Should you, would you, could you retail?


Retail in your veterinary practice: Is it worth it? Veterinary professionals opinions often collide on this. But when it comes to promoting enrichment for patients, retail may be your best bet.

Photo: Shutterstock.comProviding space and products for retail in your practice can be tough for many reasons. You might even find yourself often asking, “Is this worth it?”

To answer this question, we spoke to a practice manager about her experience as well as two expert veterinary architects who've seen years of practices ignoring or including it in their plans. Here are their answers to big questions on retail:

Is it worth it to do retail?

From her perspective as practice manager at Bigger Road Veterinary Center in Kettering, Ohio, Kelly Capasso thinks the answer to that question is a resounding “yes.”

“I think most practices would benefit from some sort of retail presence,” she says, “but it certainly could-and should-vary from practice to practice based on the type and location of the practice.”

Architect Heather Lewis, AIA, NCARB, partner at Animal Arts in Boulder, Colorado, agrees, and says a heavy emphasis on pet retail in reception or exam rooms seems to help some clinics and not others.

“I'd say for the average specialty hospital, retail is not helpful,” Lewis says. “For the average general hospital, retail is helpful mostly to hawk veterinary items. For the occasional general practice with a specific brand or ancillary services, retail is very important.”

Is retail right for my hospital?

Capasso says retail is all about building bonds.

"Retail helps strengtehn the bonds between pets and their owners and between practices and their clients," she says. “It's about providing solutions in a convenient way. Clients are happy because we can help them right away or down the line, and pets ultimately benefit by having [veterinarian-approved] products that are safe and effective. And besides, as a pet owner, is there anything better than bringing home a new toy, treat or product to give to your furry friend?”

Lewis says she's seen hospitals successful with a more business-and-brand-facing approach.

"Retail is either somewhat utilitarian and used for veterinarian-prescribed items such as food," Lewis says, “or it's an important part of the ‘brand' of the hospital, in which case it can be used for creating a stronger relationship between the practice and the clients.”

How much will it really benefit my practice?

Results vary, but the benefit is in the veterinarian-client bond, not necessarily the revenue, Capasso says.

“Because retail products carry a lower margin, they aren't going to be any practice's biggest money maker,” Capasso says. “That being said, there is potential positive financial impact if you create a situation where clients see your practice as a go-to for all their pets' needs.”

Architect Dan Chapel, AIA, NCARB, president of Chapel Associates in Little Rock, Arkansas, agrees. This is not about being Pet Smart, he says; it's about making things more convenient for convenience-seeking clients-who may be spending a lot of money with you on medical services.

“Veterinarians can't compete with a large-scale retailer's prices or selections,” Chapel says. “They can't purchase in volume or reach a manufacturer's required minimum purchase to receive great wholesale prices. I believe that retail offerings are for the convenience of the clients, not as a money-making enterprise.”

Forget money-does retail help pets?

Yes, Lewis says, and that should be the main reason to include retail in a veterinary practice.

“Retail can be helpful to introduce clients to tools and items that are good for their pets,” she says. “For example, a practice may sell ThunderShirts and educate clients about how to use them. The pet benefits from this, as does the client.”

Capasso says Bigger Road is just such a practice that recommends ThunderShirts and sells a variety of cat and dog toys and other home enrichment items for happier, healthier pets.

“Retail is the fastest and easiest way to introduce pet enrichment in a practice,” Capasso says, “because it's as simple as choosing, paying and playing. You can use retail to support other behavior or training programs, enhance new pet or kitten and puppy visits, and provide a more in-depth way to discuss enrichment with pet owners.” 

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