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September 2, 2014

This article will be the first of several explaining how pet business owners whom I call “pet pros” can establish working relationships with veterinary hospitals and in doing so help build each other’s businesses.

Veterinarians, and by association their staffs, have long been recognized as effective influencers of pet owners. This should come as no real surprise as the relationship between doctor and patient, or in this case patient’s owner, is based on trust. To put it another way, when an owner is willing to entrust the health and medical treatment of their beloved pet to a veterinarian and/or their staff, they are also likely to be receptive to suggestions about products and services that the hospital makes.

So why is this relevant to a pet pro? Because if you can establish a relationship with a veterinary hospital their referrals of your products and services can be quite valuable to you.

How do you accomplish this?

The simple answer is: You will send chosen hospitals some of your customers. These folks will become clients of the hospital. In return, the hospitals will refer some of their clients to your business.

The strategy is simple, but not always easy. However, if utilized correctly the results could be worth thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars worth of business. Plus it doesn’t typically cost anything other than your time and effort.

First, let’s briefly discuss the veterinary business. This is a highly competitive industry in which high client turnover is a constant challenge. According to an article by Jeff Rothstein DVM, MBA published on Oct. 1, 2010 in “Veterinary Economics DVM 360,” “client turnover rates have risen. If we used to lose 20 percent of clients each year, we’ve now started losing up to 35 percent.”

I have spoken with dozens of veterinarians about this over the last few years, and while many claim that their client losses aren’t that high, no one disputes that client turnover is a challenge. The reasons for this are many, including economic downturns, clients moving and normal pet mortality. They also involve a change in the way new dog owners have their dogs inoculated, which results in fewer pet owners establishing relationships with veterinary hospitals.

In the distant halcyon days of say the early 1990s, when a person got a new dog or cat they took them to the local veterinarian. There, the pet was given an examination and all required vaccinations. This allowed the doctor and staff the chance to build a relationship with the pet owner thus increasing the likelihood he/she would return.

Over the last two decades or so, shot clinics and mobile vaccination services have made real market penetration into what was once clear veterinary hospital territory. While erosion of the vaccination business wasn’t by itself critical, what is important is the fact that when a new dog owner has their pet vaccinated at a mobile vaccination service, this owner doesn’t build that traditional relationship with the veterinarian.

Some readers might find this interesting but wonder how this is important to your business. The answer is straightforward.Veterinarians need new clients every year in order to remain in business. Many doctors are not as comfortable in their role as business owner or promoter. They didn’t get into veterinary medicine to promote or sell; they entered the profession to practice medicine. So even though most veterinarians understand the critical importance of new clients, they are unsure what they have to do to get them.

Enter the pet pro. You already have them. That’s right, your clients are dog and cat owners. Their pets also get sick and many of them don’t have relationships or loyalties to any veterinarian or hospital.

If/when you start sending a chosen hospital new clients, that hospital may be motivated to assist your business as well.
Now that you have the background, our next article will discuss the best ways to capitalize on these facts and build reciprocal referral relationships with veterinary hospitals.

-Steven Appelbaum

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