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Carry food to care for clients

Article

Pet owners are clearly learning about nutrition. But where are they getting their information? Brian Conrad, practice manager at Meadow Hills Veterinary Center in Kennewick, Wash., worries that it's not from you.

Pet owners are clearly learning about nutrition. Look at all those special diets in the pet supply stores. But where are they getting their information? Brian Conrad, practice manager at Meadow Hills Veterinary Center in Kennewick, Wash., worries that it's not from you.

Proof is in the food

"In a puppy kindergarten class here, someone asked the teacher what food she fed her dogs, and the class went silent so they could hear," Conrad says. "I'm thinking, 'We're surrounded by veterinarians in this building. Why don't they ask them?'" Unfortunately, other sources are all too happy to tell your information-hungry clients what to feed their pets. It's time to get in on this action and start making strong recommendations.

And if you're going to recommend food, why not sell it? Compliance will improve (see right) and your clients won't wind up confused at the local superstore.

Conrad has a compliance plan, and the components are listed in his order of importance. So even if you can't make room for a "fresh and organized retail area" (No. 5), you can still choose a product line to recommend, explain your choice to your team, and educate them about its benefits. Meadow Hills, like any veterinary clinic, is still oriented toward services over products, Conrad says, but that doesn't mean clients aren't served by good products. Here's Conrad's program for robust pet food sales:

1 Doctors decide the diet. Consistency among doctors is key, Conrad says. Veterinarians at a hospital should choose one pet food line for its veterinary diets and a default food from that same line for healthy pets. That covers most of the nutritional bases. Don't confuse clients by offering three healthy-kidney cat foods or joint-supporting dog foods.

2. Employees know their eats. The whole team plays a role in nutritional compliance—doctors and technicians, obviously, but also receptionists. The front-desk team sees clients who come in only for pet food and can schedule an oral-health appointment on the spot after chatting with that casual dental diet purchaser who wonders out loud why his dog has bad breath. Conrad includes nutritional knowledge in team members' job descriptions. They're expected to know what indications call for special diets and why the doctors have chosen a specific product line.

3. Give clients something to chew on. Meadow Hills team members give clients handouts explaining their nutritional recommendations and reinforce those recommendations on wellness-exam report cards. They're sending a message that diet matters.

4. Stock your practice pantry. If it's important for clients to buy a food for the health of their pet, help them cut another errand out of their day: Keep your diets on hand. Also, consider going the extra mile—literally. If Conrad's practice is out of something, he offers to deliver it free of charge to the client when it comes in. He says it's only one trip a month for an assistant because most customers just smile happily when they hear the offer and come back themselves in a few days. "It's great marketing," he says.

5. Freshen up your food. Know what you're selling and how much, and keep your retail area "fresh and organized," says Conrad. To help with this, he buys stickers at a few cents apiece with the clinic's logo and prints them in different colors for different months. That way he can tell at a glance what packages needs to be sold first.

6. Start an after-meal conversation. Meadow Hills team members call clients four to seven days after a food recommendation to make sure pets are tolerating the new diet and that clients are satisfied. If a pet has indigestion, diarrhea, or vomiting, it's referred right to the veterinarian.

Conrad admits there's a downside to emphasizing pet food sales—sometimes stock winds up in his office. But he just looks at that food and thinks of the new equipment he'll be able to buy with the revenue, the health of the pets that will eat it, and the satisfaction of clients. After that, a few bags of pet food in his office start to look pretty good.

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