Thomas E. Catanzaro, DVM, MHA, FACHE, Diplomate American College of Healthcare Executives
Potentials by sharing knowledge
Never miss an opportunity to raise the client's level of awareness. - Dr. Tom Cat
|Courtesy of Cynthia Clay and Delta Society|| |
If we are to believe the recent Merchandising Seminars, the current trend towards a total merchandising approach has waned. There is some retail potential in a full-service veterinary hospital for companion animals, including exotics, but there is a greater potential within client education. There can be "special in-house services" for avian and exotic patients, to include boarding and dietary management, and a retail display calls attention to this practice philosophy. Many facilities will have separate business endeavors for grooming and bathing, although they are usually accessed from the main healthcare facility. The boarding operations can be marketed as a "Pet Hotel", or "Pet Resort", or a "Critter Camp", or a "Pet Bed and Breakfast", or even a "Pet Vacationland", depending upon the decor and marketing philosophy. Some will be either co-located or in close proximity to the groomer, so the groomer acts as the boarding manager. The professional staff of current practices should have provisions for both behavior training and bereavement counseling for clients. A pet boutique can be established instead of the standard "retail area". It could sell quality antiques and collectibles pertaining to animal and pet related supplies. The "customer service" area of the practice could include multiple lines of nutritional products, pet toys, cages, training halters and collars, gifts, treats, leashes, and even "How To" books. The real entrepreneurs have built a pet complex around a central parking area and sublet the separate entities to others, collecting rent while capitalizing on the one-stop shopping desires of the current generation. But these "new trends" are now old, and diluted by the pet super stores, so these traditional ideas are not for all of us.
The veterinarian who graduated in the days of practitioner shortages, if you can remember that long ago, has a different problem. In those "good old days" it was unethical to board, groom, have displays, or even have bulletin boards for client information exchanges. It must have been something like Prohibition, but for veterinarians only. The goal today is to meet the client's needs while being a patient advocate. This "charter" is often evaluated by the ability to sleep at night or look in the mirror, which is not always that easy for those colleagues who merchandise like they are K-marts.
The concept of a Museum Showcase has been around for quite awhile, yet most of those jars have been put on some back shelf. Consider presenting the following type of museum in your reception area. Display a flea under a lens, labeled with the average reproductive potential if gone untreated. Behind the flea is a line of your flea products, labeled as to the efficacy in stopping the life cycle, with a note to ask anyone on the staff for details. -or- that jar of roundworms, labeled as to the environmental contamination possibility (larval migrans), with a Fecalizer/Ovassy next to it stating that, "Our veterinarian recommends stool samples be submitted twice a year to prevent these from occurring in your pet's intestinal track or in your family." Can you think of which Iams/Hill's Diets you would display behind the kidney stones and what the card would say? I shouldn't need to discuss the potential of the Merial rubber heartworm model (with the new medications which treat the zoonotic threats to the family) or the model of a teeth arcade, or what to put behind those models.
Other items can be interspersed in the museum, such as: a bottle of Mycodex with Carbaryl, with a simple note saying, "A good flea shampoo and great for white coat dogs," a bottle of Nutriderm that has a note saying, "Needed for glossy coats if you pet is fed exclusively dry food," or even a bottle of Pet Tabs with a note that says, "Good for pregnant or lactating dogs." This subtle merchandising in the museum should be in the reception room if your clients usually have to wait. It will usually create examination room discussions, and that is where the client is "allowed to buy" what they noticed and discussed with the doctor. A museum display is not designed to "sell", it educates. The only thing we should "sell" in veterinary healthcare delivery is "peace of mind" for the client. All else, they are "allowed to buy", preferably from two "yes" options advocated by a caring veterinary professional.
Some management "experts" advocate a "point of purchase display" near the discharge area. This sounds nice, but watch your clients. When they leave the examination room, they want to leave. Impulse buys are not on their minds or in their traffic pattern; impulse buys are not a healthcare characteristic. Clients seldom wait and browse even if the reception area is inefficient and they are made to wait to "settle the bill". As a point of interest, never put a price on the actual product itself (a la the grocery store). Rather put it on the card that accompanies the product or on the shelf front under the product. Not only is this easier for your staff when prices change, but when the client goes to replace the product, there will not be an old price on the bottle to remind them of the previous price, or the current inflationary mark-ups.
Do It in a Unique Way
Dr. Eppinger, in the mountain town of Nederland, Colorado, developed her museum around some antiques from the local community. Clients are drawn to her shadow box. What if the display had folklore and explanations (e.g., "When fleas leave your body, you are about to die"). Got your interest about fleas? Fleas are very sensitive to body temperature changes and will leave a body with a high fever. It's a very simple explanation, but it gets the client to stop and look at the display. There are many folklore stories, and most are founded in fact. Most clients like to know more about the folklore and it helps to keep them interested when times are busy.
While the museum concept often defeats the merchandising strategy of letting the client touch the product, it does do what the traditional K-mart style stacks do not. It informs and educates the client. That makes it a client service. Our clients are not customers, they are our guests, and deserve the quality hospitality expected in a caring and concerned healthcare facility. American consumers are trained to "buyer beware", but our clients trust our professional charge to care for the creatures of the earth, and should not be abused by a quantity-sale work ethic. Innovative merchandising can be fun and tailored to our respective practice styles. Just remember our professional and ethical charge to provide a client service first.