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A veterinary services eco system

Petco’s plan to expand veterinary services has many moving parts.

A veterinary services eco system
Petco operates more than 1,500 stores locations across the United States, Mexico and Puerto Rico.

A local approach with a national reach might best describe Petco’s entry into veterinary services. In May 2017, the national pet retailer announced a joint venture with Thrive Affordable Vet Care to incorporate full-service Thrive clinics into select Petco stores. But in-store clinics are just part of the company’s strategy.

Today’s Veterinary Business spoke with Whitney Miller, MBA, DVM, director of veterinary medicine at Petco, regarding the company’s in-store veterinary services.

Can you talk about the vision behind these moves and overall strategy?

Dr. Miller: If you look at our history, there has been some level of veterinary services for several years through our mobile vaccination clinics and preventative services. Recently, the company took a hard look at where Petco wants to be in the future. Veterinary services were highlighted as a good opportunity, not only for growth, but to provide that best, higher level of service for our customers.

At this point, there is a lot of accumulation of different pieces. We call it our veterinary services eco system. We are an umbrella to all these different, moving parts. Not only the longstanding mobile preventative care, but also in-store, full-service hospitals and online telehealth advice. By acquiring pet insurance with PetInsuranceQuotes.com, pet parents will have that opportunity to select the appropriate pet insurance policy for their pet. With all our partners, we are creating that high level of accessibility for pet parents so they can take advantage and seek appropriate veterinary care for their pets. That’s the goal: to make sure that all pet parents have access to veterinary care, because we know that a large portion of the pet-owning population currently does not seek basic preventative care for their pet.

Are pet owners who might not have taken advantage of veterinary services in the past a big target for these in-store clinics?

Dr. Miller: That’s always been a big question for our profession. Why is there this underserved population that currently is not seeking regular care for their pet? I don’t think there is one answer because obviously it’s a big group of pet parents that have no relationship with a veterinarian unless it’s an emergency or dire need situation. Not only from the Petco side, but as a veterinarian in this profession, I want to make sure that we are serving that segment of the population and not letting those pets go without care.

What has the response been like from customers? What are they looking for in a veterinary service provider?

Dr. Miller: This gets back to our overall strategy. Currently, at almost all our stores, we offer some level of preventative care access with vaccinations, heartworm tests, etc. Now we’ve taken it to the next step with our partnerships in more full-service hospitals, but still the core focus is preventive care. That’s where our draw and what services customers are taking the most advantage of: access to affordable, preventative care, getting the vaccinations their pet needs, heartworm tests. If they need dental care, our new in-service hospitals can offer the dental prophylaxis that they need.

Then, we can also help with the common things we see pets walk in the door for at any veterinary clinic — skin issues, ear issues, vomiting and diarrhea. Some of the things pet parents struggle with if they’re chronic, like skin or ear issues, and if they’re coming to one of our mobile vaccination clinics and they need that next level, they can go to an in-store hospital, or we can refer them to a local veterinarian. Our core resides with the preventative care that we’re offering.

When would there be a referral to a local veterinarian or emergency hospital?

Dr. Miller: As we grow, some may be different market by market, but when you look overall, we definitely have limitations with our in-store clinics that would require referral. For example, being in a retail space, we are not going to be hospitalizing animals overnight for any reason, so obviously that’s going to be referred out to local specialty or emergency hospitals, and potentially a general practitioner if they offer that service.

When you talk about other referrals, it’s the same decision that happens in any general practice around the country. Getting pet parents the proper education and explaining what our level of service is and what we can do. If the disease treatment would be best served at a specialist, we will tell them this is an opportunity for a referral. If it’s an emergency situation, critical care or some other reason that they need to be referred, that’s what we’re going to do so we are properly educating that pet parent and working with local practitioners so that the referral process is smooth.

How is today’s pet owner/customer different than five to 10 years ago?

Dr. Miller: The industry trends are not isolated to products, foods. It’s across the space, including veterinary services. We see that every day in our stores across the country — the increased, strong human-animal bond. Folks want to take the best care of their pets that they can and also spoil their pets in a certain way. What we’re seeing with generational shifts is that emphasis on easy access. Customers want that accessibility, whether it’s through technology or ease of access in physical spaces to the services that they need, not only for their pets, but for themselves. That’s something that we as a company, moving towards the future, are meeting those changing needs of pet parents. When you look at the areas we are investing in and growing, that’s what we wanted to best serve the pet parents out there to enhance their relationship with their pet.

How will your online component grow in the coming years?

Dr. Miller: We’re committed to telehealth, having acquired PetCoach, that is now part of the Petco brand. PetCoach offers 24/7 access for pet parents to ask questions of veterinary experts. They have whenever, wherever access to get that general advice for their pets. A lot of times those questions end up with a recommendation to visit a veterinarian, and that’s going to be typical. But it gets back to accessibility. Online and telehealth is key to make sure we are showing pet parents the value of seeking veterinary care for their pets.

With regard to veterinarians who may staff these clinics, how is the profession changing? What’s it like to be a veterinarian today?

Dr. Miller: One of the really exciting things about the Petco opportunities is the different options that can fit almost veterinarian’s desire for their current career path. We have mobile vaccination clinics that you can do on the weekend. We have full-service, in-store hospitals where you can have that typical, full-time, in-clinic veterinary role. You can be a PetCoach expert and answer questions on demand, online, whether you are at your kid’s soccer game and have a couple minutes to answer some pet parents’ questions or you’re at another event. That’s what exciting about our model. For new veterinarians and that generational shift of professionals who are looking for different opportunities with their career, we offer a wide range of options. It may change with an individual veterinarian. Maybe right now I am just looking for a little extra income and want to do some mobile vaccination clinics on the weekend. Three years down the line, I may be looking to transition to a different practice role full time. These are the things we hope are attractive about the model we are building with the wide array of veterinary services, for the career path of veterinarians, as well as technicians.

I know this kind of growth by nature can make practitioners out there very nervous and not sure about what the future holds. I say it with everybody I talk to: “Yes, we are growing, but we still want to be a partner in the local veterinary communities.” That’s our goal. We’re going to have hiccups along the way, but we want to grow in the right way for the profession, so we always welcome feedback from those out there as well as somebody who is interested in opportunities with Petco. We are here to discuss that with anyone who is interested.