every appointment, but it should be fairly easy to run some reports through your software to determine which products have the highest turnover. This will tell you which products are important to have on hand for customers.
The Bottom Line
Though you may not be able to increase your cost more than 35% of wholesale value in order to be in range with competitors, a positive cash flow on product sales is worth it in the end for your bottom line. Perhaps most importantly, clients and their pets are getting exactly what they need from the veterinarian they trust.
Much like boredom breeds creativity, challenging times breed innovation. Though we will eventually return to normal, it will be a new normal—one where veterinarians have learned to adapt, survive, and even thrive during a global health crisis and economic downturn. Vet practices, which traditionally have been brick-and-mortar businesses, were forced almost overnight to implement online consultations, digital diagnoses, and curbside visits. These changes, it turns out, may be beneficial for business not just in the face of a pandemic, but permanently.
A critical concern for businesses during the pandemic has been maintaining incoming cash flow, and though veterinary practices have had to adapt quickly, telemedicine—including remote consultations, diagnoses, and prescriptions—has provided an avenue for concerned pet owners to continue accessing affordable, professional vet care while helping to keep vet practices profitable. Along with aiding in restoring work/life balance among staff, offering telemedicine services, including curbside visits, is especially beneficial for immunocompromised and differently abled clients.
If vet practices were doing telemedicine prior to the pandemic, it’s likely that they weren’t charging for the service, but Covid-19 has given the green light to let clients know that payment for such time and expertise will be normal practice going forward. After all, services like curbside visits are so far proving to increase duration of appointments, as new intake processes need to be developed and back-and-forth communication with clients can take time.
A strong line of communication with clients during and after the pandemic is imperative, and this is a time when veterinary practices can really boost and nurture existing client relationships as well as establish new ones. One can look to the company Chewy, which has experienced a momentum in revenue, due in large part to customer service and a new customer acquisition rate that is significantly higher than pre-pandemic. The company experienced an influx of active customers greater in the first half of 2020 than in all of 2019.
“We built Chewy by putting the customer at the center of everything that we do. In a world of uncertainty, qualities like trust, convenience, and customer service really matter, especially when it comes to caring for family or loved ones,” said Chewy CEO Sumit Singh.
Veterinary practices can use their websites and social media platforms to engage with clients and keep them informed, now and moving forward, by relaying valuable information such as:
- Alerting clients to hours of operation, policy changes, appointment availabilities, new procedures, and telemedicine capabilities
- Updating clients of the availability, including any sales and promotions, of pet supplies and food, either through the vet’s platform or a partner where the vet practice receives a percentage of the sales
Public health recommendations and state-mandated phases are still changing regularly, so keeping track of Covid-19 safety practices is still critical in keeping business running. Improve communication between staff by updating email listservs or using Google Docs and Sheets, which support immediate collaboration and multiple editors. Programs like Google Hangouts and Slack enable client service representatives to communicate efficiently with each other and with remote staff.
While you don’t want to inundate staff with an overload of Zoom meetings and new administrative and logistical strategies, managers should be regularly conversing on areas for growth and ways to improve patient care, client experiences, and team morale. Retaining valuable staff and keeping your team as connected as possible is a sure way to keep business steady, and even growing, well beyond the pandemic.