Put pounds on your veterinary practice-in a good way


Create a fit, toned hospital that won't run out of steam before you reach your goal. Use advice from "The Biggest Gainer" coaches and participants to shape up the financial health of your practice and reach your best in fiscal fitness.

You've probably seen or at least heard of the NBC television show The Biggest Loser, in which fitness gurus give contestants the tools and motivation to fight their lifelong battle with weight loss and fitness. "The Biggest Gainer" program (sponsored by Idexx, Merial, Midwest Veterinary Supply, and Purina) is the financial fitness version of this program in veterinary medicine. But instead of practitioners looking to shed a few pounds, I focus on practices engaged in a fight to get—and stay—profitable.

Shawn McVey

And like dieters struggling with a personal fitness regime, these practice owners often set themselves up to fail at their goals by sabotaging their own potential. A dieter can ruin the best-laid plans by keeping unhealthy food in the kitchen, not planning time for workouts, not getting the support of other dieters, and failing to measure the small achievements that result in long-term change. All of these symptoms apply to practices if getting fit means improving financial and compliance behavior in the practice.

That's where "The Biggest Gainer" comes in. It's a focused, four-month program with the goal of taking back sales from big-box retailers and online pharmacies, improving client compliance, and boosting practices' bottom line.

Now let's dig into some of the advice I offered practitioners in the program to launch them into new realms of financial health.


Get off the couch

First, we focused on helping practice owners and team members stop the cycle of denial and understand that they are their own biggest barriers to success. This is just like The Biggest Loser, when the trainers sit the overweight contestants down in a room and tell them, "Your life is going to be forever different." Today, you take control of your business.

Now I know what you're thinking. I've heard the responses before: "We're too small to compete against big-box retailers. The clients won't pay what we have to charge. It's too hard to get everyone on the team to focus on this because veterinary employees don't want to feel like they're salespeople."

Your team members want to feel like they're animal healthcare providers and don't understand how to overcome the barrier to become educators and accept sales as part of the job.


My response: Every practice that participated in "The Biggest Gainer" program that focused on a specific sales or compliance area saw an increase of 100 percent to 1,000 percent in compliance. A lot of their fears about becoming salespeople weren't realized. This wasn't expert salesmanship as much as focused attention on education and a team-wide interest in providing an important new or pre-existing service to clients and their pets.

Measure, motivate, and manage

It can be a challenge to focus on one thing, measure it, and create a specific reward for the specific challenge. In this case, I recommended that teams pick a product or service to measure and then create a reward that would appeal to every team member.

If your practice is like most, you don't consistently measure much of anything. For instance, many hospitals will measure their inventory to see what needs to be bought or tossed, but they won't match up those numbers with revenue and expenses. Consider this: Studies show that people who lose weight and keep it off measure by counting calories and weighing themselves. When you measure, you make more progress. Without it, you stay in denial.

To measure, you might look at increases in revenue, increases in services offered, or increases in the number of times you offer specific recommendations. Once you've picked what you want to measure, you need to come up with a reward that's satisfying to your team and economically satisfying to the clinic.

The most popular rewards are always the ones suggested by the employees, not the owner. And in most cases, what team members wanted was more about camaraderie and special events, not sales commissions.

Communicate value

Now that your team is focused, ready to measure success, and motivated by a reward that really inspires, it's time to get down to the nitty-gritty: how to talk to clients about the service. We taught team members how to get in sync when delivering educational messages to the clients by using scripts.

What makes for an effective client communication script? A script should never be more than a few sentences and doesn't need to be comprehensive, but it needs to hit three high points:

1. Benefits of using the product or service

2. Value to the clients

3. Efficacy or success rate of the product or service

(Head over to dvm360.com/scripts for examples of client communication scripts.)

Merchandising magic

Last but not least, "The Biggest Gainer" program considered the sticky situation of retail space. How much space do you need? How do you encourage clients to purchase products for their pet from your practice?

Before the lesson, we asked team members to look around the hospital and watch for opportunities to create point-of-purchase displays or advertise prices. At the end of our meeting, we asked team members to come up with a way to put their plans into action.


When it comes to retail space and visual appeal, most veterinary practices are either empty (nothing on the walls and nothing for clients to look at) or they're completely overwhelming. Merchandising magic—not too little, not too much—is accessible to anybody. Here are some general rules:

> Create one focus on each wall. Some practices make the mistake of putting 30 things on a wall and expecting the clients to shop. But many clients don't really like to shop. They like to buy. So keep it simple.

> Don't display too many colors. Keep your darker colors at the base and get lighter as you go higher up the wall.

> Put your main target object at the eye level of the client who is sitting or relaxing in the room, whether reception, retail, or exam room. Most people put retail items and decorative items too high for clients to comfortably see them.

Displayed prices are crucial. Clients don't want to ask a receptionist or other team member for a price only to find out it's more than they want to spend. Posting your price gives you an advantage. If clients are going to have sticker shock, posting your fees gives them a few moments to absorb the sticker shock, consider the pros and cons, and figure out why the product or service costs a certain amount.

Veterinary practices often charge prices that are comparable or less expensive than the competitor. And the client's biggest fear—and our biggest fear—is that we're charging them a lot more. And that's just not true.

Final weigh-in: You can improve anything in your practice if you focus on it and measure it. When you educate your team and challenge them to participate, clients will do what you ask them—if they believe it.

Shawn McVey, MA, MSW, is owner of McVey Management Solutions, a consulting business that specializes in improving health care delivery systems and correcting workplace culture. He is also a member of the Firstline and Veterinary Economics editorial advisory boards.

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