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The future is PetGen

Make way, boomers and Gen Xers. Millennials and Generation Z are remaking how Americans view pets and veterinary care.

The future is PetGen
A huge opportunity exists to help more pets. Your veterinary service offering has to appeal to PetGen.

Every generation has its own approach to work and life. How these different groups interact with family, pets and lives are profoundly reshaping our world and professional landscape. This is particularly true of the generation I call PetGen.

I define PetGen as the combination of millennials and Generation Z, or anyone under about age 38. From my baby-boomer perspective, these are the people transforming and dramatically altering the pet landscape. It’s not only a good thing, but also a great thing! PetGen’s bond with their pets is deeper than any generation in history.

Millennials and Gen Zers will make up the majority of the U.S. population by 2020. And don’t forget that PetGen is not just the dominant consumer today; they also comprise over 80% of the global workforce. As these generations continue to grow and exert cultural influence, we need to understand these pet owners so that we can meet them where they’re at, know how they think and, most importantly, how they relate to their pets.

Now, I recognize that generational designations are gross generalizations and rarely line up with any one individual. That said, getting under the hood of different generations to see how they run — particularly how they view their pets — can be fun, informative and thought-provoking.

Changing Views on Pets

Change is good, change is happening and change is inevitable. The advice columnist Ann Landers once described three reactions to change:

  • Made it happen.
  • Watched it happen.
  • Asked, “What happened?”

Our industry should keep her view in mind as we track changing attitudes toward pet ownership.

As a lover of factoids, allow me to share a top 10 list comparing boomers to subsequent generations. (Sorry, Gen X, but like the middle child you’re always forgotten.) On the left in the top table are boomer survey highlights concerning their relationship to pets, on the right PetGen.

Wow! Some dramatic changes are underway. The magical bond between pets and families has grown stronger with PetGen. Imagine what the next 20 years will bring.

A quick story: I was visiting one of our WellHaven Pet Health hospitals and took a minute to chat with a client. She was likely in her mid-20s and clearly loved her T-shirt-wearing fur baby. She’d learned of our practice through Instagram, had researched our website and online reviews, and made her appointment online. She was checked in on a cloud-based PIMS in the exam room, spent about half an hour with the doctor and her team, participated in a Fear Free exam, had a lot of questions she’d researched, was happy to enroll in a subscription care plan, set up pet food delivery to her home, and was thrilled to learn of our 24/7 telemedicine offering. She received a text follow-up the next morning. She made no phone calls, checked no Yellow Pages and did not queue up at a reception desk. It’s a new world when it comes to meeting the needs and expectations of PetGen.

Key Generational Differences

To further push the top 10 approach, the second table summarizes the key differences I see between boomers and PetGen. These differences are critical to know PetGen, know their pet and know where they’re at.

Vive la Différence

As I consider these differing generational approaches, the French phrase “vive la différence” comes to mind. Celebrate the generational difference. Differences keep life interesting. I try to remember that these contrasts apply not just to what is now my dominant client base but to my work team as well. Those remarkable doctors, nurses and staff, whom I am blessed to be surrounded by, largely exhibit PetGen characteristics. Our workforce and clientele view their pets the same way.

So, how well are we meeting the needs of PetGen? According to Idexx practice intelligence data, about 66% of dogs are getting annual routine visits at a veterinary practice. Hmm. Not so great. Cats getting annual routine visits to a veterinary practice come to only 25%. Ouch. Myriad factors are the cause of these disappointing stats. For now, focusing just on PetGen, how can we better keep up with the needs of the new dominant generation?

Now What?

Knowing that PetGen is the driving force in today’s profession, both as partners in pet care and as veterinarians and staff, what can we do? Tailoring our veterinary offerings appropriately to PetGen will go a long way. The good news is, a huge opportunity exists to help more pets. Your veterinary service offering has to appeal to PetGen.

So, what might that look like?

  • Technology-enabled: Be sure your practice is text friendly, personalized, supportive of telehealth and employing social media to educate and drive visits. Also be prepared to discuss a client’s Google research findings, which, as we all know, are frequently erroneous.
  • Collaborative and empathetic: Approach pet owners as a partner in the care of their fur baby. The pet is their child, after all, and they want the peace of mind of knowing you are there for both of them.
  • White coat off: Our PetGen teams wisely place life over work. The best parts of life happen when the white coat is off. Flexible work schedules, autonomy, employee assistance programs, a tech-enabled workplace and generous paid time off are needed to attract and retain the best of the best.
  • Supportive of preventive care: PetGeners don’t want their babies to get sick, and they are hungry for nutrition advice. Subscription preventive care is a big hit with them.
  • Take the long view: The relationship between the veterinary team and client is a lifetime commitment, not a single transaction. With guidance from the veterinary team (both hands-on and virtual), pets and families should be living longer, happier lives.
  • Give back: Partner on neighborhood events, work with your shelter, touch the hearts of your team and clients. PetGen is out to make a difference. Yea!

The Perennial Generation

Boomer, millennial, Gen X, Gen Z, PetGen — they will continue to drive a pet-bonded world that makes a positive difference for families and society. It’s a world where veterinary professionals must remain firmly at the center of the pet experience, a world that drives over $70 billion in annual revenue and is projected to break $100B by 2021.

How will your practice tailor its approach to meet the needs of PetGen? I suggest that to best meet the needs of both boomers and PetGen, we must strive to become members of the Perennial Generation. It’s a generation not bound by age, but by mindset, a generation that is constantly evolving, changing, growing and getting better every day.

One more weird factoid that boggles my boomer sensibilities: Did you know that only 20% of millennials have had a McDonald’s Big Mac? Go figure.

Creative Disruption columnist Dr. Bob Lester is chief medical officer of WellHaven Pet Health and a founding member of Banfield Pet Hospital and the Lincoln Memorial University College of Veterinary Medicine. He serves on the North American Veterinary Community board of directors.