Subscription programs keep pet owners stocked with therapeutic diets. Veterinary practices still profit from food sales and aren’t responsible for maintaining a large inventory.
If you haven’t tried it, you might be surprised by what the home delivery of therapeutic diets can do for your clients and clinic. Subscription programs offer pet owners a simple way to be resupplied at their front door, and they generate consistent revenue for practice owners.
“Using an online store allows us access to more pet food options to make recommendations for the individual pet,” said Allen Craig, DVM, the owner of Lebanon Animal Hospital in Lebanon, Tennessee, which has been offering therapeutic diets via home delivery since 2012. “We cannot stock all sizes and formulations of pet foods in-house; it takes up too much space and ties up cash. Online pet food sales take a little time to set up on the front end, but they operate with very little staff time and do not tie up capital moving forward.”
How Home Delivery Works
Although the nuances of home delivery vary by brand, the concept is the same. In general, the clinic registers for a program and recommends a specific diet or nutrition plan for a patient. The clinic can create an account on the client’s behalf or provide a link so that pet owners sign up on their own. After that, the client typically takes over the process, placing separate orders or enrolling in automatic delivery.
Under the Hill’s to Home program, a veterinarian provides authorizations valid for up to 12 months so that the client can continue to order a pet’s therapeutic diet.
“The key piece the clinic creates is a nutrition plan to ensure the pet gets the right nutrition,” said Jolle Kirpensteijn, DVM, Ph.D., DACVS, the chief professional veterinary officer at Hill’s Pet Nutrition U.S. “Once a plan is in the system, the clinic can initiate a first order on the client’s behalf or the client can do it themselves. After that, clients manage their subscriptions to make sure they receive food on a schedule that works for them and their pets.”
With Purina’s Vet Direct program, clinics register and receive a unique identification number.
“When clinics recommend a Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets formula or Pro Plan wellness diet for a client’s pet, they can also recommend the client enroll in Vet Direct,” said Kristine Costello, senior brand manager for Pro Plan Veterinary Diets. “If the client would like home delivery of the food, he or she enrolls in the program using the clinic’s ID number and places the order.”
“Both veterinary practices and their clients are able to have Blue Natural Veterinary Diet formulas delivered directly to their doorstep from [email protected],” said Victoria Carmella, DVM, director of veterinary services. “The veterinary practice is able to have oversight of all orders placed by clients as well as participate in revenue sharing from their clients’ orders.”
Clinics can offer Royal Canin therapeutic food for home delivery via the Covetrus online pharmacy. Covetrus also provides access to Blue Buffalo, Hill’s and Purina diets.
“When a vet practice decides to establish a digital diets business, Covetrus creates a dedicated online pharmacy with a digital storefront for the hospital,” said Todd Haedrich, chief commercial officer for Covetrus Global Technology Services. “A client accesses this store from the practice’s website or through an email generated by their veterinarian’s recommendation of a product. The buyer can then select the product needed, add it to their cart and submit the order.”
If the food requires a prescription, the order is sent to the veterinarian for approval. Then, the order is transmitted to the manufacturer, where it is processed and shipped to the client.
Why It’s Good for the Clinic
Offering clients the ability to purchase their pets’ food online has five main advantages for clinics.
- Less overhead: Although Hill’s Dr. Kirpensteijn recommends that practices continue to stock some food so that patients can go home with a specific diet when needed, far less product is kept on hand, lowering overhead costs.
- Reduced staff time: Less food stocked means less time spent ordering and maintaining inventory. Also, expired food is less likely to accumulate. “Hospital staff also have more time to focus on patients instead of handling inventory and placing special orders,” Covetrus’ Haedrich said.
- Smaller footprint: Food bags and cans can be bulky, heavy and take up valuable space. “We have examples of practices that migrated the majority of their diet sales to their online store and by doing so were able to create a new exam room in the space freed up by inventory,” Haedrich said.
- Consistent revenue: Home-delivery programs generate regular income for clinics with little to no staff time required, especially when the client opts for auto-delivery.
- Improved compliance: Clinics typically report that clients stick with recommended diets when the switch to home delivery is made. “[email protected] is proven to provide three times better feeding compliance, with free shipping and the convenience of auto-delivery, allowing veterinarians to feel more confident that their patients are following their diet recommendations,” Dr. Carmella said.
Why It’s Good for Clients
The benefits of home delivery are huge for clients. For example, they:
- Don’t have to spend time driving to the clinic to pick up food and pay for it.
- Don’t have to carry heavy bags or cases in and out of the car and into the home.
- Don’t have to worry about forgetting to place an order (if auto-delivery is chosen) and running out of food.
- Save money through promotions and discounts.
“Clients like the variety of food options, but they really like the convenience that it is available when they need it,” said Dr. Craig, of Lebanon Animal Hospital. “No matter how well we manage our inventory, there always seems to be a client asking for a different size or style of food. With our online store, we can set them up for home delivery, and it is quite easy.”
How Pricing Works
Price structures and profit margins vary among the home-delivery programs. With Vet Direct, the price is set by Purina using established suggested retail prices. Purina is the direct seller, and participating clinics receive a commission calculated to equal their margin.
Hill’s to Home allows practices to set prices using the strategy that works best for them. This allows clinics to determine profit margins.
Blue Buffalo sets the prices for food purchased through [email protected] The prices are competitive with those of other online platforms. “The veterinary hospital will profit from revenue sharing from all Blue Natural Veterinary Diet client orders placed on [email protected],” Dr. Carmella said.
Covetrus sets suggested retail prices for each diet, but a practice may make changes that comply with manufacturer minimum advertised pricing policies. “While practices typically have an online margin that is less than in-clinic margins, it compares favorably once the practice accounts for staff time to order and stock diets, inventory holding costs, and spoilage,” Haedrich said.
How to Get Started
Educating clients about the availability of food home delivery is the key to a successful program. Purina offers training videos and other materials to clinics.
“We recommend that practices promote the program in-clinic using free materials such as posters, brochures and bag stickers,” Costello said. “It’s also important to promote online. It can be as simple as inserting an embedded link in a client email or using the social media posts we provide to help create awareness through the clinic Facebook page.”
Practices that offer home delivery for the first time might wonder why they waited so long.
“Five years ago, we were our pet food vendor’s largest client in the region with only a two-doctor practice,” Dr. Craig said. “Today, we only stock smaller starter bags and then special-order larger quantities for clients who still prefer to get their pet food from us.
“The marketplace for wellness and therapeutic diets is constantly evolving, and it is no longer feasible for us to stock the volume of pet food we have in the past.”
Jackie Brown is a freelance writer specializing in the pet and veterinary industries.
- [email protected]: [email protected] delivers Blue Natural Veterinary Diet formulas. Once a veterinary hospital is registered, clients can place orders at www.bluevet.com, and the clinic approves them. [email protected] offers free shipping on any order. Auto-delivery comes with a discount of 10%.
- Covetrus: Via a digital storefront, Covetrus offers home delivery of Royal Canin, Hill’s, Purina and Blue Buffalo therapeutic and over-the-counter diets. Clients may sign up for auto-delivery or place one order at a time. Shipping is free with auto-ship. Free shipping applies to single orders of at least $49.
- Hill’s to Home: Hill’s to Home ships Hill’s Prescription Diet formulas and Hill’s Science Diet over-the-counter food. Clients may place single orders or sign up for auto-delivery. Clients receive free shipping on all purchases as well as auto-ship discounts. Information: bit.ly/3fw04TB
- Vet Direct: Vet Direct offers home delivery of Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diet diets and supplements, as well as select Purina Pro Plan formulas. Clients may place one order at a time or choose auto-delivery. Shipping is free, and clients can take advantage of special promotions. Information: www.proplanvetdirect.com