4 steps to revitalize your hospital retail

March 7, 2019
Brendan Howard, Business Channel Director

Brendan Howard oversees veterinary business, practice management and life-balance content for dvm360.com, dvm360 magazine, Firstline and Vetted, and plans the Practice Management track at all three Fetch dvm360 conferences.Brendan has proudly served under the Veterinary Economics and dvm360 banners for more than 10 years. Before that, he worked as a journalist, writer and editor at Entrepreneur magazine and a top filmed entertainment magazine in Southern California. Brendan received a Masters in English Literature from University of California, Riverside, in 1999.

Retail is not the reason for a veterinary hospital, but touches of fun and nonmedical pet items can invigorate your clients visits. Plus, check out three no duh! items you have right now to fix your hospitals retail space today.

You are your own worst enemy when it comes to selling retail in your veterinary practice. You are also your own best ally. What do I mean?

First, it's easy, as a veterinarian, practice manager, veterinary technician or other team member to become blind to the things you see every day in the reception area and the exam rooms. Retail items can become like inspirational quotes (“Hang in there!”) and photos (18 versions of your kids in sports) that an office worker sets and forgets on a cubicle wall. Also, you're focused on the ever-changing faces of patients, not what's sitting around on shelves and behind glass counters.

But just because you can become blind to retail doesn't mean it isn't important and doesn't say something about your practice and its client experience. And you have right now the tools and the perspective to shine up the items that have started gathering dust and sitting around for years, no one encouraging anyone to buy them, an island of misfit pet toys lost in your clinic. Here we go …

Step 1. Stop and look

Park out front tomorrow. Walk through the front door and look through the hospital for any client-facing retail items on display on wall shelves, in bookshelves, and on and behind the reception counter. Pretend you're a customer at a store. Would you want to pick up and look at these items?

Are you a leader in your practice? Read this

If you're a “barker” when you notice something wrong, and you've been ignoring retail, your grumpy and impatient inclination might be to start telling people to dust, clean and rearrange.

See something you want to fix? Stop! Remember: The reason retail has languished is almost always because your team was dutifully following the vision you set for your practice: people and patients first, stuff second. That's a great vision!

Now, get ready: You're trying to create an even wider, more powerful vision that includes a little more fun and nonmedical urgency for the people who spend money in your practice. You're trying to improve the client experience. And that does not start with ordering everyone around on a new whim and changing everyone's focus in an instant.

So, if you notice your retail's a disaster, remember: medicine is first, that's what your focus has been, and that's where your team's focus is. Try getting the team inspired about freshening up this stuff, not pointing fingers and giving everyone just another thing on their list.

Inspire then implement. Happy, inspired team members make for happy, excited clients every time.

Step 2. Clean up

If your front-door excursion finds items that are dusty or poorly arranged for clients to see them, dust and clean. Rearrange a little. Put these items somewhere else or ask another team member to come up with a new, better plan to display them. (Find something expired? You know what to do.)

Magic item No. 1: Paper towels

I know. It's obvious. But be honest: Are retail items in your practice dusty? Get some paper towels and wipe this stuff down.

Step 3. Improve access

If the retail items aren't available for clients to pick up and look at-to read the labels, to check the smell, to feel the fabric-could you make them more accessible now?

Yes, you need to avoid shrinkage (outright shoplifting or just accidental walking off with product during busy veterinary visits), but how much are you killing possible sales and better client compliance with items you recommend or items that would make life with their pets more fun when you hide every retail item behind glass and under lock and key?


Magic item No. 2: A new shelf

The brown wooden bookshelf you bought 20 years ago for the reception area could be replaced with a new vibrant color that matches the rest of the room. Or a taller, more open retail display (check online!) that makes the items easier to grab and see. If you talk up certain retail items during visits, do you have regularly dusted, easily grabbed trial sizes or samples of the products in exam rooms? A new approach to a retail display can breathe new life into pet products-and your recommendations.

Step 4. Steal ideas

If these are items you carry because pet owners need them, make sure your display is at least appealing and maybe even inspiring. Think about the kinds of displays that grab your attention and steal ideas from them.

Magic item No. 3: Your brain (or someone else's)

You or someone else in your practice likes retail therapy. They like shopping. They have a good eye for things that appeal to them in stores and online. You don't necessarily want to give a shopaholic the unlimited keys to your inventory kingdom (“We know you like to shop, so just buy anything you see online … ”), but consider asking these shopping-minded team members for advice on new and different retail products you could carry for pet owners. Set up trials of products to see whether a small amount sell and to decide whether to carry something in an ongoing way.

OK, yes, you're your own worst enemy when it comes to retail. You know that retail is not the point of a veterinary hospital: You save lives, prevent disease and injury, and care for species who don't have a voice of their own. Retail can seem frivolous. But part of the reason pet owners have pets is the joy of interacting with and playing with these amazing animals. (It's part of the reason you love them, right?) And fun, healthy toys, treats, clothes, carriers, beds and training items are a huge part of making a lifetime of mutual enrichment for these families outside your hospital.

Be the hero your retail deserves. You're the expert in your clients' lives who can best find and recommend the toys, treats and pet retail items for patients.