Thrive or survive: competing in a retail world - Veterinary Practice
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Thrive or survive: competing in a retail world

VERITY PAGE of Novartis,reports on meetings which looked at ways of maximising business opportunities

TO survive in today’s economic climate, practices must decide on their outlook. Embrace the challenge and thrive; or merely try to survive.

Just small changes can make huge differences to a business’s potential. New research commissioned by Novartis Animal Health specifically for its recent series of management CPD meetings, Competing in a retail world, showed that too many practices are neglecting the fundamentals. Websites are too often nonexistent or out-of-date and prospective clients are being sent to the pet shop for flea treatments!

Delegates to the meetings were provided with a bespoke “Practice Profile”, which included the results of an Onswitch “mystery shop” and a communications review for each individual practice. The data formed the largest ever independent audit of practice communications, covering 300 practices across the country.

The aim of the meetings was to help vets and practice managers understand how they are viewed by their clients and enable them to embrace a positive attitude towards the current doom and gloom and pave the way to a brighter future.

Key areas

Five key areas were identified for attention during the presentations:

• Increasing footfall into the practice.

• Generating recommendations from clients.

• Increasing cat visits to the practice.

• Increasing dog visits to the practice.

• Promoting preventive medicine.

“Seventy-six per cent of practices contacted by phone for the mystery shop missed the opportunity to get the prospective client into the practice by offering them an appointment and, astonishingly, over half of practices were sending owners to a pet shop to buy flea treatments!

“When we saw practices face-to-face, the statistics were even worse, only 20% were offered an appointment,” exclaimed Alison Lambert from Onswitch, during her presentation at the meeting.

Increasing footfall into the practice and booking appointments for animals is not just about increasing your top line! When pet owners buy their preventive products from you, they are assured of buying the right product and receiving the best possible advice and support–but this is also a key way to encourage the client to the practice so you can monitor the pet’s health and pick up any early signs of problems or disease.

Clients come to the practice on average only once a year1 , so while POM-V flea and worm treatments sales are a good way to encourage visits to the practice; flea treatments, such as Program injection for cats, also have to be administered by a vet or nurse twice a year. The compliance rate for Program injection is an incredible 93%2 – this demonstrates the opportunities available to increase footfall to the practice.

So why are we sending potential clients to a pet store, when we can create a relationship with clients whereby they don’t want to go anywhere else for preventive health care and advice?

When it comes to promoting your products and services, and creating a practice image, how does your practice literature hold up?

All delegates brought along copies of their practice literature to the meetings and swapped with someone from another practice to appraise it. This exercise forced delegates to think like clients and give an honest critique.

The groups concurred that photocopies are just not acceptable and branding and messages should be consistent and strong throughout. Most importantly, this interface should be kept up to date. But even if your literature is up to scratch, it’s no good if your clients and potential clients don’t see it! “In the mystery shop, only 2% of practices offered clients additional material, such as practice literature or a website address. Seventy-seven per cent of practice information that was seen was rated very poor.

However, all is not lost – it is interesting to note that 75% of practices would still be recommended by the mystery shoppers based on the visit,” remarked Alison.

When unregistered pet owners come to the practice of their own free will for advice, what better opportunity to ‘wow’ them with the practice’s offers, facilities, customer service and what’s more, get their pets booked in for a check-up! If they telephone the practice, you have a better chance of highlighting your services and bonding them to the practice if you can get them in for a tour, an appointment or a visit.

General marketing acumen is another key area highlighted in the research. When it comes to practice websites, compared with other service sectors, veterinary websites are considered disappointing. Many practices do not even have a site, and many more only have a rudimentary site which does not sell the practice’s services to its full potential.

“I am astounded by the number of practice managers and vets still asking me, ‘Do I need a website?’” said Alison.

If anyone still needs convincing about the importance of the internet as a portal to grow your business, just look at the raging success of Facebook and Twitter – people are conducting their lives over the net.

The Office for National Statistics (2008) reports that 16.46 million UK households had internet access. The proportion of internet-using adults who accessed the internet every day or almost every day was 69%.

Eighty-four per cent used the internet for finding information about goods or services; 55% of all adults had purchased goods or services over the internet. The figures speak for themselves!

Profession under spotlight

The ITV Pets Undercover programme aired in March caused a mixture of sympathy and outrage at the concept that vets are prone to overcharging.

The veterinary profession has to face up to the fact that clients find it hard to come to terms with the costs of veterinary treatment – and so educating and informing your clients of what value they get for their money is also an important aim.

It is a fact that 25% of your client base will be lost this year, and in the last three months there has been a footfall drop-off for several successful practices3 .

So our aim is to help you think carefully about how you can make the most of every opportunity to gain new clients, bond old ones and drive people into the practice. What do your clients want and how can you increase “client delight” and value for money?

A current trend in the retail world is the “voucher scheme”, which is being used successfully by supermarkets to increase footfall, attract new customers and keep old ones. Money-off vouchers, loyalty cards, purchase stamp cards (like the ones the coffee chains use) are all useful incentives that can be effectively translated into veterinary practice.

So, it’s pre-boom time! There are many practices out there bucking the trend and increasing their footfall. Think positively, act decisively and steal ideas from retailers to become more customer-focused. Just a few changes can mean the difference between merely surviving and thriving, and there is lots of business support available.

Review your website and if you have not got one, get one, quickly; incentivise clients into the practice; capture potential clients that are coming to the practice of their own free will; review practice literature from a client’s perspective; and realise the full potential of your front-of-house staff as a first port of call for clients and prospective clients alike.

■ For more information about Novartis Animal Health’s Outreach Business Programme, contact your local territory manager or call the Practice Support Line on 0800 854100. For more information about Onswitch, contact or call 0870 088 7043.

1. Onswitch research data 2008.

2. Novartis data on file.

3. Onswitch research data 2008.

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