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Columns , Merchandising

Pick a winner

Don’t try to sell every flea and tick preventive. Settle on a favorite and get to work educating your team and clients.

Pick a winner
If you choose a flea or tick product you already carry, schedule a CE kickoff each year to refresh everyone about ways to educate clients so that they say “yes.”

I just finished a meeting at Starbucks with my main man Jeff, a pharmaceutical rep for the manufacturer that supplies the majority of my hospitals’ flea and tick inventory. When we looked at my flea and tick numbers from the past year, I was happy to see an upward sales trend.

The conversation inspired me to get on my computer and provide encouraging words to readers who face the same challenges I do every day. That is, those pesky challenges of 101 products that claim to do the same thing, of online retailers willing to make the flea and tick category a loss leader, and of big-box stores and grocers carrying 12 brands at multiple price points.

Take a moment now and complete a Google search of flea and tick medications. Go ahead, I’ll wait. You will be overwhelmed by the amount of information your clients see during a simple search. They’ll see traditional medications alongside topicals, sprays, collars, combs and more. How could a client possibly make an educated decision?

As if that wasn’t enough, the price variances are atrocious. Your client can purchase a three-pack of flea and tick meds for under $6. They think, “Why would I pay my overpriced veterinarian any more than $6?”

Know Where You Stand

So, this is where my inspiration comes from today. We know the roadblocks and all the distractions that depress sales of flea and tick products at our hospitals. Our clients often are unable to make a credible and knowledgeable purchase because of all the noise and disruption created by online and box store retailers. Once you and your team realize this, we can refocus our efforts, devise a concrete plan and work toward educating clients and helping them make an objective decision on what is best for their pets.

Sounds easy, right? Not in the least.

Where to start? Let’s begin by accurately identifying the flea and tick season. You as the practice owner or medical director need to use all the information at your disposal to best identify the months you recommend full coverage in your geographical location. For some, it’s easy because you realize that 12 months of coverage is optimal and necessary. For others, eight or nine months are critical.

Our message needs to be honest and transparent. Discussing fleas and ticks as snowplows pass by outside can be difficult. While we might think that a couple of months don’t warrant coverage, the education, recommendations and product availability should and must happen year round. We might advise clients to hold off administering the first dose, but gaining their acceptance must happen during their visits no matter the time of year. This might be our only chance to ensure proper coverage before the next visit happens months later.

Stay Current

Be sure to research the flea and tick products that you and your team are considering. You want to be passionate and excited about the selections. Meet with the various manufacturer representatives and learn everything about their products so that you can make an informed decision.

You might think you did all that several years ago, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised to hear about some of the advancements over the past 12 to 18 months. Oral dosing, especially with chewables, has become increasingly popular because of the ease and simplicity. With ease, compliance follows.

Once you have the research in place, meet with your associate veterinarians and ask if they have any major objections to the selected product. The idea of having three or four products providing similar benefits is not an effective strategy for gaining client compliance.

Once the selection is official, reinforce your decision by bringing in the rest of your support team. Invite your territory manager to provide an overview of the product. Keep the education simple and client friendly. This means educating the staff about what the client will need and want to know. Cover why you recommend the product, how it works,  the benefits, how long it lasts, the dosing and the safety.

If you choose a product you already carry, I suggest scheduling a CE kickoff each year to refocus efforts, remind team members about the product’s benefits and needs, and refresh everyone about ways to educate clients so that they say “yes.”

This is also the time to evaluate pricing and ensure that your clinic is competitive in your region and relatively competitive to online offers. Don’t misunderstand me. I am not advocating that we match online pricing, but we do need to be competitive. We can do this by paying attention to our margins and maximizing all manufacturing loyalty programs, rebates, instant savings and product offers, such as buy three doses and get one free.

Guarantee Happiness

The groundwork has now been laid for success. At this point, not only have you found the right product, but you also should be enthusiastic about being able to offer the latest pharmaceuticals to your clients. When you reach the point where you are excited about a medical product, the feeling will rub off on staff members and pet owners alike. “Where do I purchase this product?” ceases to be a question.

The last, but maybe most important, step is continued feedback and follow-up. We need to make sure clients use the products we sold to them. More importantly, we need to make sure the products are working as we promised.

I suggest product guarantees. If we strongly recommend a product, then we must strongly guarantee it. Work with your manufacturer rep to make it happen. Continue to give the clients reasons to do business with you and buy the products you stock.

You might think that focusing again on the sale of flea and tick products at your hospital is little more than “been there, done that.” However, our main objective is to educate our team and our clients so that everyone understands the differences in the vast line of products and that they understand the recommendation. What we communicate will support the well-being of our patients and not be seen as just another income source.

As you meet with your flea and tick drug reps, I hope you share the inspiration to push for growth during the remainder of 2020.

Selling Points columnist Brian Conrad is practice manager at Meadow Hills Veterinary Centers in Kennewick, Washington, past president of the Veterinary Hospital Managers Association and a member of the Lintbells Veterinary advisory board.

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