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Can Groupon work for your practice? Veterinarians weigh in


It could be nothing more than a passing trend. Or it could be the future of veterinary practice marketing. Here's what you need to know about Groupon and other daily deal websites.

You may not run your veterinary practice like a trendy restaurant, but perhaps it’s time to start marketing like one.

Surely you’ve seen the deals by now: $20 for $40 worth of food at a local bistro or $35 for a $50 massage at the downtown spa. Groupon is the big name, but there are plenty of other similar services, both local and national. And if you haven’t already participated in one of the services, you may be missing out on a golden marketing opportunity.

Here’s a look at how two veterinary practices participated in Groupon promotions and emerged with a whole new group of clients—all at no initial cost to the practices.

The practice: Country View Veterinary Service; Oregon, Wis.

The mastermind: Dr. Emily Leuthner, practice manager

The deal: $22 for one grooming session ($50 value), $40 for a six-week obedience class ($85 value), or $40 for five days of doggy daycare (up to $85 value)

The practice sold 171 packages during the promotion, which ended in February. Dr. Leuthner first gained inspiration after talking to her hairdresser, who sold 750 Groupons in a single day. She contacted the company, who worked with her to develop the specifics of the offer. The company’s “city planners” then worked to schedule the listing and write promotional copy for the website. All in all, Dr. Leuthner says it was a pain-free process.

“I was pleased; it was a very positive experience.” Dr. Leuthner says. “Our deal ran on Super Bowl weekend, and Groupon cut us a check within 48 hours.”

Dr. Leuthner says sites like Groupon are far superior to newspaper and phone book ads because they’re simply a better bang for the buck. It costs nothing to offer a deal on Groupon, and businesses receive roughly half of the proceeds from each Groupon sold. But the real deal is in the new clients your practice can receive from the promotion, Dr. Leuthner says.

“We’ve definitely received new clients from it,” she says. “Even if none of the deals had sold, it didn’t cost us a penny to reach out to more than 30,000 potential clients. You just can’t find that kind of exposure anywhere else. You definitely take a hit in terms of the revenue you’d normally receive from these services, but you’re bringing in new clients.”

And depending on what kind of deal you offer, clients may end up investing in more. For example, they may need to update their pet’s vaccines to take advantage of daycare or boarding services at your practice. That’s extra revenue for your practice—and perhaps a lifelong client.

Don’t expect much of a direct profit from a deal-of-the-day type of service, Dr. Leuthner says, but think of it as a marketing tool that costs your practice nothing.

The practice: Utopia Animal Hospital, Memphis, Tenn.

The mastermind: Dr. Jen Clay, practice owner

The deal: $20 for $50 worth of hospital services

Of the 48 packages the practice sold, about half have been redeemed since the deal ended in January. The site read, “New clients only” in the listing, but since there’s no way to regulate it, a few of the practice’s current clients purchased the deal. “They were really good clients so I let them use it anyway,” Dr. Clay says.

Overall, the Groupon experience was positive, she says, but there were a few drawbacks. First, her deal wasn’t listed as the featured deal, which may have impacted the number sold. Instead of a front-and-center listing with a large photograph, her deal played second fiddle in the sidebar. “When I talked to the people at Groupon, I was under the impression that mine would be the main deal,” Dr. Clay says. “I would want to know specifically before I signed up again.”

Don’t expect to run a deal right away, either, Dr. Clay says. She contacted Groupon six months before her deal was actually offered. In the meantime, Groupon employees interviewed her about the practice, consulted with her on the type of deal she could offer, and scheduled the listing.

But while Groupon does more research and offers a more extensive listing, Dr. Clay says she has had more success with smaller local sites because she has more control over her listing. Her last deal resulted in more than 100 coupons sold, since it ran near spring break, a time when many clients need a place to board their pets. And since few veterinarians in her area are using deal-of-the-day services, she’s reaching an untapped market.

“Ultimately, you’re not laying out any money for the advertising, and you’re getting a lot of exposure,” Dr. Clay says. “The clients we’ve received from it have been great, so it’s definitely been worthwhile. And even if you only get a few clients from it, they may end up coming to your clinic for years. That’s several thousand dollars worth of revenue.”

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