October 1, 2014

In my previous article, I touched on how pet retailers can establish relationships with veterinary hospitals to build reciprocal referral business. This article focuses on some of the ways to strengthen that rapport and make it profitable for everyone involved.

The first way involves actions you can take to help promote the veterinary hospital to your customers. The second includes those the hospital can take to promote your store to its clients.

Coupons for free veterinary office visits are valuable but only if distributed correctly to your customers. After receiving the hospital’s permission to do so, you can begin designing them. The coupons should clearly note the hospital’s name and address, state they have no monetary value (and thus can’t be redeemed for cash) and only be valid for new clients of the hospital. Finally, make sure your store’s name is on them. I suggest you design the coupons because many hospitals might not make it a priority and thus they won’t be completed in a timely fashion.

So how do you “correctly” distribute these?

You can reinforce the importance of engaging with customers to your staff. As you are well aware, dog and cat owners purchase specific items, including beds, crates or carriers, numerous chew and play toys, food, water bowls, etc. Inquiring if a customer has a new pet usually stimulates a conversation, which allows your staff to offer advice, possibly sell more products and put them in the perfect position to ask an important question, “Do you have a veterinarian?” If the answer is no, your staff can take the opportunity to offer a free office visit coupon. Not only does this make your store look good but those customers who take advantage of them can, over time, cause the hospital to feel very positive about its relationship with your store.

If the hospital has brochures or business cards and you have the room, put them by the checkout counter and/or near products that new pet owners tend to buy.

What else can you do to make this alliance successful?

Visit the hospital two or three times a year to say hello. Bring discount coupons for the veterinarians, staff and office manager. For greater efficiency, speak with the office manager prior to coming for your visit so as to ensure he/she and the doctor(s) will be around and available. Why bother with a visit? If you can get hospital staff to start shopping at your store, you increase the likelihood that they will refer their clients to your store as well.

You could also elect to leave store coupons for the hospital’s clients. These could be available for all hospital clients or specific to new pet owners who don’t shop at or know your store—yet. The same principles hold true for grooming salons as it does pet retailers. Instead of offering discounts on products, you can offer discounts on brushing, bathing or full grooms.
It is also reasonable to bring business cards and/or brochures that the hospital can display in their waiting room and/or distribute to their clients. Remember to bring a card or brochure holder if the items are going to be left in the waiting room.

A key element to any business relationship is a desire to help those you are looking to build a rapport with. Do this, as well as provide ways in which they can further stand out and look good to their clients, and you will be on your way to a very successful business relationship.

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