4 equine marketing strategies (sponsored by Intervet/Schering-Plough Animal Health)


It's time to perform a diagnostic on your practice and uncover the marketing strategies and services to reconnect with clients.

Is the phone ringing a little less often than it used to? As clients feel the impact of a slower economy, they may be taking more of their horses' routine care into their own hands. From vaccinations to deworming, it's time to make a case to clients about why you should be involved in their horses' wellness. Let's look at some of the reasons horse owners have retreated and discuss strategies to coax them back to your care.

Photo: Getty Images

Make the case

"Veterinarians have not made it clear why they should be involved in wellness care, like vaccinations," says Dr. Mark Baus, MBA, owner of Grand Prix Equine in Bridgewater, Conn. "Simply put, our vaccines are more current, and we select the vaccine based on its efficacy. We have access to the best selection of vaccines, while clients are restricted to what's available over the Internet. And, obviously, a veterinarian will give a better injection."

Deworming offers another great example. It's true that your clients can administer dewormers, but without a fecal test, they don't know whether their horses have worms, what type of worms their animals suffer from, or even the egg counts. So one way to demonstrate why you should be in charge of a horse's deworming program is to offer a fecal. "That's the slide in to get back into the barn," says Dr. James Guenther, MBA, MHA, CVPM, AVA, with Strategic Veterinary Consulting in Asheville, N.C. "By doing some fecal egg counts, which are relatively easy to do, you can see how effective the client's deworming is."

Photo: Getty Images

Start with a diagnosis

If you want to woo clients back, you've got to start by figuring out why they left. "As the old phrase goes, if it ain't doing right, do the diagnostics," Dr. Guenther says. He recommends a three-part approach to regaining your clients' business. First, you need to figure out why people are moving away. Second, if it's something you can fix, then fix it. And third, establish a marketing plan to reach out to horse owners.

In some cases, you might have lost clients because they can't afford to care for horses in the current economy, Dr. Guenther says. But if you've evaluated your client base and found they can still afford to keep their horses, it's time to plan a marketing campaign to regain some of the income you're losing on routine care.

Remember, your most powerful marketing tool is good old-fashioned communication. Dress it up with newsletters or training seminars at your practice. Use e-mail or social media networks, such as Facebook or Twitter, if you're so inclined. Just make sure clients can reach you when they need you.

"I think the best marketing is done one-on-one with the veterinarian," Dr. Baus says. "What drives the equine industry is the relationship between the veterinarian and the trainer or the veterinarian and the owner. It's very hard for horse owners to make a judgment about which veterinarian has better veterinary skills, but they absolutely know the veterinarian's ability to communicate and take care of them."

And if clients aren't calling you, it's time to call them. "Call clients and ask what they plan to do with their horses in the coming year," Dr. Baus says. "Find out what horse shows they're going to attend and find out what states they'll travel to. For instance, if the horse is going to do a trail ride in another state, then we should make sure that we have a current Coggins test and a rabies vaccination."

Options to pay

If money is the roadblock, there are a few strategies you can use to help clients pay. Dr. Baus says he allows clients to make monthly payments interest-free for a fixed period of time. As long as the payments are made at regular intervals, the outstanding balance does not accrue interest.

Dr. Guenther suggests a wellness package to attract clients. He says a combined group of services, such as a Coggins test, vaccinations, and deworming, can help create a sense of value. And if you allow clients to pay over two or three monthly installments, they can budget for the care the horse needs. "The beauty of doing a wellness program is that you'll continue to work throughout the year, and you'll get paid for it," he says.

What you need to avoid, Dr. Baus says, is any sort of sticker shock. "Every client thinks they want the very best care for their horse," he says. "If we don't talk about money up front, 30 days later they get a bill they weren't prepared for."

The simplest approach is to educate horse owners about your fees when they call to schedule the appointment. It's true that some horse owners might decide not to schedule when they know the cost, but it also saves you the time and heartache of trying to collect from a reluctant client who wasn't prepared to pay for your services.

"If your receptionist can clearly explain the stable call and the initial exam costs, and the client knows there may be additional costs depending on what's discovered during the exam, this goes a long way to building a relationship of trust," Dr. Baus says.

Avoid fire-engine practice syndrome

It's tempting to try to book more appointments just to keep the door swinging, but equine experts agree that a better approach is to focus on the clients you have. If you spend as little as five to fifteen minutes more time at each appointment, you might just uncover more work right where you're standing.

"Veterinarians in the past were running fire-engine practices, running from farm to farm and really neglecting the needs of their owners," Dr. Baus says. "Sustain a higher fee schedule and preserve your quality of care instead of rushing to that next farm to make a few pennies."

Dr. Guenther agrees. "Your current clients already know you. You already know them. You've already got the paperwork. You've already got everything going," he says. "New clients are good. But if people aren't buying horses, you're not going to get very many new clients. So yes, reach out to potential clients. But do more for your existing client base."

It comes down to the basics, Dr. Baus says. "Do a good job and respect the needs of the horse owner."

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