Can DVMs and pet stores be friends?

December 7, 2018
Jeff Rothstein, DVM, MBA

Dr. Jeff Rothstein is co-president and founder of Midwest Veterinary Partners, which operates more than 30 practices in the Midwestern states with headquarters in Novi, Michigan.

This veterinary practice's working relationship with a pet store was always a mixed bag: new clients with new puppies on the one hand, but less-than-ideal compliance with recommendations from the pet store owner on the other. Heres what ultimately happened.

(Getty Images)Happy Dog Veterinary Clinic (name changed to protect the mostly innocent) has been around for nearly 60 years and has enjoyed a stellar reputation as a leading clinic in its area, both in terms of medical and customer care. It's a clinic that doctors really enjoy working at, not only because of a well-trained team, but also because a good part of the day you get to work with puppies and small-breed dogs that are well taken care of. One reason for this great client demographic is that Happy Dog has had a relationship with a nearby pet store for more than 30 years, and each month the clinic gains about 20 new puppy patients from the store's referrals.  

Over the years, there have been ups and downs in the relationship between the pet store and the clinic. That's not surprising as the pet store is in the business to sell puppies and the veterinary clinic is in the business of keeping the puppies healthy, and sometimes these goals clash. The team at the clinic always wants to do the very best for the puppy patients and their pet parents. The pet store, on the other hand, has somewhat of a herd-health philosophy and sometimes sees the need to cut its losses if a puppy is sick and it might cost more to treat the patient than can be garnered from a sale.

Over the years, the veterinary team dealt with this fairly well, realizing that someone needs to care for the pets and we're well positioned to do that. At times the relationship became strained, as the pet store owner wouldn't always follow our veterinarians' recommendations or appear to even believe the advice we gave.

Somehow or other we had a viable and mostly good relationship for almost 30 years, but more than a year ago communication really deteriorated and, most recently, the store was hit with a contagious infection that lead to its closure. The long and short of it, the pet store owner lost the business, and the hospital lost a primary customer.

There are a lot of lessons to learn from this saga. The power of social media and the anti-puppy-mill lobby make it nearly impossible for pet stores selling puppies to exist today. The hospital had to be careful, because guilt by association with the pet store became a real concern in terms of social media backlash. Knowing the importance of this client to the hospital, management should have been more proactive to diversify its client base, so it was less dependent on this one large customer, which likely accounted for 25 percent of new clients.

The loss of business will be big in the near term, but the team will be happier and less stressed than when dealing with issues related to the store. The team will now have to reach out and forge new relations with new organizations, shelters groups, etc.

Dr. Rothstein is co-president and founder of Midwest Veterinary Partners, which operates 34 practices in the Midwestern states with headquarters in Novi, Michigan. He can be reached at jeff.rothstein@midwestvetpartners.vet.