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To sell or not to sell


Maintaining a retail area requires time, effort, and most of all, space. Is the investment worthwhile?

YOU BECAME A VETERINARIAN because you like to work with pets and want to make a difference in your community. It took schooling, money, stress, and know-how to get there. But now you feel like you work as a retail clerk too. You're not alone. Less than half of respondents to the 2006 Veterinary Economics Business Issues Study say that they're very satisfied or satisfied with their retail sales area. So why do you or don't you sell? One respondent says, "It's not my job to sell; let PETCO do it. I'm in a service profession."

Products that sell

Sales of flea, tick, and heartworm products make up almost 8 percent of total revenue for Well-Managed Practices, according to the 2005 Well-Managed Practice Study, co-sponsored by Wutchiett Tumblin and Associates and Veterinary Economics. And nearly 19 percent of respondents to the Business Issues study say retail sales make up 5 percent to 10 percent of their total revenue. Almost 70 percent of survey respondents say they dedicate less than 200 square feet to retail space.

Of course, you have to pick and choose as you decide what to offer in limited space. The American Pet Products Manufacturers Association found in its 2005/2006 National Pet Owners Survey that dog owners spent the most on food of all retail items, an average of $241 in 2004. Next on the list: grooming items ($107 that year), and cages and crates ($74).

Figure 1

For cats, food also topped the list of retail items in 2004 at $185. Cat owners report spending $74 on flea and tick control products and an average of $91 on miscellaneous supplies. Mind you, these products weren't necessarily bought at a veterinarian's office. But they do represent some of clients' top spending categories.

Rejecting retail

Of those practitioners surveyed by Veterinary Economics, 60 percent work in a practice with a retail area. Of those who don't, 16 percent say they don't think that retail areas are profitable enough or they don't see the benefit of them.

Case in point, one respondent says that offering retail is just a convenience for clients, but doesn't bring in any profit. Another respondent says it's too hard to compete with warehouse pricing. And yet another sums it up by saying that retail areas are "more trouble than they're worth."

One major deterrent to setting aside retail space is just that: lack of space. Just over half of survey respondents say there's not enough room to accommodate retail sales. This issue, respondents say, makes product displays unsightly, difficult to manage, and difficult to police.

Retail, with all that it entails, seems to be either a love-it or leave-it proposition. Some of you want more space to devote to product sales; others say if you had space to spare you'd offer more professional services.

Research shows that clients buy products. The questions: Are you willing to sell—and will clients choose to buy from you?

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