Blog: The right veterinary team for the new year


Starting the year with a topnotch team puts big New Years Resolutions within your reach.

Every year, on December 31st, I experience a feeling of renewal-that the coming year is a clean slate that is just waiting for me to write on it. On a literal level, it really is true. As an "S" Corporation, our locally owned practice expends every cent of our accounts at the end of each year, and the new year brings a new cycle of building balances, reserves and the backbone with which we will operate financially.

Figuratively, the new year is symbolic of our opportunities to change, evolve, improve, correct and grow. Of course, we can and do practice that outlook 365 days of the year. But for some reason, my optimism is simply higher at this moment.

As I look back at my 22 years with our practice, I remember what seems like hundreds of associates, two different ownership structures, countless staff combinations and a few substantial operating changes. While I've had this feeling of renewal nearly every one of those years, for some reason it just seems stronger this time. 

For the first December 31st in history, I believe we have the team of veterinarians that I would like to see stay with our practice for many years to come. And also for the first time, I think that they all will. We've endured associate changes due to every reason under the sun-including the reason that I very much wanted them to leave. Not true in 2014. I got up every morning excited to work along side four doctors who are absolutely committed to great patient care AND to the success of our practice. (Sadly, the two were not always connected.) 

The same can be said about our team members. Are they all perfect? No way. But each of them come to work ready to do their jobs, willing to work together and passionate about veterinary medicine. It's taken me a long time to say that. We've overcome unwanted social cliques among our teams, as well as something we often call the youth culture-an across the board dynamic shift in what employees want from their jobs and what they are willing to invest in terms of their commitment. My faith in hiring, training and retention has been renewed after a few years of wondering what happened to a little thing called work ethic. 

In short, instead of being distracted by what-for a time-was a revolving cycle of Human Resource issues, I stand ready to focus on how our practice can increase revenue, and I stand ready with a team that can accomplish those goals:

1. Address the growing issue of market pressure from pharmacies-both online and local-by tossing out the old model of product markup. We simply can't maintain the arrogant and aggressive approach to inventory profitability. We complain about online pharmacies and resent that retail giants such as Costco and Walmart have entered this once lucrative area of our business. Unfortunately, it's our own fault. All of it. Huge corporations tend to enter new markets for only one reason: their research indicates that they will be successful. If our industry had taken a reasonable approach to product markup in the first place, things might have been different. As it stands now, our only course of action-in my opinion-is to quickly and quietly change course, realizing that it's not just our market share and profits that are at risk; it's also our reputation among our clients. 

I believe, firmly, that our clients would still rather buy their medications and health products from us. They just need to trust that we are giving them the best and most competitive price available. I plan to continue my practice of pricing most products in competition with online suppliers and plan to replicate Walmart's low cost generic medication program, which is already being replicated by our local pharmacies. I plan to "pay" for this by making certain adjustments in our diagnostics and professional service fees. I have always believed that most clients have a number in mind that is a reasonable amount for their total invoice charges. If I lower the number for medications, I can increase the number for services without a negative response.

2. Increase the frequency and quality of direct personal contact opportunities between our team members and clients, while expanding our options for allowing email and text interaction with clients when they want it. This is a delicate issue, as the above statements would seem to be in direct conflict with one another. Identifying which clients want more of one concept and which clients want more of the other-and when-will be difficult and critical. However, personal contact is really the only thing we have to "sell." Whole opportunities for more efficient, and perhaps less personal, contact are the direction in which some clients are evolving. We must learn to be very, very good at both. And failing to do either well-let alone both-will spell disaster for many practices.

3. Make better use of our new in 2014 reader board and other means of client contact. We've already enjoyed great success with the board, focusing on humorous messages, indirect marketing and many statements in support of our community that have nothing to do with our business. People love reading it. We are located on perhaps he busiest road in town, and the sky is the limit in how we can use this asset in 2015. Social media is also an open market for us. We currently use Facebook, but on a limited basis. That said, our information indicates that clients do follow us, and we can only improve this avenue of reaching them by providing important information about products and services as well as behind the scenes glimpses of veterinary care. 

These are just the first few things I have decided to focus on and will surely expand the list. What things do you have planned for 2015? Addition of equipment and services? Expansion of staff? Whatever those goals are, now is the time to lay out an action plan and get to work. Happy New Year!

Kyle Palmer, CVT, is a FirstlineEditorial Advisory Board member and a practice manager at Silver Creek Animal Clinic in Silverton, Ore. Please send your questions or comments

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