Leading Off: Find a winning strategy in the big box battle


Dr. Michael Paul helps you compete in a new arena of competition.

Recently, a new model for product and prescription sales came to the market—literally to the market. A generic heartworm preventive and a parasite control product have been released for sale by veterinary prescription, but available only through Walmart and Sam's Club. While the first such products in this distribution model, these certainly will not be the last.

Michael A. Paul, DVM

Many pet-owning consumers will likely view the direct-to-pharmacy model as a way to save money by purchasing prescription drugs and products from stores and outlets they already frequent.

The AAHA State of the Industry report, Close-Up Look at 2010 Purchasing Behavior, found that roughly one-third of pet owners buy flea and tick control products only from retail sources other than their veterinarians, one-third buy from their veterinarians and are likely to continue to do so, and about one-third buy from both veterinarians and other retail sources.

A 2011 study conducted by Trone, an industry research and consulting agency, found a distinct difference between veterinarians' and clients' attitudes about shopping. Of the veterinarians surveyed, 77% believe that clients are still most likely to purchase from their veterinarians, whereas only 56% of clients surveyed agreed. In other words, clients are less likely to purchase from their veterinarians than most veterinarians think. We must remember that 70% of pet owners surveyed in the Bayer Veterinary Care Usage Study expressed price sensitivity and believed they were being overcharged for goods and services.


Our current dispensing and pharmacy models were developed long before most of us even considered veterinary medicine as a career. We were a closed market dealing with a relatively captive audience, and our markups were pretty much what we thought the market would bear. Product markups of 100% to 200% remain commonplace.

Yet 70% of clients surveyed by Trone said they would, in general, think more highly of veterinarians who told them where to get products for less. Particularly in challenging economic times, people will at least consider cost when making purchasing decisions. And in most cases, once a buying habit changes—say to a superstore pharmacy—it is unlikely to change back.

Is it the end of the world? No. Is it the end of the world as we know it? Probably.


Developing a bond built on personal integrity and professional trust will help us demonstrate the value not just of the products we prescribe but of the knowledge and support we provide. Pet owners who enjoy a good relationship with their veterinarians are more likely to bring their pets in twice a year or even more often.

So how do we build this bond?

Understand what pet owners expect:

  • Medical competency

  • Competitive, fair pricing

  • Friendliness and courtesy

  • A safe and clean environment.

Know what clients want:

  • To have a real relationship with their veterinarians

  • To be treated with respect

  • To be included in medical decisions

  • To be greeted and introduced by name

  • To share eye contact when talking

  • To engage in a discussion, not a lecture

  • To have their pets treated with affection.

Stress your commitment to the ongoing health of the client's pet, with the goal being a long and healthy life. Make sure that commitment to care is ongoing.

  • Schedule future appointments for preventive healthcare while the client is there.

  • Establish a plan for reminders and communication based on the client's wishes.

  • Reach clients through email, social media, and texting.

In this age of consumerism, though we must be cost sensitive, the biggest mistake we can make is to compete on the lowest common denominator—price. We must instead emphasize the value of our commitment and dedication to our clients and the lifelong health and well-being of their pets. You can't buy that in a box, no matter the size.

Michael A. Paul, DVM, is the former executive director of the Companion Animal Parasite Council and a former president of the American Animal Hospital Association.

Related Videos
© 2024 MJH Life Sciences

All rights reserved.