Columns , Merchandising

Rise to the challenge

Pharmaceutical sales and other retail products are not a lost cause. You can find revenue by committing to do more, looking for deals and communicating value.

Rise to the challenge
Are you ready to get serious about winning back your pharmaceutical revenue as opposed to throwing in the towel?

Are you ready to give up? After all, clinic owners and managers frequently complain how the internet and box stores have taken over their prescription business and cut into profits.

Please don’t expect me to sit on that comfortable bandwagon with you and join in the pity talk about the good ol’ days. Business is about innovation and change. And guess what? The prescription and retail business and client wants are continually evolving. For us to sit around and pout will do no good.

Take it as a compliment that the veterinary industry is on the radar of many businesspeople who want to compete for those veterinary dollars. What worked for us in the 1990s and early 2000s isn’t going to cut it in today’s market.

The good news is clinics can do plenty to adapt and find success and relevance in the pharmacy market.

Everyone Shops Around

I see irony when the practice owners and managers who tend to cry about the prescription marketplace are the same people who buy eyeglasses at discount outlets and groceries at warehouse clubs. These clinic leaders also play veterinary distributors against each other in search of the best deals on products to stock in their clinics.

So I have to ask this: Why is it OK for you to shop around but not your clients? Don’t get me wrong. I’m on your side, but some of what we are seeing is human nature. What is that cliché? It’s not personal, it’s business.

Are you ready to get serious about winning back your pharmaceutical revenue as opposed to throwing in the towel? I am a firm believer in that you, the veterinarian, know what is best for your patients.

When you make a product recommendation you have to educate the client, explain, set expectations, convince and, by the way, make sure you have the item in stock. Clients and consumers of all kind value easy. The days of “Come back next week and we will have the product in stock” are over. You have drugstores promising to fill a prescription in 30 minutes and text and e-mail you when it is ready for pickup. In fact, “Don’t bother getting out of your car. We have a drive-thru!” Get it? Easy!

We live in a world of “Right now” and instant gratification. How do you think UPS and FedEx became so entrenched in society? Overnight shipping! Maybe Veruca Salt, a character in the 1971 hit movie “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory,” knew something about the future. Her famous line was “I want It NOW!”

Don’t Be Afraid

I see veterinarians working tirelessly to evaluate and communicate patient medical plans. Many of these plans involve products designed to achieve or maintain peak health — what a client wishes and desires for a beloved pet. The veterinarians have done their research, been educated on the products, and understand the safety information and precautions. They get it.

Each of us is an advocate for the well-being of each pet we serve. But when we get to the final step of the recommendation, we become shy or detached about ensuring the product leaves with the pet. We act this way because we fear we might come across as a salesperson rather than as a compassionate, educated, loving pet care provider.

Salespeople are sometimes seen as cold, pushy and even cut-throat. That is not what any of us want to be. We worry that we will be labeled as uncaring or in cahoots with the product manufacturers that apparently paid for each and every veterinarian to complete school. That is not true, of course, but the fear and anxiety are real.

Making product recommendations and seeking client compliance is anything but sale-sy. It is doing what is in the best interest of the pet.

You’re in a Great Spot

I have said before that the likelihood of a client finding the exact product on the internet or in a box store and then following your exact directions are low at best. When a client walks out without the prescription, supplement or nutritional product you suggested, we play a game of chance, a game where the odds favor a negative outcome because the client gets misinformation or misdoses the wrong product. Ultimately, the pet loses.

So rather than give up, we need to create a plan, set goals and monitor progress to make sure we see positive outcomes for all involved. The pharmacy is and will continue to be a source of positive cash flow and income for veterinary hospitals. Now is not the time to give up. It’s the time to evaluate. Consider the following advice as you move forward.

Across-the-board markups are no longer going to cut it, especially as they relate to flea, tick and heartworm preventives, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, and any other long-term medications you might prescribe.

As long as the clinic is experiencing positive cash flow on the purchase of said products, I am happy and you should be, too. Remember that for every benefit you receive on the purchase, there are many indirect benefits. After all, the relationship your staff has with the clientele is priceless. The more times you can get your clients to walk through the door, the greater likelihood they will be back for other services and products. Client loyalty and stability is worth a few percentage points off any product sale.

The manufacturers of many of the products you and I carry offer significant rebates and promotions. So if you think you can’t compete, think again. I see so many clinics that either choose not to participate in these sales programs or are aloof to the fact that incentives and client discounts even exist.

Rally the Troops

Do your practice a favor today and investigate what you can offer your client to keep their business. You will find quickly that you can compete while not taking a huge hit to your bottom line. Embrace sales programs and get your staff to spend time educating clients about the advantages of buying from you as opposed to you or them calling around to find them a better deal and you losing the sale.

I firmly believe that dismissing product and prescription sales is a big mistake. By no means is selling easy. If it was, everyone would be doing it.

At Meadow Hills Veterinary Centers, which I manage, we saw double-digit growth in a flea and tick preventive in 2017 and at the start of 2018. The specific product is one you would easily find on the internet and at supermarkets and box stores. Yet we found success through our recommendations and our ability to leverage manufacture rebates and consumer programs.

It’s time to rally the troops and take back what you have lost. Get yourself and your team excited and focused.

Our job is to make the recommendation and the sale. Find unique ways to stay competitive, and then celebrate with clients as they walk out carrying the most advanced and efficacious products available for their beloved pets.

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

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