Real world fee setting
Not every client lives in a gated community. And when I look at benchmarks for fees, I think they're out of line with real-life practices-at least in our area.
I've read articles that reference benchmark fees and ACTs, and I have to question the reality of these numbers. To expect the ACT of a doctor in San Diego to compare with an ACT in Hibbing, Minn., or Belle Glade, Fla., is ridiculous. In one area the average household income might be $100,000 a year; in others it's $38,000. Different cultures and household incomes determine a pet owner's ability to pay for procedures.
Consider the oil industry. Some companies made money when oil was $27 a barrel. They probably had great management. Now with oil at the absurd price of $72 a barrel, everybody makes money, regardless of the quality of their management. Of course, we all still buy gas for our cars.
Veterinary care is a little different. Let's say we all decided to start charging $511 for a simple cat dental—the equivalent of a $72 barrel of oil, in my opinion. Some doctors live in communities that will support expensive procedures. Others would need to discontinue their dental prophy programs if they instituted such a fee structure. Clients would go without or go where they could afford it.
Keep in mind, if you're leveraging your staff properly, these procedures won't cost as much to provide. If you have to charge extremely high fees to provide the service, I have to wonder if you're delegating appropriately.
Now, I'm not saying that the practices who charge $511 for a dental are bad practices. Perhaps they've made the right decision for their area. And they may enjoy many of the qualities that I think are important to be a successful practice. But I don't want my colleagues thinking they're running failing businesses just because they aren't charging these benchmark fees.
Parameters beyond fees
Many factors determine whether you're running a successful practice. Here are my top 10:
1. You hire high-quality individuals who're passionate about pet care.
2. Your team members are well-dressed, pleasant, professional, and punctual.
3. You, as the manager, serve as a model, holding yourself to the same standards you hold your employees to.
4. Your facility is clean and smells good. All your plants are alive. And no, the building doesn't need to cost $4 million and feature a waterfall in the lobby.
5. Clients are sold a combination of information and peace of mind—nothing else.
6. If clients want to buy a single heartworm tablet that costs $3.75, you sell it to them with a smile and don't worry about the hit your ACT takes. Our practice has hundreds of clients who buy one or two heartworm pills at a time; we're dedicated to preventing heartworms, regardless of the transaction size.
7. You gain six to 10 pounds every holiday season because of the candy, pies, and cakes you receive.
8. All team members act as the pet's health advocate and show empathy at the appropriate times.
9. You invest willingly in equipment and continuing education—for ALL of your employees.
10. You leverage your staff members to the maximum of their abilities—they become everything they can be.
Excuse me Paul Harvey, but—"now you know the rest of the story."
Dr. Philip VanVranken is the founder and managing owner of Dickman Road Veterinary Clinic in Battle Creek, Mich. Send questions or comments to email@example.com.