Call off the veterinary competition


Think online and big-box retailers are taking a bite out of your profits? Step up your game.

With smaller retail stores shutting down right and left, many veterinarians are wondering how much online and big-box retail competition will affect our profession. Independent optometrists and pharmacies have certainly taken a hit, not to mention bookstores and electronics retailers—are we next? With consumers growing increasingly comfortable with online shopping, the threat is clearly imminent.

A recent market research study conducted to better understand the optometrist marketplace and where it's going came to a sobering conclusion: Independent optometrists will need to change their behavior to survive. My feeling is that veterinarians are in a similar—if not identical—bind.

Dr. Michael Paul, founding member and former executive director and CEO of the Companion Animal Parasite Council and past president of AAHA, recently wrote in DVM Newsmagazine, "Consider the fact that many, if not all veterinary services and products are available from low-cost providers. Some of these prices are so low we can't compete."

The situation Dr. Paul describes is exactly what's happening to independent optometrists. That consumer survey for optometrists revealed that more than 40 percent said they would feel comfortable purchasing contact lenses online.

Among the ways the report suggests independent optometrists might adapt in order to survive are to "emphasize and further differentiate the quality of care and personal service they offer, service that is unlikely to be matched by their online competition."

The report goes on to implore independent optometrists to "have stronger materials offering, more transparent pricing, and online scheduling of eye exams, all while providing the same personalized and dependable service that has won them loyalty up to this point."

The independent optometrist, the report concludes, must act or be left behind. That's good advice for veterinarians—for the exact same reason.

Veterinary Economics Editorial Advisory Board member Bob Levoy is the author of 222 Secrets of Hiring, Managing, and Retaining Great Employees in Healthcare Practices (Jones and Bartlett, 2007).

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